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Review of  The Early Days of Sociolinguistics: Memories and Reflections


Reviewer: Joyce Milambiling
Book Title: The Early Days of Sociolinguistics: Memories and Reflections
Book Author: Christina Bratt Paulston G. Richard Tucker
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 9.566

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Review:

The Early Days of Sociolinguistics: Memories and Reflections
(1997) Christina Bratt Paulston and G. Richard Tucker (Eds.)
Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics. 162 pages, $37 (paper).

Reviewed by Joyce Milambiling

At some point in the 1960's, along with social and political upheaval, landmark
court decisions in education and a host of other social events, the discipline
of sociolinguistics emerged. Scholars from various other disciplines and places
had of course, been doing sociolinguistic research for some time, but it was
only in that decade that a group of people started systematically calling it
sociolinguistics. Why did this happen and who was responsible for the coming
together of a talented group of people who often did not (and to some extent
still don't) consider themselves to be a cohesive group?

Some answers to these questions can be found in this new volume edited by
Christina Bratt Paulston and G. Richard Tucker. The book is sub-titled
"Memories and Reflections," which describes very well the tone of the more than
30 contributions to this book. The contributions range from the editors'
introduction and epilogue, personal accounts from the practitioners and
supporters of early sociolinguistic research, and short essays in memory of
several important figures in the field. Most of the contributions are
reflections by a wide range of scholars who were instrumental in the launching
of sociolinguistics. The line-up of these early participants in the enterprise
of sociolinguistics is impressive (including Joshua Fishman, Susan Ervin-Tripp,
Wallace Lambert, Dell Hymes, Charles Ferguson and others), and creates high
expectations on the part of the reader from the outset. These expectations are,
for the most part met, with the reader coming away with a real sense of the
zeitgeist which allowed sociolinguistics to blossom.

The book is based on the premise that if you want to find out what a certain
historical period was like, you talk to the the people who were there. The
editors provided the contributors with a list of 18 questions, all of which are
listed in the introduction of The Early Days of Sociolinguistics (TEDoS). The
main group of contributors, those that the book calls "pioneers" in
sociolinguistics, come from a wide variety of disciplines and countries
(although the majority are from North America). The method by which the editors
chose to elicit these memories has many advantages. The range of questions
allows the contributors to choose which aspects of the beginning of
sociolinguistics they wish (or are able) to talk about. Most of the questions,
in fact, are useful and important for the task at hand. One of these key
questions was: "Please characterize for us the intellectual, social and
economic 'climate' of the time..." (pp 6). This question received a great deal
of attention from the contributors, and taken together their responses convince
the reader that the 1960's were an exciting time to be doing and hearing about
research on language and its social context. Another question asked the writers
to identify "a critical milestone--a conference, a publication, an event...that
marks for you the beginning of sociolinguistics" (page 6). Many of the
contributors identified as milestones the conference at the University of
California at Los Angeles (UCLA) on sociolinguistics in 1964 which later
resulted in William Bright's edited volume of the proceedings. Many of them
also mentioned the Linguistic Society of America 's (LSA) summer seminar that
same year in Bloomington, Indiana. Another frequently mentioned milestone was
the creation of the Committee on Sociolinguistics of the Social Science
Research Council (SSRC), also in 1964.

However, an overview of the articles that were written for this book (there
were also a couple of reprinted articles) reveals that the authors focused only
on a handful of the questions that the editors said they might consider. Some,
such as the two mentioned above, provide fascinating information about the
people and events at that time. Other questions, for example the one that asked
who received the first doctorate in sociolinguistics, seem to be less germane
to the purpose of the book and were not answered (at least not definitively) by
many of the contributing authors.

