Writing sociolinguistics papers
Your term project for Linguistics 719/819 is a
sociolinguistic analysis of some linguistic variable(s) in some linguistic
community. Rather than just writing one big paper, your assignment is to write
two papers. However, you should think of the final structure of the overall
project and paper as you write the first one. That is, structure Paper 1 like a
sociolinguistic paper, addressing the questions below.
While you cannot know ahead of time what your linguistic analysis will reveal,
you can (and SHOULD) make predictions about the expected correlations between
the linguistic and social variables. Paper 2 will be a
complete sociolinguistic paper, including what you wrote for Paper 1 (revised as
necessary) and the linguistic analysis. That is, you will "fill in the
blanks" from Paper 1 to create Paper 2-- so save it on disk! Use the
papers in the reading packet as models.
In order to write up the social analysis part of the paper accurately (Paper
1), you need to have already located your subjects, interviewed and recorded
them (or surveyed them, or whatever). That is, your DATA MUST BE COLLECTED
BY THE TIME YOU TURN IN THE FIRST PAPER. Thus, you can write most of your
methodology section for Paper 1. The only missing part will be your method of
Those of you who are submitting proposals for large scale projects still need
to collect and analyze some data, otherwise you (and I) won't know if your
methodology works. Also, even small pilot sets of data should illustrate the
correlations you expect to find. If so, talk about that in Paper 2; if not,
explain why not.
You are strongly encouraged to turn in drafts of your papers (or some
sections of your papers) at least 1 week BEFORE the due date. I will be
happy to read them and give you feedback so that you can revise and resubmit.
Only the last version will be graded. Please note also that you will present
your projects in class during the last week of the semester, so be prepared by
then. NO CREDIT will be given for late papers.
Here are two sets of guidelines (one short
and one long) for writing a sociolinguistics paper.
- Present your hypothesis or hypotheses.
Be sure to write these in
a "testable" manner-- no hedging.
- Describe your methodology.
Be detailed enough that someone could replicate the experiment. (This is
necessary to see how robust your findings are.)
- Present the data in a clear chart, list, or table.
This should correspond to your hypothesis.
- Discuss what you found.
Does it support your hypothesis?
If not, why not?
What might you do differently if you were to continue this research
What issue(s) is/are at
What questions will be addressed?
What is your hypothesis? Why does that matter?
What type of data will be used?
Spoken, written, heard (like the
What is/are the variable(s)? What are the possible variants of each
Describe the speech community to be examined in your project.
Who is part of the community? Who isn't? That is, how will you decide
who can/can't be an informant for this project? Do they all share some
Why do they form a cohesive group worth studying?
What can be learned by studying this community?
How are you qualified to be the investigator?
What type of analysis will be conducted?
Briefly, what conclusions are drawn?
Who are the informants?
Who are the investigators? How many of each are there?
Explain the method you used to locate possible informants and get them to
What did you tell them? What was their reaction? (Did your method work
Was the data recorded, transcribed, acoustically analyzed...? By what method?
How many questions (or items elicited)? Where? When?
How were the results analyzed?
Was statistical analysis involved? What type? Why?
This is the place to describe the variable(s) you are investigating. Objectively
explain what the different variants are.
Define the envelope of variation for the dependent linguistic
Avoid counting tokens that, due to some aspect of their linguistic,
social, or stylistic context, do not allow for variation. For example, if
you are studying the (ING) variable, you need to avoid counting
monomorphemic words such
as "ring," since no one ever says [rIn].
Explain all such decisions you
There are several types of variables that may affect/be correlated to the
dependent variable you are investigating. These may be grouped into
three sets: social (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity), stylistic
(e.g., casual conversation, reading a passage), and linguistic
(e.g., preceding context, position in sentence, height of vowel).
Define each of the social factors that are relevant to your project.
Explain how each informant is to be coded for each factor.
Is the criteria objective?
If not, do the informants or the investigator make the necessary decisions?
What steps did you take to make sure that you can evaluate the effect
of each factor?
Provide a table showing how you coded each informant for each social
Are there stylistic variables?
If so, how will each token be coded for style? Give some examples.
If not, are you taking steps to control for stylistic variation? Why or why
How many different styles will you consider? What are they? Why?
What linguistic factors
were considered (that might influence the outcome)?
phonetic, phonological, syntactic...
Define each independent linguistic variable.
Explain what the possible variants are for each.
Describe them using
IPA if appropriate, or using theoretical linguistic apparatus (e.g., trees
or brackets for syntactic variables).
Is it clear that all the variants mean the same thing? (If not, why do
you consider them as one variable?)
What method(s) will
you use to code each variable?
What effect do/did you expect each variant to have? Why? Were you right?
If not, why not?
Provide a table/list that summarizes all the relevant linguistic
variables and their possible variants, with examples from your data.
Either provide examples of some coded tokens in the text of your paper,
or an appendix with all of the coded data.
This is about as far as you can go in Paper 1, and you may even have a few gaps in
the above that can be filled in for Paper 2.
Now you get to the part that is familiar from your earlier assignments:
analyze the data and discuss the patterns found. You know how to do this!)
What did you find out?
Discuss each independent variable individually, commenting on how it correlates
to (each/the) dependent variable.
Was there any interaction between the variables?
Discussion / Conclusion
What did you find out? What's the most important "take-home message"?
Do your data support your
Be sure to respond to everything you raised in the introduction.
What surprises did you find?
What did this investigation suggest for future research?
How might the study be improved?