LINGUIST List 14.1692

Mon Jun 16 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Stockwell (2002)

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  1. Julie Bruch, Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Message 1: Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2003 23:10:17 +0000
From: Julie Bruch <>
Subject: Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students

Stockwell, Peter (2002) Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for
Students, Routledge, Routledge English Language Introductions.

Announced at

Julie Bruch, Mesa State College


This sociolinguistics text, which is part of a series intended for use
in introductory undergraduate courses, is organized into four clearly
articulated sections. Section A ''Introduction'' contains brief
introductions to ten common concepts included in sociolinguistic
studies. Section B ''Development'' re-examines each of the ten
concepts (and four additional concepts) by presenting recent studies
done by the author's own students and a list of further readings for
each area. Section C ''Exploration'' provides practice in thinking
about the ten concepts through authentic language data and also
includes related questions, activities and exercises which engage
students in constructing their own understanding of sociolinguistics.
Section D ''Extension'' contains readings related to each of the
previously covered concepts by representative experts in the field and
lists of ideas for further investigation for each topic.

The material is made readily accessible by means of a cross-referenced
table at the beginning of the book. The organization of the book
allows for various types of use. For example, the book can be read
''vertically,'' starting with an introduction to all concepts and then
reading straight through to add layers of depth and understanding to
the field as a whole, or it can be read ''horizontally,'' exploring
one concept at a time by reading the pertinent part in each of the
four sections before going back to explore another concept.

The concepts chosen for inclusion in this text include: 1) general
information about studying sociolinguistics, 2) dialects, 3) register,
4) multilingualism, 5) social class and language, 6) prestige/standard
varieties, 7) gender and language, 8) pidgins and Creoles, 9) World
Englishes and 10) politeness.


Stockwell's text can be recommended on a number of levels, namely, the
clarity of its organization, the accessibility of its content and the
balance it achieves in its four sections. These four sections
(explanation, studies done by undergraduate peers, illustrative
language data and key articles by significant researchers in the
field) all lend it an air of refreshing usability. The ''Further
readings'' listed after each concept in Section B together with the
''Issues to consider'' after each concept in Section D will be helpful
in guiding students to carry out more extensive thought and research
on each topic. In fact, exemplifying and instigating student research
seem to be the overarching goals of the book. One further note is
that although the book is written from the British English perspective
(especially discussions of accent, dialect, and prestige forms,
readers who have little familiarity with British English will find it
relevant and easy to understand. Language data and articles from
other varieties of English as well as other languages abound.

I feel the book would be most appropriate for lower division
undergraduate courses in that the scope and depth of the information
contained is intentionally limited in order to help students get a
feel for sociolinguistics without trying to take them deeply into the
subject. The ten core concepts are introduced in user-friendly form;
however, other equally relevant concepts which are normally considered
part of the core of sociolinguistic study, are omitted.

I would describe the treatment of the ten concepts as ''light'' due to
the brevity of discussion and examples. For example, in the
discussion on ethnicity and multilingualism, the key terms introduced
to students in the space of two and a half pages include ethnicity,
code- switching, multilingualism and diglossia. Further development
of this broad topic is realized through a three-page report of a
student project on code switching by a fellow German student. In the
exploration section, we find a one-page article on whether Mandarin or
Cantonese is the ''real Chinese'' and another one-page transcript from
a Hong Kong Internet chat-room showing code switching. The final
extension section contains a five-page article discussing language
choices made by bilinguals. It would have been helpful to see more
in-depth discussion on the subject directed toward such related areas
as language and personal identity and issues of bilingual education.
While this level of coverage may be appropriate for the purposes of
the author, I wonder if the treatment is a bit too superficial.

There are several features of the text that I feel could be improved.
First, I was led to wonder what type of students the author typically
works with as he dedicates paragraphs in both Sections A and D to
instructing students on such basics as how to read critically (''I
encourage them to 'read with a pencil,''') (26, 107) and how to go
about choosing a topic for study (''make sure that the thing you want
to investigate is a credible area for investigation'')(2).

He also seems to be instructing teachers of the course in this
area. He discusses how to develop skills in academic writing (''insist
upon accurate and thorough referencing of all material read for the
study'') and adds that students ''should also be encouraged to apply
. . . skeptical rigor to their own draft work'' (27). These are all
important academic and research skills, but they are amply covered in
other introductory university courses, and I feel that such reminders
might better be left to the discretion of instructors, rather than
being an integral part of this sociolinguistics text.

Another aspect of the text that I felt uncomfortable with was the
inclusion of the four additional concepts in Sections B and C, which
are not paralleled in Sections A and D. (They are: language change,
language and education, discourse, and language and ideology.) This
asymmetry is left unexplained, and it left me wishing the author had
filled the gaps, omitted the four partially covered concepts, or at
least explained to the reader why these four concepts are not covered
in the introduction and extension sections.

The aim of Section A is to introduce students to the ten concepts of
sociolinguistics mentioned above. This section is brief, to the point
and easy to understand. There is a presumption right from page one
that students will be collecting and examining sociolinguistic data on
their own. It might have strengthened the book if the author had
spent more time discussing the foundations of sociolinguistics,
enamoring students of the field and presenting rationale for why
students would want to do such studies before immediately suggesting
that students start planning their own investigations. Nevertheless,
planting the idea in students' minds right from the beginning that
they can do valuable research is laudable, and this section
efficiently and effectively equips students with the key vocabulary
and notions required for beginning to understand the study of language
and society.

