LINGUIST List 17.1512

Tue May 16 2006

Review: Socioling/Textbooks: Wardhaugh (2005)

Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler <>

Directory         1.    Brian Chan, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Fifth Edition

Message 1: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Fifth Edition
Date: 11-May-2006
From: Brian Chan <>
Subject: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Fifth Edition

Announced at

AUTHOR: Wardhaugh, Ronald TITLE: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics SUBTITLE: Fifth Edition SERIES: Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics YEAR: 2005 PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing

Brian Chan, Department of English, University of Macau


In its fifth edition, this textbook has proved itself to be a popular one in a competitive field (with alternatives including Holmes 2nd edition (2001), Mesthrie et al. (2000), Romaine (2000), among others). As in the fourth edition, the main content is divided into four parts plus an introductory chapter (chapter 1) and a brief conclusion (chapter 16). [The fourth edition is reviewed in -- Eds.]

The introductory chapter 1 sets the scene by outlining the two major approaches to linguistics--- the Chomskyan one in which language is seen as an autonomous system of knowledge---and the sociolinguists' view---which sees language as intertwined with society to the extent that any explanation of the former would be virtually incomplete without some reference to the latter. The scope and the methodology of sociolinguistics are briefly introduced.

Part I (''Languages and Communities'') covers chapters 2 to 5, dealing with core concepts that are related to ''language'' in one way or the other. Chapter 2 (''Languages, Dialects and Varieties'') reviews definitions of ''language'' alongside with those of similar concepts including ''dialects'' (social and regional), ''varieties'' (mainly standardized), ''styles'' and ''register''. Chapter 3 (''Pidgins and creoles'') describes the origins, areal occurrences and linguistic properties of these ''languages'' which have been marginalized in mainstream linguistics. Chapter 4 (''Codes'') is actually about bilingualism. Bilingual and multilingual communities are exemplified and portrayed. Diglossia in Ferguson's classical sense is discussed, and code-switching is treated essentially as a result of different ''code- choice'' which signals accommodation, change of communicative situation (e.g. topic change) or social identity. Chapter 5 (''Speech Communities'') reports definitions of ''speech community'' and their problems, followed by an introduction of more recent notions of ''community of practice'', ''social network'' and ''speech repertoire''.

Part II (''Inherent Variety'') deals with the ''core'' topic of sociolinguistics- --language variation. Chapter 6 (''Language Variation'') elaborates on regional variation with examples including the Rhenish Fan and isoglosses in Southern Britain. This is followed by an introduction to the ''linguistic variable'' and other techniques and methodologies used in variationist studies. Chapter 7 (''Some Findings and Issues'') reviews the key findings of classic papers by Labov (the New York City studies), Trudgill (on Norwich and Reading), Wolfram (on Detroit), the Milroys (on Belfast) and others. Chapter 8 (''Change'') discusses various case studies of language change (e.g. Northern Cities Shift of vowels, The Martha's Vineyard, etc.) in the light of Labov's ideas (change from above vs change from below) and the lexical diffusion/wave theory of change.

Part III (''Words at Work'') covers chapter 9 to chapter 12, looking at how culture and context may affect language. Chapter 9 (''Words and Culture'') introduces The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (Or The Whorfian Hypothesis/Language Relativity Hypothesis) and the arguments that have been put forward to support or refute it. Examples are then given to illustrate areas in which languages reflect (and are possibly conditioned by) different cultures in imposing different classifications of objects or experience, namely, kinship terms and color terms. The key idea in Chapter 10 (''Ethnolographies'') is that people communicate in different ways in different cultures; for instance, they may have different uses and meanings for silence. The SPEAKING framework of Hymes is then discussed as a systematic way to analyze contextual factors which shape different varieties of talk. In addition, there are rules or conventions on how people understand and interact with each other in everyday life, and yet they are not always conscious of them. These rules are the object of study under ''ethnomethodology''. Chapter 11 (''Solidarity and Politeness'') focuses on how a message, in the same situation, may have been packaged in different ways in relation to the hearer. The idea is illustrated by examples such as the T/V distinction in French pronouns and, the Javanese honorifics and the address terms in different languages. Brown and Levinson's theory of politeness is then introduced. Chapter 12 (''Talk and Action'') surveys central topics in pragmatics including ''speech acts'' and Grice's ''co-operative principle'' and ''conversational maxims''. The structure of conversation is then discussed in the light of Conversation Analysis (Sacks, Schegloff, etc.).

