Review: Sociolinguistics

ronkinm at ronkinm at
Mon Jun 9 12:56:26 UTC 2003

>>From the Linguist List

 Date:  Tue, 3 Jun 2003 12:54:31 -0400
 From:  Laura Buechel <laura.buechel at>
 Subject:  Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings

 Paulston, Christina Bratt and G. Richard Tucker, ed. (2003)
 Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings, Blackwell Publishing,
 Linguistics: The Essential Readings 3.

 Laura Loder Buechel, Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich, Switzerland

This book was announced at

 "Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings", edited by Christina Bratt
 Paulston and G. Richard Tucker, is an introduction to many different
 aspects of sociolinguistics for students and others interested in the
 field. It is a collection of 29 papers organized into 11 parts, each
 part headed by a classic in the specific subfield. The parts are then
 followed with mostly more recent articles, some written especially for
 this reader, by researchers and educators who have also helped to
 define the field of sociolinguistics throughout the past 50 years.
 Each part is introduced by the editors, articles are presented, and
 questions for discussion are posed.

 The two articles in Part I: History of Sociolinguistics describe the
 development from anthropology, ethnology, sociology and linguistics
 into what we term today as sociolinguistics, although there is still
 much room for discussion if we want to identify what topics really
 belong to this field. Interesting discussions presented about the
 politics of certain times (racial discrimination in 1960s (Shuy, 1960)
 in the US and Marxism in the USSR (Calvet)) lead to discussions about
 research questions posed by linguists, such as differences in dialects
 and the relationship between ethnic group and social class and dialect.

 In the first article of Part II: Ethnography of Speaking, Hymes (1986)
 puts forth a descriptive theory of individual communities and groups to
 include the speech community, which is twofold: a community that shares
 "rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech, and rules for the
 interpretation of at least one linguistic variety (p. 36)." Pagliai
 (2000) describes the tradition of the Contrasto in the speech community
 of Tuscany. This bantering (perhaps a "speech event", Hymes 1986),
 performed at public events such as festivals (perhaps a "speech
 situation", Hymes 1986) between two opponents having a heated poetic
 debate, demonstrates that participants share the rules of conduct, they
 both banter through singing and acting and they perhaps share one
 linguistic variety. However, insofar as being a homogeneous speech
 community, they identify themselves very locally, through the naming of
 places, thus Hymes's speech community can be narrowed down to a very
 small geographic area.

 The articles in Part III: Pragmatics help to demonstrate the breadth of
 the topic. This part of the book delves into narrative analysis,
 conversational analysis and address studies through analyzing speech
 acts. Although Labov and Waletzky's 1967 paper was an important
 stepping stone to today's work, Schegloff's (1997)critique leads us to
 what wasn't done and what still needs to be done in regards to
 narrative analysis. We can see the influence of Labov on Holmes's
 (1998) analysis (and in Gumperz's work (1982)) of Maori stories when
 she uses his structural framework in her study of Maori and Pakeha
 cultural differences in narrative. In this direction, Gumperz (1982)
 analyzes conversations to find linguistically based "cultural
 miscommunications" principally between American- and Indian-English
 speakers. Brown and Gilman (1960) discuss the possible history of the
 pronouns of address (tu or vos) and the interaction between the choice
 of pronoun and rank -- or amount of power. Finally, Holmes (1998)
 analyzes compliments and finds that they, too, are also used as power
 plays and are culture and gender loaded. The two articles in Part IV:
 Language and Gender touch upon the respective issues, and that of power
 as well.

 In Part V: Language Variation, Labov's (1975) article is still relevant
 today and is perhaps summed up with his own quote "But before we train
 working class speakers to copy middle class speech patterns wholesale,
 it is worth asking just which aspects of this style are functional for
 learning and which are matters of prestige and fashion. ...
 unfortunately we have not yet begun to answer it (p. 249)." Perhaps a
 step in trying to answer this question is Wolfram's (2000) article
 about standardizing vernacular languages. Bringing sociolinguistics to
 the level of the individual, is Johnstone's (1991) paper about the
 individualization of dialogues by polltakers in public opinion surveys.
 Reinecke's 1937 article comprises Part VI: Pidgins and Creoles, which
 also discusses communication strategies, language and power, and

 The previous chapters lead nicely into Part VII: Individual
 Bilingualism, which poses similar questions about the value of a
 language, the power involved in being a speaker of a certain language
 and questions the educational system. Lambert (1967) puts forth
 questions of identity negotiation and value of the language through his
 research of impressions French and English speaking Canadians have of
 one another. Cummins describes how BICS (Basic Interpersonal
 Communicative Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language
 Proficiency) are similar to many other conceptual distinctions, why
 these distinctions are important to have, and then defends the
 distinction. Finally, MacSwan and Rolsted offer an alternative to BICS
 and CALP, which in their opinion leads to a "deficit view of children
 in the context of native language" (p. 337).

