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Review of  An Introduction to Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: 'Dalia Magana' ['Dalia Magana'] Dalia Magana
Book Title: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Ronald Wardhaugh
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 21.5153

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AUTHOR: Wardhaugh, Ronald
TITLE: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics
SUBTITLE: Sixth Edition
SERIES TITLE: Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2010

Dalia Magaña, Department of Spanish, University of California, Davis


''An Introduction to Sociolinguistics'' offers students a comprehensive
presentation of sociolinguistic topics based on both long recognized studies and
contemporary data. Similarly to the previous two editions (i.e., the 4th edition
(2002) reviewed in and the 5th
edition (2005),
the 6th edition of the book is neatly divided into four parts and sixteen
chapters. However, new to the sixth edition are the ''Exploration'' tasks found in
every chapter intended for further learning on the presented topics.

The introductory chapter of the book (chapter 1) defines key terms as a
foundation for the remainder of the text, for example: 'language, code, grammar,
performance, (communicative) competence, variation, identity, power, solidarity,
sociolinguistics, the sociology of language, micro-sociolinguistics', and
'macro-sociolinguistics'. One of the methodological concerns the chapter
mentions is the necessity of perceiving sociolinguistics just as any other
science requiring ''a solid database'' in order to achieve data-oriented
conclusions as well as considering various research components, e.g.:
theoretical framework, data collection, analysis, interpretation, objectivity,
and the 'observer's paradox'. The chapter concludes with an overview of the
upcoming parts and chapters of the book.

Part I of the book, ''Languages and Communities'', encompasses chapters 2-5 which
are predominantly dedicated to the complexities of languages, their varieties
and speakers.

Chapter 2, ''Languages, Dialects, and Varieties'', first explores the notion of
variety according to several linguists. Next, the author focuses on the
difference between language and dialect providing illustrative examples from
numerous varieties and drawing upon notions such as power, solidarity, low and
high prestige, mutual intelligibility, and dialect continuum. Closely connected
with the issue involved in distinguishing language and dialect is the idea of
standardization; i.e. the process of language codification. In his elaboration,
the author considers Bell's (1976) criteria critical for language distinction:
''standardization, vitality, historicity, autonomy, reduction, mixture, and de
facto norms'' (p. 31). Regional dialects, social dialects, styles, registers, and
beliefs are also topics of exploration.

Chapter 3, ''Pidgins and Creoles'', suggests that the marginalized circumstance of
lingua francas, pidgins and creoles is due to the relatively small linguistic
knowledge about these sometimes long-standing languages. To set a solid base for
the rest of the chapter, the author defines the following terms: 'lingua franca'
(forced contact between different language speakers), 'pidgin' (a contact
language lacking native speakers), 'creole' (a contact language that has native
speakers, i.e. the subsequent stage of the pidgin), 'pidginization' (linguistic
simplification), and 'creolization' (linguistic expansion). According to the
author, pidgins and creoles share geographical similarities (such as
ocean-neighboring locations), but of even more interest to linguists are the
structural similarities noted across different pidgins and creoles in the world.

''Codes'', the title of chapter 4, refers to languages or varieties; therefore,
'code' is a neutral term for any kind of communicative system. The chapter
elaborates on 'diglossia' (coexisting codes performing separate functions in a
society) with significant focus on the work of Ferguson and his idea of high and
low variety. ''Bilingualism and Multilingualism'', the next topic of discussion,
emphasizes the different linguistic norms across the globe with respect to the
number of languages spoken and the perceptions of these norms (for example, in
the Western world monolingualism may be considered the unmarked case, while for
vast parts of the world monolingualism would be the marked case).
'Code-switching' (language alternation) is the most elaborated subject of the
chapter. Drawing on examples from geographically diverse language situations,
the author discusses numerous factors for code-switching, such as conversational
strategies, power, political expression, solidarity, identity, and accommodation.

The final chapter (5) of the first part of the book, ''Speech Communities'',
centers on different sociolinguists' perspectives on defining a ''speech
community.'' The author's literature review regarding speech communities involves
the research of Richards, Chomsky, Lyons, Giles, Labov, Milroy, Gumperz,
Bloomfield, and Hymes, among other influential linguists. The author also
questions the boundaries of intersecting communities as well as considers
networks and repertoires.

''Inherent Variety'', Part II of the book (chapters 6 though 8), primarily
concerns linguistic factors surrounding language variation and their role in
language change.

Chapter 6,'' Language Variation'', further elaborates on dialects (both regional
and social), which were introduced in Chapter 2. While regional dialects deal
with variation according to geography, social dialects are associated with a
social class or group (including societal factors such as education,
social-class membership, gender, age, ethnicity, and so on). The latter, the
author states, has been of more concern to contemporary linguists. In dealing
with social dialects, linguistic variables (''linguistic item[s] which [have]
identifiable variants'', p. 145) are indispensible in identifying speech markers.
The chapter also includes a section on ''Data Collection and Analysis'' primarily
dealing with the issues involved in collecting relevant data, for example:
'observer's paradox,' bias, representative sample, dependent variables,
independent variables, validity, reliability, and statistics.

