Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You

Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You
Course Trailer
What Does Your Speech Say about You?
1: What Does Your Speech Say about You?

Begin to investigate how language both reflects and shapes our social world. Observe the ways in which your speech signals information such as your age, economic class, gender, ethnicity, or place of origin. Grasp how even subtle linguistic variants such as -ing versus -in' (e.g. going vs. goin') in verb endings communicate important information between speakers.

31 min
Does Language Influence Worldview?
2: Does Language Influence Worldview?

Explore how social life affects language use, and how our social roles impact the way we organize our world linguistically. On the flip side, investigate how conceptual constructs regarding time, spatial relationships, and gender are encoded into language, influencing our perceptions and directing our thoughts into habitual patterns.

29 min
What Is Sociolinguistics?
3: What Is Sociolinguistics?

Grasp the differences between theoretical linguistics, which studies the underlying mental system of language, and sociolinguistics, which studies how that system is used by speakers. Learn how we use linguistic resources to categorize people into groups, interpret events, and form "speech communities" that locate and define us socially.

30 min
Four Levels of Language Variation
4: Four Levels of Language Variation

As groundwork for the course's inquiry, learn about phonetics, how speech sounds are produced; phonology, how such sounds are organized into language systems; syntax, how sentences are constructed; and morphology, how words are formed and created. Consider how these linguistic features become important social markers.

30 min
How Do Dialects Develop?
5: How Do Dialects Develop?

Look carefully at two crucial terms in linguistics, "language" and "dialect," noting how historical, geopolitical, and cultural factors play major roles in distinguishing the two. Follow how dialect variations emerge within languages, taking account of key factors from the social and geographical to the economic, cognitive, and physiological.

30 min
Language Change-What's New Is Old Again
6: Language Change-What's New Is Old Again

Review the fascinating history of the English language, as a case study in how language changes. Trace the linguistic evolution from Old to Early Modern English, encompassing Celtic, Germanic, Norse, and French influences as well as the effects of settlement, geography, and multilevel social forces. Examine how these same historical processes are shaping our language today.

28 min
The Origin and History of American Dialects
7: The Origin and History of American Dialects

Discover how regional American speech is traceable to both pre-Revolutionary British dialects and to settlement patterns and immigrant groups within the North, South, and Midland regions of the U.S. Learn how linguists studying American speech use a variety of methods to measure the development of both regional dialects and social dialects within the same locale.

31 min
Your Shifty Vowels
8: Your Shifty Vowels

Delve into the complex subject of English vowels and what they reveal about speakers. Learn about the massive vowel changes currently taking place in American dialects, and how these shifts identify social distinctions. Investigate how we produce vowel sounds, and why vowel shifts can drastically change a language over time.

29 min
Vowel Shifts and Regional American Speech
9: Vowel Shifts and Regional American Speech

Now take a deeper look at the vowel changes affecting U.S. English, which are moving American dialects in very different directions. Observe how these changes operate like fashion trends, led mostly by the young. Identify specific vowel shifts in Southern, Northern, and Western speech, and explore the social dimensions associated with them.

30 min
Language and Social Class
10: Language and Social Class

Study the impact of socioeconomic status, class, and education on speech, noting how specific features such as pronunciation of "r" sounds reflect social status. Grasp how social differences between speakers are reflected systematically in language differences, and why language change usually originates with upper-working-class and lower-middle-class speakers.

29 min
Sex, Age, and Language Change
11: Sex, Age, and Language Change

Investigate why language change tends to be led by the young, and discover what linguists observe about speech changes that occur as people age. Explore how gender shapes our language, why women are a huge force in language change, and how men and women gain social capital from contrasting forms of speech.

32 min
Language Attitudes and Social Perception
12: Language Attitudes and Social Perception

Attitudes about language play a significant role in our social existence. Examine how we evaluate others by whether their speech sounds correct, ethnic, foreign, or like our own. Consider how we alter our speech in response to what we hear, and how our beliefs about other speakers actually influence what we hear.

31 min
Language as a Communicative Process
13: Language as a Communicative Process

This lecture moves beyond the observation of individual speakers to look at the interactive nature of conversation. Learn about eight distinct factors that go into a successful conversation-conversational parameters that we process intuitively-and grasp the profound roles our shared social norms and expectations play in being understood.

28 min
Making Sense of Conversational Intentions
14: Making Sense of Conversational Intentions

Explore the separation between literal meaning and socially derived meaning in conversation. Discover the field of pragmatics, which studies how meaning is interpreted from context, and how we often convey meaning without explicit speech by relying on inference. Learn how we use shared conversational conventions to guide our interpretation of others' speech.

