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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 Dishonesty

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.

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.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. 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:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

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.

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. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

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