[lg policy] book review: Attitudes to Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 18 15:30:33 UTC 2011

Attitudes to Language

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-1871.html

AUTHOR: Garrett, Peter
TITLE: Attitudes to Language
SERIES TITLE: Key Topics in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge
YEAR: 2010

Judith Bündgens-Kosten, Universität Duisburg-Essen


Peter Garrett's ''Attitudes to language'' attempts the difficult task of
introducing readers to a complex, multidisciplinary area of research: attitudes
toward language, from attitudes toward proper names to attitudes toward whole
languages, from evaluative reactions to speech rate to the effects of content on
evaluation of speech samples. Overall, its major emphasis lies on the matched
guise method and English and its varieties as attitude objects (i.e., that to
which one responds with an attitude), but other methods and attitude objects are
also touched upon.


Garrett's book is heavily dependent on short summaries of research projects and
accompanying critical evaluations of their methods and contextualisation of
their findings. Generally, these are arranged by methods (e.g. matched guise vs.
''direct methods''), occasionally by topic/problem (e.g. attitudes in
settings). In most chapters/sections, the author summarises several research
projects and their findings and attempts a synthesis of these different project,
e.g. to show in which different ways a research method can be used, or what
effect speech rate seems to have in different contexts.

In chapter 1, ''Introduction'', Garrett begins with an overview over
the range of
topics/levels in linguistics for which attitudes play a role. He includes
''words'', ''standardisation in language'', ''grammar'', ''languages'',
and ''accents''. The order in which he discusses these is somewhat
and the stress he puts on some aspects and not on others is surprising at times.
For instance, more detail is provided on attitudes toward given names than
toward dialects; sociolects and youth language are not mentioned, etc. In later
chapters, though, more detail is offered concerning attitudes toward languages
and dialects, balancing this out.

In the second chapter, ''Fundamentals of language attitudes'', he
further explores
the notion of attitudes. He bases this chapter on the often-quoted and fairly
traditional, though not uncontested definitions by Allport and Openheim.
Overall, he follows a strongly cognitivist (Edwards & Potter 1992) approach to
attitudes -- a reflection of currently dominant approaches toward attitudes
within sociolinguistics.

Chapter 3, ''Main approaches to the study of language attitudes'',
introduces the
reader to major trends in attitude research methods. This sets the playing field
for the following chapters, in which different approaches are discussed in more

First, the focus lies on matched guise and related approaches in different
contexts and with different theoretical questions: ''Matched and verbal guise
studies: focus on English'' (Chapter 4), ''Matched and verbal guise research in
more contexts'' (Chapter 5), ''Attitudes to speech styles and other variables:
communication features, speakers, hearers and contexts'' (Chapter 6), and
''Language attitudes in professional contexts'' (Chapter 7). In later
chapters, he
looks more closely at other approaches: ''Societal treatment studies'' (Chapter
9), ''Direct approach'' (Chapter 10), and ''Folklinguistics'' (Chapter
11). He also
gives an example of how a research project can combine these different
approaches in chapter 12, ''An integrated programme of language attitudes
research''. The conclusion (Chapter 13) ties open ends together. A
glossary, list
of references and an index have been included for the reader's convenience.


This book is interesting for readers who wish to get a general overview over the
current state of research on language attitudes. Many resources are available on
attitudes in general, but relatively few specifically on language attitudes -
Garrett's book succeeds in filling this gap.

Garrett states: ''one can easily be left with an impression that despite all the
research that has so far been conducted, we have barely scratched the surface''
(p. 225). Attitudes are a complex and sometimes elusive topic; such an
impression, therefore, is the probable consequence of any contact with this
multi-faceted field of research. By discussing multiple, often contradictory,
studies in every chapter, the author shows the underlying complexity of
linguistic attitude research: Contradictions in current research are pointed out
instead of glossed over. This gives the reader a realistic impression of the
state of sociolinguistic attitude research today, and the many questions that
are, of yet, still unanswered.


The book targets, among other readers, (postgraduate) students. For use in
class, a set of questions has been included with every chapter. Usually, these
questions allow students to compare their own linguistic observations with the
theories discussed, or to compare the advantages and disadvantages of specific
approaches. Garrett also suggests ''further reading'' for students who wish to
delve deeper into a specific topic. These features greatly enhance this book's
usefulness in classroom settings.

The individual chapters build on each other, so that it may be difficult to use
individual chapters separately. For example, matched guise is introduced in
chapter 3, but its potential disadvantages are only discussed in chapter 4.
Other methods introduced in this chapter are also critically reviewed in the
same chapter, creating the impression, if only this chapter is read
independently from the rest of the book, that this method has fewer
disadvantages/problems associated with it than the other methods mentioned. A
teacher would need to keep this in mind when designing reading assignments, etc.

Few, if any, textbooks can ever serve every classroom's needs. In this case, if
students wish to try out the different methods of attitude research -- even
within a very limited scope --, they will require additional, in-depth material
on the different methods, especially if they are interested in methods beyond
matched guise. Also, if students are interested in specific contexts
(non-English languages and language varieties), they will need to peruse
additional material. The material at hand, though, will help them with their
reading by supplying them with a basic understanding of the different kinds of
research to be expected, and by pointing out frequently found structures (such
as low prestige, high solidarity vs. high prestige, low solidarity, etc.) that
seem to have some consistency across languages.

I would recommend using this book as one among other resources. Eagly and
Chaiken's ''The psychology of attitudes'' (1993) may be a good companion volume
for those teachers who wish to examine in more detail what constitutes attitudes
and to look into non-matched-guise techniques of measuring them. Since Eagly and
Chaiken do not take up discursive psychology in any detail, one may also want to
supplement material on that topic (e.g. Potter & Wetherell 1987). Both books are
written from a social psychology perspective and lack the focus on language and
linguistics that Garrett's book provides, though.


Eagly, Alice H. & Shelly Chaiken (1993) The psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College.

Edwards, Derek & Jonathan Potter (1992) Discursive psychology, London: Sage.

Potter, Jonathan & Margaret Wetherell (1987) Discourse and social psychology:
beyond attitudes and behaviour, London: Sage.


Judith Bündgens-Kosten received her doctorate degree from RWTH Aachen
University in 2009. Her thesis discusses teachers' attitudes toward AAVE.
She currently works at Universität Duisburg-Essen, focusing on
computer-mediated communication (especially blogging), and its role in
language learning.


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