Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You

Course No. 2263
Professor Valerie Fridland,
University of Nevada, Reno
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Course No. 2263
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What Will You Learn?

  • Define theoretical linguistics and sociolinguistics, and learn how they define us.
  • Study the impact of socioeconomic status, class, and education on speech (with a focus on the pronunciation of "r").
  • Learn how conversations follow specific procedures, like turn-taking, bonded units of talk, and speaker/listener cues.
  • Weigh the social functions of texting and instant messaging to determine if they affect our ability to communicate.

Course Overview

Language is not a passive medium of communication. In fact, it’s the active matrix through which we construct societies, and, within them, our own social lives and realities. It’s easy to view language as simply a system of symbols that describe experience. But a closer look reveals an astonishing truth: language—as we use it in our moment-to-moment living—fundamentally shapes our experience, our thinking, our perceptions, and the very social systems within which our lives unfold.

Ordinarily, we use language without examining how we are using it. But to look directly and rigorously at our language and speech—and how we construct our social reality through them—is to uncover richly illuminating insights into our societies, our social existence, and ourselves.

Nowhere are these insights more in evidence than in the remarkable field of sociolinguistics. This dynamic discipline offers a thoroughly fascinating and different lens for looking at society and our lives as social beings. Sociolinguistics studies language as a social act—how we actually use it in our daily interactions—and its findings are hugely provocative and revealing.

Among many eye-opening perspectives, the work of sociolinguistics points out the following facts:

  • Language is strong social capital, and our linguistic choices carry both costs and benefits we rarely consider.
  • Our identity is strongly tied to the speech we use and our perceptions of the speech we hear.
  • Our children are raised, our relationships are made, and our careers succeed, in large part, through how we use language.
  • Language embodies a worldview: your linguistic system reflects and affects the way you organize and understand the world around you.

Language opens doors and it closes them. It establishes relationships and it severs them. It represents us and locates us firmly within our social universe. It builds and rebuilds our societies. And all of these powerful capacities of language reveal themselves when we explore the crucial relation between what we say and how we live.

Now, in Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You, sociolinguist Valerie Fridland of the University of Nevada, Reno fields all of these compelling topics and more, guiding you in a wide-ranging voyage into the extraordinary world of our language, with a penetrating focus on the multiple ways in which societies and language intersect. In these 24 highly engaging lectures, you’ll look closely at the different facets of language and speech that sociolinguists study, bringing the field’s original perspective to the profound role of language in everything we do.

Within the course’s inquiry, you’ll investigate in detail how social differences based on factors such as region, class, ethnicity, occupation, gender, and age are inseparable from language differences. Further, you’ll explore how these linguistic differences arise, and how they both reflect and generate our social systems. Offering an incisive look at the findings and insights of sociolinguistics, these lectures reveal a side of language and speech few of us ever fully explore. Anyone with an interest in language, communication, or societies will find this series both enthralling and uniquely informative.

Uncover the Hidden Functions of Language in Our Social Existence

In this spirited inquiry, Professor Fridland invites you to investigate our social use of language from many perspectives and vantage points. Across the arc of the lectures, you’ll delve into key topics such as:

  • How language shapes thought and perception—Investigate how concepts regarding matters such as time, space, and gender are encoded into language, influencing our patterns of thought, and how the grammatical categories that your language provides fundamentally affect the way you perceive the world.
  • Language change and variation—See how language changes over time, charting the colorful history of the English language. Study how dialects, regional speech, ethnic speech varieties, and “speech communities” develop, and how linguistic differences become important social markers.
  • Attitudes toward language—Would you feel comfortable taking surfing lessons from someone with the accent and vocabulary of a British barrister? Study the social categorizing we do when we hear someone speak, and how the social currency of language produces stigmatization or prestige of different linguistic varieties and their speakers.
  • The “anatomy” of conversation—In a rigorous and perhaps surprising look at conversation, learn about eight essential factors that underlie any successful dialogue; discover that conversation is actually highly structured, and delve into how those structures support conversational exchange. Explore the remarkable degree to which we say things without actually saying them, communicating instead through indirectness, inference, and shared social meanings.
  • Linguistic roles and repertoire—Observe how human beings are linguistic “chameleons” in that we switch between different social roles in various settings, changing our speech to fit each role or to present a different identity to others.
  • Language and speech as action—Grasp how language, beyond its communicative function, actually performs actions, as in the case of the words spoken during a marriage ceremony. Explore how different social roles entitle a speaker to perform particular speech acts.

