25.2913, Review: Sociolinguistics: Bell (2013)
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LINGUIST List: Vol-25-2913. Mon Jul 14 2014. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.
Subject: 25.2913, Review: Sociolinguistics: Bell (2013)
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Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2014 07:51:11
From: Elizabeth Pyatt [ejp10 at psu.edu]
Subject: The Guidebook to Sociolinguistics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-5064.html
AUTHOR: Allan Bell
TITLE: The Guidebook to Sociolinguistics
REVIEWER: Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Pennsylvania State University
Allan Bell's “The Guidebook to Sociolinguistics” is a textbook for an
undergraduate level of sociolinguistics. According to Bell's preface, the book
assumes little or no background in formal linguistics. Bell also states a goal
of providing instruction in ''how sociolinguistics is done: ''that is,
providing both research-based project assignments and examples of how to
interpret sociolinguistics. This facet turns out to be one of the great
strengths of the book.
The topics covered in the textbook are typical for those of an introductory
undergraduate sociolinguistics course and include multilingualism, pidgins and
creoles, attitudes towards language, interaction between language and social
class, the concept of codes within different communities (or ''communities of
practice''), register and style, traditional dialectology, the social reality
of ''language'' vs. ''dialect,” documenting variation and usage patterns and
tracking language change, including language death.
The book is organized into the following chapters and includes an extensive
bibliography and topical index. Each chapter includes a set of references and
further reading relevant to the chapter topics at the end and typically
includes a number of possible research projects and exercises in the chapter.
These could be used as the basis of a homework assignment or as discussion
points for students.
1. What Are Sociolinguistics?
2. A Profusion of Languages
3. Language Shift and Maintenance
4. Language Birth and Death
5. Codes and Choices
6. Situated Language
7. Variation in Language
8. Language in Time
9. Language in Space
10. Valuing Language
11. Styling Language and Identities
12. Theory and Engagement
Chapter One is “What are Sociolinguistics?” and the use of the plural is a
reference to the multiple approaches taken in the study of language usage and
variation. The chapter introduces basic concepts of sociolinguistics,
including language as a social construct, and how it relates to other fields
such as sociology, anthropology, applied linguistics, historical and
theoretical linguistics, discourse/pragmatics and language planning policy.
Unusual for a sociolinguistics textbook, Bell discusses links between
sociolinguistics and constructivist analysis. The chapter concludes with an
overview of the textbook's philosophy and organization.
The focus of Chapter Two, “A Profusion of Languages,” is multilingualism and
the chapter discusses different parameters of analyzing multilingualism
(individual vs. community, immigrant vs. indigenous, levels of proficiency,
vitality and others). The chapter features a case study of multilingualism in
Canada, particularly the status of French vs. English, and discusses the use
of census and survey data in analyzing a multilingual population. The final
research project is creating a survey.
Chapter Three, “Language Shift and Maintenance,” continues with the theme of
multilingualism and maintenance of a non-dominant language. Topics include
usage patterns of different languages in a multilingual context and how usage
may change across time and generations. The case study is changes in usage of
Maori over time and the “research project” is actually a discussion of how to
find a research project and plan the collection of the data.
The title of Chapter Four is “Language Birth and Death” and covers the
formation and social position of pidgins and creoles (birth) as well as the
conditions of language death, including the deterioration of grammatical
features as a language loses speakers who actively use it. Focus languages are
Gaelic (endangered) and Melanesian Pidgin (a Pacific Creole).
Chapter Five, “Codes and Choices,” introduces the concept of variation in
smaller language communities. It begins with definitions of different types of
variations and communities, including overlapping communities. There is also
an extensive discussion of diglossia and code switching with a look at the
German-Hungarian bilingual community of Oberwart on the border of Austria and
Hungary. The research activity asks students to document variation in
The theme of individual usage variation continues in Chapter Six, “Situated
Language”. This chapter focuses on linguistic ethnography, politeness and the
concept of changing a language to suit a different audience. The connection
between language and gender is briefly discussed in this chapter. The research
activity is to describe an linguistic ethnographic scenario, and there is an
extensive case study of slang use in Rio de Janeiro.
Variation between social classes is the focus of Chapter Seven “Variation in
Language”. Much of the data comes from William Labov's studies of language
variation in New York City, but also includes data from studies in Detroit,
Guyana, Norwich, New England and other locations. The concepts of covert
prestige are discussed here as is the distinction of ethnicity versus class
and gender as a social variable.
Chapter Eight, “Language and Time,” discusses how language changes across
generations and as people themselves age. The focus then shifts to the
processes of change in language such as sound change and morphosyntactic
change. The role of class, particularly working class speakers as innovators,
is also discussed. This chapter also introduces the concepts of social
networks and the linguistic “marketplace”. The case study focuses on
documenting language in different cliques in Belten High school (a pseudonym
for a real high school in the Detroit area). The research study is an activity
in which students trace change in online document archives.
The topic of Chapter Nine is “Language in Space” or roughly regional
dialectology. Traditional dialect maps are introduced, including the Rhenish
fan, but the chapter also focuses on contemporary understanding of regional
differences, including urban vs. rural. The final part of the chapter
discusses dialect birth and death, the relationship between regional and
standard dialects and dialect contact. The case study is the development of
New Zealand English.
Chapter Ten, “Valuing Language” covers issues of language and identity or
ideology. Attitudes towards language are discussed as are linguistic
stereotypes and discrimination. This chapter introduces centripetal linguistic
forces (towards standardization) vs. centrifugal ones (towards more regional
Chapter Eleven “Styling Language and Identities,” puts the focus on how
individuals may vary style depending on audience. In many cases, variation may
include accommodation in order to show closeness to a speaker or community.
Specific cases include adjusting newscast styles for different radio stations
and even “performing gender.”
