13.1847, Review: Sociolinguistics,R. Mesthrie (2001)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-13-1847. Wed Jul 3 2002. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 13.1847, Review: Sociolinguistics,R. Mesthrie (2001)

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Date:  Tue, 02 Jul 2002 14:20:13 +0000
From:  Patricia Donaher <donaher at mwsc.edu>
Subject:  Mesthrie (2001) Socioling: Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Tue, 02 Jul 2002 14:20:13 +0000
From:  Patricia Donaher <donaher at mwsc.edu>
Subject:  Mesthrie (2001) Socioling: Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

Mesthrie Rayend (ed.) (2001) Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics.
Elsevier Science Ltd.,xxviii+1031pp,Hardback,0080437265

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Patricia Donaher, Department of English, Foreign Languages, and
Journalism, Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph, Missouri

Inspired by the well researched, well written "Encyclopedia of
Language and Linguistics" (1993), but concerned with the usability of
the ten volume work, the "Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics"
(CESO) is meant to be a more accessible, more comprehensive overview
of the main areas of Sociolinguistics, including Interaction,
Variation, Culture, Power and Ideology, Language Contact, and
Applications. The one volume text is arranged in topic sections with
entries that examine the primary ideas and issues of the
section's topic. Although the editor has eschewed the usual
dictionary-style alphabetizing of the contents for a topical approach,
the essays within each topic section are arranged alphabetically.

Most entries begin with an initial, clear definition of the topic
followed by the history and background of the topic. Longer entries
include information on current research and/or applications for the
topic. Most entries include a selection of "See Also's" to related
entries in the CESO which helps to unify related topics, and all
entries provide generous bibliographies that point the reader to key
works, both standard and current, in the field of sociolinguistics.

The 'Encyclopedia' is divided into ten sections, beginning with a
thorough section on the Foundations of Society and Language. This
section includes essays on bilingualism, communication, the
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the Saussurean Tradition, social psychology,
and the sociology of language. This section also provides a lucid
overview of key concepts like communication, language, language and
society, and pragmatics. Section II: Language and Interaction goes on
to examine particular discourse issues like accommodation,
conversation, cooperation, ethnography, identity, kinesics, narrative,
and speech act theory.

Section III: Language Variation: Style, Situation, and Function
focuses on the language of fields like business, law, the media,
medicine, literature, and religion, as well as informal language, like
slang. This section also covers context and formula in linguistic
analysis, speech play, and speech and writing, including on the

In Section IV: Language Variation and Change: Dialects and Social
Groups, the essays consider the language of adolescents, class,
ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and urban/rural groups, as well
dialect, sociophonetics, and sound change. In contrast, Section V:
Language Contact concentrates on aspects of code-mixing and switching,
language shifts and spread, native vs. nonnative language, and pidgins
and creoles.

The next three sections deal with the various politics of
language. Section VI: Language, Power, and Inequality examines the
politics and ideologies of language, including issues of power,
conflict, and discrimination, while Section VII: Language Planning,
Policy, and Practice focuses on the issues of multilingualism,
nationalism, standards and prescriptivism. Section VIII: Language and
Education considers the challenges of language variety, like dialects,
Ebonics, and home language, in the classroom and the issues of
literacy and standard English.

The last two sections provide overviews of the profession and its
methodology. Section IX: Methods in Sociolinguistics explains the
various data collection and research techniques of the sociolinguist
and describes scaling, multi-dimensional scaling, and statistics in
sociolinguistics. The final section, Section X: The Profession,
inventories institutions and resources in the field and provides
profiles of important Sociolinguists.

For a complete list of the CESO's 285 articles and 80 biographies,
visit the publisher's webpage at

In addition to the topic sections, at the end of the CESO there is an
Alphabetical List of Articles, a List of Contributors, a Name Index,
and a Subject Index.

My first reaction upon skimming the text was "WOW!," a reaction that
has not diminished with further acquaintance. The "Concise
Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics" is an impressive volume and its
Editor, Rajend Mesthrie, has provided both the general reader of
linguistics and the serious researcher a well written, well researched
overview of this subfield of linguistics.

Generally, I found little to fault in the CESO, and so I will start
with the perceived faults before moving on to praise sections and
entries of particular note. First, although the "See Also's" help to
tie together entries on closely related topics, these guides aren't
always complete. For example, the entry on Doctor-Patient Language in
Section II doesn't refer the reader also to the entry on Medical
Language in Section III, but the entry on Medical Language does refer
the reader back to the entry on Doctor-Patient Language.

Second, although the alphabetizing of the entries within each topic
section works generally well, it works less well in the first section
on the Foundations of Society and Language, in Section IV: Language
Variation and Change: Dialects and Social Groups, and in Section IX:
Methods in Sociolinguistics. In Foundations, the alphabetizing of
entries fails to give the reader a sense of coherence that might
better be achieved by organizing entries relative to each other. In
Language Variation and Change, it would be more helpful to arrange the
entries into two subsections, the first on Dialect and the second on
Social Groups. The entries in Methods would also better serve the
reader if arranged in two parts, the first part on Fieldwork and Data
Collection Methods and the second part on Analysis Methods.

Third, while I found most entries accessible and well written, a few
entries were more difficult to follow, like the entry on Hegemony in
Section VI, which is a bit circular in its definition of the term.

Otherwise, I was most appreciative of the straight forward language
and clear approach employed by of most of the authors. I was impressed
by the depth of the articles, even the shorter ones. Each entry
provides the researcher with virtually all the necessary background
information on the topic and appropriate references for further
information. Many of the longer entries include a thorough summary the
current research on the topic as well, and some entries provide
helpful sections on where future research could or should go.

The entries within each section and across sections also play well
against each other, extending and modifying definitions as they expand
one's understanding of the topic. For example, in Section II, many of
the entries extend the initial information given in the entry on
Conversation Analysis to provide the reader with both an overall
understanding of the topic, but also its varied applications in
differing discourse studies. In the same way, entries in Section VIII:
Language and Education on gendered language and dialect in the
classroom must and do hark back to entries in Section IV: Language
Variation and Change: Dialects and Social Groups that treat these
topics in a broader context. If the reader is in doubt as to what
readings are similarly paired, the Alphabetical List of Articles or
the Subject Index should prove quite useful.

Of particular interest to the beginning researcher should be Sections
IX and X. Section IX, on Methods in Sociolinguistics, presents complex
mathematical information in generally succinct, understandable
prose. The information on fieldwork ethics and validity, given both in
entries devoted to the topics, but also referred to often in other
entries, provides an important stress on the need to avoid "intuitive"
leaps and the need for good record keeping.

Section X, The Profession, provides a helpful guide to institutions
and resources in sociolinguistics to get the researcher started. I
particularly liked the Profiles of Sociolinguists since an important
part of doing research is knowing who's who and who's done
what. Placing all the profiles together in one section, rather than
scattering them throughout the volume, as would happen in a
traditional encyclopedia, makes this information much more accessible
for both looking up information and for general browsing.

Overall, then invaluable resource for both the
beginning and experienced researcher of sociolinguistics.


Patricia Donaher is an Assistant Professor of English at Missouri
Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her scholarly interests
include methods of teaching linguistics, issues in language and
education, and theories and representations of language in popular


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