Explore the True Power of the Words You Speak

Professor Fridland enriches these lectures and adds considerable depth by playing many audio recordings of speech samples—early forms of English, regional American dialects, rural and urban speech—so that you learn about speech patterns, pronunciations, and linguistic varieties by actually hearing them.

In her teaching, Professor Fridland demonstrates both a deep knowledge of the work of sociolinguistics and incisive understanding of what its findings reveal. In numerous contexts, she presents intriguing and often startling evidence showing the importance and implications of our linguistic behavior:

  • In studies of courtroom conversations, where the same speaker testified using either a powerful or powerless speaking style, the use of the powerful style—a simple linguistic change—made the witness seem more believable and trustworthy to listeners.
  • Our beliefs about speakers can actually influence our perception of what we hear, as shown in studies where listeners who believed a speaker was Canadian reported hearing different vowel sounds than those who believed the speaker was American.
  • In multiple studies, listeners characterize language that is “correct” as being less friendly or pleasant than more informal or “incorrect” language.

Throughout the lectures, Professor Fridland engages you with illuminating questions, such as:

  • How did Northern and Southern American speech develop?
  • Why is there such a huge disconnect in English between spelling and pronunciation?
  • What accounts for gender differences in language? Is it a matter of biology—or society?

In the thought-provoking lectures of Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You, you’ll encounter the flip side of what we ordinarily assume about language and speech. You’ll look at the remarkable ways in which our society is a reflection of our language, how differences in the way people use language create differences in society, how people construct and define social contexts by their language use, and ultimately why our speech reveals so much about us. Join a brilliantly insightful sociolinguist and teacher in a compelling inquiry that sheds light on how our linguistic choices play a determining role in every aspect of our lives.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 10
    Language and Social Class
    Study the impact of socio-economic 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
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  • 208-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Valerie Fridland

About Your Professor

Valerie Fridland
University of Nevada, Reno
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....
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Reviews

Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You is rated 3.0 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriguing subject This is my second course on linguistics from the Great Courses. I've found both to be interesting. This course's focus on the "people side" has been enlightening and useful in my everyday life.
Date published: 2018-02-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The topic was appropriate to the subject. The professor spoke too quickly. This made it difficult to process much of the content.
Date published: 2018-02-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I bought it thinking it would be interesting and fun. It was not. Very boring and the professor is awful. It felt like we were submersed in her inner monologue. It was beyond disappointing. If I could give it less than one star, I would.
Date published: 2017-12-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A disappointment I was very interested in this topic having enjoyed taking a class in linguistics in college. I was very disappointed! The delivery of the professor is so annoying that I abandoned the class part way through.
Date published: 2017-09-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile! Not my favorite Great Courses lecture series about communication (though that is not the ostensible focus of this series), it was very good and worthwhile. My favorite is still Kehoe's "Effective Communication Skills." (I do recommend listening/watching at a higher than nominal speed, if possible, though.) Some folks seem to be put off by her very frequent jokes. It didn't bother me, but I can understand the point. I've studied several languages and am very interested in human communication (don't judge my writing too harshly, please), and this series connected several dots and improved my understanding of useful points that should prove beneficial in the future. Recommended lecture series.
Date published: 2017-05-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Annoying I think I've had it with the Great Courses. I've listened to dozens and liked almost all of them, but recent courses have mostly all had the same annoying feature. Instead of just getting to listen to a clearly presented, well organized series of informative lectures, the courses more and more seem to be selected for lectures with "personality" in ways that are really distracting. This lecturer is no different. Her presentation is filled with silly asides and weak jokes that she laughs at herself (no one else would). Interesting material presented in an unpleasant way.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amusing with some content The content is interesting and I learned a number of things I very much enjoyed finding out. The starting assumption is that you actually *believe* all the hoo ha about the English language deteriorating and becoming increasingly illogical, but even if you already know better, there is much good stuff in there. There is also just a lot of other "stuff." Either the lecturer really enjoys the sound of his own voice, or he was trying to fill up air time. In addition to a fair amount of cool information about language, I also learned (among so many other things) that the lecturer's mother seasoned broccoli with lemon juice and caraway, that he witnessed a dramatic bike accident as a child, that he dated a great many women before he married, and that he is a fan of "Our Miss Brooks" (to whom he refers over and over). Make of that what you will.
Date published: 2016-11-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Suffused with PC Propoganda Unlike most reviewers, the speed of the presentation did not bother me, but the fact that Fridland tripped over her own words (all the time) did. She sounds like she's reading a script off a teleprompter (not very gracefully). Much of the presentation is larded with unnecessarily high-falutin' compound formulations for really simple concepts (a low class marker, btw) that (sadly) would not be out of place in a written paper, but sound totally artificial in spoken form. But my real problem was not w/her stilted presentation, for which the other reviews had prepared me, but with the utterly banal content. The course is suffocated with political correctness, which is just as mind-numbing in this context as in every other. Fridland seems so uncomfortable with any concept of "class" or social segregation (ironic in a course on SOCIO-linguistics) that she falls all over herself trying to ignore the obvious. In an effort to show that there are no "inherent" differences among dialects, she waxes poetic on: "Isn't it amazing that we form social judgments based on how maids speak?" Uh, no. There is a wealth of evidence that the richer a person's vocabulary and the smoother her speech, the higher her wealth and social standing (not because of the speech itself, but because of the social background and/or years of education achieving such speech requires), so it is NOT "amazing" that we assume people with poorer vocabularies and ungrammatical usage are less educated and (therefore) have lower paying jobs & resulting social status. There are many, many similar examples, which far from providing any interesting insight or perspective, spend 40 years meandering around the desert to avoid naming the elephant in the room. While wasting time on such banality, the course ignores ANY interesting observations about how class actually affects language usage. Most upper class people do not say "ont" for "aunt" or "voz" for "vase," as these are middle-class affectations. The fact is that the higher a person's level of (social, professional, economic, etc) security, the LESS ornamental her speech, and the more likely she will (selectively) permit herself to use flagrantly incorrect or outdated terms (like "ain't" or "groovy") for irony or emphasis. I was hoping for this kind of updated social insight/observation, not a predictable piece of PC propaganda about "how we should be more aware of our language prejudices." Unfortunately, there was nothing more contemporary than Labov's 50-year old study about the class implications of New Yorkers dropping the "r," and the same old boring repetition of "mid-Atlantic vowel drift." If anyone has any suggestions of good books on modern linguistic class markers (a la Paul Fussell, Veblen, etc.), I'd be much obliged.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made me Think This course presents material that really makes me think. People talk as they do for a reason. I am discovering some judgemental blindness in myself as I work my way through. The presentation is excellent.