The articles in TEDoS vary greatly in terms of length and personal involvement
of the author with the subject. Susan Ervin Tripp's article (The Development of
Sociolinguistics) deals mostly with the history of organizations that were
crucial to the early development of sociolinguistics, in particular the
sociolinguistics committee at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Basil
Bernstein included his remembrances of the beginnings of the discipline and his
part in the difference/deficit debate, which he pointedly states "was of little
theoretical significance and, indeed, obscured more than it revealed" (page
47). As an appendix to his article, Bernstein adds a point-by-point critique of
William Labov's paper, "The Logic of Non-Standard English." Dell Hymes credited
Noam Chomsky with the development of the field of sociolinguistics "because of
his statement in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax...which defined the goal of
linguistic theory in such a way as to eliminate people and use (page 122).
These contributions give the reader important insights into what the
contributors were doing and thinking about over 30 years ago, as well as how
they see that involvement today. Not all of the contributors were positive
about what was happening in sociolinguistics at the time, which adds balance
and a touch of reality to the book.

An interesting feature of TEDoS is the inclusion of some of the institutional
actors in the development of sociolinguistics. Without adequate funding,
research and interaction among scholars and practitioners happens haphazardly
or not at all, and institutions like the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department
of Education, the Center for Applied Linguistics and the Summer Institute of
Linguistics were all key players in the early era of sociolinguistics. Dick
Thompson of the Department of Education added his own voice to the group,
saying that the launching of Sputnik was, for him, "the beginning of 'modern
sociolinguistics'" in that funds for education and language study skyrocketed
(pun intended) and thus deeply impacted educational attitudes and projects.

Another important feature of this volume is the effort taken by the editors to
include as diverse a group as possible, especially scholars who represent third
world countries. Bonifacio Sibayan talks about the serious problem of funding
in countries like his Philippines, and how collaboration with foreign
institutions and researchers allowed some third world countries to better
investigate language issues and problems within their own borders. E. Annamalai
discusses the development of sociolinguistics in India, and how linguistic
research done in India (both by indigenous and outside researchers) has
contributed to a greater understanding of sociolinguistic phenomena.

The editors also do a fine job of introducing their book and providing final
comment on its contents. Taken together, these chapters function as conceptual
bookends. Bratt Paulston's introduction provides explanations for their
rationale and choice of contributors, as well as what the contributors were
asked to address, and Tucker's epilogue sums up the major themes that emerged.
These five themes were: the interdisciplinary nature of the field and the
events that launched it; the social issues that sparked the emergence of socio-
linguistics as a discipline of study; the importance of a number of key
individuals; the difference between the North American/European perspective
and that of researchers from developing countries; and the important
role of a few funding organizations in supporting sociolinguistic research
and dialogue.

The book is generally well edited with few errors. The bibliography is valuable
in that it combines the references from all of the contributed articles into
one collective group of books and articles. The one disadvantage to this is
that the references have come from scholars working in different fields and
thus using different bibliographic styles. A result is that some of the first
names are abbreviated while others are written using the full names. This is
minor if your discipline abbreviates first names, but is more of a problem if
you want to cite or look up a reference and do not have the full first name.
There are also a couple of typographical errors: for example, on page 302 in an
article commemorating the work of Heinz Kloss, the term "Abstand" is misspelled
(although it is spelled correctly elsewhere in the article), and on page 217
the biographical note on Sibayan should read that he is on the "Komisyon sa
Wikang Filipino."

As a final note, the publishers of TEDoS say that the audience of the book
should include people in the fields represented by the contributors (such as
sociolinguists, social psychologists, linguistic anthropologists and applied
linguists in general (back cover). They also speculate that historians of
science will be interested in reading about the evolution of the discipline of
sociolinguistics as an academic discipline which has grown over the decades in
importance and visibility. A problem with this is that researchers and
practitioners who are involved with sociolinguistic issues may not be
interested in how the field came about unless this history is somehow
explicitly folded into their own disciplines. I would like to see TEDoS on the
syllabus for a History of Linguistics course, for example, but am not
optimistic that that it would generally be accepted as such. I do believe,
however, that this is an important book for anyone interested in the people and
institutions that were responsible for the existence and growth of
sociolinguistics.


References:

Bright, William, ed. 1966. Sociolinguistics: Proceedings of the UCLA
Sociolinguistics Conference, 1964. Janua linguarum, series major 20. The Hague:
Mouton.

Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Labov, William. 1970. The logic of non-standard English. Proceedings of the
Georgetown University Round Table on Language and Linguistics, 1969.
Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.


 
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Versions:
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1556710224
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 374
Prices: U.S. $ $37.00