Book notice: Introducing Sociolinguistics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Aug 17 13:27:22 UTC 2007

Introducing Sociolinguistics

Announced at
AUTHOR: Meyerhoff, Miriam.
TITLE: Introducing Sociolinguistics.
PUBLISHER: Routledge: Taylor & Francis
YEAR: 2006

Dinha T. Gorgis, Jadara University for Graduate Studies, Irbid, Jordan.


This book comprises twelve chapters. The first of which, like most
textbooks, introduces the field, its concerns and practitioners, and the
last of
which rounds off the sociolinguistic enterprise, as presented by the author.

These are the shortest chapters and, unlike the other ten chapters, do not
include a summary, exercises, and further reading. Notes on the exercises
271-285) are added to ''help readers ask their own sociolinguistically
research questions'' (p. 271). These notes are followed by a glossary which
contains 168 terms already highlighted in the text. The book closes with a
bibliography and an index.

Central to chapter 2 are the traditional terms 'variable' and 'variant',
are analogously compared to the phoneme and its members (p. 9). Meyerhoff
discusses here some major common motivations for sociolinguitic variability
takes ''the use of naturally occurring speech as the basis for the
description of
variation'' (p. 25). The topics covered in this chapter are examined in
both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the following chapters.

Chapter 3 accounts for variation in speech and style-shifting. While the
allows for the distinction between 'accent' and 'dialect', she chooses to
the neutral term 'variety' for languages and dialects to avoid ''negative
connotations'' (p. 28). The chapter introduces stylistic variation within
speech of a single speaker by appealing to previous studies. It also devotes

considerable space to explaining the methods used to analyze style-shifting
focusing on speakers' attention to their speech and thus treating
''variation as
constitutive of non-linguistic factors'' (p. 52).

In chapter 4, Meyerhoff introduces attitudes to different varieties of a
language, that is, ''the way we perceive the individuals that use those
varieties'' (p. 54). The key topic in this chapter is 'accommodation theory'

which involves both 'convergence' and 'divergence', i.e. accommodation
vs. 'away from' the speech of one's interlocutors. So this theory ''is a
about interaction, and as such it is concerned with the negotiation of
perceptions and identities between interlocutors in conversations'' (p. 75).

Chapter 5 considers 'politeness' as a variable in speech. The author
the phenomenon across varieties and cultures within Brown & Levinson's
Choices of politeness strategies are seen to be determined by power,
and cost of the imposition, being a ''scalar measure of how serious a
face-threatening act is in a particular society'' (p. 87). It follows that
should have practical implications for teaching languages cross-culturally
because ''one language tends to conventionally use negative politeness
while the other uses positive or negative politeness strategies'' (p. 97).

Chapter 6 introduces the reader to multilingualism and language choice. Two
terms are highlighted here, viz. 'vitality' and 'diglossia'. For a
language/variety to remain vital, i.e. be in use for a range of social
functions, a number of factors must be at play. These are the
social and demographic factors'' (p. 103). Additional factors, e.g.
religious, national, etc. play a significant role in choosing a high or a
variety as is the case in the Arab world. The use of more than one
language/variety involves code-switching which emerges, among other things,
the speakers' conceptualization of ''the relationship between location,
and ingroup identity in different ways'' (p. 117). Meyerhoff, however, sees
''it is difficult to talk about a single motivation or function for a switch

between codes'' (p. 126).

Having looked so far at the factors that constrain variation, the author
examines in chapter 7 ''the factors that are strongly associated with what
called variationist sociolinguistics'' (p. 127), which studies language
over time. Thus she introduces us to 'real time' studies of change vs.
time' studies. The former are called 'trend studies' which use ''data from
corpora that include comparable speakers who have been recorded at different

points in time. They provide one kind of diachronic perspective on how
varies and changes'' (p. 131). If this method is constrained by examining
''from exactly the same speakers over a period of years'' (p. 132), the
studies which require 'painstaking work' are called 'panel studies'.
studies, on the other hand, involve ''comparing the speech of speakers of
different ages within a community at a single point in time'' (p. 132). The
chapter sketches four types of change connected with variation across time,
age-grading, lifespan, generational, and community change. It also shows the

relationships that hold between one type of change and another (cf. pp.
150-151). The chapter concludes with the challenges associated with both
and apparent time studies.

Social class is the topic of chapter 8. Meyerhoff introduces several
for this concept from different perspectives, links it with 'mobility', and
contrasts it with the more fixed notion of 'caste'. She is for the view that

language users can be upwardly mobile due to several factors, but ''may also
down the class and status ladder because of change to their life chances''
157). So what distinguishes groups of speakers is the relative frequency
which they use individual variants. Whether newcomers to sociolinguistics
good at performing statistical tests or not, they can easily see for
if the ''frequency of a variant in different contexts and among different
speakers'' (p. 168) is really a function of social class and/or some other
important factors such as personal identity.