In ''Some Findings and Issues'' (chapter 7), Wardhaugh briefly reviews various
quantitative studies in sociolinguistics. The author specifically critiques
parts of the research studies carried out by Fisher, Labov, Trudgill, Wolfram,
Fasold, Macaulay, Kiesling, the Milroys, Bailey, and Bickerton (among others),
to discuss some of the problems faced by researchers in studies on language use
and acquisition.

Part II of the book concludes with language ''Change'' (chapter 8). While the
author states that change in progress is not observable, he emphasizes the
importance of the consequences caused by the change that structurally affect the
language. The chapter discusses the difference between variation and change and
changes in progress illustrated with relevant examples from the literature.
Wardhaugh suggests that one of the best explanations for change is that it
initiates among the higher social levels but is implemented by the lower social

Part III, ''Words at Work'' (chapters 9 through 12), centers on social and
cultural issues affecting language use.

Chapter 9, ''Words and Culture'', explores the relationship between language and
culture. Culture in this context refers to the societal functions of a person,
specifically the knowledge required to function in a particular society. The
chapter provides a detailed explanation of Whorf's claim about language
structure and its role in the speaker's world-view, concluding that this
hypothesis remains unproved. Further, the chapter discusses the following topics
regarding the interesting use of terminology across cultures: kinship terms,
taxonomies, colors, prototypes, taboos and euphemisms.

The 10th chapter of the book, ''Ethnographies'', pertains to a group's linguistic
behavior norms and the factors involved. The author perceives language as being
used to ''sustain reality.'' One of the chapter's sections, ''Varieties of Talk'',
looks at studies focusing on the use or absence of talk in communication among
various groups in society. The following section, ''The Ethnography of Speaking'',
predominantly considers the work of Hymes on ethnography (''a description of all
the factors that are relevant in understanding how [a] communicative event
achieves its objectives'' p. 259). Specifically, the author discusses Hymes'
SPEAKING acronym involving the principal factors in ethnographic studies. The
section dedicated to ethnomethodology involves ''the processes and techniques
that people use to interpret the world around them and to interact with that
world'' (p. 266).

''Solidarity and Politeness'', chapter 11, concerns the choices speakers make as
they express themselves, i.e. ''what'' and ''how'' speakers say something and the
combinations of sentence types, words and sounds they employ. In his discussion,
Wardhaugh explores the ''tu'' and ''vous'' distinction present in many languages (in
their corresponding forms) including Italian, German, Latin, Spanish, and
Swedish. The author deliberates about how some of these languages vary in making
this distinction using clear examples to illustrate his arguments. Further, he
explores ''Address Terms'', exploring some of the issues involved and noting the
interesting societal difference between terms of address applied towards people
whose status derives from their achievement versus their inheritance.
Additionally, the author maintains that politeness is socially prescribed and
that language is a tool that allows speakers to show their relationships to
others as well as their attitudes toward them.

The last chapter in Part III, chapter 12, ''Talk and Action'', examines the
function and conversational use of utterances. The chapter covers three broad
topics, ''Speech Acts'', ''Cooperation'', and ''Conversation'', each elaborating on
relevant sub-topics. The author states that the purpose of many utterances is to
make propositions, however he distinguishes between several types of utterance.
Wardhaugh views utterances as acts and conversations as the exchanges of these
acts involving cooperative activity between speakers and listeners. Among his
numerous arguments under the section on ''Conversation'', the author addresses the
characteristics of unplanned speech, turn taking, topics of discussion,
feedback, insertion, repairs, classroom conversation, culture, power, and social

The fourth and final part of the book, ''Understanding and Intervening'', focuses
on gender and linguistic differences (chapter 13), language disadvantage and
education (chapter 14), language planning (chapter 15), and several concluding
observations (chapter 16).

In chapter 13, ''Gender'', the author discusses his preference for the chapter
title considering the issues in the use of alternative terms and current trends.
In exploring gender differences with respect to language the author examines an
impressive amount of research involving various languages dealing with gender
and phonology, morphology, vocabulary, grammatical matters, and paralinguistic
systems, among other gender-related topics. In his hypotheses about gender and
language differences, the author is deliberately careful to treat language
neutrally, for example avoiding viewing women's or men's speech as the
marked/unmarked choice. Some of the topics covered in the possible explanations
for gender differences pertain to stereotyping, interruptions, back-channeling
signals, solidarity, identity, sexism, power relationships, sociolinguistic
sub-cultures, behavior, and community of practice. Wardhaugh proposes that
gender differences in language are due to several factors including social
class, race, culture, discourse type, group membership, child-rearing practices
and role differentiations in society.

''Disadvantage'', chapter 14, reviews disadvantaged linguistic situations in
England, in the U.S. and in the educational sphere. The author begins with the
well-known claim that languages are functionally equal, however he adds that in
the social sense power differences create unequal perceptions of language.
Wardhaugh closely examines Bernstein's socialization research based on a case in
the UK noting also the numerous criticisms of Bernstein's work and theories.
Next, he addresses the phonology, morphology, syntactic characteristics, and
historical roots of African American English (AAE) found in the literature. The
chapter concludes with the subsection ''Consequences for Education'', which
concerns the widespread misunderstanding of AAE (specifically from educators),
language discrimination, and the child's bidialectalism benefits (an additive
approach) in education and society (for example solidarity within the child's
social class).

