* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LINGUIST List logo Eastern Michigan University Wayne State University *
* People & Organizations * Jobs * Calls & Conferences * Publications * Language Resources * Text & Computer Tools * Teaching & Learning * Mailing Lists * Search *
* *

LINGUIST List 25.2161

Fri May 16 2014

Review: Sociolinguistics: Decker & Grummitt (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 29-Sep-2013
From: Laura Diver <diverltcd.ie>
Subject: Understanding Language Choices
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3223.html

AUTHOR: Kendall (Ken) Don Decker
AUTHOR: John Grummitt
TITLE: Understanding Language Choices
PUBLISHER: SIL International Publications
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Laura Carmel Diver, Trinity College Dublin


After the preface, the introductory chapter to this book introduces the field of language assessment, defining essential vocabulary, placing the material within the wider field of language development and explaining how the book is to be used as a study aid. It also presents two brief case studies, before moving on to discuss the distinctions between survey and assessment, language and dialect, and different kinds of language. The introduction further presents the ways in which assessment contributes to language development. The introduction is particularly useful in that it provides accessible definitions of the main theoretical issues and theories which arise in the field of language assessment. This is further supported by the provision of a comprehensive glossary at the end of the book. The introduction also references several relevant authors working in the field (Grimes, 1995; Lewis, 2009; Coulmas, 2005, etc.).

From there, the book is divided into five further chapters, each dealing with a different form of language choice: 2) Restricted Language Choice; 3) Negotiated Language Choice; 4) Free Language Choice; 5) Assessment Research; 6) Making it Happen. Each chapter is well structured, setting out the goals of the chapter and its main topics at the beginning, and concluding with suggestions for further reading.

Chapter Two deals with the issue of restricted language choice. It examines the issues of the impact of international and national economic policies on speech communities; how government language policies affect local speech communities; and the influence of socio-political conflicts and environmental disasters on speech communities. In particular, the chapter focuses on the ways in which multilingualism and language vitality are affected by theses issues. Important influencing factors, for example politics and economics, are discussed at length, providing an insight into their impact upon language choice. Each issue discussed in this chapter is supported by the presentation of a case study. For example, Case Study 2A (p. 29) describes how the perceived prestige of Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea has led to speakers of Taiap abandoning their language. These case studies are brief summaries of the situations and problems facing languages throughout the world. Some research methodologies, such as background research and interviews are also introduced. What is important is that the authors explain the rationale behind the choice of each methodology and highlight its appropriateness for the form of language choice being assessed.

Chapter Three discusses the topic of negotiated language choice, looking at five main issues which arise from this: 1) multilingualism which arises from language contact; 2) how this language contact impacts language vitality; 3) the differing social networks that come about as a result of language contact; 4) the role of education and economics in situations of contact; and 5) the importance of motivations and attitudes to developing ability in languages. Issues such as social and psychological factors are presented in relation to language contact, and the chapter goes on to deal with other factors such as maintenance and shift, before examining the topics of bilingualism, multilingualism and diglossia. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the different methodologies which can be used in order to investigate these topics (i.e. interviews, sentence repetition tests, oral interviews, etc.). Again case studies are used to situate the issues in their context.

Chapter Four presents the subject of free language choice through examination of speech community demographics, identity, attitudes of self and its effect on language vitality, and how socialisation determines language. It begins by presenting the forms of language variation before moving on to look at the social factors involved in free language choice. Again, each section is supported by reference to various case studies on the topics. This chapter also examines the typical research questions found in relation to free language choice, and closes with a presentation of the various research methodologies used to investigate this field.

Chapter Five treats the topic of assessment research. This is examined in light of research ethics, the research cycle, the ladder of abstraction, defining variables, varying forms of data, approaches to sampling and principles of academic writing. Research ethics and its many associated issues are first discussed and followed by a presentation on research methodologies, with definitions of the terms and variables throughout the chapter. The issue of sampling is then addressed, with the reader being introduced to its various forms.

