Linguistics Dissertation Topics

Example linguistics dissertation topic 1:

Future directions for ‘role and reference grammar’: Distinctions to be drawn between Russian and English.

Given the changes in modern speech patterns, and the influence of other languages upon both English and Russian, the future of typological adequacy in role and reference grammar as epitomised by the theories of van Valin Jnr is considered at length. The issue of focus placement is thus explored as the essence of this thesis and speculation is made of changes that are likely to occur over the next twenty to thirty years in the two sample languages. A systematic review of van Valin Jnr’s work over the last thirty years is undertaken and an analysis is provided as evidence for the basis of this academic speculation.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Brisard, F., Östman, J-O. and Verschueren, J. (eds) (2009). Grammar, meaning and pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Butler, C.S. (2005). ‘Focusing on focus: A comparison of functional grammar, role and reference grammar and systemic functional grammar’, Language Sciences, Vol. 27(6), pp. 585-618.
  • Pavey, E.L. (2004). A role and reference grammar analysis. PhD thesis: University of Sussex.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 2:

The inter-relation between Cornish identity and Cornish dialect: A case study of two Cornish octogenarians and two Cornish twenty-year olds.

A region with a strong separate – and separatist – identity, Cornwall has lent to the wider lexicon of English numerous words, such as ‘buster’ (someone mischievous) and ‘mind’ (as in, ‘mind you come tomorrow’). This dissertation explores the extent to which the everyday use of Cornish dialect (but not use of the Cornish language per se) informs the identity of Cornish people, and whether such identity has suffered greatly as a result of a media-driven, national construct of English. The volunteers chosen have not previously travelled beyond the border of Cornwall and believe themselves to be representative of their age and social position. Extensive conversations on various matters are recorded to track their natural use of Cornish dialect, and interviews on the participants’ view of their Cornish identity are undertaken.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hobsbawn, E. (1996). ‘Language, culture, and national identity’, Social Research, Vol. 63(4), pp. 1065-1080.
  • MacAulay, D. (1992). The Celtic languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mills, J. (1999). Cornish lexicography in the twentieth century: Standardisation and divergence’, Bulletin suisse de linguistique appliquée, Vol. 69(1), pp. 45-57.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 3:

The extent of bilingualism in the Gaspé Peninsula, Québec.

Nominally, Canada is a bilingual country; yet such bilingualism tends to be confined to major cities such as Montréal and Ottawa. Regions such as Prince Rupert in the western province of British Columbia, however, do not report such wide adoption of national government policy. This paper investigates the converse of Prince Rupert, in the Gaspé Peninsula, in the province of Québec, after a period of decline and stabilisation in the numbers of Anglophones locally. An empirical analysis is undertaken of not only the percentage of Anglophones to Francophones, but the level of fluency in the second language. Additional research is undertaken through interviews with language teachers in the region, as well as surveys sent to twenty non-government employers of ten or more people, to determine their minimum qualification and usage of the secondary language.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Lamy, P. (1979). ‘Language and ethnolinguistic identity: The bilingualism question’, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Vol. 20, pp. 23-36.
  • Mougeon, R. (1976). ‘Bilingualism and language maintenance in the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, Canada’, Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 18(2), pp. 53-69.
  • Poplack, S., Walker, J.A. and Malcolmson, R. (2006). ‘An English ”like no other”?: Language contact and change in Quebec’, The Canadian Journal of Linguistics/La revue canadienne de linguistique, Vol. 51(2), pp. 185-213.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 4:

The use of metaphor as motivator for change: Differences in Obama’s rhetoric between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The use of metaphor, not only by Barack Obama, but also by aides and spokesmen and in his publicity material, over the course of his two presidential campaigns is examined in this thesis. Obama uses metaphor persuasively to reach differentiated sectors of the American electorate, and such use is both deliberate and consistent. Particular attention is paid to race- or slavery-related metaphor as a means of mobilising the ‘black’ vote in the Obama campaign. Additionally, the dissertation notes the use of metaphor by journalists in describing Obama’s policies and objectives and speculates on the extent to which journalistic support in this form contributed to Obama’s success in 2008.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Burnes, S. (2011). ‘Metaphors in press reports of elections: Obama walked on water, but Musharraf was beaten by a knockout’, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 43(8), pp. 2160-2175.
  • Charteris-Black, J. (2006). Politicians and rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Darsey, J. (2009). ‘Barack Obama and America’s journey’, Southern Communication Journal, Vol. 74(1), pp. 88-103.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 5:

Changing linguistics and dialectic tones: A comparative case study.

The issues of linguistic usage, intonation and voice training are closely inter-related. This dissertation evaluates the changes in each undertaken by two ‘women of our age’ – Her Majesty the Queen and Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Using several key linguistic concepts to analyse speeches undertaken by both, the main concepts discussed within this dissertation will be those of modality and functionalism as described, respectively, by Norman Fairclough and Talmy Givon. This dissertation will also, comment upon the use of linguistic parallelism and through so doing will suggest that Thatcher used this linguistic style far more than does Her Majesty.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Givon, T. (1993). English grammar: A function based introduction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Kehler, A. (2000). ‘Coherence and the resolution of ellipsis’. Linguistics and Philosophy, Vol. 23(6), pp. 533-575.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 6:

Perceptions of and stereotyping of accents: The Geordie and the Yorkshireman.

