LING 534A: Sociolinguistic Applications of Social Network Theory

Autumn 2009




TTh    12:30-2:20


MGH 282




Alicia Beckford Wassink (wassink@u...)



A217 Padelford

Office Hrs:

Th 10-12:00pm and by appt.

Office Ph:


Dept. Ph:


(Linguistics Dept. main office)


Quick Links:


Our electronic reserves page is:

Our Class Discussion Board is:        

Our Email list for the course is:



Learning Objectives and Course Overview:


Learning Objectives


By the conclusion of this course, students should be able to:

1.    Design an ethnographic study of a social network

2.   Distinguish the notion of social network analysis from the notion of social network theory and state key tenets of social network theory

3.   Assess the size, structure or content characteristics of social networks and relations within them; compute network density, multiplexity, bias and integration; associate actors with key structural positions; graph basic ego-centric networks using UCI Net software

4.   Articulate the key findings of “classic” social network studies in the field of sociolinguistics that have examined the relationship between network features and some observed aspect of linguistic variation or change

5.   Situate sociolinguistic network studies within the broader realm of social network research (assess strengths, limitations, possible future directions)

Return to top


Course Overview


This advanced, graduate-level course is concerned with language in its social context--as it is used by everyday people in everyday interaction. Our attention will be centered on social networks--those webs of informal and formal interpersonal contacts that comprise all human societies.  We will examine the ways in which the linguistic behavior of people in society reflects their membership in small-scale clusters such as neighborhoods or recreational groups.


Research into social networks is regarded within the field of sociolinguistics as breaking new ground in our understanding of the ways that social forces impact the way that language varies and changes over time.  Introduced to sociolinguistic research the 1980s by James and Lesley Milroy, this approach draws on the interdisciplinary field of social network analysis, which encompasses a range of methods, structural notions, and graphing techniques developed by sociologists, anthropologists, statisticians, among other practitioners. Sociolinguists recognize the approach as synthesizing Labovian approaches to social dialectology with Gumperzian approaches to social anthropology and the sociology of language. 


Just a note: we will NOT be studying or using the web-based social network software that has recently become widely popular on the internet (e.g., MySpace, LinkedIn, FaceBook, etc.)


Prerequisites: LING400 (or other upper-level introduction to Linguistics). Recommended prerequisites:  LING432 or 532.


Return to top

Course Requirements (expectations, evaluation and required readings):




You are expected to do all of the day’s required reading before the start of class and to be prepared to discuss your learning, questions and opinions. New concepts and definitions will come both from reading done in advance of class, and lecture. You will be expected to build facility articulating these ideas. To help you meet this goal, plan to keep a notebook in which to store definitions and work problems.  Class meetings will include time for both lecturing, discussion and group exercises. We do not test on definitions and analysis problems. Rather, we build analytical skills by working problems in the course of graded daily assignments and in-class exercises.  Because much of our work is collaborative, we will extensively use the GoPost site as a forum for ongoing discussion.




There are three components to evaluation in this course:

1) Daily assignments and discussion (30%)

2) Handbook term project (45%)

3) Personal network project (25%)



1. Daily Assignments and Discussion (30%)

Our graded assignments will alternate between reading responses , network structure exercises, and tutorials in social network graphing.  The graphing assignments are intended to  introduce the student to use of UCINet 6 software. Reading responses are intended to give you an opportunity to articulate thoughts about a concept or study, and will be submitted via the online discussion board for the course. Students are encouraged to read each others’ reading responses (no grades will be shown online), and engage each others’ ideas. On the day a response paper is due, we will routinely talk about the main gist of students’ response before the assignment is turned in.



2. Personal network project (25%)

Our central exercise will be a  “Personal Network Project”, completed across the quarter.  All students will complete a partial quantification of their own personal social networks, and (depending on class size) the network density of the LING534 class.  You will be asked to choose one week during October or early November in which you will keep a journal or diary of your contacts. The completed project packet contains three components:


a. a record of your social interactions for one week (any week this quarter, but be deliberate and complete!). This will be turned in.

b. a graph of your network linkages, including a diagram of your first and second-order network zones (using some graphical network software, like UCINet for Windows, or Network Insight for MacOSX)

c. a write-up about your personal network, including the information laid out in the Personal Network Project guidelines. 7-10 pps.


The completed journal, graph and write up of the project (parts a-c) will be submitted in class: Tuesday, November 24, 2009.


Return to top

3. Handbook Term Project: (45%)

The term project in this course is a cooperatively completed work entitled (tentatively) "A Social Network Theory Handbook: Applications to variationist sociolinguistics."  We will think of this as a co-authored scholarly publication of a work that will make a major contribution to the field. This project provides graduate students with an opportunity to experience the process of peer review and collaboration, in preparation for a career of academic work.


