Book notice: Sociolinguistics: Beal (2006)
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Sat Oct 27 15:45:49 UTC 2007
Review: Sociolinguistics: Beal (2006)
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-1170.html
AUTHOR: Beal, Joan
Series: Language and Region
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) 2006
Kevin Watson, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster
This textbook is aimed at students of English Language who are at the very
beginning of their university studies or are studying A Level English
at school or college. It assumes ''an interest in language use'' rather than
previous knowledge of linguistic terminology, and so introduces readers to
various aspects of English language investigation from first principles. The
book is divided into seven chapters, referred to as ''units'', each of which
between 11-14 pages long. Each unit follows a consistent format, with the
sections of the main content intersected by at least one activity for
discussion, followed by a concluding summary and at least one extension
Unit 1, ''Region, nation, locale''
This unit introduces regionality and regional identity as general notions,
initially divorced from language variation. Questions considered include:
is a region? And how are regions delimited by the people living in them? Are
more ''local'' regions being replaced by larger, ''supralocal'' ones? It is
concluded that the concept of a region must be fluid, ''covering whatever
geographical areas are considered distinct from each other by the people
in them, and whatever varieties of English are perceived as different from
other by the people who speak and hear them'' (p. 4). This helpfully broad
discussion leads well into certain themes which are touched on here and
in later units, including stereotype, prestige, and issues of speaker
The unit ends with an activity based on an identity questionnaire, which is
accompanied by a detailed commentary highlighting the significance of the
questions asked in it.
Unit 2, ''Regional language and its uses''
Unit 2 is based around two texts – both written for comic effect – which
two varieties of regional language. Beal explains how the language in the
differs from standard English and provides a framework for analysis. The
framework includes both internal aspects of vocabulary, grammar and
pronunciation and external aspects such as intended audience and purpose.
first text represents the regional language of an area of northern England.
functions as a worked example and is accompanied by a detailed 6 page
commentary. The second text represents the language of Pittsburgh, and also
a detailed commentary. This time the commentary is provided at the end of
book, presumably to allow readers to think about the text themselves before
seeing the ''answers''.
Unit 3, ''Attitudes to regional language''
This unit examines attitudes towards and stereotypes of regional language.
Classic studies are mentioned (e.g. Giles 1970, Labov 1972) and key terms
highlighted (e.g. speech communities, salient variables). The classic
are connected to examples from more recent lay discussion, such as the
rankings of regional accents typically found in newspapers. The unit has two
activities. The first is based around a set of points for discussion
a newspaper article about the perceived need for elocution lessons in order
speakers to succeed in the workplace, and the second is a research task in
attitudes to regional language can be elicited and analyzed.
Unit 4, ''Recognising accents''
Unit 4 focuses on the identification of certain phonological variables in
to locate regional varieties geographically. Following a general discussion
about the recognition of accent features, the unit demonstrates how
(1999: 68) sentence (''very few cars made it up the long hill'') can be used
identify regional varieties of British English. Each word of the sentence is
taken in turn, and certain features of UK Englishes are highlighted. The
activity in this unit encourages readers to use the sentence to describe
own variety of English.
Unit 5, ''Words and things''
Moving away from a focus on phonology, unit 5 examines lexical variation.
unit begins by describing lexical attrition in the UK, or at least the
perception of it, but also gives examples of newer words which have only
recently been documented (e.g. 'chav', in the UK). The issue of
between terms such as 'dialect words', 'colloquialisms', 'slang' and
noted. A major part of this unit is a discussion of how researchers tap into
speakers' lexical knowledge. Two activities are provided. In the first, a
dialect questionnaire meant to elicit dialect vocabulary, based on
Burbano-Elizondo (2001), is illustrated, and in the other sense relation
networks are introduced (adapted from Llamas 1999).
Unit 6, ''Regional grammar''
Unit 6 examines grammatical variation, and at the same time introduces
to some grammatical terminology. Features considered include plural marking
second person pronouns, double modals, use of the definite article with
nouns, non-standard past tense marking, double negatives and double marking
comparatives. Where appropriate, comment is made about how modern-day
in these variables compares to the situation in earlier Standard Englishes.
