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Review of  Globalising Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: Maria Assunta Ciardullo
Book Title: Globalising Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Dick Smakman Patrick Heinrich
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Yupik, Central
Creole English, Jamaican
Sami, Northern
Issue Number: 27.1824

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Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote


“Globalising Sociolinguistics: Challenging and Expanding Theory” is a volume edited by Dick Smakman and Patrick Heinrich containing essays that deal with the sociolinguistic issues of less developed, developing, and developed countries. The volume begins with a simple introduction, and continues with a well-structured list of contents, a list of figures, a list of tables, some notes on contributors, the preface, acknowledgements, a very useful map concerning the places discussed, some conclusive remarks, and a final index.

The first section, ““Tings change, all tings change: The changing face of sociolinguistics with a global perspective”, written by Miriam Meyerhoff and James N. Stanford, is a highly theoretical paper that works as an introduction to the field of sociolinguistics, making it very useful for readers new to the field. It starts by mentioning seminal works (Weinrich et al. 1968, Gumperz, 1962, 1964, Labov 1969) and stresses the fact that sociolinguistics has changed its epistemological principles due to social (demographic, urbanistic, etc.) changes. Due to its kaleidoscopic nature, the aim and the macro-areas of the volume are well-explained in this introductory paper. They are the multilingual reality of people’s experience, the relationship between standard languages, the concept of standard language itself and vernaculars, the (socio-)linguistic role of native speakers, the theoretical explication of what the third sociolinguistic wave truly is and, lastly, the importance of cross-cultural collaboration as a tool for globalizing sociolinguistics. These elements are at the core of the essays contained in this volume.

The second section in the introduction entitled “The westernising mechanisms in sociolinguistics” and written by Dick Smakman describes the lack of theoretical laziness in respects of non-Western models upon which more recent sociolinguistic studies could be modeled. The discipline, whose golden age started in the 1960s, has offered only Western perspectives most of the time. Coulmas (2005, pp. 19-20) showed how Western sociolinguistic methodologies are and how dangerous applying them to other realities is. The fact that many researchers are not from the places they describe in their studies can have both negative and positive effects. At first glance, it can be paradoxical because they cannot rely on a deep knowledge of the place and because they may apply their own cultural norms to sociolinguistic realities different from the areas in which they were born but their biographies can unveil some advantages as well by offering for example a more objective and naïve perspective. These non-Western studies, unfortunately, did not have much of an effect on mainstream theory for many reasons. First of all, the language of academia and the internet is effectively a Western one, English, most of the time; secondly, all of the essays written about non-Western sociolinguistic loci are not available as traditional and Western Sociolinguistics papers are. There is definitely the need of establishing free-access journals that can hail native authors, their publications, and eventual collaborations with Western researchers.

The first section, Part I, introduces places that belong to the low or intermediate positions of the Human Development Index. They are characterized by a deep multilingualism and people who speak more than a language and, especially in the areas of the Sub-Sahara region, share a recent colonial past. This section opens with the essay “‘Ala! Kumbe? Oh my! Is it so?’ Multilingualism controversies in East Africa”, written by Sandra Nekesa Barasa. It deals with places in East Africa such as Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. It begins with an historical perspective, mentioning German missionaries who went there in the 18th century to bring Western values to the natives via Bible translation and vocabulary, and then vividly explores multilingualism and its causes.

“A sociolinguistic mosaic of West Africa: Challenges and prospects”, written by Jemima Asabea Anderson and Gladys Nyarko Ansah, is the following paper. It deals with the 15 countries that compose ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). West Africa is one of the most ethnolinguistically diverse areas in the world because, according to Ethnologue, around 890 languages coexist within ECOWAS borders. Many of the sociolinguistic phenomena that happen there are described in this chapter, including code-switching, creation of pidgins and creoles, and language shift.

“Southeastern Asia: Diglossia and politeness in a multilingual context” is the third essay of the section and was written by Aone von Engelenhoven and Maaike van Naerssen. As the first part of the title suggests, it offers a sociolinguistic profile of South China and East India. These territories were subjected to Western colonisation (except for Thailand), which resulted in strong cultural consequences. In this area, there are four different language families (Austronesian, Austroasiatic, Tai and Sino-Tibetan) to which centuries of colonisation have added many linguistic problems. A pragmatic analysis is attempted, and the main result is that the Gricean model does not apply to this context. An interesting peculiarity is the attention given to the languages of the Philippines and East Timor; because they do not have a written tradition, they rely only on oral linguistic productions.

