Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You

Course No. 2263
Professor Valerie Fridland,
University of Nevada, Reno
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3.1 out of 5
69 Reviews
40% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 2263
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Define theoretical linguistics and sociolinguistics, and learn how they define us.
  • numbers Study the impact of socioeconomic status, class, and education on speech (with a focus on the pronunciation of "r").
  • numbers Learn how conversations follow specific procedures, like turn-taking, bonded units of talk, and speaker/listener cues.
  • numbers 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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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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Language and Society: What Your Speech Says About You is rated 3.1 out of 5 by 69.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating look at the way we speak I have gained so many insights into language and how it is influenced by many factors in society. The professor does a wonderful job in presentation and has a delightful sense of humor. I'd love to see more linguistics courses by her.
Date published: 2020-04-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No future as a standup comedienne I have become fascinated with linguistics through the Great Courses (and especially Profs McWhorter and Lerer), so was very much looking forward to this course and a different approach to the topic. Instead, I have never been so happy to finish a course as I was this one. To be sure, there is some interesting and helpful information in the course and for that reason, I give the course two stars rather than one. I was happy to be disabused of some of my beliefs regarding male vs female language usage (although I believe there is more on the topic than she gave credence to). It is the delivery that completely put me off. I enjoy the odd aside and joke as much as the next person, but the constant barrage of attempts at humor (most of which fall short) and her off-putting affected laughter really made me tune out for large sections of the course. (And, unlike in other courses when I miss something, I had no desire to go back and re-listen.) I'm afraid I cannot recommend this course in its current form. The topic is very worthwhile (and will have you thinking about how you speak), but the delivery and fluff just made it painful.
Date published: 2020-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Shallow and repetitive; not enjoyable This course was so disappointing that I didn't finish it. In fact, I listen to these courses when I exercise, and this got so bad that I turned it off mid-lecture and finished my workout in silence. The content is mostly shallow and obvious, and the lecturer repeats herself endlessly. One wonders if she even reviewed her lecture notes to notice that she made the same point again and again. There are also almost no good examples, and when she does give an example she adopts an obnoxious, loud tone of voice. Her sense of humor is unpleasant. She speaks sloppily for a formal context, e.g., confusing "live" with "online," and failing to speak standard dialect with regard to pronoun case.
Date published: 2019-09-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Horrible, terrible, no good, but interesting Well, I normally like and agree with BGZR's reviews, (his is the "most helpful critical review") but in this case, I think he's half-wrong. NYNM (the "most helpful favorable review") by contrast is only half-right. This course is interesting, but terrible. The material is ... good - almost great. But the presentation is excruciating. NYNM calls her style "charming". Whew! Not by any measure I've ever been exposed to. Her jokes are both unfunny and marred by terrible delivery. She's obviously reading from a teleprompter and jokes that might otherwise be, at least on the way to, charming, come off as stilted and stiff. Her pitch, especially when she SCREAMS (as BGZR points out) is like fingernails on chalkboard. Overall, she would have been far better off sticking with an academic tone and not even trying for (or "tryin' for" as she would say) the casual style she's obviously been coached to try to achieve. She clearly has no natural feel for it and she's now made me suffer through it for 12 hours. All that negative said, there is actually quite a bit of content here that is quite interesting. I should say that I'm comparing this course to several of Prof. McWhorter's classes, all of which are excellent. He covers more pure linguistics and I was afraid that there would be nothing new here. But that wasn't really the case. In addition to the sociolinguistics that the course focuses on, she also explains quite a bit about how sound is produced and how it changes over time. Overall, I loved the content, but hated the presentation. I have to say, that I felt like I suffered to get the information. I will say that I listened to the audio. Having watched what little video of her they have on the intro, it might have been better on video. However it was incredibly painful in audio. I'd say two and a half stars, but since I can't do halves, I'm going for two stars, since I felt the pain a lot!
Date published: 2019-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great starting point! For someone with no exposure to this topic, this course provided a lot of jumping-off points for further reading on the subject(s) discussed here. The professor's light sense of humor kept the course going at a breezy pace even when some of the material got a bit complicated -- not an easy thing to do, and the mark of a gifted teacher. I was glad she addressed the complicated, to say nothing of controversial, subject of power imbalances and privilege and they way they shape perceptions of language and of speakers. My one criticism is that what she's talking about here is implicit bias, a phenomenon that has been substantially researched at Harvard University, but there was no mention of the term or of the material they've made publicly available at the Project Implicit website.
Date published: 2019-04-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I very intriguing title The material is somewhat hard to follow . This may be due to the too frequent distracting humour.
Date published: 2019-02-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from BGZRedix A user named BGZRedix currently has "the most helpful critical review" here. I second every single one of his comments. I bought this to share with my homeschooled teenager and decided not to bother. I bought this one through Audible so will be returning it through them as well.
Date published: 2018-09-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A PhD's details with no interest Usually when I have a Great Course in the car, I don't want to get out of the car at the end of my journey because I want to hear the next part. In this case, although the professor is likeable, she never breaks out of the details and her overly PhD-style thick jargon vocabulary that takes a lot of words to say very little. The conclusions of each 500 words is usually something like "therefore there is some kind of influence from society as well." In other words, something you could have guessed without hearing the course. Sorry, some of your jokes are funny, but most of the picture is missing.
Date published: 2018-09-22
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