Section B (development) enters into reports of the author's own
undergraduate students' papers, with the intent of motivating readers
to ''have confidence in (their) own skills and thinking'' (26). The
discussion of students' work is indeed a valuable model for readers of
this text. The dual goals of developing understanding of the concepts
and providing samples of work that readers might emulate are achieved.
An interesting variety in the types of studies reported in this
section demonstrates the author's concern with encouraging valid and
relevant student research. Some of these are: replications of
classical studies to evaluate change over time (including Gile's
classic 1970 study of reactions to accent and Hewitt's 1986 study of
the influence of Creoles on English), corpus analysis in order to
investigate the use of euphemism and register, studies employing
direct participant observation and transcription to analyze
code-switching, genderlects and social networks, discourse analysis to
evaluate changes in prestige forms of language and ideology expressed
linguistically, and exploratory essays on New Englishes and language
planning. Readers of this text who are looking for research ideas
will be amply rewarded. The references for further reading in Section
B are quite helpful and include classics by such authors as Trudgill,
Chilton, Fairclough, Fishman, Gumperz, Hymes, Labov, Bickerton,
Tannen, Kachru, and Brown and Levinson.

Section C (exploration) begins with several pages of practice in
critical thinking skills. Although the rationale for inclusion of
this material is not specified, I presume that it is to help students
develop the skills needed to avoid using faulty logic in the
examination of their own data. Once again, it seems that this type of
content is covered in other introductory university level courses, and
this space could have been better used by providing more specific
sociolinguistics discussion.

After the critical thinking exercises, there are excerpts of language
data that include: a Cockney lullaby (for dialect analysis), writing
samples from medical personnel (to exemplify register and style), a
transcript from an Internet chat room in Hong Kong (as a sample of
code- switching), a literal translation back into English of an
interview with Madonna that had taken place in Hungary and was
published in Hungarian (the intent was to exemplify sociological
variation), descriptions of linguistic minorities in Europe (to
encourage discussion of prestige forms and issues of linguistic
identity), transcripts of women's and men's speech (for gender
analysis), samples from Tok Pisin (for analysis of a Creole), samples
of English from Indian and Japanese newspapers (for analysis of
variation in world Englishes), and samples of deviations from expected
norms in conversation (for analysis of conversational politeness).

At the end of this section are additional language data including: an
exercise in identifying non-standard English, a comparison of essays
written by youth of varying educational backgrounds, an exercise in
comparing E- discourse to traditional written discourse, and an
analysis of formal business letters to weed out the hidden ideologies
expressed in their language.

Taken as a whole, this collection of data and related exercises and
questions will help further students' thinking on the topics.
However, several of the individual pieces need improvement. For
example, the Hong Kong chat room data is difficult to understand, the
Madonna piece reveals translation issues rather than social variables,
and the author's instructions to try to translate the Tok Pisin sample
into English are inadequate for analyzing possible parallels between
the Creole and the standard.

The readings in Section D (extension) are intended, among other
things, to familiarize students with ''current research areas.''
However, the readings, ranging from 1987 to 1998, lack real currency,
and the year of publication of the Schegloff and Sacks article on
conversational closings reprinted from ''Semiotica'' is omitted.
Another problem with this collection of articles is the somewhat weak
connection they have with the previous sections. There seems to be a
disjunction between the focus of the first three sections and the
focus of this last section. The opening article discusses the
standardization movement during the Middle English period. This is
interesting material, but it seems a strange choice when there is
plenty of material available on current issues of language change and
standardization. The following article on foreign accents in the
United States is also relevant, but its emphasis on demographics
rather than on language is a concern. The article that was intended
to correspond to previous sections on style and register focuses
mainly on ideology. The article corresponding to previous discussions
of social class consists of maxims which researchers should follow in
order to perform ''democratic research.'' The following article by
Milroy is supposed to parallel the previous sections on language and
prestige, but its focus is on sound change, a rather narrow part of
this topic. Next, there are three articles which all have sound
relevance to the previous discussions. First is an analysis of
narratives in New Zealand corresponding to the concept of language and
gender. This is followed by a Wardhaugh article reprinted from
Wardhaugh's own Introduction to Sociolinguistics on the origins of
pidgins and Creoles. Kachru's 1987 article related to this text's
discussion of ''New Englishes'' is next. Although it is very
relevant, there have been significant works published on world
Englishes in the ensuing twenty-five years that may be more
up-to-date. The final article, intended to correspond to the previous
sections on politeness, is limited to a discussion of conversational
closings. Overall, in Section D of this book, since only one article
on each concept is included, I think the choice of articles could be

In spite of some of the faults pointed out, this text is stimulating
and will prove valuable for those whose priority in teaching
undergraduate courses is to encourage students to engage in original
research even at the introductory level.


Julie Bruch teaches Linguistic Awareness and History of the English
Language at Mesa State College. She is interested in cross-cultural
and cross-linguistic comparisons, especially in the area of
politeness. Other interests include language acquisition theory and
varieties of English.
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