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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Sociolinguistics: Selected full-text books and articles

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