There are two activities in this unit. The first provides a section of
transcribed speech in which readers are asked to identify the non-standard
grammatical features, and the second is a dialect questionnaire meant to tap
into speakers' awareness of such features. The extension section of this
provides an excellent ''check-list'' of grammatical features that could vary
dialect to dialect. While it is clearly impossible to list all features in
a list, a useful selection of 25 possibilities is given, along with
Unit 7, ''Writing in dialect''
This final unit of the book revisits some of the issues first introduced in
2, but rather than focusing on texts created for humorous purposes, this
examines texts in which more ''literary'' authors use dialect in their
distinction is made between 'dialect literature' and 'literary dialect',
4 texts are analyzed (from Irvine Welsh's _Trainspotting_, Rudyard Kipling's
''Tommy'', Elizabeth Gaskell's _North and South_, and John Harley's ''Bite
Bigger''). Each text is accompanied by a 1 page commentary. The activity in
unit is the analysis of a piece of dialect writing, using the framework that
first introduced in unit 2.
There are more sections following the final unit. The book ends with (i) a
commentary section providing discussion of activities offered in earlier
(over 10 pages), (ii) a list of phonetic symbols with examples of words in
they occur, (iii) a list of references and suggestions for further reading,
(iv) an index of terms, which also acts as a glossary.
There are many good points about this book. It is set at exactly the right
for students in introductory courses on language variation, particularly
at the very beginning of a university program or those who have yet to start
one. It is also very suitable for students of A Level English Language. Beal
assumes no previous knowledge of linguistic terminology, and so eases
into the content of the book gently, encouraging them to think independently
at the same time holding their hand long enough to give them the confidence
voice their opinions.
The book is written in a lively, accessible style, and the units are short
easy to digest. Many of the examples are couched in terms of things student
readers will be familiar with (including popular TV serials such as
and _Eastenders_, movies such as _Shaun of the Dead_ and _Scream_, and
websites, which can be used for further investigation). Furthermore, central
variationist issues are introduced at the same time as the necessary
terminology. For example, readers do not spend time learning about modals
they learn about variation in modals – the two are neatly juxtaposed. This
to maintain the focus of the book but at the same time teaches terminology
through the ''back door''. The activities provided in each unit are well
conceived, and the accompanying commentaries are very detailed (e.g. the two
activities offered in unit 2 have almost 10 pages of discussion devoted to
them). An additional benefit of the commentaries is that they are written
bullet points or with annotations of particular texts, but in full
which, for the most part, particular linguistic phenomena are taken in turn
(e.g. a commentary may first deal with vocabulary before moving to
pronunciation). Thus, they make students aware not only of the important
in relation to the discussion activity, but also how to write these kinds of
answers. Students must learn how to provide answers that are detailed and
peppered with copious linguistic examples, yet which are succinct and
waffle-free, but they seldom see writing like this on which to base their
Thus, Beal not only provides guidance on linguistic content in these
commentaries, but also on the framing of the discussion.
The only negative comments I will make are quibbles rather than real points
As I pointed out above, the check-list of grammatical features provided in
6 is excellent. However, there is a wide range of terminology in the list
is not mentioned elsewhere in the book and is not included in the index of
(e.g. object, right dislocation, concord). I appreciate that it would be
impossible to cover all these terms in a short book such as this, and that
so would perhaps be unsuitable given the book's target audience, but I think
would have been useful to have these things as entries in the index of
That said, Beal notes (p. 111) that the glossary is not intended to be
and points the reader to Crystal (2003) for further information. This was a
idea, allowing students to explore further should they wish to do so.
There is a problem with some of the phonetic symbols, which may have become
corrupt during printing. For example, the symbol for the lateral fricative
given when a dark /l/ is being described (p. 49) and in the index of terms
symbol [a] is given as part of the definition of schwa (p. 116).
Finally, any book which has referencing to internet resources runs the risk
the URL cited changing after the publication of the book, and this seems to
the case on just a few occasions here (e.g. p. 2).
Despite these minor points, this is an excellent book which should find a
in all introductory courses in which accents and dialects are a central
Burbano-Elizondo, L. 2001. Lexical erosion and lexical innovation in
and Sheffield. In Filppula, M., Palander, M., klemola, J. & Penttila, E.
_Dialects across Borders_. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 211-229.
Crystal, D. 2003. _A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics_. 5th edition.
Giles, H. 1970. Evaluative reactions to accents. _Educational Review_ 22:
Labov, W. 1972. Subjective dimensions of a linguistic change in progress. In
_Sociolinguistic Patterns_. Oxford: Blackwell, 143-159.
Llamas, C. 1999. A new methodology: data elicitation for social and regional
language variation studies. _Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics_ 7: 95-119.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr. Kevin Watson is a lecturer in English Phonetics in the Department of
Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, UK. His research
interests center on sociophonetic variation in accents of English,
but not exclusively in the north-west of England. He is also interested in
issues of sociolinguistic variation intersect with linguistic theory, and
variation in phonetics and phonology can be modeled in the grammar.
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