Module details for The Secret Life of Language


Whether we’re writing a comment on social media or an academic assignment, we continually adjust our language to suit the context. This elective module will provide an introduction to sociolinguistics and the connections between language, identity and power. We will look at a range of linguistic issues, including the idea of standardisation, how language is structured, and the ethics of modern communication. We will analyse a range of texts and use these to explore the conventions around language use, including the power relationships these conventions are based on; you will also be required to write in different genres, both individually and collaboratively.


This module is intended to show that writing and reading are social interactions that vary among different communities of writers, such as academics, bloggers and journalists. We will examine the conventions around these interactions and evaluate the way they determine who has the “authority” to write and the “rules” around language use, including how identity can change and be negotiated within particular communities. The module will encourage you to think critically about writing in a range of areas, including journalism and research; you will also be required to write in a range of genres, both individually and collaboratively.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  explain the key concepts of sociolinguistic study

2.  identify key aspects of particular genres and discourse communities

3.  critically evaluate texts in terms of their successful use of these identifying aspects

4.  produce texts, trhough drafting and redrafting, which use appropriate genres and conventions effectively

5.  produce texts, through drafting and redrafting, which use appropriate genres and conventions effectively

Indicative Content

1 Language and identity

A) “Good English”: the role of standardisation and variation and how we choose language to reflect our identities B) Discourse communities: what they are and how language is used to create them

2 Language and structure

A) Syntax: do we need to know the rules of grammar to communicate effectively? B) Discourse analysis: what it is, why it matters, and how to do it

3 Language and power

A) The ethics of communication: (electronic) media and ownership, attribution and theft B) Institutional discourse: how language can be used to exercise authority

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Teaching and Learning Method Hours
Lecture 12
Tutorial/Seminar 24
Practical Activity 0
Assessment 26
Independent 138
Total 200

Guidance notes

SCQF Level - The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework provides an indication of the complexity of award qualifications and associated learning and operates on an ascending numeric scale from Levels 1-12 with SCQF Level 10 equating to a Scottish undergraduate Honours degree.

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2021/22 , and may be subject to change for future years.