Focusing on the arena of sociolinguistics, this dissertation starts with a stereotype. Namely, that whereas the former is often portrayed in the media as ‘warm hearted’, with the dialect being officially seen as the ‘friendliest’ within the UK, the Yorkshireman tends to be characterised as bluff, arrogant and self-opinionated. Using two focus groups this dissertation plays recordings of the same passage of text read by residents of Newcastle and Leeds and evaluates the perceptions of the people generated through listening to their speech patterns. The raw data is then calculated using SPSS. In addition to this primary research, this study also makes substantial use of existing secondary literature on issues of regional accents, Received Pronunciation and public perceptions attached to both.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Beal, J. (2000). ‘From Geordie Ridley to Viz: Popular literature in Tyneside English’, Language and Literature, Vol. 9(4), pp. 343-359.
  • Milroy, L. and Gordon, M. (2003). Sociolinguistics: Method and interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Preston, D.R. (1989). Perceptual dialectology: Non-linguists’ views of areal linguistics. Amsterdam: Foris Publications.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 7:

Swearing in the presence of ladies: Does male swearing decrease?

Through the use of content analysis and tape-recording, this dissertation seeks to establish patterns of male swearing and how they alter (if at all) in the presence of ladies. In so doing it seeks to advance the hypothesis that whilst, in general, the male use of swear words decreases in social situations where women are present, other factors are also important, especially socio-economic standing and location. Using three groups of males (five males in each) in three distinct geographic locations (Wigan, Norwich, and Cowes), this dissertation evaluates the precise language used by the men in three six-hour periods in which the groups were involved in pub-based leisure recreation over a series of consecutive weekends.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hughes, G. (1991). Swearing: A social history of foul language, oaths and profanity in English. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Jay, T. (2000). Why we curse: A neuro-psycho-social theory of speech. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. London: Virago.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 8:

Language acquisition and the role of parents: An analysis.

The statistical fact that 30% of households with children within England do not contain a single book may be considered startling. Using this as a starting point this dissertation analyses the use of language at home and the effects that it has upon the linguistic ability of pre-school children. This is a dissertation that combines linguistics with aspects of child psychological development and includes a number of ethical considerations – regarding confidentiality and the recording of family circumstances. It is envisaged that this project will involve close work with two different families and that these should be chosen on the basis of the extent to which, prior to the study, the parents of the children read to (and with) them. Noting the different speed of language acquisition by the children involved in this study over a six-month observation period, this thesis offers a number of insights and proposals to increase language skills amongst pre-school aged children.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Marcus, G.F. (1996). ‘Why do children say “breaked”?’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 5, pp. 81-85.
  • Plunkett, K. and Marchman, V.A. (1993). ‘From rote learning to system building: Acquiring verb morphology in children and connectionist nets’, Cognition, Vol. 48, pp. 21-69.
  • Shore, C.M. (1995). Individual differences in language development. London: SAGE.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 9:

An analysis of ‘character class’ through speech: Hyacinth Bouquet and Onslow in Keeping up Appearances.

The class pretensions of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) in the BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances are well known and contrast directly with those of her brother-in-law Onslow. Dressed – if at all, in little more than a string-vest and with a seemingly never-ending supply of booze and fags – the social stereotyping involved in the series is a central element of the show’s humour. Through transcribing the conversations that take place between Hyacinth and Onslow in four episodes of the show, this dissertation comments on the use of language deployed by each character.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Campbell-Kibler, K. (2007). ‘Accent, (ING), and the social logic of listener perceptions’, American Speech, Vol. 82(1), pp. 32-64.
  • Geraghty, C. (1994). Women and soap opera: A study of prime time soaps. Bristol/Oxford: Polity Press/Blackwell.
  • Guntler, B. (1995). Television and gender representation. New Barnet: John Libbey & Company.

Example linguistics dissertation topic 10:

Inverted snobbery: The debasing of Received Pronunciation and ‘posh talk’- a case study.

The linguistic degrading of Tony Blair’s speech patterns to include ‘Estuary English’ was well documented during his time as Prime Minister. This study focuses on the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland, which has the highest rate of independently educated students within Scotland (40.6%) whilst being based in an area that has an overall percentage of 7% of students attending independent schools prior to tertiary education. This dissertation looks at two distinct aspects of language: perceptions of those with RP or ‘posh accents’ amongst local residents, and secondly why a number of those with RP or ‘posh accents’ feel a need to adopt aspects of regional accents in their everyday speech patterns. This is a study that involves a substantial amount of primary data collection through the use of volunteers (both listeners and speakers) as well as being grounded in existing secondary literature upon the wider subject.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Foulkes, P. and Docherty, G. (eds) (1999). Urban voices: Accent studies in the British Isles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hughes, A. and Trudgill, P. (1996). English accents and dialects: An introduction to social and regional varieties of English in the British Isles (3rd edn). London: Hodder.
  • Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an accent. Abingdon: Routledge

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