Linguistics 300: Experimental Sociolinguistics

Spring 2018

General Course Information

Class Meetings: Tuesday/Thursday
Classroom:Locy Hall 318
Instructor:Annette D'Onofrio
Email:donofrio at northwestern
Office:2016 Sheridan Rd., Room 106
Office hours:Tuesdays 2:00-3:00 (or by appt.)

Course description

This course will explore how experimental methods can help us examine new questions about the social meaning of language. We will begin by discussing current theoretical work on socially meaningful linguistic variation, finding research questions that are suited to the use of experimental methods. We will then turn to the growing body of experimental research in sociolinguistics to understand the theoretical and methodological contributions of this work. We will discuss questions such as: How do we infer who someone is from the way that they speak? How do our social expectations influence our linguistic perceptions? How do our social experiences, stereotypes, and attitudes mediate how we speak and how we listen? And how much control do we have over these processes? Students will gain both a theoretical understanding of research in these areas, as well as practical knowledge related to formulating research questions and constructing experimental studies on sociolinguistic topics. .

Learning outcome goals

Through successfully completing this course, you will:

  • gain a theoretical understanding of how social knowledge and linguistic perception are intertwined.
  • write clear critical analyses of the relation between social factors and linguistic variation as tested through experimental methods.
  • learn to formulate research questions rooted in theoretical sociolinguistic work.
  • learn about a variety of experimental methods.
  • gain experience designing experimental studies.
  • gain experience presenting and discussing proposals for original research.

Course Policies

Communication with instructor

Please contact Annette via e-mail for questions, issues, or to set up an appointment outside of the scheduled office hour. Any e-mail sent before 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, will be answered the same day. While there is a good likelihood of a prompt answer for emails sent after 6 p.m., or on weekend days, the only guarantee I make is that after-hours emails will be answered the next business day. Note that all appointments and office hours are held in Annette's office in the Ling House (2016 Sheridan Rd. Rm. 106). All assignments should be submitted electronically in the Assignments tab in the course Canvas page.

Late assignments

Assignments and projects that are late will be deducted a full letter grade for each 24 hour period that they are late. No credit will be given for assignments turned in more than 48 hours late, though I will read and provide feedback on these assignments. This does not apply to the final paper, which must be turned in on the due date, no exceptions.

Academic integrity

All students are expected to comply with Northwestern's principles regarding academic integrity. See this link for more information. Suspected violations will be investigated.

Students with documented disabilities

Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition should to register with AccessibleNU (; 847-467-5530) and provide the instructor with notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential.

Grading Breakdown

Participation (5%)

Much of our class will be based on discussions. Your attendance and participation in these discussions are critical for your participation grade. Please see the WCAS policy for missing class and notify Annette as soon as possible if you must be absent for any reason.

Response Papers (50%)

There is no assigned textbook for this course. Instead, we will be drawing from an assortment of books, articles, and other media. Each week, we will have a class discussion relating the readings to the topic of the week, listed on the Schedule page. To get you thinking critically about the assigned readings, you will complete a one to two page critical response paper each week. You may skip one of the six assigned responses (your choice of week).

For all reading responses, you will write a 1-2 page max double spaced response to the readings. These can be explorations of questions that arose from these readings, constructive critiques of the theories or studies presented, or a development of ideas introduced in the papers. It is usually helpful to begin with a brief summary of aspects of the readings that you'll be addressing (upload as PDF or Word doc). You are welcome and encouraged to bring in outside readings/knowledge, readings from past weeks, or explore new ideas in these papers, though you should make an argument or raise an intellectually interesting question in each response. Each response paper will be worth 10% of your grade.

You will need to complete the readings for the upcoming week and your response by Wednesdays at 5 p.m., turned in via Canvas in response to the prompt under the Assignments tab. These responses will help form the basis for our Thursday class discussions, so please plan to share your thoughts in class.

Final Project Proposal (45%)

This class will not include a final exam. Instead, you will complete a final project proposing an original research study in experimental sociolinguistics. This project will be completed in stages throughout the quarter. You will select your topic and begin designing your methods in our Experimental Design Workshop on Thursday of Week 6 (5/10). Each stage following the design workshop will be worth a portion of your overall grade, breaking down as follows:

  • 10% - Topic Description and Bibliography (due Sunday prior to Week 8)
  • 10% - Project Presentation (in class Week 9)
  • 25% - Final paper (due on Monday, June 11, by 5:00 PM)

All assigned tasks and project deadlines will be noted on the Schedule page in the corresponding week that they are due, with instructions and materials provided in advance.