Part IV (''Understanding and Intervening'') ranges from chapter 13 to chapter 15. Chapter 13 (''Gender'') addresses language and gender, reporting research findings which suggest different ways the genders may talk and objections to these findings. Chapter 14 (''Disadvantage'') is really about language and education, outlining Basil Bernstein's theory of Elaborate Code/Restricted Code, and introducing the debate about the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in schools. Chapter 15, (''Planning'') introduces various goals, methods and underlying ideologies of language planning. Again, there is no shortage of case studies ranging from the revival of Catalan in Spain to the simplification of Chinese characters across the continent. It is then noted that some languages (e.g. English, Mandarin Chinese, etc.) became more dominant as a result of language planning and other factors at the expense of other minority languages, against the wishes of most linguists who would prefer to see more linguistic diversity or linguistic pluralism maintained in our world.

The conclusion (chapter 16) does not exactly summarize the huge content of the book but highlights the importance of ''pluralism'' in sociolinguistics. The author sees no need to establish a doctrine in sociolinguistics; rather, he thinks that various theories, methodologies and approaches would only do justice to the complexity of issues and data that are involved.


These are the two (related) areas I would like to address in this part; firstly, how well the book fares as a textbook for students and instructors, and secondly, how far the book succeeds as an update of sociolinguistics for an average reader, most probably (socio-)linguists.

This book targets itself as a first-level textbook for students with little previous knowledge of linguistics, sociolinguistics or anthropology (preface). Obviously, this is no easy task, since, as the author suggests in the conclusion, sociolinguistics involves many complex issues that have been studied in different approaches with various methodologies. There does not seem to be a unified theory which accounts for the full range of data, nor is it desirable to have a ''sociolinguistic doctrine''. In fact, the sociolinguistic approach, namely, the consideration of society, culture and context in the study of language, is shared with pragmatics, discourse analysis and anthropological linguistics, subjects which overlap with sociolinguistics but which can be seen as branches of linguistics in their own right. What's worse, many topics cut across each other; for instance, the issue of gender comes up in the more macro variationist studies and the micro conversation analysis as well. One could easily imagine how daunting it would be to write an informative and yet lucid, easy-to- follow introductory textbook on this enormous subject. How does an author select the materials? How could he organize the topics? How could he strike a balance between detail and conciseness or between depth and width? These are all formidable challenges.

In this connection, the main strength of the book lies in its comprehensive coverage of sociolinguistic literature in discussion. The book is also resourceful. As in previous editions, each chapter is wrapped up with a wealth of discussion questions and a section of further readings. While the former provides the instructor with excellent materials for brainstorming, class discussion or follow-up assignments (of course, there is not always enough time covering all of these questions), the latter encourages the serious reader (instructor or student) to explore the issues further on his/her own. The selection of materials is laudable: there is a fair representation of studies---old and new---which discuss sociolinguistic phenomena drawn from different parts of the world and which involve a wide range of typologically different languages. It is noteworthy that the author has brought in a number of studies in 2000's. Despite the abundance of examples and illustrations, the discussion is never too long. The depth of explanation just right for students or those unfamiliar with the subject, often sprinkled with insights, and the language is very clear. All these are hallmarks of a good textbook written by an expert and fruits of an experienced teacher. The book most probably carries the teaching materials that the author has used, enriched and updated throughout the years (preface).

Whereas I find this textbook suitable for advanced undergraduates and postgraduates in a one-year (two-semester) course, I have reservations about using it in a one-semester BA or MA course. There is perhaps too much material to cover, as a trade-off to its comprehensiveness. In such circumstances, while I would still ask my students to read relevant chapters in this book or Holmes (2001) as supplements, I may well prefer Romaine (2001) for undergraduates and Mesthrie et al. (2000) for beginning postgraduates (e.g. MA). Alternatively, I would select chapters 1 and 2, Part II (''Inherent Variety'') and Part IV (Understanding and Intervening) in the curriculum. Chapter 3 (''Pidgins and Creoles'') and chapter 4 (''Codes'') are perhaps covered in another course focusing on language contact or bilingualism, while Part III (''Words at Work'') may well be used (as background reference) in another course on pragmatics and discourse, or language and culture. As for chapter 5 (''Speech Communities''), its key ideas may well be incorporated in the discussion of language variation (Part III).

