Language and Society. Communication 
Strategies in Cross-Cultural Contexts

Course Unit Code: Б3ДВ5

Type of course unit: advanced emphasis

Level of course unit: first

Year of study: 4 year

Semester when course unit is delivered: 7/8 semester

Number of ECTS credits allocated: 10 ECTS

Name of lecturer(s): Ksenia Yartseva; Ksenia Medvedkina

Description: This course is devoted to language in its social and historical context. It will be of interest to the students who want to know how we use language as a social tool and social resource. They will see how a language can be the reason of oppression and the key point of struggle for one’s rights and equality. Within this course students will realize how the kind of language we use can tell others who we are or who we imagine ourselves to be; they will find out how we learn to be competent members of a speech community and how variation in language is an important part of what we know when we really “know” a language. One will have an opportunity not only to get acquainted with the academic research into these topics but also discover how this knowledge can be taken out of the classrooms and into everyday life or other academic disciplines.

Learning outcomes of the course unit:

Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to:

  • demonstrate their knowledge of the main notions of sociolinguistics, as well as discriminate between and define the key terms in the field;
  • reflect on and analyze social aspects of intercultural communication creatively;
  • appreciate the importance of social factors in international communication and act innovatively in related problem solving situations;
  • estimate and compare language policies in different countries of BEAR in historic perspective;
  • show their understanding of the sociolinguistic theory of politeness and awareness of politeness strategies in different cultures (in Nordic countries and in Russia);
  • see underlying reasons of communication failures (of social character) in cross-cultural contexts and develop appropriate strategies to avoid them;
  • understand how the knowledge received can be used for their occupational category.

Mode of delivery: face-to-face, distance learning is also possible

Prerequisites and co-requisites: general English language requirements, some theoretical background in linguistics

Recommended optional program components: sociolinguistic experiment/research paper based on sociolinguistic methods

Course contents: The course embraces such issues as:

1. Language and society:

  • what sociolinguistics is;
  • factors affecting language functioning;
  • individual and group variation in the language;
  • code-switching and multilingualism;
  • language shift, endangerment and death;
  • pidgin and creole languages.

2. Language and human development (comparison of situations in different countries of BEAR):

  • acquisition of language;
  • language and education;
  • social inequality and its reflection in the language;
  • language policy;
  • languages and human liberties;
  • political correctness.

3. Politeness systems in BEAR countries:

  • different theories of politeness;
  • face threatening and face-flattering acts;
  • politeness as an invitation to cooperation and a way to avoid conflict in cross-cultural context;
  • cross-cultural etiquettes;
  • communication failures and strategies for successful communication.

4. Languages, cultures and organizations (comparison of practices in Nordic countries and Russia):

  • dimensions of national cultures (attitude to work, time, possession, business, power distance, individualism and collectivism);
  • explicit and implicit business communication, low-context and high-context cultures;
  • management styles and negotiations styles in different cultures;
  • motivation across cultures, what drives representatives of different cultures to work;
  • organizational culture;
  • intercultural encounters;
  • virtual intercultural business communication.

Required reading:

  1. Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson. Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (
  2. Hofstede, Geert and Hofstede, Gert Jan (2005). Cultures and Organizations: software of the mind. NY: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Trudgill, Peter. (2001) Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. 4th edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Recommended reading:

  1. Bell, R.T. (1980) Sociolinguistics: Goals, Approaches and Problems. London: B.T.Batsford LTD.
  2. Bayley, Robert and Ceil Lucas (ed.) (2007) Sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge: University Press.
  3. Chambers, J.K. (2003) Sociolinguistic theory. Linguistic variation and its social significance. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  4. Labov, William. (1972) Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. – Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  5. Labov, William. (1994) Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol.1: Social Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.
  6. Labov, William. (2006) The social stratification of English in New York City. Second edition. Cambridge: University Press.
  7. Mesthrie Rajend, Joan Swann, Ana Deumert and William Leap (2009). Introducing Sociolinguistics: Second Edition xxvi, 502 pp
  8. Mills, Sara. (2003) Gender and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Trudgill, Peter. (2002) Sociolinguistic variation and change. Edinburgh: University Press.
  10. Wardhaugh, Ronald. (2005) An introduction to sociolinguistics. 5th edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  11. Meyerhoff, Miriam (2010). Introducing Sociolinguistics, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
  12. Беликов В, Крысин Л. (2001). Социолингвистика. Москва: Издательский центр РГГУ.
  13. Вахтин Н, Головко Е. (2004). Социолингвистика. СПб.: Издательский центр «Гуманитарная академия».

Planned learning activities and teaching methods:

The theoretical part is presented in the form of lectures; practical skills are built through group and individual work at seminars (simulation and role plays). Online distant teaching will include online lectures and manual for self-studying situations and text analysis. The use of case studies plays an important role in the delivery of this course.

Assessment methods and criteria: Individual assignments, presentations (25%), case study analysis (25%), written test (25%), participation/attendance (25%).

Through active participation in class sessions, individual assignments and test, the student can show the level of his understanding of the material and the relation between theory and practice. Seminar presentations will measure the insights with fellow students and test his or her capability to formulate and defend viewpoints.

Language of instruction: English

Work placements: N/A