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LINGUIST 2S03 Language and Society (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Nikolai Penner


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 507

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24777

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 3:30-4:30

Course Objectives:

  • What does the way you speak tell about you?
  • Does our language influence the way we see the word?
  • Do we judge the same person differently depending on which language they are speaking at the moment?
  • Can someone speak slang incorrectly? 
  • What are secret languages (e.g. thieves cant)?
  • Do the Inuit have dozens of words for snow? 
  • Is the modern English system of kinship terms deficient?
  • Do men and women speak differently? 
  • How come different languages have different terms for colours?
  • What’s the deal with gendered and non-gendered language? 
  • Is African American English ‘bad English’?
  • Why don’t we use ‘whom’ anymore? 
  • Do languages degenerate over time?
  • Where is best English spoken?
  • Why do parts of Sean Paul’s, Bob Marley’s or Drake’s lyrics sound like gibberish to us?
  • What is the difference between a promise, a warning and a threat?
  • Do parents teach children their language?

These and many more questions related to language will be answered in this course. We will debunk a number of existing myths and will point out a few facts that sound like myths to most people. Ultimately, the course is exploring a connection between a language’s structure, its use by speakers, and the structure of a society.


By the end of the course students are expected to:

  1. have acquired an understanding of the basic terms, concepts, tenets, and issues of sociolinguistics;
  2. understand the relationship between languages, dialects, and standard languages; 
  3. develop a general knowledge of the relationship between variations in language form, use and various socio-cultural factors (e.g. region, age, sex social class/network, ethnicity);
  4. understand the basic principles of language change, successful communication, and politeness
  5. have a general knowledge of what pidgin and creole languages are and what makes them different from other languages


The students are expected to learn by: 

  • Attending the lectures;
  • Participating in small-group problem-solving tasks during class time;
  • Completing assigned readings at home;
  • Completing three written assignments.

Lecture classes will be supplemented by videos, articles, guest speakers, tutorials, and workshop sessions as appropriate.

The students will have access to the lecture slides presented in class.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

No textbook is required for this course.  All tests and assignments are based on lectures and additional articles which will be posted on Avenue.

We will be using the Top Hat ( classroom response system in class. You will be able to submit answers to in-class questions using Apple or Android smartphones and tablets, laptops, or through text message.  

Top Hat will require a paid basic one-term subscription. A full breakdown of all subscription options available can be found here:

You can visit the Top Hat Overview ( within the Top Hat Success Center which outlines how you will register for a Top Hat account, as well as providing a brief overview to get you up and running on the system.

Should you require assistance with Top Hat at any time, due to the fact that they require specific user information to troubleshoot these issues, please contact their Support Team directly by way of email (, the in app support button, or by calling 1-888-663-5491.

Method of Assessment:



Assignment 1


Assignments 2-3




Final exam 30%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


For all assignments, there is a one-week extension after which no works will be accepted whatsoever. This extension is given automatically to all students and you do not need to contact the instructor to receive it.

Missed assignments: please note that MSAFs will be accepted to justify the one week extension on an assignment before the original deadline, but you will still need to complete the assignment.

Missed midterm: No midterm tests will be re-written in this course. In case of a documented absence with a valid MSAF, the percentage of the missed test will be carried over to the final exam.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Integrity

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  • plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  • improper collaboration in group work.
  • copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Authenticity / Plagiarism Detection

Some courses may use a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. For courses using such software, students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.

Students who do not wish to submit their work through A2L and/or must still submit an electronic and/or hardcopy to the instructor. No penalty will be assigned to a student who does not submit work to or A2L. All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search, other software, etc.). To see the Policy, please go to

Courses with an On-Line Element

Some courses use on-line elements (e.g. e-mail, Avenue to Learn (A2L), LearnLink, web pages, capa, Moodle, ThinkingCap, etc.). Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of a course using these elements, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in a course that uses on-line elements will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Online Proctoring

Some courses may use online proctoring software for tests and exams. This software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, monitor and record their computer activities, and/or lockdown their browser during tests or exams. This software may be required to be installed before the exam begins.

Conduct Expectations

As a McMaster student, you have the right to experience, and the responsibility to demonstrate, respectful and dignified interactions within all of our living, learning and working communities. These expectations are described in the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (the "Code"). All students share the responsibility of maintaining a positive environment for the academic and personal growth of all McMaster community members, whether in person or online.

It is essential that students be mindful of their interactions online, as the Code remains in effect in virtual learning environments. The Code applies to any interactions that adversely affect, disrupt, or interfere with reasonable participation in University activities. Student disruptions or behaviours that interfere with university functions on online platforms (e.g. use of Avenue 2 Learn, WebEx or Zoom for delivery), will be taken very seriously and will be investigated. Outcomes may include restriction or removal of the involved students' access to these platforms.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. For further information, consult McMaster University’s Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities policy.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

Request for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work
McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar "Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work".

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO)

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Copyright and Recording

Students are advised that lectures, demonstrations, performances, and any other course material provided by an instructor include copyright protected works. The Copyright Act and copyright law protect every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including lectures by University instructors.

The recording of lectures, tutorials, or other methods of instruction may occur during a course. Recording may be done by either the instructor for the purpose of authorized distribution, or by a student for the purpose of personal study. Students should be aware that their voice and/or image may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak with the instructor if this is a concern for you.

Extreme Circumstances

The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster email.

Topics and Readings:

Topics and readings (subject to change):





  • What does our language say about us?
  • Does our language influence the way we think?
  • What exactly does Sociolinguistics study?
  • What does it mean to ‘know’ a language?
  • What does it mean to ‘know’ grammar?
  • Why do we use ‘bad grammar’?


  • Why are there different ways to say the same thing?
  • Do most people speak the same way?
  • What is slang and can someone speak slang incorrectly? 
  • How come there is gendered language?
  • Why do we judge others based on their language?

Assignment 1 announced


  • What are dialects? 
  • How do we know if something a dialect or a language?
  • What are standard languages and why do we need them? 
  • Are standard languages better than the rest?


Regional Variation

Assignment 1 due; Assignment 2 announced


Social variation






Language change



Multilingual societies

Assignment 2 due Assignment 3 announced


Pidgins and creoles, AAVE



Talk & action



Solidarity & Politeness

Assignment 3 due


Language & culture, Kinship Taxonomies Color Prototype Taboo



As needed