Usually teaching a one-semester course and with other colleagues/courses dealing with pragmatics, discourse and bilingualism, I have been wondering whether there is a more direct or succinct way to organize the diverse topics under sociolinguistics. It appears to me that one such way is to focus on language variation, and have each chapter pinpoint one factor that may have caused or that is correlated with variation (language and class, language and time (i.e. language change), language and place (i.e. dialects), language and power, language and identity, language and gender, language and ethnicity, and so forth), to be followed by broader or ''applied'' issues such as language and education, language planning and bilingualism, a scheme that has been followed roughly in Mesthrie et al. (2000) and Thomas and Wareing (2003). Pragmatics, discourse and language and culture may be covered in three separate introductory chapters, since they are now considered to be ''full- fledged'' fields on their own. Of course, in doing so, the interconnections of various factors (age, gender, class, etc.) attested in variation studies may be blurred, but I guess this problem can be solved by more explanation in different chapters. An additional advantage of this scheme, I think, is that some recently popular topics can be covered in a rather straightforward way, such as language and power (Critical Discourse Analysis) and perhaps language and the media. Now, it seems that these topics can hardly find their appropriate place under the present framework.

This is not to say the book is not well-organized: It is clear that the author somehow proceeds from the ''macro'' issues (Part I and Part II) to ''micro'' ones (Part III), to be followed by more ''applied'' issues (Part IV). One may be a bit surprised to find Gender (chapter 13) located in Part IV. The author's rationale seems to be that many people think of language as ''sexist'' and call for ''intervention'' to get rid of these elements. It seems to me, however, that these calls have somewhat diminished in the past few years.

This fifth edition (2006) appears only four years after the fourth (2002). It is understandable that the author would like to update the materials so as to reflect the current developments in the field in the past few years (preface), and the readers (students or instructors) would reasonably expect that. How far does the book succeed in this respect?

As suggested above, there is a clear attempt to incorporate new references (i.e. after 2000's) into the existing framework, which is welcome. It is also commendable that some more recent developments are introduced, for instance, Estuary English (chapter 1) and queer linguistics (chapter 13). Nonetheless, some topics which are touched on briefly could have received more detailed treatment owing to their emerging popularity in the past few years, for instance, World Englishes (chapter 15), conversational code-switching (in which bilinguals switch codes frequently in the same situation) and the conversation-analytic approach of it (chapter 4) and language and power (chapter 14 -- although Fairclough is quoted here and there). Perhaps some readers would like to find mention that many ''sociolinguistic'' topics have more recently been studied in a more ''formal'', ''Chomskyan'' perspective, such as language change, language variation, pidgins and creoles and code-switching.

The author emphasized the significance of identity in understanding sociolinguistics (preface, also see the blurb), but, after reading the book, it does not seem obvious to me how identity (or various identities) may have shaped one's language behaviour or language attitudes, or how identity is a crucial explanation of sociolinguistic facts or data. Some discussion of identity can be found in chapter 4 and chapter 5, though.

To conclude, I think the book has done a fairly good job in meeting the serious challenge of writing a sociolinguistics textbook, though it may not have covered everything that has become popular in recent literature. In any case, I find this book comprehensive and well-written on the whole, and I believe it will continue to be a very useful reference in the field.


Holmes, Janet (2001) An introduction to Sociolinguistics. Pearson Education Limited. Second edition.

Mesthrie, Rajand, Joan Swann, Andrea Deumert, and William L. Leap (2000) Introducing Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh University Press.

Romaine, Suzanne (2001) Language in Society. Oxford University Press. Second edition.

Thomas, Linda et al. (2003) Language, Society and Power: An Introduction. Routledge. Second edition.

Wardhaugh, Ronald (2002) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Blackwell. Fourth edition.


Brian Chan is an Assistant Professor in Department of English, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Macau. He has been teaching linguistics and bilingualism, and his research interest is in all aspects of code-switching (i.e. sociolinguistic, pragmatic and syntactic).