Introducing Sociolinguistics

Introducing Sociolinguistics

Introducing Sociolinguistics

Introducing Sociolinguistics


Sociolinguistics is one of the central branches of modern linguistics and deals with the place of language in human societies. This second edition of Introducing Sociolinguistics expertly synthesises the main approaches to the subject. The book covers areas such as multilingualism, code-choice, language variation, dialectology, interactional studies, gender, language contact, language and inequality, and language and power. At the same time it provides an integrated perspective on these themes by examining sociological theories of human interaction. In this regard power and inequality are particularly significant. The book also contains two chapters on the applications of sociolinguistics (in education and in language policy and planning) and a concluding chapter on the sociolinguistics of sign language. New topics covered include speaking style and stylisation, while current debates in areas like creolisation, globalisation and language death, language planning, and gender are reflected. Written collaboratively by teachers and scholars with first hand experience of sociolinguistic developments on four continents, this book provides the broadest introduction currently available to the central topics in sociolinguistics. Features: • Provides a solid foundation in all aspects of sociolinguistics and explores important themes such as power and inequality, sign language, gender and the internet • Well illustrated with maps, diagrams, inset boxes, drawings and cartoons • Accessibly written with the beginner in mind • Uses numerous examples from multilingual settings • Explains basic concepts, supported by a glossary • Further Reading lists, a full bibliography, and a section on 'next steps' provide valuable guidance.


This book is intended to introduce you to an important branch of language study, generally known as sociolinguistics. We assume that readers of this book are currently taking or are about to take an introductory course in linguistics. Accordingly, we start with a brief characterisation of the place of sociolinguistics within the overall discipline of linguistics.

‘Language’ and Linguistics

Linguistics may be somewhat blandly def ned as the study of language. Such a characterisation leaves out the all-important formulation of how such study is to be conducted, and where exactly the boundaries of the term ‘language’ itself lie. Edward Sapir (1921: 7) in his influential book Language, which is still in print after 80 years, defined his subject matter as follows:

Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating
ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced
symbols. These symbols are, in the first instance, auditory and they are pro
duced by the so-called ‘organs of speech’.

Drawing on this characterisation, modern linguists (e.g. Ronald Wardhaugh, 1978: 3) conceive of language as a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication. This definition stresses that the basic building blocks of language are spoken words which combine sounds with meanings. The symbols are arbitrary in the sense that the link between the sound and the meaning system varies from language to language. There is no necessary connection between the form of a word and its meaning. For example, the term ‘cat’ in English refers to a particular animal by convention, not by a special connection between the sequence c-a-t and the animal. Of course, cats are referred to by other sound (or words) in other languages, for example biliı in Hindi. An exception is formed by words which do reflect . . .

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