Our work will be topically arranged, possibly following the headings on the syllabus below.  Students will include 3 (or more) articles or writings not included on the syllabus to provide a foundation for the handbook chapter, in consultation with the instructor. Each student is responsible for one chapter in the Handbook, which is due during the final examination hour for this class.  This project will be completed in three stages:


            1. Draft handbook chapter: Each student will independently write a chapter (4-pages, single-spaced) for the handbook. Each student will choose a topic in consultation with the instructor. You should select a set of readings (the “3 (or more)” mentioned above) to discuss in advance with the instructor prior to writing the draft. The draft of this work will be posted to the GoPost site for peer review and revision.


            2. Complete a peer review: Students will exchange their chapter draft with another member of the class. Students will provide their partners with a scholarly review  (evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the draft; missing elements; suggestions regarding revision). The final handbook chapter should show responsiveness to the suggestions made in the peer review. Chapter drafts are not turned in for a grade, however, peer reviews are. You will submit peer reviews to the GoPost discussion board. The student is responsible for making sure his or her review is turned in.


3.  Organize handbook: the class will decide together on the format and organization of the handbook, additional desired elements (e.g. graphics, supplemental  bibliography, etc.). The instructor will write the front matter.


Your handbook chapter is due at the beginning of the final examination period for the course: Thursday, December 17, 2009, 10:30 in the instructor’s office or via email (in .doc or .docx format—no .pdfs!!). Within one month after assembly, the completed handbook will be distributed to class members’ departmental mailboxes. The class often chooses to have a(n) (optional) coffee gathering to discuss the completed project.


Return to top

Required Readings:


1.)  Textbooks. 

Milroy, L. (1987) Language and Social Networks, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell


2.)  Electronic reserve readings (


Note:  Most of the foundational structural notions discussed come from the following text, which is not required for purchase, but highly recommended:


Wasserman, S. and Faust, K. (1994) Social Network Analysis: methods and applications. In the series, Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.


Reading Plan:


Our reading plan is to engage the principal set of network studies written within the field of sociolinguistics while bolstering our understanding of social networks more generally, using classic literature in social network analysis.  After the first week, most of our weekly reading will include both literature from sociolinguistics and something from the larger social network “canon.”  We will go heavy on the social aspects of social network analysis, as these will be most relevant for students of general linguistics, communication studies, and education, and quite a bit lighter on the mathematical, statistical and computational aspects, which are not. 


In terms of readings in sociolinguistics, detailed consideration of several types of networks in various parts of the globe will allow us to explore how an understanding of social network ties can elucidate the regularity of language variation and direction of language change: e.g., phonological change in the Austrian Alps, retention of a rural dialect in an ethnic enclave in urban Brazil, development of an urban vernacular in Belfast. We will see how these investigations of different topics (from the social path taken by phonological changes to social constraints on codeswitching) all entail different applications of social network analysis, with different types of indices for estimating community integration and determining structural information about different types of social actors.



Return to top

Syllabus: Rev: 11/23/09







Th 10/1

1. Overview:

·       The need for ethnographic approaches in variationist


·       What are social networks?

·       How to read for this course


- Handout 1

- Discussion will draw from:

Rickford, John. 1986. The need for new approaches to social class analysis in sociolinguistics, Language and Communication 6(3) 215-222.


For next class: Read Wellman, W&F and collect key definitions and questions from the reading



T 10/6

2. Social Network Theory vs Structural Analysis


- Discussion will draw from:

Wellman, B. 1988. Structural Analysis: from method and metaphor to theory and substance. Social Structures: a network approach. 19-61. [43pp]


Wasserman, S and K Faust. 1993. Social network analysis: methods and applications. chs. 1, 2.1-2.4.2. Cambridge: Cambridge. [50pp]


For next class: Read M



Th 10/8

2. Theory, cont. and Application to the Speech Community


- Handout 2

- Discussion will draw from:

Milroy, L. (1987) Language and Social Networks, 2nd ed., ch. 1, 3. Oxford: Blackwell [“LSN” hereafter, 53pp]


For next class: Read M & M

Assignment 2:  Begin Milroy response paper to be turned in (3-5pp) next class.



T 10/13









Return to top

3. Networks in Sociolinguistics I: The Belfast Study


- Turn in Milroy response paper

- Discussion will draw from:

Milroy, L. & Milroy, J. 1978. Belfast: change and variation in an urban vernacular. In, Sociolinguistic patterns in British English (P. Trudgill, ed.). London: Edward Arnold: 19-36. [17pp]


Assignment 3: Begin UCINet introductory exercise, density and multiplexity



Th 10/15

3. cont. Networks in Sociolinguistics I: Belfast, cont.