The sixth essay of the book, “Towards a distributed sociolinguistics of postcolonial multilingual societies: The case of Southern Africa” written by Rajend Mesthrie, deals with the sociolinguistic situation of South Africa. Southern African states are not represented by formal alliances (Cfr. previous examples mentioned) but the SADC (Southern African Development Community) is the one that best represents the corpus of this study. This area was explored in the 15th century and then colonized in the 17th century; these historical facts have lead to interesting linguistic outcomes. The main social causes are linked to issues of prestige, power, and socioeconomic classes.

The second part contains essays related to less developed countries, i.e. China, India, North Africa (so, an African sociolinguistic profile has been completed) and the Caribbean islands. These places are still dealing with the cultural effects of colonisation.

“Speech community and linguistic urbanization: Sociolinguistic theories developed in China”, written by Daming Xu, is the essay that opens this section. It deals with the sociolinguistic profile of the Chinese republic, in which a huge socio-economic growth took place over these years. Many studies have described this dynamic reality, both by applying old theories and developing new ones. Theory of Speech Community (TSU) and Theory of Linguistic Urbanization (TLU) have been proposed to analyze the use of Chinese language.

“Language variation and change: The Indian experience” was written by Shobha Satyanath and deals with intraspeaker variation and style shift. Social, religious, and stylistic factors influence language spoken in this area. Many studies on Indian speech communities in Cherukunnam (Kerala), Silchar (Assam), Calcutta (West Bengal), Delhi (Delhi), and Kohima (Nagaland) are discussed. It is shown that style shift is motivated by the non-vertical nature of the relationship between standard language and vernacular variants, and it is hypothesized that style shift happens only in vertical societies.

The ninth essay, “Gender in a North African setting: A sociolinguistic overview” was written by Reem Bassiouney and offers a theoretical overview about North African sociolinguistics. The North African linguistic profile is presented through considering three variables: gender, urbanisation, and the symbolic function of language. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria share Standard Arabic as the official language, but many occasions of diglossia occur as well. Standard Arabic is the language used by aristocracy and educated people, whereas other forms are used in soap operas, cartoons, and in conversations with family and friends. Many cases of code-switching between these varieties happen, and many interesting linguistic outcomes are presented.

The tenth article is “The Creole-speaking Caribbean: The architecture of language variation”, whose author is Hubert Devonish. It deals with the linguistic theories applied to the Creole-speaking Caribbean context and explains how varieties spoken overlap among themselves. Even if diglossia describes this area well by giving social purposes to specific varieties, Haiti was originally excluded by Hudson’s review of this linguistic phenomenon that he had published in a special issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (2002).

The third part, “Developed Countries”, deals with languages spoken in South America, Slavic countries, Japan, and in Mediterranean Europe.

“Class in the social labyrinth of South America”, written by Elisa Battisti and João Ignacio Pires Lucas, deals with the South American sociolinguistics. Historically, it has been the soil on which colonialism and, par consequence, many languages (mostly Spanish and Portuguese) developed. Class and connections to languages are investigated through an interdisciplinary dialogue between sociolinguistics and social sciences. At the end of the essay, Brazilian researchers highlight how strongly the level of education defines social classes, especially in the areas analyzed in this essay.

Marc L. Greenberg is the author of the following paper, “The Slavic area: Trajectories, borders, centres and peripheries in the Second World.” Far from the Western perspective, this essay briefly presents two case studies. The first deals with the rise and fall of Russian as language of the empire and as a mark of the non-Western world, and the second focuses on the Yugoslav project, a political entity coming from the ex Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

The thirteenth article of the book has the title of “The study of politeness and women’s language in Japan” and was authored by Patrick Heinrich. It presents all of the languages spoken in Japan; Standard Japanese is the dominant one, but other dialects are spoken as well. The application of a Western sociolinguistic perspective in Japan is deeply discussed.

“Positive politeness in the European Mediterranean: Sociolinguistic notions” is the fourteenth paper and written by Irene Cenni. The essay presents a list of all the Southern European countries close to the Mediterranean sea, discusses languages spoken within their borders, and investigates the pragmatic concept of politeness developed in these areas.

The fourth and last section is titled “Unstable multilingual communities” and describes five examples of multilingual and/or diglossic communities.

The first essay of this section, “Nivkh writing practices: Literacy and vitality in an endangered language”, was written by Hidetoshi Shiraishi and Bert Botma. Nivkh is a language spoken in the lower reaches of the Amur River and in the northern parts of Sakhalin Island, in the Russian Far East. It is usually considered a non-written language; however, publications and other works written in Nivkh are presented and analysed.