Date published: 2016-06-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from language: a deconstruction though she has her tics - you can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl - Professor Valerie Fridland gives a sound set of lectures on linguistics, with so much to say that her speedy delivery, often tripping even over her words, was probably due to the amount of content she wanted to fit into only 24 lectures - the amount of information here is extraordinary see "My Fair Lady", incidentally, for a fun overview of what it might mean to be a linguist - Richard
Date published: 2016-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not worth the effort I hesitated to buy this course because of the many poor reviews. But it seemed like something I would be interested in, given my graduate study in sociology and social psychology. Today I returned it after having reluctantly plowed my way though to lecture 19. Though obviously an earnest effort on the part of the professor, this course didn't work for me. The course started out with the promising idea that differences in pronunciation influence social judgements at a subconscious level. But as the course got into the mechanics of conversation, it seemed to be defining textbook concepts of linguistics without using those concepts to produce insights. I just was not getting much out of the course. What finally prompted me to return the course was the rapid fire delivery of complicated sentences, as if an academic paper was being read verbatim at high speed. I was using a lot of energy to comprehend the presentation only to realize that the sentences did not contain much content.
Date published: 2016-04-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I used the audio version by streaming. This course offered great potential promising to complement other TTC linguistic courses. This course aimed to be different in that it would focus on the social impact of language such as gender, class, race, region, age, etc. Unfortunately, the lecturer and the production undercut the promise. I was rooting for the lecturer despite her competing agains a TTC rock star (McWhorter). However, she generally became tongue-tied several times in each lecture (I don't know why TTC didn't just rerecord that portion of the lecture). She also tried to pepper her lectures with humor but Bob Greenberg she's not; the attempts at humor were just a distraction. She used a lot of highly technical terms and abbreviations without giving the student an opportunity to absorb the meaning. I hope TTC gives this interesting topic a complete overhaul in a second edition. I cannot recommend it in its current incarnation.
Date published: 2016-04-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Consider other TGC offerings This was a difficult course to follow. The content really did not match up well with the title. As a non-linguist, the material was interesting althought it was presented fast. The middle to later fourth of the lectures were the most interesting. The presenter was very difficult to listen to -- the delivery was not the usual professional flowing excellent delivery that I associate with TGC. It felt very immature. I would take another course related to this subject -- this course piqued my interest, but I would not take another from this instructor.
Date published: 2016-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This one disappoints Of all the courses I've purchased this one is the most difficult to listen to. The professor's voice is high-pitched which can't be helped, but coupled with the terminology which is not something I cannot understand easily, being a layperson, she also speaks at a rapid pace. By the time I absorb a sentence, she is two sentences beyond. I have to constantly put the lecture on pause to grasp it. She early on jokes about her fast speech but doesn't make any effort to slow it down. Professor Fridland is obviously learned, the course is of value, but too much effort to take in. How much more enjoyable it would be to listen at a normal pace.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing course content and presentation Before purchasing this course, I read the user comments and noted much criticism of the presentation. Although I do not disagree with the negative comments that were made about Professor Fridland's presentation, my chief complaint had to do with the material covered. The course mainly deals with sociology and psychology from a linguistics perspective, which I found quite boring. Most of the purely linguistics information that was included had already been covered more thoroughly in the other linguistics courses, particularly those by Professor McWhorter. The only thing that keeps me from sending this course back is the discussion of how vowels are formed, and the related vowel shift that is occurring in the northern midwest US (Chicago, Buffalo, etc.), which I found to be quite interesting. If you are interested in sociology, you might find this course helpful in spite of its shortcomings. Otherwise, skip it.
