From its beginnings in the 1960s, sociolinguistics developed several different subfields with distinct methods and interests: the variationist tradition established by Labov, the anthropological tradition of Hymes, interactional sociolinguistics as developed by Gumperz, and the sociology of language represented by the work of Fishman. All of these areas have seen a great deal of growth in recent decades, and recent studies have led to a more broadly inclusive view of sociolinguistics. Hence there is a need for a handbook that will survey the main areas of the field, point out the lacunae in our existing knowledge base, and provide directions for future research.
The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics will differ from existing work in four major respects. First, it will emphasize new methodological developments, particularly the convergence of linguistic anthropology and variationist sociolinguistics. Second, it will include chapters on sociolinguistic developments in areas of the world that have been relatively neglected in the major journals. Third, its chapters are written by contributors who have worked in a range of languages and whose work addresses sociolinguistic issues in bi- and multilingual contexts, i.e. the contexts in which a majority of the world's population lives. Finally, it will include substantial material on the rapidly growing study of sign language sociolinguistics.