book notice: Introducing Sociolinguistics (2)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Aug 17 13:40:56 UTC 2007


Introducing Sociolinguistics

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-3010.html
Meyerhoff, Miriam
Introducing Sociolinguistics
2006 Routledge: Taylor and Francis

Rania Habib, Program in Linguistics, The University of Florida

DESCRIPTION

_Introducing Sociolinguistics_ is a textbook intended for teaching
introductory
sociolinguistic courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, giving
instructors directives on how to use the book and what to expect from
readers.
However, the textbook can be used as a very good reference by sociolinguists

because it covers most of the major areas in sociolinguistics and most of
the
important studies that have been done in this field and that set a starting
point for research in this area. The textbook introduces both quantitative
and
qualitative methods of analyzing sociolinguistic data. It starts with
language
variation and change studies in relation to style and attitudes. It also
deals
with politeness theory and its interaction with style of speech and
variation as
well as language attitude. It also delves into the language choices people
make
in multilingual societies. In returning to the discussion of variation, the
book
explores studies done in real time and apparent time and shows the
advantages
and disadvantages of each method. Then, the textbook looks at the
correlation of
various social factors with language variation and change, starting with
social
class, social networks and communities of practice, and then moving to
gender
and language contact. The textbook closes with comments on the direction of
sociolinguistics, the importance of spontaneous speech in sociolinguistic
studies, as well as a summary of the most important motivations of language
variation and change and the indication that variation occurs as a result of

multiple causes.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to the textbook. It raises many questions such
as
''What is sociolinguistics?'' and ''How do sociolinguists study
sociolinguistics?''
(p.1). Answering the first question seems to be difficult because it is very

hard to give a thorough definition of sociolinguistics. The chapter settles
on
defining sociolinguistics as the study of language in use. It further
explains
the reason that people from various academic fields take a course in
sociolinguistics and also gives a short description of the book content and
the
content of the various chapters. It concludes with a note to instructors on
quantitative and qualitative methods as complementing each other and assures
the
reader that deep knowledge of quantification is not necessary to understand
the
charts and the quantitative studies; it suffices to have knowledge of
percentages and weightings for the frequency of a linguistic form.

Chapter 2 represents a historical perspective of the methodological and
theoretical background of sociolinguistics. It emphasizes the fact that what
was
called 'free variation' in the past no longer exists because variation is
not
only conditioned or constrained with linguistic factors but it is also
constrained with social and attitudinal factors. These social factors are
the
backbone that shapes and defines the various existent forms of variation:
interspeaker and intraspeaker. They also explain to a great degree why
variation
occurs and make predictions about the direction of language change. Thus,
social
constraints are presented as part of the bridge that connects language
variation
with language change. By presenting one of the earliest studies in
sociolinguistics – the Martha's Vineyard Survey that was executed by William

Labov in 1961 – Meyerhoff sets the grounds for the earliest methods of data
collection and analyses, stressing the shift towards naturally occurring
speech
in sociolinguistic studies. Opening the discussion of the book with a
reflection
on the history of sociolinguistics opens the way for further discussion of
and
elaboration on the topics mentioned in this chapter in the following
chapters.

Chapter 3 runs through the various theories that account for intraspeaker
style
shift. It starts by viewing Labov's (1972) attention to speech theory and
the
different interview methods used to elicit different styles from the same
speaker. The chapter moves to present challenges of this approach to style
variation, particularly Bell's (1984) audience design theory with reference
to
Giles' (1973) accommodation theory and Coupland's (2001) speaker design
theory.
Labov believes that speakers shift their style of speaking because of the
attention they pay to their speech in certain contexts or situations, an
egocentric view of variation. Bell, on the other hand, views style shift of
speech as a social component; our social surroundings prompt us to attune
our
speech to the situation, context, or interlocutor. Coupland's (2001) speaker

design theory is even more refined than the audience design theory, in that
the
speaker shifts his/her style according to how s/he would like to present
him/herself to others. The chapter also acquaints the reader with the
differences between terms, such as overt prestige and covert prestige;
accent,
dialect, and variety; and terms such as speech community, observer's
paradox,
and participant observation.

Chapter 4 considers the relationship between language and attitudes
expressed
towards other varieties and speakers of those varieties and how those
attitudes
are reflected in language. Meyerhoff starts with how attitudes towards
gender
are reflected in language through historical survey of semantic shifts of
certain terminology towards more derogatory meaning, particularly terms used
to
describe women. Thus, the chapter shows that one can learn a great deal
about
social attitudes from studying historical drifts and concurrent use of
words. It
further shows that social factors can influence people's perception of
language
and different dialects. The chapter elaborates on social identity theory
(Tajfel
1978) and communication accommodation theory (Giles 1973), which indicate
that
individual and social identities could influence our attitudes towards
others
and language as well as our choice of language. Both theories imply that
speakers converge to or diverge form a certain dialect or group identity
because
of certain perceptions and attitudes they have about that dialect or group.