29 min
Analyzing Conversation
15: Analyzing Conversation

Whether we realize it or not, conversation is a highly structured interactional event. Study how conversations are organized, defining both our rights and obligations as conversational participants. See how conversation follows specific procedures such as turn-taking, bounded units of talk, speaker/listener cues, and repair of miscommunication.

29 min
The Mechanics of Good Conversation
16: The Mechanics of Good Conversation

Grasp how questions are crucial to managing conversations, and how we use them to negotiate power and status between speakers. Then examine what happens when speakers violate conversational rules through interruptions or simultaneous talk, and learn about the important functions of backchanneling-the "mmms" and "uh-huhs" that punctuate conversation.

29 min
Mind Your Manners-Politeness Speech
17: Mind Your Manners-Politeness Speech

Investigate how we balance our need to be liked with our need not to be burdened in our interactions with others. Look into the conceptual framework of politeness theory. Study the range of strategies we use to express politeness, and the ways in which politeness serves to avoid conflict while accomplishing our purposes.

28 min
Linguistic Style and Repertoire
18: Linguistic Style and Repertoire

Observe how we all have a linguistic repertoire that allows us to vary our speech according to the situation or to present a certain identity. Note how we switch between different social roles, and how each role actually requires a corresponding linguistic expression. Study how our professional occupations significantly affect speaking style.

30 min
The Gender Divide in Language
19: The Gender Divide in Language

How do men and women differ in how they use and hear speech? To answer this, look at contrasting linguistic features between the sexes, and compare theories that attempt to explain the differences. Consider whether it is being a woman or a man that creates the differences, or whether gender-related speech variations arise from social constructs.

31 min
Ethnic Identity and Language
20: Ethnic Identity and Language

Language is used in all societies to mark ethnic distinctions. Learn about how speech marked as "ethnic" emerges, noting how different social, historical, and cultural factors establish dialect features. Study the features of African-American English, and grasp how they evolved through the identical linguistic processes that formed standard dialects of English.

32 min
Socializing Children into Language
21: Socializing Children into Language

Take a close look at how children learn to speak, noting their innate predisposition to interpret language. Grasp the important role adults play in modeling the social and communicative aspects of speech, teaching children how to use language appropriately in their social world-a subtle, multistage process that continues to adolescence.

28 min
Language, Adolescence, and Education
22: Language, Adolescence, and Education

Sociolinguistics identifies adolescent culture as a key force in advancing linguistic change in society as a whole. Investigate why this is so, taking account of teens' peer group influences and need for independent social identity. Study the unique social behaviors and activities in high school that drive the adoption of new linguistic features.

30 min
Textspeak-2 Bad 4 English?
23: Textspeak-2 Bad 4 English?

How do computer-mediated forms of communication affect the way we express ourselves generally through speech and writing? Weigh the empirical evidence and the specific social functions of texting and instant messaging, and determine whether these technologies, in fact, negatively affect English or young people's ability to communicate.

29 min
The Changing Face of Linguistic Diversity
24: The Changing Face of Linguistic Diversity

Finally, consider the current forces of change within English. Investigate whether English speech is becoming more homogenized, taking account of its thriving range of dialects across the world and assessing the impact on English of mass media. Examine evidence that supports the conclusion that language will continue to reflect our differences as well as our similarities.

32 min
Valerie Fridland

We acquire the language system in early childhood, but understanding how we use language is something we spend a lifetime trying to figure out. This series aims to be a roadmap to the linguistic landscape we all tread.


Michigan State University


University of Nevada, Reno

About Valerie Fridland

Professor Valerie Fridland is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Nevada, Reno. She received her Ph.D. in Linguistics, with a specialization in Sociolinguistics, from Michigan State University. Her teaching areas include general linguistics, sociolinguistics, syntax, language and gender, and language and social life.

As a sociolinguist, Professor Fridland's main focus is on varieties of American English. The goal of her research is to better understand how variability in speech production relates to variability in speech perception and how social identity (such as that related to region, gender, or ethnicity) affects speech. Her research explores links between social factors and speech processing, filling gaps in the speech science literature, which does not typically consider social influences on the understanding of speech. In addition to this main focus, she examines how gender and ethnicity are enmeshed with linguistic variation.

Professor Fridland presents her work at major meetings of the Linguistic Society of America and the American Dialect Society, and at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference. Her work is regularly published in such journals as American Speech, the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language Variation and Change, Lingua, and the Journal of Phonetics, and appears in a number of edited collections. Professor Fridland is currently editing a collected volume on contemporary Western States English for the American Dialect Society.

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