A study of languages, of multilingualism and its ramifications, can be seen as part of sociolinguistics, or the sociology of language, or the social psychology of language. 1 Following a considerable period in which the social aspects of language were quite neglected, Joyce Hertzler wrote a paper in 1953, ‘Toward a sociology of language’, which advocated that more attention be paid to the interaction of language and situation. 2 In 1965 Hertzler published a book on the topic, in 1966 a sociolinguistics conference was held in California, and since then developments have accelerated rapidly.

There has been some debate over whether sociolinguistics or the sociology of language is the best title for the approach or, indeed, if the two terms represent different emphases altogether. While the latter term implies emphasis upon social behaviour elucidated through the study of language, sociolinguistics tends to stress the linguistic variation presented in different contexts. Perhaps the terms are best viewed as reflecting two sides of the one coin. However, the distinction just noted is not necessarily endorsed by all who use the terms, and some have alternated in their usage, while carrying on with the same sort of work. Also, sociolinguistics may have within it the seeds of its own demise, since it represents what many feel to be a necessary broadening of the larger field of linguistics. Once it is accepted that there can be no meaningful linguistics without attention to context, then sociolinguistics may be absorbed. This ‘self-liquidation’ 3 obviously does not apply to a field termed ‘the sociology of language’, which may be seen as a new, enduring and autonomous subtopic of sociology, a relatively loose conception ‘falling easily into the growing company of sociologies of this and that’. 4

So, the two terms may be different in emphasis and in degree of autonomy. In practice, they are used loosely and sometimes interchangeably. In any event, given a mingling of context and language, it is possible that both terms might be more or less accurately used within the same investigation. One might, for example, use social-situational information to comment upon linguistic forms produced, or linguistic usage might be


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