LINGUIST List 11.2

Mon Jan 10 2000

Review: Chambers & Trudgill: Dialectology

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  1. elatecka, Review of Chambers and Trudgill's "Dialectology"

Message 1: Review of Chambers and Trudgill's "Dialectology"

Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 17:31:23 +0100
From: elatecka <>
Subject: Review of Chambers and Trudgill's "Dialectology"

Chambers, J.K. and Peter Trudgill (1999) Dialectology (2nd 
Edition). Cambridge University Press. 201pp

Ewa Latecka, Department of English, University of Zululand, 
KwaZulu/Natal, Republic of South Africa

Dialectology has been in the spotlight of linguistic 
interest for a considerable time now, and seems, albeit in a 
modified form, still to be flourishing. The 'living proof' 
of that is the book under review which was first published 
in 1980. Since then it has had a number of reprints until a 
decision has been made to give it a more up-to-date look and 
offer the readers the second, revised edition in 1998. 
"Dialectology" (1998), authored by J.K. Chambers and P. 
Trudgill and published by Cambridge University Press, aims 
at presenting fundamental issues in the study of language 
variation between communities and within them. According to 
the authors themselves, they "have taken pains to retain 
features that have made it a staple for linguists and 
students for eighteen years". At the same time, however, the 
have given credit to new developments in the field, such as 
the revitalization of dialect geography and the rise of 
sociolinguistics. The book is divided into three major 
parts, viz., "Background", "Social Variation", and 
"Mechanisms of Variation". These are, in turn, subdivided 
into smaller chapters, clearly numbered and listed in 
"Contents". The book also features Maps, Figures, and 
Tables, all conveniently included within the text for the 
reader's ease of reference, as well as a general Index and 
an extensive list of mostly classic, but also newer 

Part one, "Background" groups four chapters, numbered from 1 
to 4, which make the reader acquainted with basic concepts 
of dialectology. 

Chapter One, "Dialect and Language", presents the 
explanation of what, according to the authors, dialectology 
is. It ventures on to discuss the various definitions of 
DIALECT and the problems faced by a linguist when trying to 
establish the difference between a LANGUAGE, a DIALECT, and 
an ACCENT. In doing so, the authors present the criterion of 
"mutual intelligibility" and the pitfalls of accepting this 
as the only criterion. They further introduce the concepts 
of "geographical dialect continua", "social dialect 
continua", as well as those of "autonomy" and "heteronomy".

Chapter Two, "Dialect Geography", starts with quite an 
extensive presentation of the history of the field, followed 
by the outline of the methods applied in research, viz. the 
questionnaire, linguistic maps, and the selection of 

Chapter Three, "Dialectology and Linguistics", is the 
authors' attempt at presenting the relationship between the 
two disciplines, with fields of commonality and difference. 
It is stressed that, even though dialectology is perceived 
by the authors as an autonomous discipline, yet modern 
dialectologists are more often than not trained as 
linguists. Their research is therefore a contribution to 
both the disciplines. Structural dialectology and generative 
dialectology are presented as examples of such "dual 

Chapter Four, "Urban Dialectology", attempts to show how 
dialectology, in the process of development as a discipline, 
recognized its shortcomings such as the lack of inclusion of 
the social dimension in its scope. Some dialectologists 
stressed the fact that all dialects are both regional 
(spatial dimension) and social. This seemed to have been 
neglected in previous studies concentrated on the speech of 
a very limited range of social groups. The new attitude 
brought about the rise of urban dialectology as opposed to 
previous studies of rural dialects solely. It also 
encouraged the change in the selection of informants 
according to the principle of representativeness, as well as 
the different ways of obtaining data and classifying the 

Part two, "Social Variation", contains two chapters, 
numbered from 5 to 6, taking the reader further into the 
'social dimension' of dialectology, previously introduced in 
the last chapter of "Background".

Chapter Five, "Social Differentiation and Language", deals 
mainly with various areas of linguistic variation depending 
on social class, style (formal and informal), gender and 
other features.

