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Review of  The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Reviewer: Catharina Peersman
Book Title: The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader
Book Author: Miriam Meyerhoff Erik Schleef
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 22.1899

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EDITORS: Meyerhoff, Miriam and Schleef, Erik
TITLE: The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2010

Dr. Catharina Peersman, Department of Linguistics, K.U.Leuven, Belgium


'The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader' is meant to be essential reading for
beginning and advanced students in courses on sociolinguistics, language and
society, and language variation. Schleef and Meyerhoff's careful selection of
texts combines older, foundational research papers (often in a condensed form)
with more recent innovative work, and thus covers a broad variety of topics,
data types and methodological angles. The editors' picks range from Labov
(1972) to Sankoff-Blondeau (2007), to Trudgill (1988), Nevalainen (1999) and
Preston (2003), to name few. Combined with its online supporting resources and
'Introducing Sociolinguistics' (Meyerhoff 2006), 'The Routledge Sociolinguistics
Reader' offers a true introductory manual of sociolinguistic studies to students
and teachers alike.

The book opens with an introductory chapter by both Meyerhoff and Schleef on
sociolinguistic methods for data collection and interpretation, including
references and suggestions for further reading, as well as a set of clearly
defined and challenging orienting exercises that I would present to my students
without hesitation. The general structure of the book consists of six sections,
with each being thematically organized. Each section is preceded by a concise
yet substantial introduction by the editors explaining its relevance and
outlining the content of its texts. Each of the articles is not only followed by
references, but also by two sets of exercises as well, notably 'content' and
'concept' questions. Suggestions of answers to the latter are found in the notes
after the sixth section. The very last part of the book contains a handy index
of key concepts and names.

Identities, style and politeness are the theme of the first section, where one
can read on reworking audience design (Bell), Ophrah's /ay/ and its lexical
frequency, referee design and style (Hay, Jannedy, Mendoza-Denton), phonological
variation as a means of creating a new professional identity in Beijing (Zhang),
linguistic routines and politeness in greeting and parting (Laver), and two
neglected aspects – formal forms and discernment – of universals of linguistic
politeness (Ide).The second section covers perception and language attitudes
across different continents, where Preston's studies on language with an
attitude and the Li'l Abner syndrome are followed by contributions on perceptual
and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification (Purnell,
Idsardi, Baugh), language education policy and the medium of instruction issue
in postcolonial Africa (Ferguson), and attitudes towards the 'new' quotatives
'be like' and 'go' in the U.K. (Buchstaller).

Throughout all sections of the book and their respective parts, the editors
avoid narrowing the reader's perspective to one geographical area or one group
of languages. The third section on multilingualism and language contact
illustrates this principle beautifully; Meyerhoff and Schleef's selection covers
bilingualism in Paraguay (Choi), code-switching in Gapun (Papua New Guinea)
(Kulick, Stroud) and Norway (Blom, Gumperz), the koineization of Fenland English
(Britain), legitimate language in a multilingual school (Heller), language
crossing and the redefinition of reality (Rampton), as well as the globalization
of vernacular variation (Meyerhoff, Niedzielski).

When one proceeds to the three other sections, which deal with variation and
change (section 4), social class, networks and communities of practice (section
5) and gender (section 6), the 'spiral curriculum' that the editors aim to
discuss starts to take solid form. On the topic of gender, for instance, the
reader is not limited to the section specifically dedicated to it; Cameron's
'Aging and gendering' from the section on variation and change, or Eckert's
'Vowels and nail polish' from the fifth section fit the frame just as well.
Apart from Cameron's aforementioned article, the fourth section contains the
ultimate classic by Labov on the social motivation of sound change, Ito and
Tagliamonte's work on layering and recycling in English intensifiers, Sankoff
and Blondeau's research on language change across the lifespan in Montreal
French, and Trudgill's 'Norwich revisited: recent linguistic changes in an
English urban dialect.'

Section 5, which covers social class, networks and communities of practice,
inevitably kicks off with Milroy's 'Social network and social class: toward an
integrated sociolinguistic model.' Mobility versus social class in dialect
levelling is the topic treated by Kerswill and Williams. This is followed by a
diachronic perspective on early modern English by Nevalainen, Eckert's article
on the emergence of linguistic style in the preadolescent heterosexual
marketplace, and Holmes and Schnurr's 'Doing femininity at work.' The final
section of the reader is dedicated to gender. It contains articles on linguistic
innovation of women in Cairo (Haeri), indexing gender (Ochs), power and the
language of men (Kiesling) and an amusing study of markedness and
style-switching in performances by African American drag queens (Barrett).


