You must sign off that you have submitted your assignment with your tutor.
A late penalty of 5% per day applies. If work is submitted more than 10 days after
the due date the mark will be 0 (Faculty Policy).
Include a cover sheet with your assignment. This is available on Canvas under
‘Assignment Info’. To ensure anonymous marking, write your name on the cover
sheet but do not include your name elsewhere in your assignment.
You must complete all assignments by yourself. You should not discuss the
tasks/answers or your experiment with other students (except in guided discussion in
tutorials). Doing this assignment with another student or discussing your answers is
a form of academic dishonesty. Searching for any answers online (‘googling’) is also
a form of academic dishonesty.
This assignment is worth 8% of your final mark for this unit. There is no specific
word count for this assignment – just make sure that your answers satisfy the
Before starting this assignment, carefully and critically review Labov’s research (and
variationist sociolinguistics generally), especially Labov’s ‘department study’ in
Design a simple experiment on the model of Labov’s pioneering Department Store
study in New York City. In this assignment, you only design the experiment; you do
not actually run it. Here is what you need to do:
1. Identify a sociolinguistic variable that is binary i.e. has two possible values (e.g.
the variable (r) in NYC has two variants): this can be in any language, in any
speech community. Describe this variable in linguistic terms, and give at least
five examples of words (or other relevant structures of the language) in which
the variable can be observed (e.g. the words ‘fourth floor’ in the Labov study). If
you chose to study a phonetic variable (and you do not have to), you must use
IPA correctly. If you use a language other than English, you must provide
translations and a version in Romanised script (e.g. pinyin). Do not use second
language speakers in your experiment.
2. State a hypothesis as to a social distinction (also binary: i.e., with only two
possible values, e.g., older than 50 vs. younger than 50 or middle class vs. lower
class, etc) that you think might correlate with the variable you identify in (1).
Clearly state your hypothesis (a) in informal prose, and (b) more formally in
a 2×2 table, as in the following (again, based on Labov’s Department Store
3. Give clear and specific instructions for another person so that they could carry
out the study themselves. This should include a precise description of the set-up
of your experiment. Make sure that your experiment design avoids or minimises
the observer’s paradox. Your experiment does not need to include all five
words/structures you listed in step 1!
Do not use a variable from English in New York City!
You cannot use the study you designed in tutorials!
• Is your variable binary (one variable with two variants)?
• Are you addressing social variation (rather than regional, spoken/written,
• Do you include five words/structures in which your one variable can be
• Do you use linguistic terminology and formal representations appropriately?
• Does your hypothesis link language variation with a social distinction?
• Is your experiment well-designed? (Does it avoid/minimise observer’s
paradox, is it specific, practical, reliable, fast, natural, …)