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This topic needs a better lecturer An interesting topic quickly buried in the jargon of the discipline. Do I really want to know what "monodiphthongization" is? "California Vowel Shift"? "Front-back, up-down, round and round tongue translation (or something like that)"? NO! I am looking for examples of speech patterns from around our country and their origins. Examples in this lecture are rare and poorly placed. To hear the Boston pronunciation of an item and then wait 20 minutes for a comparison with the Atlanta pronunciation doesn't work. And please, professor, watch Tina Fey tell a joke. You will note that she does not telegraph it with face and body posture then follow it with a silly smile and a giggle. (I will admit, however, that watching for these frequent behaviors makes for an excellent drinking game). And What My Speech Says About Me I assume comes in a subsequent lecture.
Date published: 2015-11-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Regional accents Much has been written about Dr. Fridland's delivery style, so i will not get into that, but what irked me was that for a linguist, she seemed unable to hear or at least portray some important regional differences. Specifically, in speaking about R-less accents, she does not distinguish between the Boston "pahk the cah" and the New York R-less accent which i will try to convey as "pawk the caw". No New Yorker or Bostonian would ever confuse the two, but she pronounces them in the same way. She also does not acknowledge (at least in my recollection as an audio-in-car listener) the significant differences in accent that are socioeconomically defined within a region. The "New Yawk" accent, for example, tends to be a blue-collar one, and vast swaths of Brooklynites do not have this accent.
Date published: 2015-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting despite the flaws I will be charitable and write that this course was interesting when listened to while driving. The professor is clear and she covers lots of material with very good explanations and understandable examples. But….. there are problems. Her overall organization is quite unstructured: lots of definitions and concepts rapidly fired at the listener without theoretical superstructure. Perhaps if I followed the book more closely or bought the video version this would be a lesser issue (though the effect on my driving would have been problematic). What bothered me the most was her persistent self-deprecating “what a silly girl am I” sense of humor. Surely a modern woman and expert in sociolinguistics would see that this is demeaning and unprofessional. I feel sorry for the GC company team who wanted to have some diversity in the lecturer cohort by hiring this woman – only to have her use a style left over from 1955. A few jokes on this theme might (maybe) be funny – incessant repetition only suggests the need for better editing. To be fair, I do recognize her as smart with nicely on-target explanations. The material is certainly worth learning. This is not a freshman level course, and I imagine her upper level students find her goofy sense of humor endearing, though I suspect some of the women find it cringe worthy.
Date published: 2015-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much Better than the Reviews Suggest Professor Valerie Fridland is a professor that is used to dealing with college students, and I get the impression that her teaching style is aimed mostly at undergraduate students. As such, when she made the transition to the Great Courses she inserts humor, maintains a pretty attitude, and seeks to entertain as she teaches. This appears to have put off a number of people who have listened to this course, and I can appreciate why. However, this was not a problem for me. In fact, it made the course more easily accessible to those who are less likely to stay engaged in a purely academic setting. While some of Professor Fridland's jokes are pretty lame, I get the impression that those were largely intentional as they made those who I was listening to it with more involved. Onto the content, this course does provide a wealth of detail. A lot of what is said will appear like common sense. I remember looking to my right and asking "people get paid to write this?" several times. While those moments were notable, it was much more common to hear about certain details and facts that hit the "eureka!" note. There is a lot to learn here, and I get the strong impression that, given the often highly technical vocabulary that linguists use, that Professor Fridland's more casual, entertaining style is designed to make those obstacles more easily overcome. At times I wished that Professor Fridland would indulge in the more academic and technical sides of her discipline, but given that this is an introduction to the role language plays in our society I can support this move. She quickly moves through entire sub-disciplines that have spawned an army of specialists spending their lives in study, which leaves little time to dwell. This isn't negative, instead it should highlight just how massive a discipline it is that she is trying to get our feet wet in. I was tempted to give this course a 4, but after seeing how this course and Professor Fridland was being treated in the comments section I felt a need to revise that. This is an educative, quirky course. You will have fun, and it is a good way to get other people interested in independent academic learning. The subject is given just enough weight to be truly worth your investment of time, while having more than enough brevity to make it feel light. This is not a truly serious course, it does not even remotely set out to be one either. So think carefully about what kind of student you are and what kind of learning environments you excel at when deciding to buy this course.
