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Review of  Sociolinguistics and Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Valeria Buttini-Bailey
Book Title: Sociolinguistics and Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Kimberly L. Geeslin Avizia Long
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 26.1325

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Geeslin and Yim Long’s textbook explores the intersection of sociolinguistics and second language acquisition, offering a precious contribution that complements traditional cognitive and pedagogical approaches. It consists of ten chapters distributed in three sections; it also includes a preface, a list of tables, a list of figures, a list of examples, references and an index.


Section I, ''Principles of Sociolinguistic Variation and Second Language Acquisition'', consists of three introductory chapters that review the most central issues in second language acquisition and sociolinguistics.

Chapter One begins ''with a discussion of why sociolinguistics matters for the second language learner and why we, as researchers and language teachers, should seek to understand the impact of social factors on the language learner more fully'' (p. 3). Central issues in second language acquisition are then reviewed: what is input and what does it do, how can learner grammars be characterized, how does acquisition proceed, what is linguistic knowledge and where do we store it, what role does the first language play, can metalinguistic knowledge help.

Chapter Two explores the definition of sociolinguistic variation in greater depth and provides an overview of the most important principles of sociolinguistics as well as the recent developments in the field that have had a significant impact on research on variation in second languages. Several examples of language variation at differing levels of the grammar are also given: i.e. an example of phonological variation in the Arabic of Saudi Arabia, an example of morphological variation in Spanish, an example of syntactic variation in Chinese, an example of pragmatic variation in Spanish, and an example of lexical variation in American English.

Chapter Three explores both identity and social factors that are linked to variation, i.e. gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, level of education and discourse context. The chapter also offers a handful of examples that demonstrate how variation is conditioned by these factors, and it ends with a brief discussion on what these sociolinguistic findings mean for second language acquisition.

With section Two, ''Approaches to the study of sociolinguistics and second language acquisition'', the volume turns its attention to second language learners. This section consists of five chapters.

Chapter Four deals with the social approaches to second language acquisition, i.e. ''approaches that place social elements of language learning and language use at the forefront and prioritize the examination of the influence of social context on language'' (p. 78). The approaches discussed are the Acculturation Model, the Accommodation Theory, the Sociocultural Theory, the Identity Approach, the Language Socialization Approach, the Conversation-Analytic Approach, and the Sociocognitive Approach. For each approach, the chapter provides an overview that identifies the ways in which that model accounts for the impact of social factors and the claims made regarding the role of social factors in learning a second language. The chapter also briefly describes the manner in which research on second language acquisition was conducted under each approach, and it offers a critical evaluation of the models.

Chapter Five explores the cognitive approaches to second language acquisition, i.e. theories which have their focus on mental activities or cognition. The approaches discussed are Optimality Theory, Connectionism, Usage-Based Models, and System-Based Theories. As in Chapter Four, the manner in which research on second language acquisition was conducted under each approach is described, and a critical evaluation of the models is offered.

Chapter Six focuses on one particular approach, i.e. the Variationist Approach, which ''sought to identify the internal (i.e., linguistic) and external (i.e., social) factors influencing variability in language'' (p. 138) and ''represents a viable bridge between the range of theories outlined in the two preceding chapters'' (p. 138). The chapter introduces the specific models used by variationist-oriented second language researchers, with a focus on probabilistic models of language variation. The tools for collecting and analyzing data (both qualitative and quantitative methods) are discussed, as well as the factors most commonly examined in this area of research (i.e., factors related to the speaker, to the interlocutor and to the speech context). The chapter also provides an overview of how models of second language variation were initially conceptualized and gradually modified over time. The Chameleon Model, the Wave Theory and Dennis Preston’s psycholinguistic model are described. The chapter ends with a critical analysis of variationist approaches and their compatibility with other models that attempt to account for second language variation.

In Chapter Seven the authors focus on empirical investigations of the development of sociolinguistic competence in second languages conducted under the Variationist framework. The discussion begins with an overview of important developments in inquiry into second language variation and continues with examples of recent studies of the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence.

Chapter Eight explores the role of study abroad on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence. The authors review research on this topic by areas of grammar. For each structure, they provide a brief summary of how the variable structure operates in the language of native speakers prior to exploring the research on its acquisition by second language learners. The chapter ends with a discussion of some of the additional factors that have been shown to influence this development in the study abroad context.

In Section Three, ''Implications of research on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in second languages'', the authors turn their attention to the implications of the findings from research on language variation for second language instruction. This section consists of two chapters.

Chapter Nine begins with a discussion of what might be a reasonable norm for classroom instruction and how this might be identified. By offering some guidelines for the selection and development of classroom materials, the authors make a first connection between the research on second language acquisition and learning explored in previous chapters to the practical issues faced by language instructors on a daily basis.

In Chapter Ten the authors describe a few scenarios that demonstrate that sociolinguistic variation is present in every lesson, making a teacher’s knowledge of sociolinguistic variation a fundamental support. They then summarize the most basic concepts about language variation and offer more practical suggestions in order to provide ideas for incorporating this knowledge into the second language classroom.


Geeslin and Yim Long’s book is a very pleasant and interesting read which suits the intended audience, i.e. ''readers with backgrounds in second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, speech and hearing sciences, anthropology, linguistics, and education'' (xix). It will be a valued resource for all teachers, teachers’ educators, researchers and students of applied linguistics who wish to rethink and learn more about the importance of sociolinguistic perspectives in the field of second language acquisition and instruction, and who have so far lacked such a contribution.

The sequencing of chapters and their internal cohesion is clear, very well planned and structured. Every chapter begins with a short summary of what has been explained so far and how it is linked to what follows. When presenting different research approaches, the authors always underline the points that the approaches have in common. They also clearly state which information is the most important to retain and suggest the fields in which there is potential for future research. This makes this textbook an extremely accessible read for students. Each chapter also offers suggestions for additional reading and a list of comprehension and application questions, which will spark reflection and eventually guide students towards their first empirical investigations.

The authors have successfully met their goals of offering ''an appropriate and accessible text for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes'' (p. xx), while providing ''a unified account of research on social factors in second language acquisition'' (pp. xix) and ''a current, detailed account of the most recent research in the field of second language sociolinguistics'' (p. xx). The useful suggestions for teachers included in Chapters Nine and Ten make this book a bridge between not only sociolinguistics and second language acquisition, but also research and teaching.
Valeria Buttini-Bailey is currently lecturer and postDoc in Italian linguistics at the University of Basel. Her research interests lie in the fields of applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, text linguistic, and syntax. She also teaches Italian as a second language at the University of Zurich.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9780415529488
Pages: 320
Prices: U.S. $ 49.95
Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415529471
Pages: 320
Prices: U.S. $ 135.00