The book concludes with Chapter Twelve, “Theory and Engagement,” in which Bell
argues that sociolinguistics may be evolving in a direction away from
important sociological factors. That is, Bell argues that sociolinguistic
analysis may not be taking individual choice enough into account. Bell also
postulates that academics with linguistic expertise have a responsibility
towards helping disadvantaged communities who may be suffering the effects of
discrimination or linguistic stereotyping.
As indicated earlier, the topics are what most instructors would expect for an
undergraduate linguistics course, and the examples of different phenomena are
plentiful and well chosen. They include ''classic'' examples from the
discipline of sociolinguistics and newer data sources as well. For classic
sociolinguistics this includes Labov's (1966, 2006) studies of New York
dialects, Rubin's (1968) comparison of Spanish vs. Guaraní usage in Paraguay
(1968) and Brown and Gilman's (1960) description of T/V pronoun usage across
languages as examples.
In terms of newer examples (at least new to this reviewer) Bell works in New
Zealand, so not surprisingly, many of these unique data sources relate to New
Zealand and Australia, but examples are pulled from elsewhere such as Africa,
South Asia, Denmark and London. Two notable topics include discussions of the
Maori community in New Zealand and ethnographies of modern Western cultures
such as Bucholtz's (1999) discussion of Cross Racial AAVE (CRAAVE) in the U.S.
These are all valuable additions for any instructor looking to update course
A major strength of this book is indeed the focus on research. Bell not only
provides different types of data from the field, but also detailed
explanations on how data has been collected and interpreted. The textbook also
provides a number of potential research activities, including designing an
interview or searching a newspaper archive for patterns of usage across time.
Each chapter also ends with a list of recommended reading sources which would
be valuable for student researchers.
Although the content of this textbook is very rich, I did have some concerns
about the organization of the book, especially in terms of using it in a U.S.
higher education environment. First, the concept of linguistic
discrimination/stereotypes is not fully discussed until Chapter 10. This is
surprising to me since this is a major facet of sociolinguistics that relates
to almost all other topics such as language policy, attitudes towards creoles
and rationales for individual language choices.
Another choice Bell makes is to focus on macro level issues (multilingualism
in nations, minority language maintenance) first. I am not sure how well this
topic ordering would work in an American context, which is monolingual English
in many regions. Unless a course is being taught in an urban environment or
one in which other languages are present, these issues are difficult for
American students to understand until they are acquainted with more non-Anglo
history than is usually taught. Thus, some textbooks (e.g. Wardhaugh's “An
Introduction to Sociolinguistics” (1992, 2010)) are organized to first discuss
microlevel descriptions (e.g. jargons, register, regional dialects) more
familiar to this audience. Fortunately, an instructor can choose to reorder
the topics to his or her preference.
A third issue particular to this book is the labeling and organization of some
chapters. I was able to guess the topics of many chapters based on their
names, but a few did leave me a little puzzled. These included titles such as
''Language in Space'' (regional dialectal variation), ''Language in Time''
(overview of language change) and ''Language Birth and Death'' (pidgins,
creoles plus language death). The last was particularly confusing because each
end of a language's life cycle involves different issues, and I thought it
didn't give enough focus to creole sociolinguistics or the differences between
Atlantic vs. Pacific creoles. The creole issue is especially important because
many immigrants to the U.S. and elsewhere may be creole speakers and the
concept of creole is poorly understood by the general public. I would not rule
out using this book because of this issue, but I would want to clarify topics
more for the students.
A final comment I have is a lack shared by several sociolinguistics textbooks
I have examined. When concepts such as dialect vs. language, code switching,
creoles vs. a standard language or related languages are being discussed, I
feel it is important to provide some sample linguistic data. For instance
seeing samples of Standard French vs. Haitian Creole or Tok Pisin vs. Standard
English really helps students understand the nature of these creoles.
Unfortunately, I did not see as many of these examples in this textbook as I
would have liked. As a corollary, this textbook also lacks exercises that
include data for analysis (language samples, data sets, charts). If an
instructor wishes to include such an exercise, he or she would be forced to
develop some, which can be more time consuming.
This textbook is also lacking in photographic realia, that is photographic
examples of different types of sociolinguistic phenomena (e.g. a multilingual
sign). This may have been done to keep the price of the book down, but I find
that they do help students understand the context of some situations. Again,
it is possible for an instructor to find appropriate examples online, but it
would be beneficial to have more included within a textbook so students can
see the images as they are reviewing the content.
Having set out these critiques, though, I would still say this book is a fine
candidate for an undergraduate sociolinguistics course. It introduces the key
topics, provides lots of excellent and modern examples and is written in an
accessible style suitable for introducing material to students not yet
familiar with linguistic theory or social science research methodology. Its
focus on research issues is one that I also agree is important for helping
students understand the different ways language can and should be analyzed.
Brown, Roger and Albert Gilman. 1960. “The pronouns of power and solidarity.”
In Thomas A. Sebeok, ed., Style in Language, 253-76. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bucholtz, Mary. 1999. “You da man: Narrating the racial other in the
production of white masculinity.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(4). 443-460.
Labov, William. 1966, 2006. The Social Stratification of English in New York
City, Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rubin, Joan. 1968. “Bilingual usage in Paraguay.” In Joshua A. Friedman (ed.),
Readings in the Sociology of Language, 512-30. The Hague: Mouton
Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1992, 2010. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Sixth
Edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth Pyatt is a Lecturer in the Program of Linguistics at Penn State. She
has researched Celtic languages, particularly Welsh, with a focus on
documenting the morphosyntactic properties of Celtic mutations, including
dialectal variation and diachronic development. Dr. Pyatt has also taught
introductory undergraduate sociolinguistics at Penn State.
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