Date published: 2015-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from DEFINITELY GET THE VIDEO -- She speaks VERY fast. I've only listened to two lectures so far, but with my background I think it's enough for a fair evaluation. I majored in languages in college and took linguistics courses both as an undergrad and in a PhD program. Over the years I've studied about 8 languages and I recently completed John McWhorter's course Story of Human Language and I'm looking forward to getting his other courses. I became interested in Cultural Anthropology around 1970, so overall I have a related background. I don't find Dr. Fridland's sense of humor off-putting BUT I CAN EASILY SEE THAT MANY WOULD. I bought the audio and with my background I CAN follow the material. But she SPEAKS **VERY** FAST. Someone without a solid background IN LINGUISTICS would probably have difficulty understanding a lot of what she is talking about BECAUSE she speaks so fast. Even though I UNDERSTAND the concepts she's presenting, she speaks SO fast that I'm having trouble REMEMBERING them. She uses a LOT of technical linguistic jargon. When the speed and jargon are combined, it's basically as if she's the last speaker on a program that's running late, presenting a paper at a LINGUISTICS SYMPOSIUM where the listeners already have some exposure to the specific concepts and they use the jargon so frequently that the terms are second nature to them. Although I haven't seen the video, the course was recorded in 2014 and over the years TGC has added a lot more graphics to help visually reinforce what the speaker is saying. It's only an assumption on my part, but at the rate she speaks, visual reinforcement would definitely be helpful. Regarding the MATERIAL, a lot of it IS "I guess I knew that but I never specifically thought about it." So some reviewers' complaints about "a lot of the material is obvious" to some extent aren't fair. She does obviously know the material and she covers the topics well -- but for most listeners the big problem will be trying to understand the concepts at the speed she speaks, and also remembering material presented that rapidly.
Date published: 2015-07-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Subject, Unfortunate Presentation I thought I would love to learn about "the remarkable ways in which our society is a reflection of our language, how differences in the way people use language create differences in society, how people construct and define social contexts by their language use, and ultimately why our speech reveals so much about us" ? (From the course description.) Unfortunately, most of the insights of sociolinguistics, at least as presented here, are academically-worded statements of the obvious. Parts of the early lectures do cover fascinating areas of basic linguistics and the history of English, but these are so rushed and superficial as to be frustrating rather than helpful. And our professor's style leaves much to be desired. Just a sampling of the level of the ideas presented (quotes are from the Course Guidebook): - "It seems that young people are the crucial link in introducing innovations into a community's speech." (Lecture 8) - "Several studies suggest that children typically acquire the speech systems of their mothers or primary caregivers." (Lecture 11) - "When social groups are not viewed favorably in a larger community, it is unlikely that their speech will acquire a more elevated status." (Lecture 12) - "Breakdowns [in communication] are much more likely to occur in cross-cultural conversations than in those with someone who is familiar with our cultural norms . . ." (Lecture 13 I could go on for each lecture. I do realize I could be accused of cherry-picking, but I honestly feel these quotes reflect the entire course. As others have noted. it is difficult to listen to Professor Fridland. Aside from speaking much too rapidly (the opposite of the usual situation with Great Courses professors), she rambles, runs one sentence into another, and evidences very little organization. It is like listening to a stream-of-consciousness at fast-forward. And she not infrequently, and quite suddenly, YELLS! In addition, her extremely frequent side comments and tag questions, which she clearly finds amusing, are consistently unfunny and soon become quite annoying. Two of a plethora of possible examples: "English has a very exotic vowel system compared to other world vowel systems. Don't you love being exotic?" and "Let's talk about syntax. No, this is not the price you pay for a great weekend in Vegas." (I would guess that this approach goes over much better in a live lecture. To be fair, it should be noted that the online evaluations of Professor Fridland by her students are excellent.) So - knowing nothing about sociolinguistics, I anticipated that it would be fascinating and insightful. At least from my experience here, it is neither. Equally regrettably, our professor's lecture style is off-putting and frustrating. I cannot recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not “Just” Talking This course exceeded my expectations. It opened doors in walls that I never even knew were there. Professor Fridland expanded my view of the function and evolution of language. From a simple vehicle for information exchange to a tool for living and functioning in a society, a marker of social membership, and a tool for determining and reinforcing our position within the social hierarchy. Her explanation of the mechanics of conversation showed an unexpected depth even while pointing out roles and procedures we use daily. I wish I had known of these long ago. Her discussion of phonetic structures and generation, truthfully, was initially taxing. But with a little research, to determine a more general definition of the word “vowel”, the lectures made sense and greatly increased my knowledge of the mechanics of speech. Dr. Fridland has an informal, even homey, style of presentation. She often uses humor in her lectures, a quick