Sociolinguistics

sociolinguistics, the study of language as it affects and is affected by social relations. Sociolinguistics encompasses a broad range of concerns, including bilingualism, pidgin and creole languages, and other ways that language use is influenced by contact among people of different language communities (e.g., speakers of German, French, Italian, and Romansh in Switzerland). Sociolinguists also examine different dialects, accents, and levels of diction in light of social distinctions among people. Although accent refers strictly to pronunciation, in practice a dialect can usually be identified by the accent of its speakers as well as by distinctive words, usages, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical features. Dialects reflect and may reinforce class, ethnic, or regional differences among speakers of the same language. In some cases difference of dialect shades into difference of language. Where the line between them is not clear, groups that are linguistically distinct are considered to speak different dialects of the same language if they can generally understand each other, although what constitutes this mutual intelligibility is itself not always clear. For example, someone speaking Mandarin may not be able to understand the spoken form of another Chinese dialect but can read it, since the written form of all Chinese dialects is universal; Serbs and Croats, on the other hand, speak essentially the same language but use different alphabets to write it. Individuals sometimes deliberately change their dialect as a means of improving their social status. Speakers of any dialect or any language may modulate their vocabulary and level of diction according to social context, speaking differently in church, for example, than on the playground; social activities that tend to shape the language of those engaging in it are sometimes called registers.

See R. A. Hudson, Sociolinguistics (1980); P. Trudgill, Dialects in Contact (1986); H. Giles and N. Coupland, Language: Contexts and Consequences (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Introducing Sociolinguistics
Rajend Mesthrie; Joan Swann; Ana Deumert; William L. Leap.
Edinburgh University Press, 2009 (2nd edition)
An Introduction to English Sociolinguistics
Graeme Trousdale.
Edinburgh University Press, 2010
Qualitative Methods in Sociolinguistics
Barbara Johnstone.
Oxford University Press, 2000
Sociolinguistics and Corpus Linguistics
Paul Baker.
Edinburgh University Press, 2010
The History of English in a Social Context: A Contribution to Historical Sociolinguistics
Dieter Kastovsky; Arthur Mettinger.
Mouton de Gruyter, 2000
Sociolinguistic Variation
Carmen Fought.
Oxford University Press, 2004
Style and Sociolinguistic Variation
Penelope Eckert; John R. Rickford.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Language and Identities
Carmen Llamas; Dominic Watt.
Edinburgh University Press, 2010
Languages in a Globalising World
Jacques Maurais; Michael A. Morris.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics
Tim William MacHan; Charles T. Scott.
Oxford University Press, 1992
Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society, 1959-1994
Charles A. Ferguson; Thom Huebner.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students
Peter Stockwell.
Routledge, 2002
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