- Discussion will draw from:

LSN 5-6 [67pp]


In-class work (to be turned in next class): UCINet Relation Types exercise Part III, Multiplexity. You will turn in worksheet, UCINet graph, handwritten matrix (if applicable).



T 10/20

3. cont. Networks in Sociolinguistics I: Background for Belfast


- Handout 3

- Turn in UCINet Exercise I

- Discussion will draw from:

Boissevain, J.  (1973)  An exploration of two first-order network zones, ch. 8. In, Network Analysis: studies in human interaction (J. Boissevain, ed.).  The Hague:  Mouton, pp. 126-147. [21pp]


Mitchell, C. J. (1973) Networks, norms and institutions, ch. 2. In, Network Analysis: studies in human interaction (J. Boissevain, ed.).  The Hague:  Mouton, pp. 16-35. [19pp]


For next time: begin thinking about personal network project, examine sample diary formats



Th 10/22

Meet and complete self-guided discussion: ABW away


-Work on personal network project

-Next meeting, the class will present a common journal format to be used for individual projects.


For next time: Read L



T 10/27

4. Early research into network-sized groups and linguistic variation: The Martha's Vineyard Study and local identity


- Discussion will draw from:

Labov, W. (1963) The social motivation of a sound change, Word 19(3), pp. 273-309. [36pp]


For next time: Position and tie content response paper (Assignment 4)




class cancelled


T 11/3








Return to top

5. Personal network project (meet in sociolab or location with access to UCINet)


- Turn in Assgt 4

- Matrix tutorial

- Discussion will draw from:

Wasserman, S and K Faust. 1993. Social network analysis: methods and applications. ch 3. Cambridge: Cambridge UP [23pp]


For next time: Read B&G



Th 11/5

6. Networks and norm enforcement


- Handout 4

- Discuss format for personal network journal

- Discussion will draw from:

Blom, J-P. and Gumperz, J. 1972.  Blom, Jan-Petter and Gumperz, John J. (1972) Social meaning in linguistic structure: codeswitching in Norway. In Gumperz, J. J. and Hymes, D. (eds.) Directions in sociolinguistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, pp. 407-434. [27pp]


For next time: Read W&F



T 11/10

7. Structural positions: actor centrality (degree, betweeness, closeness)


- Handouts 5a,b

- Discussion will draw from:

Wasserman, S and K Faust. 1993. Social network analysis: methods and applications. Ch 5. Cambridge: Cambridge UP [48pp]

-Schedule UCINet laboratory


For next time: Read B, K; keep working on personal network project (Assgt 6)



Th 11/12


8. Networks in Sociolinguistics II: Regulatory control. Network bias in an immigrant community.


- Sign-up for instructor meetings to discuss handbook topics

- Handout 6

- Discussion will draw from:

Bott, E. (1957) Factors affecting social networks, ch. 4. In Family and Social Network: roles, norms and external relationships in ordinary urban families.  London: Tavistoc, pp. 97-113.  [16pp]


Kirke, K. (2005) When there’s more than one norm enforcement mechanism: Accommodation and shift among Irish immigrants to New York City. Unpublished ms. [8pp]


For next time:  Read B-R; keep working on personal network project (Assgt 6)



T 11/17 Th 11/19

9. Networks in Sociolinguistics III: Geographic mobility and phonological restructuring Contact vs. Subsector approaches


- Discussion will draw from:

Bortoni-Ricardo, S.-M. (1985) The urbanization of rural dialect speakers: a sociolinguistic study in Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. §5.3, §6.4, §7.1.2-all of ch 8 (pp. 114-122, 138-149, 157-172, 173-216.)



For next time: Begin Bortoni-Ricardo reading response (Assgt 7)



T 11/24

10. Global and local networks


Personal network projects due

- Handout 7

- Turn in Bortoni-Ricardo reading response (Assgt 7) Cancelled

- Discussion will draw from:

Breiger, R. 1988. The duality of persons and groups. Social Structures: a network approach (Wellman and Berkowitz, eds). 83-98. [15pp]


Georg Simmel, 1950. The triad. The sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: Free Press [24pp]


For next time:  Read E, A&M



Th 11/26

No class: Thanksgiving Day



T  12/1


11. Networks in Sociolinguistics IV: Ethnic dialect variation

Code-switching in two Black communities


- Handout 8

- Discussion will draw from:

Edwards, V. (1986) Language in a black community, chs. 7,8. Avon, England: Multilingual Matters, pp. 78-108. [30pp]


Ash, S. and Myhill, J. (1986)  Linguistic correlates of inter-ethnic contact. In, Diversity and diachrony (D. Sankoff, ed.). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 33-44. [11pp]



For next time: Read L-G, LSN 7; Begin UCINet Exercise 3 (Assgt 8)




