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Review of  Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics


Reviewer: Patricia Donaher
Book Title: Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Rajend Mesthrie
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 13.1847

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Date: Tue, 02 Jul 2002 12:52:38 -0500
From: Patricia Donaher <donaher@mwsc.edu>
Subject: Mesthrie, Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

Mesthrie, Rajend, ed. (2001) Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics. Pergamon Press xxviii+1031pp, hardback ISBN 0-08-043726-5.

Patricia Donaher, Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Journalism, Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph, Missouri

Inspired by the well researched, well written _Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics_ (1993), but concerned with the usability of the ten volume work, the _Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics_ (CESO) is meant to be a more accessible, more comprehensive overview of the main areas of Sociolinguistics, including Interaction, Variation, Culture, Power and Ideology, Language Contact, and Applications. The one volume text is arranged in topic sections with entries that examine the primary ideas and issues of the section^Òs topic. Although the editor has eschewed the usual dictionary-style alphabetizing of the contents for a topical approach, the essays within each topic section are arranged alphabetically.

Most entries begin with an initial, clear definition of the topic followed by the history and background of the topic. Longer entries include information on current research and/or applications for the topic. Most entries include a selection of "See Also's" to related entries in the CESO which helps to unify related topics, and all entries provide generous bibliographies that point the reader to key works, both standard and current, in the field of sociolinguistics.

The _Encyclopedia_ is divided into ten sections, beginning with a thorough section on the Foundations of Society and Language. This section includes essays on bilingualism, communication, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the Saussurean Tradition, social psychology, and the sociology of language. This section also provides a lucid overview of key concepts like communication, language, language and society, and pragmatics. Section II: Language and Interaction goes on to examine particular discourse issues like accommodation, conversation, cooperation, ethnography, identity, kinesics, narrative, and speech act theory.

Section III: Language Variation: Style, Situation, and Function focuses on the language of fields like business, law, the media, medicine, literature, and religion, as well as informal language, like slang. This section also covers context and formula in linguistic analysis, speech play, and speech and writing, including on the internet.

In Section IV: Language Variation and Change: Dialects and Social Groups, the essays consider the language of adolescents, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and urban/rural groups, as well dialect, sociophonetics, and sound change. In contrast, Section V: Language Contact concentrates on aspects of code-mixing and switching, language shifts and spread, native vs. nonnative language, and pidgins and creoles.

The next three sections deal with the various politics of language. Section VI: Language, Power, and Inequality examines the politics and ideologies of language, including issues of power, conflict, and discrimination, while Section VII: Language Planning, Policy, and Practice focuses on the issues of multilingualism, nationalism, standards and prescriptivism. Section VIII: Language and Education considers the challenges of language variety, like dialects, Ebonics, and home language, in the classroom and the issues of literacy and standard English.

The last two sections provide overviews of the profession and its methodology. Section IX: Methods in Sociolinguistics explains the various data collection and research techniques of the sociolinguist and describes scaling, multi-dimensional scaling, and statistics in sociolinguistics. The final section, Section X: The Profession, inventories institutions and resources in the field and provides profiles of important Sociolinguists.

For a complete list of the CESO's 285 articles and 80 biographies, visit the publisher's webpage at <http://www.elsevier.com/inca/publications/store/6/2/2/0/2/6/index.htt>.

In addition to the topic sections, at the end of the CESO there is an Alphabetical List of Articles, a List of Contributors, a Name Index, and a Subject Index.

My first reaction upon skimming the text was "WOW!," a reaction that has not diminished with further acquaintance. The _Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics_ is an impressive volume and its Editor, Rajend Mesthrie, has provided both the general reader of linguistics and the serious researcher a well written, well researched overview of this subfield of linguistics.

Generally, I found little to fault in the CESO, and so I will start with the perceived faults before moving on to praise sections and entries of particular note. First, although the "See Also's" help to tie together entries on closely related topics, these guides aren't always complete. For example, the entry on Doctor-Patient Language in Section II doesn't refer the reader also to the entry on Medical Language in Section III, but the entry on Medical Language does refer the reader back to the entry on Doctor-Patient Language.

Second, although the alphabetizing of the entries within each topic section works generally well, it works less well in the first section on the Foundations of Society and Language, in Section IV: Language Variation and Change: Dialects and Social Groups, and in Section IX: Methods in Sociolinguistics. In Foundations, the alphabetizing of entries fails to give the reader a sense of coherence that might better be achieved by organizing entries relative to each other. In Language Variation and Change, it would be more helpful to arrange the entries into two subsections, the first on Dialect and the second on Social Groups. The entries in Methods would also better serve the reader if arranged in two parts, the first part on Fieldwork and Data Collection Methods and the second part on Analysis Methods.

Third, while I found most entries accessible and well written, a few entries were more difficult to follow, like the entry on Hegemony in Section VI, which is a bit circular in its definition of the term.

Otherwise, I was most appreciative of the straight forward language and clear approach employed by of most of the authors. I was impressed by the depth of the articles, even the shorter ones. Each entry provides the researcher with virtually all the necessary background information on the topic and appropriate references for further information. Many of the longer entries include a thorough summary the current research on the topic as well, and some entries provide helpful sections on where future research could or should go.

The entries within each section and across sections also play well against each other, extending and modifying definitions as they expand one's understanding of the topic. For example, in Section II, many of the entries extend the initial information given in the entry on Conversation Analysis to provide the reader with both an overall understanding of the topic, but also its varied applications in differing discourse studies. In the same way, entries in Section VIII: Language and Education on gendered language and dialect in the classroom must and do hark back to entries in Section IV: Language Variation and Change: Dialects and Social Groups that treat these topics in a broader context. If the reader is in doubt as to what readings are similarly paired, the Alphabetical List of Articles or the Subject Index should prove quite useful.

Of particular interest to the beginning researcher should be Sections IX and X. Section IX, on Methods in Sociolinguistics, presents complex mathematical information in generally succinct, understandable prose. The information on fieldwork ethics and validity, given both in entries devoted to the topics, but also referred to often in other entries, provides an important stress on the need to avoid "intuitive" leaps and the need for good record keeping.

Section X, The Profession, provides a helpful guide to institutions and resources in sociolinguistics to get the researcher started. I particularly liked the Profiles of Sociolinguists since an important part of doing research is knowing who's who and who's done what. Placing all the profiles together in one section, rather than scattering them throughout the volume, as would happen in a traditional encyclopedia, makes this information much more accessible for both looking up information and for general browsing.

Overall, the CESO should prove an invaluable resource for both the beginning and experienced researcher of sociolinguistics.






 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Patricia Donaher is an Assistant Professor of English at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her scholarly interests include methods of teaching linguistics, issues in language and education, and theories and representations of language in popular culture.

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