LINGUIST List 22.289

Mon Jan 17 2011

Review: Sociolinguistics: Garrett (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Judith Buendgens-Kosten , Attitudes to Language

Message 1: Attitudes to Language
Date: 17-Jan-2011
From: Judith Buendgens-Kosten <>
Subject: Attitudes to Language
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AUTHOR: Garrett, Peter TITLE: Attitudes to Language SERIES TITLE: Key Topics in Sociolinguistics PUBLISHER: Cambridge YEAR: 2010

Judith Bündgens-Kosten, Universität Duisburg-Essen


Peter Garrett's ''Attitudes to language'' attempts the difficult task of introducing readers to a complex, multidisciplinary area of research: attitudes toward language, from attitudes toward proper names to attitudes toward whole languages, from evaluative reactions to speech rate to the effects of content on evaluation of speech samples. Overall, its major emphasis lies on the matched guise method and English and its varieties as attitude objects (i.e., that to which one responds with an attitude), but other methods and attitude objects are also touched upon.


Garrett's book is heavily dependent on short summaries of research projects and accompanying critical evaluations of their methods and contextualisation of their findings. Generally, these are arranged by methods (e.g. matched guise vs. ''direct methods''), occasionally by topic/problem (e.g. attitudes in professional settings). In most chapters/sections, the author summarises several research projects and their findings and attempts a synthesis of these different project, e.g. to show in which different ways a research method can be used, or what effect speech rate seems to have in different contexts.

In chapter 1, ''Introduction'', Garrett begins with an overview over the range of topics/levels in linguistics for which attitudes play a role. He includes ''words'', ''standardisation in language'', ''grammar'', ''languages'', ''codeswitching'', and ''accents''. The order in which he discusses these is somewhat non-intuitive, and the stress he puts on some aspects and not on others is surprising at times. For instance, more detail is provided on attitudes toward given names than toward dialects; sociolects and youth language are not mentioned, etc. In later chapters, though, more detail is offered concerning attitudes toward languages and dialects, balancing this out.

In the second chapter, ''Fundamentals of language attitudes'', he further explores the notion of attitudes. He bases this chapter on the often-quoted and fairly traditional, though not uncontested definitions by Allport and Openheim. Overall, he follows a strongly cognitivist (Edwards & Potter 1992) approach to attitudes -- a reflection of currently dominant approaches toward attitudes within sociolinguistics.

Chapter 3, ''Main approaches to the study of language attitudes'', introduces the reader to major trends in attitude research methods. This sets the playing field for the following chapters, in which different approaches are discussed in more detail.

First, the focus lies on matched guise and related approaches in different contexts and with different theoretical questions: ''Matched and verbal guise studies: focus on English'' (Chapter 4), ''Matched and verbal guise research in more contexts'' (Chapter 5), ''Attitudes to speech styles and other variables: communication features, speakers, hearers and contexts'' (Chapter 6), and ''Language attitudes in professional contexts'' (Chapter 7). In later chapters, he looks more closely at other approaches: ''Societal treatment studies'' (Chapter 9), ''Direct approach'' (Chapter 10), and ''Folklinguistics'' (Chapter 11). He also gives an example of how a research project can combine these different approaches in chapter 12, ''An integrated programme of language attitudes research''. The conclusion (Chapter 13) ties open ends together. A glossary, list of references and an index have been included for the reader's convenience.


This book is interesting for readers who wish to get a general overview over the current state of research on language attitudes. Many resources are available on attitudes in general, but relatively few specifically on language attitudes - Garrett's book succeeds in filling this gap.

Garrett states: ''one can easily be left with an impression that despite all the research that has so far been conducted, we have barely scratched the surface'' (p. 225). Attitudes are a complex and sometimes elusive topic; such an impression, therefore, is the probable consequence of any contact with this multi-faceted field of research. By discussing multiple, often contradictory, studies in every chapter, the author shows the underlying complexity of linguistic attitude research: Contradictions in current research are pointed out instead of glossed over. This gives the reader a realistic impression of the state of sociolinguistic attitude research today, and the many questions that are, of yet, still unanswered.


The book targets, among other readers, (postgraduate) students. For use in class, a set of questions has been included with every chapter. Usually, these questions allow students to compare their own linguistic observations with the theories discussed, or to compare the advantages and disadvantages of specific approaches. Garrett also suggests ''further reading'' for students who wish to delve deeper into a specific topic. These features greatly enhance this book's usefulness in classroom settings.

The individual chapters build on each other, so that it may be difficult to use individual chapters separately. For example, matched guise is introduced in chapter 3, but its potential disadvantages are only discussed in chapter 4. Other methods introduced in this chapter are also critically reviewed in the same chapter, creating the impression, if only this chapter is read independently from the rest of the book, that this method has fewer disadvantages/problems associated with it than the other methods mentioned. A teacher would need to keep this in mind when designing reading assignments, etc.

Few, if any, textbooks can ever serve every classroom's needs. In this case, if students wish to try out the different methods of attitude research -- even within a very limited scope --, they will require additional, in-depth material on the different methods, especially if they are interested in methods beyond matched guise. Also, if students are interested in specific contexts (non-English languages and language varieties), they will need to peruse additional material. The material at hand, though, will help them with their reading by supplying them with a basic understanding of the different kinds of research to be expected, and by pointing out frequently found structures (such as low prestige, high solidarity vs. high prestige, low solidarity, etc.) that seem to have some consistency across languages.

I would recommend using this book as one among other resources. Eagly and Chaiken's ''The psychology of attitudes'' (1993) may be a good companion volume for those teachers who wish to examine in more detail what constitutes attitudes and to look into non-matched-guise techniques of measuring them. Since Eagly and Chaiken do not take up discursive psychology in any detail, one may also want to supplement material on that topic (e.g. Potter & Wetherell 1987). Both books are written from a social psychology perspective and lack the focus on language and linguistics that Garrett's book provides, though.


Eagly, Alice H. & Shelly Chaiken (1993) The psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College.

Edwards, Derek & Jonathan Potter (1992) Discursive psychology, London: Sage.

Potter, Jonathan & Margaret Wetherell (1987) Discourse and social psychology: beyond attitudes and behaviour, London: Sage.


Judith Bündgens-Kosten received her doctorate degree from RWTH Aachen University in 2009. Her thesis discusses teachers' attitudes toward AAVE. She currently works at Universität Duisburg-Essen, focusing on computer-mediated communication (especially blogging), and its role in language learning.

Page Updated: 17-Jan-2011