December 2007 -- Volume 11, Number 3

 

The Routledge Companion to Sociolinguistics

Author: Carmen Llamas, Louise Mullany and Peter Stockwell, Eds. (2007)  
Publisher: Abingdon, UK: Routledge
PagesISBNPrice
Pp. xix + 271 ISBN 978-0-415-33850-9 (paper) £ 14.99 GBP

This Companion to Sociolinguistics is a useful reference book for anyone interested in language variation and change, from the layman who first approaches linguistic matters to the more advanced sociolinguist. What sociolinguists investigate in the 21st century has come to embrace phenomena inextricably intertwined with how our complex society has evolved. The volume thus reflects a widening of interests from traditional philological and dialectological concerns to macro-sociolinguistic themes that view language variation as a reflection of or reaction to political, ideological and educational policies.

The three editors have organized their collection of contributor articles into two parts: the first is further subdivided into five sections, each of which comprises several articles covering the main topics in sociolinguistics; the second consists of a very practical glossary of terms, where the entries are explained and reference made to the one or more chapters in the book where the subject is more specifically dealt with. The book closes with a list of references and an index. As the authors themselves explain in their preface (p. xvii), the process of compiling a companion and arranging the chapters under broad titles necessarily entails choosing and prioritizing some topics. Furthermore, several themes are covered in different chapters. This is indeed one of the strengths of the Companion rather than a shortcoming, as linguistic phenomena are often multifaceted and better described from a variety of perspectives. All the chapters contain cross-references that allow direct, speedy access to related topics and facilitate comprehensive understanding of a topic. So, for example, chapter 10, which deals with "Speech communities", is closely linked to chapters 6, 11, 12 and 16 which are respectively about "Social class", "Style and the linguistic repertoire", "Language and identity" and "The ideology of standard language".

Implications of these issues are addressed in Chapters 19 and 20, the former of which focuses on language policy in formal educational contexts. Examples are drawn from language programs in the U.S. for African American children speaking African American Vernacular English and for Native American children, both of which rest on the tenet that language difference is not to be felt as a deficit at school. Chapter 20 covers the role of language policy and language planning in nation-building first, and in the changing sociopolitical settings afterwards. For example, new directions in language policy and language planning (LPLP) research are often associated as both are concerned with strategies for language acquisition in favor of minor language maintenance.

The book is a very helpful resource for anyone interested in the ways in which language is connected with society. The chapters, thematically congruous and arranged in a logical sequence though easily accessed independently, are very rich in examples and stimulating references to phenomena embedded in contemporary society. I'll leave you with a couple that stand out. The first, exemplifying television role's in spreading certain linguistic traits, is the adoption of TH fronting (an accent feature in which 'th' is pronounced either as /f/ or /v/) by Glaswegian adolescents who watched the popular soap EastEnders, set in London. A second sociolinguistic happening, illustrating the evolving inter-relationship of language and gender, the latter now seen as a multi-layered phenomenon that interacts with race, class and age, is the linguistic habits of non-hegemonic, non-heterosexual groups—in common parlance, lesbians, gays and the gender-fluid.

Reference

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Silvia Bruti
University of Pisa, Italy
<s.brutiangl.unipi.it>

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