Th 12/3






Return to top

12. Networks in Sociolinguistics V: Social Networks and linguistic change, the importance of weak ties


- Handout 9

- Discussion will draw from:

Granovetter, M. (1983) The strength of weak ties:  a network theory revisited, Sociological Theory, 1(1), pp. 201-233. [32pp]


Milroy, J. and Milroy, L.  (1997).  Network structure and linguistic change. In, Sociolinguistics: a reader and coursebook (N. Coupland and A. Jaworski, eds.). New York:St. Martin's Press, pp. 199-211. [12pp]


For next time: Read B&E, V, finish Assgt 8



T 12/8

13. Structural Equivalence and begin 14. Diffusion of Innovations


-Assgt 8 due

- Discussion will draw from:

Borgatti, S. and M. Everett. 1992 Notions of position in network analysis. Sociological Methodology 22: 1-36 [35pp]


Valente, T. M. (1995) Network Models of the Diffusion of Innovations chs 1,2. (upto p. 23) [23pp]


For next time: Read V, complete peer reviews



Th 12/10

14. cont. Diffusion of Innovations


-Handout 11

- Peer reviews due

- Discussion will draw from:

Valente, T. M. (1995) Network Models of the Diffusion of Innovations chs 4,5. [29pp]


For next time:  Read V


As needed: Finalize content of handbook, discuss cross-referencing of chapter content



Th 12/17  (final exam period)

15, cont. Diffusion of Innovations

Course Evaluations


- Discussion will draw from:

Valente, T. M. (1995) Network Models of the Diffusion of Innovations ch 7. [34pp]





Return to top

Other readings of interest

From books on our syllabus this quarter:

Erickson, B., 1988. The relational basis of attitudes. The duality of persons and groups. Social Structures: a network approach (Wellman and Berkowitz, eds). 99ff.


Wellman, B., Carrington, P. J. and Hall, A. 1988. Networks as personal communities. Social Structures: a network approach (Wellman and Berkowitz, eds). 130ff.


*The readings above are included in Part II of the book Social Structures: a network approach, entitled “Communities”



Recommended Introductory Networks Texts:

Scott, John (2006) Social Network Analysis: a handbook. London: Sage.

     Ch1 “Networks and Relations”: pgs1-6;

     Ch 3 “Handling Relational Data”: pgs 38-62

     Ch 4 “Points, Lines and Density”: pgs 63-81

     Ch 5 “Centrality and Centralization”: pgs 82-99


Hanneman, Robert A. Introduction to Social Network Methods, very readable online textbook.




Auer, Peter, Birgit Barden, & Beate Grosskopf (1998) Subjective and Objective Parameters Determining 'Salience' in Long-term Dialect Accommodation, Journal of Sociolinguistics 2 (2) , 163–187.


-----& Hinskens, Frans (2005) The role of interpersonal accommodation in a theory of language change, ch 13.  In, Dialect Change: convergence and divergence in European languages (P. Auer, F. Hinskens, and P. Kerswill, eds). 335-357.


Dodsworth, R. (2005) Attribute networking: a technique for modeling social perceptions, J of Sociolinguistics 9(2), 225-253


Dodsworth, R. and Hume, E. (2005) Review of: Language change and sociolinguistics: rethinking social networks (by J. Marshall).  Journal of Sociolinguistics 9(2), 289-292


Everett, Martin G. & Borgatti, Stephen P. (2005) Extending centrality, ch. 4. In, Models and methods in social network analysis (P.J. Carrington, J. Scott and S. Wasserman, eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 57-76.


Marshall, Jonathan (2004) Language change and sociolinguistics: rethinking social networks. Palgrave Studies in Language Variation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Reviewed in Dodsworth and Hume (2005) 289-292.


McCormack, William C. and Wurm, Stephen A. (1979) Language and Society: anthropological issues. Mouton: The Hague.  Particularly see contributions by the following authors:

     - Silverman & Silverman, “Attitudes toward the adoption of an international language”

     - Lakshmanna, C., “Emerging patterns of communication networks in a developing society”

     - Alfendras. E., “Network concepts in the sociology of language”


Valente, Thomas W. (2005) Network models and methods for studying the diffusion of innovations, ch. 6. In, Models and methods in social network analysis (P.J. Carrington, J. Scott and S. Wasserman, eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 98-116.


Villena-Ponsoda, Juan Andrés (2005) How similar are people who speak alike? An interpretive way of using social networks in social dialectology research, ch 12. In, Dialect Change: convergence and divergence in European languages (P. Auer, F. Hinskens, and P. Kerswill, eds). 303-334.



Human Relations, Springer

 Social Networks, Elsevier B. V.



Commonly used network datasets:


The Add Health Project


Return to top