Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Sociolinguistics Series

Citizen sociolinguistics as science and as methodology – critical perspectives

Thursday 10 October 2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


The objective of this paper is to discuss citizen sociolinguistics (Rymes & Leone 2014; Svendsen 2018) as science and as methodology, and the extent to which and how it represents a feasible approach within sociolinguistics. Citizen science (hereafter, CS) involves citizens in doing research, and has at least a 200 years tradition within natural sciences, dating inter alia back to Linné’s engagement of lay people in his work on the typology of animals and plants in the mid-18th century (Kullenberg & Kasperowski 2018). Within lexicography, citizen engagement has over the years played a vital role e.g. in the production of Oxford English Dictionary. Within sociolinguistics, there are two related but slightly different conceptions of citizen sociolinguistics where Rymes and Leone (2014: 16) define citizen sociolinguists as ‘people who use their senses and intelligence to understand the world around them. Citizen sociolinguistics, then, is the study of these understandings.’ According to Svendsen (2018: 139) on the other hand, as well as SturtzSreetharan et al. (2019) and Agostini et al. (2019), ‘citizen sociolinguistics requires the inclusion of non-professionals in doing sociolinguistic research, in collecting data, in registering them, analyzing and interpreting them relative to the level of citizen involvement and collaboration, the research questions and design of the CS- project.’ Based on a Norwegian citizen science-project where all pupils in the Norwegian school were invited to be language researchers, this paper presents some of the data the citizens collected. Moreover, it discusses the advantages and challenges of citizen sociolinguistics, and finally it raises questions whether CS has the potential to answer some of the recent calls for democratization of research (e.g. Horizon 2020: SwafsS; EU draft FP9) and contribute to solve some of the grand societal challenges of today.


  • Agostini, Gina, Cindi SturtzSreetharan, Amber Wutich, Deborah Williams and Alexandra Brewis. 2019. Citizen sociolinguistics: A new method to understand fat talk. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0217618.
  • European Commision. 2019. Citizen Participation in FP9: A model for mission and work programme engagement.
  • EU Research. 2017. Scoping paper for Horizon 2020 work programme 2018–2020: Science with and for society. (Accessed 18 July 2017).
  • Rymes, Betsy and Andrea R. Leone. 2014. Citizen sociolinguistics: A new media methodology for understanding language and social life. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 29: 25–43.
  • SturtzSreetharan, Cindi L. Gina Agostini, Alexandra A. Brewis and Amber Wutich. 2019. Fat talk: A citizen sociolinguistic approach. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 23:3, 263 – 283.
  • Svendsen, Bente Ailin. 2018. The dynamics of citizen sociolinguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 22 (2): 137- 160.
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