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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - June Ruivivar, Education

Sociolinguistic Agency in the Learning and Teaching of Regional Variation: Revisiting Pedagogical Norms

Friday, September 11, 2020 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Pedagogical norms for teaching regional varieties of a target language suggest teaching features that are widely used and valued by the language community, and that support overall linguistic development. This dissertation considers the place of sociolinguistic agency, or learners’ willingness to adopt local linguistic conventions, in this pedagogical norm. It consists of three studies investigating social and affective challenges in the acquisition of features typical of Quebec French, and exploring potential pedagogical solutions to these challenges.

Study One compared native and near-native speakers’ use and understanding of the -tu question particle, a typical QF vernacular feature. Ten dyads consisting of native and near-native speakers completed tasks in casual, semi-controlled, and controlled situations, and a short interview probing their awareness and understanding of QF question variation. Despite having higher metalinguistic awareness, near-native speakers significantly underused -tu compared to native speakers. They tended to favour -tu in lexicalized expressions and slightly overused it in controlled situations.

Study Two investigated the effects of engagement and social networks on sociolinguistic performance. Twenty-one advanced QF learners completed a social network questionnaire and a sociolinguistic interview, which provided data on engagement and sociolinguistic performance. Sociolinguistic performance varied according to type of feature, engagement, and satisfaction with network support. Use of informal features (first-person on and ne deletion) correlated positively with high engagement. The stigmatized vernacular -tu was virtually absent, and the non-stigmatized vernacular, subject doubling, correlated with social network satisfaction. Perceptions of QF and attitudes towards the QF community also appeared to play a role.

Study Three presents the theoretical framework, design, and methodology for a classroom study examining the effects of concept-based instruction on learners’ understanding, appropriateness judgments, and emerging sociolinguistic agency. The study illustrates how sociolinguistic agency might be addressed in the classroom and evaluated as a pedagogical outcome. Drawing on these studies, the thesis proposes adding an agentive criterion to the pedagogical norm. This criterion considers learners’ identities, attitudes, and perceptions of the regional variety in deciding which features to teach. It offers suggestions for developing and applying the agentive criterion and broader implications for the teaching and study of sociolinguistic variation.

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