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Cognitive sociolinguistics

Willem B. Hollmann (Lancaster University)

This workshop will explore the recently emerged field of cognitive sociolinguistics. The emphasis in the session will be practical/methodological, rather than purely theoretical. (For  a theoretical overview of the field, see Hollmann (2013), or the general introductions to Kristiansen & Dirven (2008), Geeraerts et al. (2010), Journal of Pragmatics 52 (2013), or Pütz et al. (2014).)

Although the term ‘cognitive sociolinguistics’ may potentially include areas such as language teaching, I will focus on the intersection between cognitive linguistics and what may be considered the core of sociolinguistics, i.e. language variation and change.

The workshop will show how to go through the various steps of conducting a cognitive sociolinguistic study, illustrating each step with one or more examples from the literature.

I will start with the formulation of cognitive sociolinguistic research questions, showing some ways in which cognitive linguistic theory may lead to predictions that would be beyond both traditional (variationist) sociolinguistics, e.g. concerning the possible role of frequency effects (see e.g. Clark & Trousdale 2009, Clark & Watson 2011 for examples related to phonological variation and Hollmann & Siewierska 2007, 2012 for illustrations of variation in constructions, in the CxG sense of the term). In addition, I will point to the possibility of exploring insights from what Eckert (2012) labels “third wave” sociolinguistic studies from a cognitive point of view (cf. also Hollmann & Siewierska 2012, Hoffmann 2016).

Given the cognitive underpinnings of much work in functional typology (e.g. Croft 2003) I will also discuss how insights from language typology, such as implicational universals and hierarchies, may generate questions or predictions that sociolinguists would not traditionally raise or make. Here, I will draw especially on the work of Kortmann and his co-workers (e.g. Anderwald & Kortmann 2013).

Following the section on research questions I will discuss methods of data collection. Although cognitive sociolinguistics does not employ any ground-breakingly new collection methods, it will nonetheless be useful to bring together information about a range of relevant techniques, such as questionnaires and corpora. I will also pay attention to ethnographic methods, which are inherent to “second wave” (Eckert 2012) sociolinguistics but are only rarely used by cognitive linguists, the study carried out by Clark & Trousdale (2009, 2013) representing a notable exception.

Next, I will address analysis methods, where the emphasis will be on the quantitative verification of hypotheses. The range of statistical techniques covered will include multivariate analysis ― very well-known in variationist sociolinguistics but still a little less so in cognitive linguistics.

The workshop will conclude with a discussion on “closing the loop” back to theory. Specifically, I will provide some examples of how cognitive sociolinguistic research may be used to support, challenge or refine aspects of cognitive and/or sociolinguistics.


Anderwald, Lieselotte & Bernd Kortmann. 2013. Applying typological methods in dialectology. In Manfred G. Krug & Julia Schlüter (eds.), Research methods in language variation and change, 313-333. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, Lynn & Graeme Trousdale. 2009. The role of token frequency in phonological change: evidence from TH-fronting in east-central Scotland. English Language and Linguistics 13:33-56.

Clark, Lynn & Graeme Trousdale. 2013. Using participant observation and social network analysis. In Manfred Krug and Julia Schlüter (eds.), Research methods in language variation and change, 36-52. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, Lynn & Kevin Watson. 2011. Testing claims of a usage-based phonology with Liverpool English t-to-r. English Language and Linguistics 15:523-547.

Croft, William. 2003. Typology and universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, Penelope. 2012. Three waves of variation study: the emergence of meaning in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Annual Review of Anthropology 41:87-100.

Geeraerts, Dirk, Gitte Kristiansen & Yves Peirsman (eds.) 2010. Advances in cognitive sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hoffmann, Thomas. 2016. Cognitive sociolinguistic aspects of football chants: the role of social and physical context in usage-based construction grammar. Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik.

Hollmann, Willem B. 2013. Constructions in cognitive sociolinguistics. In Thomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar, 491-509. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hollmann, Willem B. & Anna Siewierska. 2007.  A construction grammar account of possessive constructions in Lancashire dialect: some advantages and challenges. English Language and Linguistics 11:407-424.

Hollmann, Willem B. & Anna Siewierska. 2012. The status of frequency, schemas, and identity in Cognitive Sociolinguistics: A case study on definite article reduction. Cognitive Linguistics 22:25-54.

Kristiansen, Gitte & René Dirven (eds.) 2008. Cognitive sociolinguistics. Language variation, cultural models, social systems. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Pütz, Martin, Justyna A. Robinson & Monika Reif (eds.) 2014. Cognitive sociolinguistics: social and cultural variation in cognition and language use. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

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