Instead of choosing a 'top-down' or 'bottom-up' representation, Meyerhoff and
Schleef have opted to create a spiral curriculum. They emphasize the connections
between different practitioners and different subfields in sociolinguistics and
open up the manual to the user's personal input. The reader's hands-on approach
allows students to discover different aspects of sociolinguistic research and to
assimilate them through each chapter's inclusion of a set of questions and
exercises. The exercises even cover two levels of assimilation; understanding
the content and extrapolating that knowledge - respectively named ''content'' and
''concept'' questions. This distinction is clever and highly practical from a
didactic point of view. The online resources create an elaborate exercising grid
with case-studies, video fragments and links to relevant websites. The mass of
material remains manageable thanks to the user friendly interface. In short,
this is the kind of interactive, varied course material that both students and
teachers dream about.

While the authors were careful to avoid narrowing the reader's perspective to a
specific language, geographical area or subfield of sociolinguistics, all
articles, with the exception of Nevalainen's (1999) 'Making the best of 'bad'
data' on sociolinguistic variation in early modern English, focus on linguistic
data from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Although evolutions both in
real and apparent time are extensively covered in the reader, Nevalainen's
article is the only example students get of a truly diachronic approach and the
different research strategies one has to adopt in order to explore to the
fullest the possibilities historic data have to offer. Nevalainen explores the
'bad data' problem and describes the social hierarchy and gender differentiation
in early modern England while illustrating her work with numerous examples and
schematic tables. The minimal presence of historical sociolinguistics is
probably due to the fact that this subfield is relatively recent; the creation
of the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN) only dates back to 2004 and
the first handbook is still undergoing editing (Hernández-Campoy,
Conde-Silvestre forthcoming). I am optimistic that in the near future, a similar
sociolinguistics reader, or a revised edition of 'The Routledge Sociolinguistics
Reader' in particular, will include more historically oriented contributions.
The inclusion of Nevalainen's article certainly opens up the way to further
diachronic explorations.

There is no doubt about the excellent qualities of 'The Routledge
Sociolinguistics Reader'. When combined with Meyerhoff's 'Introducing
Sociolinguistics' and the online resources, this versatile manual is a very a
practical resource that would help create a varied and enjoyable
sociolinguistics course. Adding readings from more theoretical handbooks such as
'The Routledge Companion to Sociolinguistics' (Llamas, Mullany and Stockwell
2006), 'The Sage Handbook of Sociolinguistics' (Wodak, Johnstone and Kerswill
2010) and 'The Blackwell Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics'
(Hernández-Campoy and Conde-Silvestre forthcoming) to this highly didactic mix
would create a thorough and well-rounded sociolinguistics curriculum.


Hernández-Campoy, Juan-Manuel; Conde-Silvestre, Juan Camilo (eds.). 'The
Blackwell Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics'. Wiley-Blackwell. Forthcoming.

Historical Sociolinguistics Network

Labov, William. 1972. 'The social motivation of a sound change'. Sociolinguistic
Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1-42.

Llamas, Carmen; Mullany, Louise; Stockwell, Peter (eds.). 2006. 'The Routledge
to Sociolinguistics'. London-New York: Routledge.

Nevalainen, Terttu. 1999. 'Making the best of 'bad' data'. Neuphilologische
Mitteilungen 100: 499-533.

Meyerhoff, Miriam. 2006. 'Introducing Sociolinguistics'. London-New York: Routledge.

Preston, Dennis. 2003. 'Language with an attitude'. In Jack K. Chambers, Peter
Trudgill and Natalie Schilling-Estes (eds.). The Handbook of Language Variation
and Change. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Sankoff, Gillian; Blondeau, Hélène. 2007. 'Language change across the lifespan:
/r/ in Montreal French'. Language 83: 560-588.

Trudgill, Peter. 1988. 'Norwich revisited: recent linguistic changes in an
English urban dialect'. English World Wide 9: 33-49.

Wodak, Ruth; Johnstone, Barbara; Kerswill, Paul (eds.). 2010. 'The Sage Handbook
of Sociolinguistics'. Sage Publishers.

Dr. Catharina Peersman is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) at the K.U. Leuven (Belgium). Her postdoctoral research examines the sociolinguistic impact of 1302 on language perception and use in medieval Flanders (medieval French, Dutch and Latin). Her research interests are historical sociolinguistics and diachronic linguistics, with a particular emphasis on medieval data.

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