Chapter 5 views politeness strategies as sociolinguistic variables. These
strategies differ from other sociolinguistic variables that are realized as
different variants that are ''semantically equivalent'' (p. 100). Politeness

strategies are not realized in the same way and they differ in meaning and
function according to the context. Different politeness strategies can be
used
to attend to different social settings, needs, or situations. The degree of
politeness depends on the interlocutor: a friend or less familiar people.
These
strategies also vary according to cultural and identity differences as well
as
the type of society. The chapter touches on various theories of politeness
and
their application ''to other fields, such as workplace interaction and
intercultural communication'' (p. 83). Meyerhoff elaborates on politeness
theory
propounded by Brown and Levinson (1987) and presents a number of studies
that
pose a challenge to the theory, particularly those that focus on collective
societies, such as Japan (Ide 1989) rather than individualistic societies,
such
as Australia and the US.

Chapter 6 explores language choice in multilingual communities, indicating
that
choice of language is influenced by the ''demographic, social and
institutional
strength of a language and its speakers'' (p. 103), which is referred to as
'vitality'. The chapter also shows that multilingual speakers choose to
speak in
one language and not the other based on the context, function, interlocutor,
or
on whether the speaker is an in-group person or an out-group person. This is
not
to mention ''issues of self-determination, identity and culture'' (p. 103),
which
play a major role in defining and implementing language policies in
multilingual
societies. Another interesting aspect that the chapter deals with is code
switching and code mixing, which are motivated by the situation, the
interlocutor, and the message one desires to convey.

Chapter 7 shifts to variationist studies by exploring the notions of
'apparent
time' and 'real time' and the advantages and disadvantages of each of these
methods of research in indicating sound change. In testing the constructs of

apparent time and real time, panel studies, such as Bloundeau et al (2003)
showed that ''the apparent time method is by and large a very good method
for
inferring directions and speed of language change in a community'' (pp.
141-142).
This poses a challenge to the view that direction of change can only be
inferred
from real time studies that compare apparent time forms with previous or
historical forms to see where change is going. On the other hand, a trend
real
time study by Pope (2002) refutes apparent time predictions. However, the
chapter stresses that both kinds of studies are important and complement
each
other in finding the direction of change. The chapter also highlights the
significance of investigating lifespan changes and generational changes,
which
could be relevant to intraspeaker variation when acquiring a language: be it
a
child or an adult. Simultaneously, intraspeaker variation within a community
can
be investigated by comparing a group's speech in real time at different
points
in time. Hence, these methods can help in both accounting for the
''developmental
(i.e. individual) and social (i.e. group) phenomenon that language variation
is''
(p. 154).

Chapter 8 introduces social class as a variable that interacts with
stylistic
variation, the individual's linguistic behavior identifies with a group's
linguistic behavior. Variation occurs in the speech of such individuals for
reasons of maximizing their fit into a group or minimizing this fit and
associating with a different group. The problem with social class effects is

that social class is not stable; people move up or down the social scale
based
on opportunities and aspirations. From here stems the difficulty of
identifying
and assigning a social class. This difficulty in categorizing social class
led
to its falling ''somewhat out of favor in sociolinguistics these days as a
non-linguistic variable for study'' (p. 182). For this reason, one finds
shift
towards analyzing variation in terms of individual identities. However, one
cannot ignore the fact that class or group behavior as individual identities
are
closely related and studies focusing on individual identities analyses
should be
complemented by large group studies to examine how group behavior could
influence individual behavior and vice versa. Thus, social class should
remain
an important variable that could be tackled by sociolinguists for
''practical and
theoretical'' (p. 183) reasons.

Chapter 9 shifts to address the impact of domain and addressee on people's
way
of talk. It indicates that social class, social networks (Milroy and Milroy
1991) and communities of practice (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1992) are
three
different categories in sociolinguistic research and should be used with
different kinds of data to analyze and understand linguistic variation in a
broader term. Social class studies and network studies should complement
each
other. Some studies require different categorization from the larger group
categorization of social class. From here stems the importance of social
networks and communities of practice research, which focuses on smaller
groups
of speakers among whom language variation and language use carry a
significant
linguistic meaning. Exploring these smaller layers of social structure
enables
us to discover the social meaning for linguistic variables in the same way
that
larger layers do.

Chapter 10 starts with indicating the difference between the use of the
terms
'sex' and 'gender' in sociolinguistic studies. It reflects on studies in
gender
and language and the contribution of different identities and association
with a
specific gender to language variation and use. The use of particular
terminology
as well as morphology in some languages is closely connected to gender. In
most
sociolinguistic studies, gender has played such a major role in language
variation and use that the findings of those studies were summarized in
three
main generalizations in Labov (2001). The study of gender and language has
shifted recently from models correlating linguistic variants to models that
view
social identities and gender as changing through an ''individual's
experiences''
and ''personal histories'' (p. 225). The chapter shows that gendered
behaviors
could be used by speakers strategically. This chapter raises the question of
how
''social attributes such as class, attributes like formality of style, and
gender
come to pattern in consistent ways with respect to each other'' (p. 231).
The
study of gender and language is further concerned with ''the extent to which

gender identities and sexuality are linked'' (p. 231).