Moving from the rather unfavorable notion of social class nowadays to social

networks and communities of practice in chapter 9, the author overviews a
of case studies carried out by some prominent researchers who differentiate
between 'dense' and 'loose' networks. The distinction between these two
involves scalar familiarity: the more able a speaker is to identify group
members, the more dense the network (cf. p. 187). On the other hand, a
of practice, which is a specific kind of social network, is identifiable
workplace, e.g. tailors (experienced vs. novices), compared with other
communities of practice. Both of these key notions in the chapter are said
nest with social class ''in terms of how locally they are defined and how
emphasis they place on speakers' attitudes and actions'' (p. 199-200).

Gender, as kept distinct from both grammatical gender and sex, has been the
subject matter of heated arguments among sociolinguists for decades now.
10 sees gender as a social and cultural category; ''something acquired or
constructed through your relationship with others and through an
adherence to certain cultural norms and proscriptions'' (p. 202). The
draws a distinction between gender exclusive and gender preferential
features in
language. The former are linguistic features that directly index gender
they are pertinent to a particular sex, e.g. pronouns, whereas the latter
indirectly index gender because they are distributed across speakers or
with a frequency difference such that vernacular variants are constitutive
masculinity as a social identity rather than being merely a reflection of
male sex. The author reviews three principles that account for gender and
variation (cf. Labov 1990, 2001). These principles, which are criticized for
gender paradox they display (cf. pp. 220-222), identify the circumstances in

which women are likely to lead men in the use of standard vs. vernacular
variants above and below the level of awareness.

Chapter 11 examines how contact between varieties affects variation and
At the outset, Meyerhoff acknowledges the fact that ''[a]ll variation and
can be viewed as the outcome of some form of contact between different
individuals or members of different groups'' (p. 238). Contact can be the
of an ''increased mobility of speakers'' (p. 239), globalization, e.g.
English as
a lingua franca, borrowing between varieties of the same language (socially
and/or regionally) as well as between world languages, and the creation of
pidgins and creoles. In a word, transmission is, irrespective of 'space', a
never-ending process.


Although the audience of this textbook, which is exceptionally error-free
wonderfully typeset, are primarily meant to be undergraduates, the exercises
so rich with stimulating ideas that graduates can develop them into theses.
Unlike other introductory textbooks, an exercise is immediately included
next to
the relevant point(s) of discussion. Above all, further aid to working out
exercises is given in ''Notes on the exercises'' at the close of the book.
other merit of the book is its coverage of most recent advances in the field
their connections with theory. However, although there is a rich and
bibliography, it is a pity not to find anywhere in the book references to
excellent introductions such as Hudson's (1996) and Wardhaugh's (2002). This
unfortunate, for example, because Hudson's (1980) first edition had already
established 'variety' as a cover term supported by more solid reasons (see
chapter 2) than Meyerhoff's avoidance of ''negative connotations''
associated with
dialects and languages. At the same time, Meyerhoff does acknowledge
(2001) equally excellent introduction, and best-seller.

I do not wish to push my opinions too far and make preferences among the
available textbooks, yet Meyerhoff could have included a section on update
methodology (cf., e.g. chapter 5 in Hudson) and another on advances in data
collection and problems associated with it (cf., e.g. chapter 6 in
Wardhaugh). I
imagine that the author would agree with me that these two issues are quite
helpful for the researcher-to-be in sociolinguistics. Newcomers to
sociolinguistics badly need not only acquaintance with research problems,
which the book receives high credit, but how to work on them, i.e.
the difficulties they might encounter in particularly conservative
e.g. the Arab world, and how to circumvent at least some of them. They also
to know the difference and/or similarity between the sociology of language
sociolinguistics and the points at which they converge and/or diverge.
Nonetheless, Meyerhoff is obviously quite aware of the interdisciplinary
of the field. These comments should in no way reduce the strengths of the
for I must admit that I have enjoyed reading it.

Holmes, Janet. 2001. _An Introduction to Sociolinguistics_. London: Longman.

Hudson, R.A. 1996. _Sociolinguistics_. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge

Labov, William. 1990. The intersection of sex and social class in the course
linguistics change. _Language Variation and Change_ 2:205-154.

Labov, William. 2001. _Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors_.

Wardhaugh, Ronald. 2002. _An Introduction to Sociolinguistics_. 4th ed.

Dinha T. Gorgis is currently professor of linguistics at Jadara University
Graduate Studies, Jordan. He has been mainly involved in teaching graduate
courses, e.g. phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics,
discourse analysis, contemporary English grammar, and translation. He is
co-editor of _The International Journal Linguistik_ online, co-editor of
magazine, and is member of IPrA. His most recent publications include
in Iraqi and Jordanian Arabic'' (2005) in _The International Journal of
and Linguistics_, Vol. 4, No. 2, 135-151, and ''Romanised Jordanian Arabic
E-Messages'' (2007), in _The International Journal of Language, Society, and

Culture_, Issue 21, 1-12. He reviewed Yavas (2006), LINGUIST List:
and Evens & Green (2006), LINGUIST List, Vol-18-1165, and has recently
three book notices for eLanguage, which will appear soon.
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