Chapter Six is entitled ‘Making it Happen’ and is an approach to the practical considerations of language assessment. Linguists’ roles and functions are presented, with discussions of individual and team work. How the linguist works within a given language community and deals with issues such as conflicts within that community are explained, again with reference to case studies. The authors deal with important factors in linguistic research, including financial support, time restrictions, and equipment used, and the chapter closes on the topic of stress factors.


This book is intended to be an introductory textbook to the field of language choice assessment. The authors approach the field by dividing language choice into its various forms and then presenting the central issues of each form. As each topic is examined, the authors continually provide definitions of the main associated terminology. The subject matter is also supported by reference to a number of case studies. However, some of the case studies are of little value and provide less than pertinent information. In addition, the treatment of each case study is quite brief and thus restricts their efficacy. For example, Case Study 2A (p. 26) presents the case of the Agta tribe in the Philippines and the impact of environmental disaster on their language. The information here is simplistic at best, with the reader being told that they ‘wear commercially manufactured clothes and buy cheap packaged food’, which has no bearing on their language use. While some case studies are pertinent and support explanation of the topics being treated, the tone and vocabulary use render them overly simplistic. A case in point is Case Study 3L (p. 102) where the authors state that their not being able to oversee the translation of the questionnaires was ‘a big problem’. They would, perhaps, be better to use more academic language and state that it was ‘a significant issue’ instead. The case studies used need to provide more in-depth information, and not simply be a presentation of superficial information. Furthermore, the case studies function more as a summary of the authors’ experiences in sociolinguistic research, rather than presenting facts and data. This is a pity, as were the latter to be incorporated, it would form a much stronger support reference for the topics discussed. The case studies are also impacted by a less than academic tone. While it is understood that the authors are seeking to make the information accessible to both non-academics and academics alike, the tone used is overly simplistic at times and would benefit from a more critical approach. In addition, the book would profit from a reduced number of case studies. In total forty-one case studies are presented throughout the book. The authors would be better to look at several of them in a more in-depth and analytical manner.

While the book serves as an introduction to the field, and situates the material within the context of current sociolinguistic theory, it is, at times, simplistic in its presentation of the issues involved. A more detailed and analytical approach to topics would give the reader a better understanding of language assessment. Another shortcoming is the lack of critical evaluation of the research methodologies presented. For example, questionnaires are presented in a positive light, with little consideration given to their disadvantages, such as low response rates, and topics such the use of scales, and open and closed questions are only superficially discussed.

The book is very well laid out, easy to read and divides each topic into manageable sections. What is of particular use are the definitions and cross-references in the margins. This provides the necessary information for readers who may not be familiar with much of the sociolinguistic terminology, while at the same time allowing more advanced readers to access the information presented without being slowed down constantly by needing to define the main issues associated with language assessment.

Also of particular use is the suggested reading which features at the end of each chapter. Not only does this serve to further situate the issues discussed in the chapter within the larger context of the field of language choice assessment, but the suggested reading is also divided up by topic, rendering it much more accessible for the reader.

Finally, the authors have incorporated a comprehensive glossary at the end of the book, which further supports the definitions provided throughout the book.

This book is a useful introduction to the subject of language choice. Its clear definitions and layout make it accessible for students who are new to the field, while at the same time providing insight into the many associated issues for those who are already familiar with language choice. It will serve as a guide for those beginning their fieldwork and provide further reading which will allow them to develop their knowledge in relation to the subject matter.


Coulmas, F. 2005. “Sociolinguistics: The study of speakers’ choices.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grimes, J.F. 1995. “Language survey reference guide.” Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Lewis, M.P. 2009. “Ethnologue, Languages of the World”, Sixteenth edition. Dallas: SIL International.


My Ph.D. in Linguistics examines the role of language policy in the revitalization of endangered languages and of Occitan in particular. My interests are language endangerment, language policy, linguistic landscape and soundscape, and the Occitan language.

Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Page Updated: 16-May-2014

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation       About LINGUIST    |   Contact Us       ILIT Logo
While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.