joke to emphasize a point, or a deft turn of phrase to inject an example or to reinforce a point in the lecture. She has a quick mind and several times I found myself untangling my mind from a joke and hurrying to catch up to the lecture. She gives her audience credit for intelligence and does not talk down to us. I believe this course, along with Zender's course (Writing and Civilization) and McWhorter's course (Story of Human Language) work well together to give the student a broad understanding of the role and use of languages in both writing and daily life. This course has a very high information density. It is not for the passive student, who just sits there and expects to have the information poured into his or her mind as though they were watching a situation comedy or an episode of celebrity chef. It does require thinking about the topic under consideration and relating it to the previous information. But it is well worth every iota of effort it requires.
Date published: 2015-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hang in there...it's worth the wait I enjoyed Prof. Fridland's lectures a lot, especially the middle ones which were also the most technical ones. Unfortunately, it took about four lectures for Fridland to provide the necessary background information and to hit her stride. I got the video streamed version which I think made it easier to follow, especially when the professor speaks fast. That said, I don't think the course uses images creatively or effectively (lots of stock photos of attractive people talking in groups and one ten-second display of a boot!!?!). What other reviewers have said about Fridland's weak and corny jokes is valid, but I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. She has to deliver a lot of dry information, so in the long haul I almost welcomed the "humor" breaks. I actually took a peek at the user's guide (rare for me) and plan to consult it more closely when I re-visit my favorite lectures in the course. I wish Fridland had included a glossary of technical terms and acronyms. This is my fourth GC linguistics course and I found Fridland's explanations to be fresh and unique. She overlaps with McWhorter and Lerer as you'd expect but her focus on societal forces and norms helped me get a feeling about how and why language changes.
Date published: 2015-04-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I may give up on it I have listened to the first two lectures in Audio format. I am not sure if I can continue as it is so stressful to listen to. I was not sure how to put my views as I did not wish to seem negative toward the professor. I am some-what relieved to read many reviews that seem to feel as I do; so I do not now have to find the words. I can say the reviews I have read, good and bad, toward the course, seem broadly fair - I am glad it's not just me. I have not felt this way about a GC course before. They usually fall between very very good and excellent. To be fair, i have only listened to the first two lectures and should listen to the whole course and then form a view. I am just not sure that I can. The content seems excellent but the presentation grates on the ears. Yeeeah! It would be great if a shorter version of this course could be done anew, say 6 lectures, with a more paced and relaxed presentation with a little lower voice and careful audio. It's a shame to miss the content as it seems very interesting and comprehensive to say the least.
Date published: 2015-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview, fun presentation - but intense! Good overview of the social science of linguistics with focus on the way language changes and the social forces that drive that change. Though instructor keeps this very dense material light and humorous, which helps, don't be fooled! The course requires concentration; the material may seem light and breezy, the way the instructor portrays it, but it's quite complex. Be in a spot you can listen attentively!
Date published: 2015-03-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Frustrating course (Audio CD). FYI, I have listened to all of the lectures, and I have consulted a few of the chapters in the Guidebook. I found this course frustrating, and sometimes even aggravating. I did find the lectures interesting during 3-hour drives. The topics covered should be interesting to everyone! But Prof. Fridland's lecturing style made enjoyment difficult. She tends to vary the volume and pitch of her voice in an odd manner. She tended to speak very rapidly at times, and in so doing, sometimes seemed to "throw away" bits of information that I wished I might have heard more about. On the other hand, some information and examples were repeated numerous times. It was difficult to evaluate the relative importance of her various comments. I also think there should have been a lot more clarity in the many demonstrations of vowel sounds and other vocalizations. It was irritating that Dr. Fridland didn't seem to treat me as a serious listener. It also struck me as inappropriate to build some of her discourses around the assumption that we all hold certain (mainly unspecified) stereotypical beliefs. I have a general interest in linguistics. Overall, I found this course vaguely interesting, and I picked up some intriguing tidbits of information. In the Guidebook there's a thoughtful and excellent bibliography covering a range of topics. Looking at that range of topics made me think that it would have been helpful to start this course with an overview of what would be covered within the overall field of linguistics, and why (relevance). At the start of each lecture, I would also have appreciated a preview of published thoughts and/or research about the topic of that lecture. If you listen carefully, you will note when Dr. Fridland sometimes casually refers to theory or to research when lecturing on a sociolinguistic topic. "Sociolinguistics" is generally considered to be a relatively recent field of study. When resulting theories or research are presented in the lectures, I think we are owed more than an occasional explanation by Prof. Fridland of how much work has been performed in those topical areas and particularly how much credence she has concluded that we should assign to that work, and why. Why are we hearing about theories that "propose" and about research that "suggests?" The course lacks perspective. In summary, you might find that this course stimulates thoughts about your speech and about your everyday conversations. You will come away with some very general ideas about "how ... region, gender, or ethnicity" may affect speech.