Chapter Six, "Sociolinguistic Structure and Linguistic 
Innovation", takes the reader further into the discussion of 
how one type of variation can be explained by another, viz., 
how a shift in style correlates to social-class variation. 
In doing so the authors introduce the concept of "markers", 
i.e., variables subject to stylistic variation as well as 
class, sex, and/or age variation, and "indicators", i.e., 
variables not involved in systematic stylistic variation. 
Part of this chapter is also devoted to mechanisms inducing 
linguistic change.

Part three, "Spatial Variation", consisting of two chapters, 
numbered as 7 and 8, goes back to the more traditional 
understanding of dialectology as the study of regional 
differences in speech.

Chapter Seven, "Boundaries", introduces the notion of 
"isoglosses", lines marking the boundaries of regions 
differing in some linguistic feature. It discusses the 
patterns in which they can appear, their grading in terms of 
their research significance, and their cultural correlates.

Chapter Eight, "Transitions", is on the one hand a 
continuation of Chapter Seven in that it also relies on the 
concept of "isogloss". On the other, however, it introduces 
direct contrast: while an isogloss describes a 'fixed' state 
of affairs, transition undermines this 'fixedness'. 
Transition is here seen as a process stemming from the 
constant interaction of neighbours. "Mixed" and "fudged 
lects" occur in this process leading to further changes in 
dialects under investigation.

Part four, "Mechanisms of Variation", is the last part of 
the book and the most 'technical' one. In four chapters 
numbered from 9 to 12 it presents such concepts as 
variability, diffusion, and cohesion in dialectology.

Chapter Nine, "Variability", introduces the concept in 
question. It presents two opposing views, viz., that of 
variability perceived as fully accidental and therefore 
unpredictable, and that of variability being an essential 
phenomenon, and thus a structural unit equivalent to other 
structural units such as the phone, the phoneme and others. 
Accepting the latter leads on to the handling of 
quantitative data and the problems related to it.

Chapters Ten, "Diffusion: Sociolinguistic and Lexical" and 
Eleven, "Diffusion: Geographical" both deal with hypotheses 
concerned with diffusion, understood as the study of the 
progress of linguistic innovation. Firstly, the authors seek 
to find who the innovators are. Secondly, they move on to 
discuss the various vehicles of innovations. Here the 
hypothesis of "lexical diffusion" is introduced which 
assumes that the lexical component is the major one bringing 
about change, phonetic at least. Thirdly, the authors also 
look at how innovations are 'disseminated' and provide a 
geolinguistic model accounting for the spread of the 

Chapter Twelve, "Cohesion in Dialectology" has a double 
function. On the one hand, it sums up the previous chapters, 
and thus presents the origins of dialectology, its 
achievements and methodological tools. On the other, it aims 
at presenting a picture of what modern dialectology has 
become as a result of the confluence of traditional 
dialectology, with its interest mainly in the spatial 
factor, and urban dialectology, or sociolinguistics, with 
its strong bias towards the social factor. The authors also 
mention a third stream capable of contributing to the field, 
namely "human geography", which develops dynamic models of 
diffusion and involves social attitude and community 
networks as independent variables.

As has been said earlier, this is a revised second edition 
of the 1980 book. Bearing this in mind, one can accept 
keeping "traditional dialectology" and "urban dialectology" 
(or sociolinguistics) apart as justified. However, even from 
the comments made by the authors in both the Preface and 
Chapter 12 (Cohesion in Dialectology) it follows that the 
two should be brought much closer together and that the 
artificial dividing line stemming from their historical 
development should actually be dropped. One would hope this 
happens when a new book from the authors of this volume 
Nevertheless, the book can, and without doubt will, serve as 
a valuable introduction to the field of dialectology, its 
basic notions, methodology and lines of future development 
to numerous students of disciplines related to either 
linguistics or social studies.

The reviewer: Ewa Latecka originally comes from Lodz, 
Poland, where she obtained her M.A. in the English Language 
and specialized in linguistics. At present she is affiliated 
to the Department of English, University of Zululand, 
KwaZulu/Natal, Republic of South Africa. Her main interests 
include language acquisition and learning, sociolinguistics, 
as well as issues related to translations. 
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