The next article, “The Jamaican language situation: A process, not a type”, was written by Hubert Devonish and Kadian Walters. It presents Jamaican diglossic situation with a Jamaican Creole predominance in coexistence with English, the ex colonizer’s language. The paper describes the deliberate use of these languages to represent specific social needs.

The seventeenth essay of the entire volume and the third of this section is called “Nutemllaq yugtun qaneryararput: Our very own way of speaking Yugtun in Alaska” and was written by Theresa Arevgaq John. As the subtitle suggests, it deals with Yugtun, the language spoken by Yup’ik, a community of speakers settled in the Toksook Bay in South Central Alaska, and explores its social subordination to English, the predominant language. To prevent its loss, many projects to revitalise the Yugtun language have been conducted including education, dancing, literature, and so on.

“Variation in North Saami” is the eighteenth essay, and its authors are Ante Aikio, Laura Arola, and Niina Kunnas. It discusses some issues about the sociolinguistic variation and change happening in North Saami, a Finno-Ugric language spoken in the North of Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Due to the lack of consistent research, this article provides a good overview of North Saami sociolinguistics.

The last essay of both this section and the entire volume is “Gaelic Scotland and Ireland: Issues of class and diglossia in an evolving social landscape”. It was written by Cassie Smith-Christmas and Tadhg Ó hlfearnáin and discusses many linguistic aspects related to social class and diglossia in Scottish and Irish Gaelic communities. This essay describes Scottish and Irish Gaelic sociolinguistics very precisely.


The volume “Globalising Sociolinguistics: Challenging and Expanding Theory” is an essential book for both students and researchers who are interested in sociolinguistics. The volume is well- organised, both in the paratextual and textual structure. In the paratext, there is a map of the places discussed, a list of contents, figures and other elements that assist the reader. Topics are deeply developed, and the style used by the authors is clear and easily understandable.

An important detail is represented by the biographic and academic profiles of the authors, which help readers have a wider knowledge about the researchers’ backgrounds and fields of interest.

The volume offers four thematic sub-sections that help the reader to find linguistic details linked to a specific area. The choice of splitting the nineteen essays into four sections has a clear aim: as stated in the Preface, the editors did not want to offer a geographical/regional perspective because it was too reductive and did not take into account all of the vivid cultural realities living within the same national borders. Additionally, they did not want to base the sociolinguistic analyses on a Western model, an evident outcome of the colonial history. The epistemological criterion upon which the subdivisions were made were essentially socio-economic. In fact, economics generally affects social differences and, par consequence, sociolinguistic outcomes. Linguistic areas were classified on the basis of the Human Development Index (, and it is possible to find also a logical geographical motivation. All of the places are presented from the furthest to the closest to the Western socio-economic model.

The most represented areas belong to the African and Asian continents. This is due to the great amount of sociolinguistic situations that coexist together and, at the same time, within their continental borders.

Another good aspect of the book is the presence of two introductory essays at the very beginning and the prosaic summary put to explain the content of each part in which the volume is divided. They introduce the reader to the topics and the different linguistic realities he/she is going to encounter.

To sum up, “Globalising Sociolinguistics: challenging and expanding theory” is a well-written book that contains essays that clearly describe languages spoken in areas that have now come to the fore thanks to their (socio-)linguistic vivacity. The volume is suitable for both students and researchers because its reading is not difficult even if the topics described here may be.


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Cardona, George and Dhanesh Jain (eds.). 2003. The Indo Aryan languages. London: Routledge.

Christie, Pauline. 2003. Language in Jamaica. Kingston: Arawak Publications.

Coulmas, Florian. 2005. Sociolinguistics: the study of speakers’ choices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cram, David. 1986. Patterns of English-Gaelic and Gaelic-English Code-Switching. Scottish Language 5: 126-30.

Dejan, Yves. 1993. An overview of the language situation in Haiti. International journal of Sociology of Language 102: 73-83.

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Weinrich, Uriel, William Labov and Marvin Herzog. 1968. Empirical foundations for a theory of Language change. In: Directions for Historical Linguistics. Winifred Lehmann and Yakov Malkiel (eds.), 95-188. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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Maria Assunta Ciardullo is a Ph.D. student in Linguistics at the University of Calabria and a visiting researcher in many English Universities. Her Ph.D. project is inscribed within the fields of Forensic Linguistics and Sociolinguistics, dealing with wiretapped voices - sociolinguistically pinpointed - and the ways in which they are transcribed. Her research interests include Forensic Linguistics, Forensic Phonetics, Gender Studies and Sociolinguistics.

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