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Language and Power

4. How is power reflected in the lexis of language?

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In this module, we think about how the lexis of language is linked to power, focusing in particular on: (i) what particular combinations of words (or collocates) reveal about our beliefs and prejudices; (ii) Ben Schmidt's analysis of teacher reviews on Rate My Professor and the extent to which certain adjectives are gendered; (iii) the work of Sharese King on the different labels used to describe the dialect spoken by African Americans in the United States; and (iv) the power dynamics inherent in what we decide to call something, e.g. the description of the dialect of English used in ethnically-diverse urban centres as 'Jafaican' (a combination of the words 'Jamaican' and 'fake').


In this course, Professor Emma Moore (University of Sheffield) thinks about the relationship between language and power. In the first module, we think about the relationship between social class, language and power, focusing in particular on the persistence of local dialects in Britain, before turning in the second module to consider whether the use of these local dialects ought to be discouraged. In the three modules that follow, we explore how power is reflected the sounds, words, and structure of language, before turning in the sixth and final module to consider how power is reflected at the discourse level of language – in the words we use to categorise certain groups of people (e.g. BAME), in our use of presupposition, and in our use of metaphor.

General selected reading:
– L. Boroditsky, L. Schmidt and W. Phillips, 'Sex, syntax and semantics', in D. Gentner and S. Goldin-Meadows (eds.), Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought (2003)
– P. Eckert, Linguistic Variation as Social Practice: The Linguistic Construction of Identity at Belten High (2000)
– S. King, 'From African American Vernacular English to African American Language: Rethinking the Study of Race and Language in African Americans’ Speech',Annual Review of Linguistics 6 (2020), pp. 285–300
– M. Macaulay and C. Brice, 'Don’t Touch My Projectile: Gender Bias and Stereotyping in Syntactic Examples', Language 73(4) (1997), pp. 798–825
– G. MacRuairc, 'They’re my words – I’ll talk how I like! Examining social class and linguistic practice among primary-school children', Language and Education 25(6) (2011), pp. 535–559
– E. Moore, 'The social life of style', Language and Literature 21(1) (2012), pp. 66–83
– E. Moore and S. Spencer, '“It just sounds proper common”: Exploring the social meanings expressed by nonstandard grammar', Linguistics and Education 63 (2021)
– R. J. Podesva, J. Jamsu and P. Callier, 'Constraints on the social meaning of released /t/: A production and perception study of US politicians', Language Variation and Change 27(1) (2015), pp. 59–87
– D. Reay, Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes (2017)
– D. Sharma, 'Style dominance: Attention, audience, and the ‘real me.’', Language in Society 47(01) (2018), pp. 1–31
– J. Snell and R. Andrews, 'To what extent does a regional dialect and accent impact on the development of reading and writing skills?' Cambridge Journal of Education 47(3) (2017), pp. 297–313

Accent Bias Britain
– BBC News (2016), Language plea by Sacred Heart School, Middlesbrough
– L. Cumiskey (2020), Prince George 'has picked up the Estuary accent of Ricky Gervais and Jamie Oliver'
– J. Curtis (2016), 'Shut up! Geezer who runs Essex school is like 'pupils must stop speaking as if they were in Towie':
– A. Davies (2021), 'Steph McGovern admits being judged for accent while at BBC ‘All anyone went on about’'
– Department of Linguistics, QMUL, Linguistics Research Digest:
– J. Gilmore, FixedIt
– B. Schmidt, Gendered Language' in Teacher Reviews:
– J. Shepherd (2012), 'Hiya pupils, please avoid slang, ta'
– J. Snell (2013), 'Saying no to 'gizit' is plain prejudice':
– V. L. Valentine (2019), 'Public Editor: Alexandra Bell highlights bias in the news and rewrites racist headlines'


Prof. Emma Moore is Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Sheffield. Her research explores how individuals and communities use language to construct social styles, differences, and affiliations. Some of her recent publications include (as editor) Categories, Constructions, and Change in English Syntax (2019) and (as co-editor) Language and a Sense of Place: Studies in Language and Region (2017).

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APA style

Moore, E. (2022, May 03). Language and Power - How is power reflected in the lexis of language? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Moore, E. "Language and Power – How is power reflected in the lexis of language?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 May 2022,

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