 In Part VIII: Diglossia, Ferguson (1959) sees diglossia as a dynamic
 ("developing from various origins and eventuating in different language
 situations", p. 34.), though historically stable, language situation.
 He defines situations in which the High and Low varieties of German
 (Swiss), Arabic (Egyptian), Greek (Modern) and Creole (Haitian) are
 used. He emphasizes the importance of not always analyzing the standard
 form of a language, we can learn so much from the vernacular. Fishman
 (1967) expands upon Ferguson's work by looking at the combinations of
 bilingualism and diglossia. Finally, Hudson (1991) looks at both
 Ferguson's and Fishman's work and in an attempt to find a working
 definition of diglossia -- returns to Ferguson.

 >From diglossia, we turn to Part IX: Group Bilingualism, where Fishman
 (1990) discredits assumptions that linguistic heterogeneity contributes
 to civil strife, arguing rather that there are many positive
 consequences of linguistic heterogeneity in regards to policies. Bratt
 Paulston (1992) continues this discussion by looking at successful and
 unsuccessful policies in Catalonia, Tanzania, and Peru as well as
 reasons behind language shift. In Part X: Language Policies and
 Planning, Haugen (1966) sets guidelines for defining a standard
 language, which was the groundwork for work in the 1970s on language
 planning in developing countries. Nahir (1984) elaborates upon this in
 establishing eleven language planning goals from examples taken around
 the world. Finally, Hornberger (1994) describes the role of developing
 mother tongue literacy in primary school.

 This book is concluded by Part XI: Multilingualism, Policies and
 Education, with two articles (Tucker 2001 and Bratt Paulston 1997)
 which put into question movements such as "English-Only", and discuss
 instruction in the native language of people in different political
 situations as well as other questions to help language planners. No
 reasonable person doubts the benefits of having two or more well-
 developed languages, and how leaders of nations and communities plan or
 not plan is essential to every individual's success.


 The intended audience of the book is precisely as the authors state in
 the preface -- for beginning students or those interested in the field
 (as long as they are familiar with sociolinguistic jargon) and also to
 be used with a textbook. The introductions to the parts and the
 discussion questions, however, make the book manageable without one. It
 is also good for those of us who work in the field and have not read
 all the direct sources.

 Insofar as organization is concerned, perhaps the biographical
 information about the author (Notes on Authors) as well as reference
 information (Acknowledgements) could better been placed with the
 article or at the introduction to each part, not all at the beginning
 of the reader in two different sections. While the introductions often
 gave the contexts of the times, it would have been easier to associate
 them to the article like this. One question that remains is when Calvet
 published his contribution to this reader. The index is well done and
 the recommendations for further reading in the introductions are

 The authors mention that perhaps first part (History of Sociology)
 should be read last (p. 2), but perhaps best would be to leave it where
 it is and to recommend that it be reread at the end of the course or
 work with the book. In Part VIII, the authors gave a good tip about
 knowing definition of writers when reading article, and this could have
 been mentioned about other terms, such as bilingual.

 The Discussion Questions at the end of each chapter are mostly very
 thought provoking. Part III, especially, provides many opportunities
 for students to make their own analyses, and throughout the book, there
 are many questions posed which refer students to outside of the book --
 to interview friends, neighbors and foreign language speakers.
 Moreover, references made in the discussion questions to previous
 chapters ties the articles together nicely.

 It certainly must not have been easy to choose among so many seminal
 works and to structure the book into parts. There have been many, many
 articles related to pragmatics, and also to the chapters on
 bilingualism. Some of the articles could easily belong to different
 parts (Holmes (1998) in Part III could well belong to Part IV, for
 example and the two articles in Part XI could have gone into the
 previous chapter). The recommended readings were a good way to broaden
 the selection.

 Although methods of measuring are more sophisticated nowadays, most of
 the issues addressed in this reader still exist today and there is
 still much work to be done. Hopefully, further volumes will be
 published which address more recent work and which shed a new light on
 these discussions.


 Laura Loder Buechel is teacher trainer in the field of Content and
 Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in regards to the introduction of
 English into Swiss primary schools. She completed her M.Ed. in
 Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. Her
 research interests include cognitive advantages of simultaneous first
 and second language acquisition and Computer Assisted Language Learning
 to facilitate multilingualism.

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