Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.