The final topic of discussion, ''Planning'', chapter 15, investigates the issues
involved in language planning, drawing examples from numerous countries and
their languages, and comments on language loss as well as the global role of
English. Language planning is defined as a planned change in a language due to a
nation and government persuasion. Wardhaugh discusses two types of language
planning (''status planning and corpus planning''), the ideologies involved in
language planning (linguistic assimilation, linguistic pluralism,
vernacularization, and internationalism) in addition to other issues involved
(language rights and data gathering). In his analysis of a variety of linguistic
situations in the world, the author includes in his examples language planning
situations in France, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, Russia, Finland, Kenya, India,
Papau New Guinea, Singapore, Norway, Canada, China and the United States; thus
encompassing various parts of the world to illustrate the diverse linguistic
situations regarding language planning. Further, the chapter addresses issues
concerning language loss (which is suggested to be occurring at an alarming
rate), and language spread (specifically English).

The conclusion, chapter 16, offers the readers the author's concluding remarks
regarding the complexity of language, society, culture, and variation. He also
discusses the approaches (namely quantification and ethnography) for analyzing
the relationship between power and society. Overall, the author is hopeful for
the future of sociolinguistics with respect to the newly adopted scientific
approaches and new discoveries in the area.


Wardhaugh's newest edition of the book encompasses a multitude of important
topics in sociolinguistics. The author's overview of the diverse relationships
between language and society incorporates an extensive number of the world's
languages and societies, offering a rich resource to learners in the area and
even further chapter-specific references included in the 'Further Reading'
sections at the end of each chapter.

Wardhaugh's work provides introductory sociolinguistic courses with an excellent
textbook, especially for advanced linguistic courses or graduate level courses.
However, the textbook may also be employed in a beginning sociolinguistics
course with significant instructor preparation, for example, the instructor
would have to guide the learners by providing background information about some
of the well-known studies of which the book assumes previous knowledge. In
pedagogical terms, the ''Exploration'' tasks found in every chapter, intended for
further learner development on the presented topics, have a very practical
purpose promoting critical thinking and evaluation. The tasks provide a student
with a hands-on approach to the sociolinguistic issues discussed in each chapter
by providing additional samples and data. While the ''Exploration'' sections
pedagogically benefit the learner, an additional section in each chapter
dedicated to learner guidance would also be useful. The text would benefit from
comprehension questions for content guidance, especially for beginning
undergraduate courses. The undergraduate population would gain from
topic-specific questions that would elicit their comprehension of the multitude
of critical material included in the book.

In its entirety, the book offers numerous contributions concerning the
sociolinguistic realities found in several geographical contexts. The flaws are
small-scale details when considering such an outstanding text. One of these
perceived minor flaws concerns how the Chomskyan perspective is presented.
Chapter 1 critically introduces prevalent Chomskyan ideas in the field,
referring to them as asocial, and setting the stage for ''opposing views'' in the
study of linguistics. However, should learners be persuaded towards such views,
or should they be trusted to individually interpret these ideas? While Chomsky's
influential ideas contain serious weaknesses for perceiving language
holistically, presenting his ideas more neutrally would permit the learner to
interpret these flaws on his/her own. A more neutral approach to the Chomskyan
perspective would allow the learner to think about how these fields within
linguistics can complement and even benefit each other.

An additional minor flaw concerns the lack of thorough exploration of language
attitudes and ideologies. While these are two of the numerous topics considered,
there is no section specifically focused on these crucial topics in
sociolinguistics. Eliminating some repeated topics of discussion (for example,
some of the content in chapter 6 overlaps with the content in chapter 2) would
allow more room for incorporation of further topics. In chapter 7, while the
author includes an in-depth presentation of research studies illustrating
methodological concerns in the area, he does not include more contemporary
studies, which would have made the review more comprehensive. Moreover, in
chapter 9 the author narrows the relationship between words and culture, since
he includes only a selected number of topics within the subject that are not
representative of the idea as a whole. The text would benefit for example by
mentioning writing systems, and the culture of oral languages among other
matters which would offer the learner an even more amplified view of words and
culture. Further, the organization of the content covered in part IV seems
incongruous, especially the section on AAE. Even more, the author's discussion
of AAE disregards the social role of AAE in pop culture, music, and its
influence on other minority groups, particularly on adolescents.

The minor flaws brought up do not, however, compromise in any way the superior
quality of the text. Comprehensively, the book provides a rich source of
overviews of the field of sociolinguistics that will undoubtedly afford
researchers and students in the area insightful knowledge evoking additional
future dialogue and research.


Bell, R.T. (1976). Sociolinguistics: Goals, Approaches and Problems. London:

Dalia Magaña is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish at University of California, Davis. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, Spanish as a heritage language and SLA.

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