Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society, 1959-1994

Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society, 1959-1994

Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society, 1959-1994

Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society, 1959-1994


This is a collection of the most influential and important work of the distinguished sociolinguist Charles A. Ferguson, ranging from studies of baby talk across cultures to analyses of the impact of literacy and religion on cultures across the world.


Few linguists in the world today have not been influenced in some way by the work of Charles A. Ferguson. In areas of study ranging from Arabic linguistics to applied linguistics, from child language acquisition to language planning, from language and religion to language universals, from Bengali syntax to American sports announcer talk, seminal papers bear his authorship. He has held academic appointments at universities on five continents (North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America). A festschrift on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday (Fishman et al. 1986) had editors from five continents, and as he has often pointed out with no small degree of satisfaction, from four different religious traditions.

Regardless of the direction his wide interest in language has taken him, his work has been characterized by uncommon diligence, breadth of knowledge, and intellectual integrity. And although he has never adhered steadfastly to a single theoretical framework, he consistently reminds us of the facts of language structure and use that a theory of linguistics must account for. This latter emphasis is especially true of Ferguson's contributions to sociolinguistics, which has carried his undeniable influence from its inception as a (sub)discipline.

Sociolinguistic Beginnings: Ferguson's Role

The inception, development, and institutionalization of a field of inquiry such as sociolinguistics involves the adoption of a label to set it apart from related fields, the publication of a body of literature articulating its assumptions, goals and methodologies, the design of courses to transmit this body of information to subsequent generations, and the establishment of organizations and conferences to facilitate communication among its adherents. Sociolinguistics in North America can trace its roots as far back as the larger discipline of linguistics on the continent.

Although in Europe, linguists such as Meillet (1926), Firth (cf. 1957), Cohen (1956), and Sommerfelt (1938) never abandoned their interest in meaning and social context, the school of linguistics that eventually dominated North American linguistics, following the formation of the Linguistic Society of America in 1924 and publication of its journal Language in 1925, was Bloomfield's brand of structuralism with emphasis on investigating form apart from meaning and on the "discovery procedures" needed to do so. Edward Sapir, influenced by earlier work of Franz Boas, was the dominant foil to this approach, and a major influence on both the development of the field of sociolinguistics and the papers in this collection.

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