Chapter 11 discusses the influence of language contact on variation and
change.
It introduces the terms 'dialect leveling', 'lingua franca', 'pidgin',
'creole'
and other terms that may result from language contact. By presenting case
studies from Tok Pisin and Bislama creoles, whose lexifier is English,
Meyerhoff
shows that the variation in New York City English (regarding r-full and
r-less)
is related to contact ''between closely related varieties of one language'',

whereas the variation in Bislama is due to contact ''between mutually
incomprehensible languages'' (p. 257). The chapter touches on various
methods of
analyzing language contact, such as the wave model and the gravity model.
However, the general principles method of analyzing language contact
provides
better understanding of the outcomes of language contact'' because it takes
into
account the ''semantics of an innovative variant, the language-specific
constraints of the varieties in contact, and the communicative needs of the
speakers'' (p. 262).

Chapter 12 provides a summary that connects the beginning of the book with
the
end. By returning to the most common motivations for language variation and
change from Chapter 2 (p. 24), Meyerhoff accentuates the fact that
sociolinguistic variation requires investigation on various levels and from
various angles to arrive at a more precise response to the direction of
variation. This chapter also comments on the direction of sociolinguistics
and
the importance of spontaneous speech in sociolinguistic studies.

EVALUATION
The book can serve as a good textbook for introductory courses to
sociolinguistics. It covers all the major areas in sociolinguistics,
including
methods of data analyses. It is a comprehensive book for those who are
interested in learning about language and use and what sociolinguists study.
At
the beginning of each chapter, there is a list of new terms that will be
introduced in it. The book gives marginal definitions of important
terminology
as the reader reads on in addition to the well-defined glossary of terms at
the
end of the book. This is not to mention the facts and explanations of
significant issues and connections of theories enveloped in boxes within the

main text. After the discussion of a certain method or the end of a
particular
topic, a set of exercises are provided to the reader to stimulate thought
and
discussion. These exercises are commented on later in the book. This makes
the
book a very handy tool for teaching and learning sociolinguistics at the
undergraduate and the graduate levels. Meyerhoff's style of writing is very
clear, systematic, and well organized in that one point leads to another; it
is
endowed with narrative like sensation, and fluent and elaborate explanation.
The
book contains well-chosen examples, illustrations, tables and figures for
clarifying a point or a theory. The illustrations interweave with the text
in a
flowing, successive manner. Meyerhoff chooses to go into small and hefty
details
so as to make the text extra comprehensible and reader friendly to both the
general reader and the researcher. Most of the chapters start with an
anecdote
or a narrative that stimulates interest in what is coming next. Actually,
the
whole book somehow resembles a narrative of the sociolinguistic story, which
I
find very appealing, enjoyable, and fun to read. The index (of topics)
towards
the end of the book is very helpful to look up a particular topic that has
been
covered in the main text.

REFERENCES
Bell, Allan. (1984). 'Language style as audience design'. _Language in
Society_
13: 145- 204.

Bloundeau, Hélène, Gillian Sankoff and Ann Charity. (2003). 'Parcours
individuels et changements linguistiques en cours dans la communaté
francophone
montréalaise'. _Revue Québécoise de Linguistique_ 31: 13-38.

Brown, Penelope and Stephen Levinson. (1987). _Politeness: Some Universals
in
Language Use_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coupland, Nikolas. (2001). 'Language, situation and the relational self:
theorizing dialect-style in sociolinguistics'. In Penelope Eckert and John
R.
Rickford (eds), _Style and Sociolinguistic Variation_. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 185-210.

Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. (1992). 'Think practically and
look
locally: language and gender as community-based practice'. _Annual Review of

Anthropology_ 21: 461-490.

Giles, Howard. (1973). 'Accent mobility: a model and some data'.
_Anthropological Linguistics_ 15: 87-105.

Ide, Sachiko. (1989). 'Formal forms and discernment: two neglected aspects
of
universals of linguistic politeness'. _Multilingua_ 8: 223-248.

Labov, William (1972) _Sociolinguistic Patterns_. Philadelphia: University
of
Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. (2001). _Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors_.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Milroy, James and Lesley Milroy. (1991). _Authority in Language:
Investigating
Language Prescription and Standardisation_ (2nd ed). London: Routledge.

Pope, Jennifer. (2002). The social history of a sound change on the island
of
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts: forty years after Labov. Unpublished MA
dissertation, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University
of
Edinburgh.

Tajfel, Henry. (1978). 'Interindividual behaviour and intergroup behaviour'.
In
Henry Tajfel (ed.), _Differentiation between Social Groups: Studies in the
Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations_. London/New York: Academic Press,
27-60.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Rania Habib is a Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistics at the University of
Florida. As
a Fulbright student, she completed her master's degree in linguistics at the

University of Florida in 2005. Rania is interested in sociolinguistic
variation
and change and her current research involves the application of Optimality
Theory and the Gradual Learning Algorithm to sociolinguistic variation and
change. She is also interested in Pragmatics, Second Language Acquisition,
and
Syntax.
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