Date published: 2015-03-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Annoying! Despite the very interesting content of this course, I found the professor's presentation deeply and persistently annoying. She has a very bad habit of shouting out the punch line of her supposed jokes and then laughing at them; this would be bad enough if said jokes were funny, but they're not; in fact, in aggregate, they are actually extremely condescending. This style might work for teaching 18-year-olds (though I'm pretty sure my 18-year-old self would have been gravely insulted; I'm glad I went to a university where professors treated us as adults), but it's way off base for the Great Courses audience. Because the features of language are, in fact, the content of the course, I found myself dwelling on the professor's idiosyncrasies all the more. Why couldn't she just get on with the material instead of trying so hard to be with it, or whatever it was she was trying to be. She also had a tendency to speed up her speech just when she was getting to important technical content, making that content very hard to follow. I was greatly disappointed by this course.
Date published: 2015-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting and entertaining I enjoyed this course and look forward to another by Prof. Fridland. She's a very engaging, clear, articulate, and enjoyable speaker who loves the material. Like many courses on language and linguistics, there are some grand themes as well as a lot of interesting factoids and anecdotes in every lecture. The course starts out with an overview of language, speech, variation and dialects, then dives into many more detailed and interesting topics. The main focus is English, the history and ongoing evolution of which is fodder for much interesting analysis and comment.
Date published: 2015-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Takes some effort, but worth it. I found it took some effort to get through this course but that effort was worth it. Back in college a few of my hardest courses were the one's where I learned the most. Much of the material seems intuitive but the professor covers it in much greater depth than I thought I knew. There were many insights relevant to everyday speech & conversations After awhile, I realized the professor's corney jokes did enliven the lectures and I started looking foward to them. She really tries hard to make this course enjoyable..
Date published: 2015-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Splendid, pithy, fascinating course I've viewed six lectures of the video version of this course so far. I had read the previous reviews before I purchased it and I'd been puzzled by the type and tenor of the negative reviews--in contrast to the informative, five-star reviews. Vast differences in perspectives on this course didn't make sense...too much subjective disparity and polarization. Now that I'm viewing the course, I think that I've gleaned much of the bases for that disparity. I suggest three reasons for the general review gap. First, this is distinctly a college-level course...maybe junior-senior level in many ways. Second, I have an advanced, multidisciplinary academic STEM background with technical writing as a common link. Still I find that the field of sociolinguistics is as complex and convolute--and fascinating--as any nonlinear field of physical phenomenology. This course is not for most secondary school students who are drawn by the seemingly familiar topic headings listed in the course and lecture descriptions. Third, this is not a shallow course; this is a distinctly college-level course...emphasis intended. I'd also been puzzled by the comments about the speed of the professor's speech. I didn't originally understand why some folks focused on this aspect while others didn't. I don't believe that her rate of speech is the problem so much as the rate and amount of information and complexity that she introduces as she speaks. Some complaints in previous comments seemed to be about the professor leaving them behind; that's entirely understandable, for the reasons listed above. However, this latter issue is why I chose the video version. I have many audio versions of other courses but when I expect a dense complexity of information, I prefer the visual augmentation--as well as the ability to self-pace by stopping and reversing to rehear parts of the presentation that I didn't grasp initially. It's not so much the rate of speech as the rate of information presentation--which is common to complex topics. If I can quickly re-screen what is to me a particularly dense section, I gladly do so. Uptake is an individual ability and if I can maximize my benefit from the presentation--on my terms...of course, that's what I do. Too fast? Slow it down. I'm greatly enjoying this course. Yes, it's dense and multilayered with complexity. However, the course topic is as complex as any in the Great Courses catalog. I have several dozen courses already...this is probably my favorite. It's about life in a complex, cosmopolitan world. Hope this helps.
Date published: 2015-02-23
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