ARTS1691 - Sociolinguistics

Sociolinguistics is the study of society and its effects on language use.

People who misjudge social situations by not speaking in the correct formal/informal dialect tend to have some kind of pragmatic disorder; they ramble, have too short answers, provide irrelevant information, or the like.


A register is a form of language used in a particular context.

Examples of Registers:

  • informal, casual conversation
  • formal interview
  • sports jargon
  • technical jargon

further reading

Phonology in English

The globality of English is unprecedented, never before have we seen one language spread and used so widely.

This provides us with lots of interesting studies, some on American English, some on British English, some on Australian English, others on English as a 2nd language.

Some of these studies include the varieties within Australian English, the Australian Questioning Intonation, Post Vocalic [r] in America and g dropping in Britain.

Study of High School Leavers’ Australian English

Mitchell and Delbridge performed this study in 1965.

Category Broad % General % Cultivated %
Males | 51% 47% 2%
Females 19% 63% 18%
Middle Class 22% 61% 17%
Working Class 35% 55% 10%
Lower Class 41% 54% 5%

Australian Questioning Intonation (AQI)

This was an Australian phenomenon common in teen females in the 1980s, and still parodied today, whereby sentences would rise in pitch at the end, so that every sentence sounded like a question.

Category of Respondents Percentage of Respondents who exhibited AQI
11 – 14 year olds 1.6%
15 – 19 year olds 2.0%
20 – 39 year olds 0.5%
40+ year olds 0.2%
Females 2.2%
Males 1.0%

There are many theories as to why the AQI occurred at all, and why in particular in young women.

One theory proposed that women were more uncertain, and hence more likely to sound querulous than men.

A more interesting theory says that the AQI is a monitoring device to check up on the listener’s understanding and comprehension (i.e. it’s a replacement for ‘you know?’).

Perhaps women, who are more prone to facilitating conversation, pay more attention to the listener than men do.

Post Vocalic R

(Or more correctly, Rhotic vs Non-Rhotic Accents)
Essentially some people (particularly Americans) pronounce the [r] after vowels (and before consonants or breaks)
Labov did sociolinguistic experiments on three levels of New York department stores:

Level of [r] usage High Class Store Middle Class Store Low Class Store
all [r] 32% 31% 17%
some [r] 30% 20% 4%
no [r] 38% 49% 79%

G dropping

Peter Trudgill is a British Linguist who did experiments on g dropping (e.g. “ing” -> “in’”) in Norwich in 1974.

His findings were consistent with the class findings of the above experiments (except that in Britain class is much more easily observed than in Australia).

Casual Speech Careful Speech Reading
Middle middle class 28% 3% 0%
Lower middle class 42% 15% 10%
Upper working class 87% 74% 15%
Middle working class 95% 88% 44%
Lower working class 100% 98% 66%

Further Reading

Good Examples of These Studies