Sociolinguistics is the study of language in use. Its special focus, to be sure, is on the relationships between language and society, and its principal concerns address linguistic variation across social groups and across the range of communicative situations in which men and women deploy their verbal repertoires. In short, sociolinguists examine language as it is constructed and co-constructed, shaped and reshaped, in the discourse of everyday life, and as it reflects and creates the social realities of that life.
While some linguists study the structure of sentences independent of their contexts of use (independent of who is speaking or writing, about what, and to whom, of what has preceded and what will follow, and of the setting and purposes of the discourse), sociolinguists investigate language as it is embedded in its social and situational contexts. Not surprisingly, among people who are not professional linguists virtually all linguistic interest likewise focuses on language in its contexts of use, because the patterns of that use reflect the intricacies of social structure and mirror the situational and strategic influences that shape discourse.
In offering a platform for studies of language use in communities around the globe, Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics invites significant treatments of discourse and of social dialects and registers, whether oral, written, or signed, whether synchronic or diachronic. The series will host studies that are descriptive and theoretical, interpretive and analytical. While most volumes will report original research, a few will synthesize or interpret existing knowledge. All volumes will aim for a style accessible not only to linguists but to other social scientists and humanists interested in language use. Occasionally, a volume may appeal beyond scholars to students and to educated readers keenly interested in the everyday discourse of human affairs--for example, of doctors or lawyers trying to engage clients with their specialist registers, or of women and men striving to grasp the sometimes baffling character of their shared interactions.
With English in Its Social Contexts, Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics presents its second volume. As editors of this volume, Tim William Machan and Charles T. Scott have commissioned essays in historical sociolinguistics that highlight the diverse social contexts in which varieties of English--Old, Middle, and Modern--have developed, from early Britain to present-day Papua New Guinea.
Despite extensive scrutiny of Old, Middle, and Modern English in scholarly