Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2003 15:17:37 -0600 From: Julie Bruch Subject: Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students
Stockwell, Peter (2002) Sociolinguistics: A Resource Book for Students, Routledge, Routledge English Language Introductions.
Julie Bruch, Mesa State College
This sociolinguistics text, which is part of a series intended for use in introductory undergraduate courses, is organized into four clearly articulated sections. Section A "Introduction" contains brief introductions to ten common concepts included in sociolinguistic studies. Section B "Development" re-examines each of the ten concepts (and four additional concepts) by presenting recent studies done by the author's own students and a list of further readings for each area. Section C "Exploration" provides practice in thinking about the ten concepts through authentic language data and also includes related questions, activities and exercises which engage students in constructing their own understanding of sociolinguistics. Section D "Extension" contains readings related to each of the previously covered concepts by representative experts in the field and lists of ideas for further investigation for each topic.
The material is made readily accessible by means of a cross-referenced table at the beginning of the book. The organization of the book allows for various types of use. For example, the book can be read "vertically," starting with an introduction to all concepts and then reading straight through to add layers of depth and understanding to the field as a whole, or it can be read "horizontally," exploring one concept at a time by reading the pertinent part in each of the four sections before going back to explore another concept.
The concepts chosen for inclusion in this text include: 1) general information about studying sociolinguistics, 2) dialects, 3) register, 4) multilingualism, 5) social class and language, 6) prestige/standard varieties, 7) gender and language, 8) pidgins and Creoles, 9) World Englishes and 10) politeness.
Stockwell's text can be recommended on a number of levels, namely, the clarity of its organization, the accessibility of its content and the balance it achieves in its four sections. These four sections (explanation, studies done by undergraduate peers, illustrative language data and key articles by significant researchers in the field) all lend it an air of refreshing usability. The "Further readings" listed after each concept in Section B together with the "Issues to consider" after each concept in Section D will be helpful in guiding students to carry out more extensive thought and research on each topic. In fact, exemplifying and instigating student research seem to be the overarching goals of the book. One further note is that although the book is written from the British English perspective (especially discussions of accent, dialect, and prestige forms, readers who have little familiarity with British English will find it relevant and easy to understand. Language data and articles from other varieties of English as well as other languages abound.
I feel the book would be most appropriate for lower division undergraduate courses in that the scope and depth of the information contained is intentionally limited in order to help students get a feel for sociolinguistics without trying to take them deeply into the subject. The ten core concepts are introduced in user-friendly form; however, other equally relevant concepts which are normally considered part of the core of sociolinguistic study, are omitted.
I would describe the treatment of the ten concepts as "light" due to the brevity of discussion and examples. For example, in the discussion on ethnicity and multilingualism, the key terms introduced to students in the space of two and a half pages include ethnicity, code- switching, multilingualism and diglossia. Further development of this broad topic is realized through a three-page report of a student project on code switching by a fellow German student. In the exploration section, we find a one-page article on whether Mandarin or Cantonese is the "real Chinese" and another one-page transcript from a Hong Kong Internet chat-room showing code switching. The final extension section contains a five-page article discussing language choices made by bilinguals. It would have been helpful to see more in-depth discussion on the subject directed toward such related areas as language and personal identity and issues of bilingual education. While this level of coverage may be appropriate for the purposes of the author, I wonder if the treatment is a bit too superficial.
There are several features of the text that I feel could be improved. First, I was led to wonder what type of students the author typically works with as he dedicates paragraphs in both Sections A and D to instructing students on such basics as how to read critically ("I encourage them to 'read with a pencil,'") (26, 107) and how to go about choosing a topic for study ("make sure that the thing you want to investigate is a credible area for investigation")(2).
He also seems to be instructing teachers of the course in this area. He discusses how to develop skills in academic writing ("insist upon accurate and thorough referencing of all material read for the study") and adds that students "should also be encouraged to apply . . . skeptical rigor to their own draft work" (27). These are all important academic and research skills, but they are amply covered in other introductory university courses, and I feel that such reminders might better be left to the discretion of instructors, rather than being an integral part of this sociolinguistics text.
Another aspect of the text that I felt uncomfortable with was the inclusion of the four additional concepts in Sections B and C, which are not paralleled in Sections A and D. (They are: language change, language and education, discourse, and language and ideology.) This asymmetry is left unexplained, and it left me wishing the author had filled the gaps, omitted the four partially covered concepts, or at least explained to the reader why these four concepts are not covered in the introduction and extension sections.
The aim of Section A is to introduce students to the ten concepts of sociolinguistics mentioned above. This section is brief, to the point and easy to understand. There is a presumption right from page one that students will be collecting and examining sociolinguistic data on their own. It might have strengthened the book if the author had spent more time discussing the foundations of sociolinguistics, enamoring students of the field and presenting rationale for why students would want to do such studies before immediately suggesting that students start planning their own investigations. Nevertheless, planting the idea in students' minds right from the beginning that they can do valuable research is laudable, and this section efficiently and effectively equips students with the key vocabulary and notions required for beginning to understand the study of language and society.
Section B (development) enters into reports of the author's own undergraduate students' papers, with the intent of motivating readers to "have confidence in (their) own skills and thinking" (26). The discussion of students' work is indeed a valuable model for readers of this text. The dual goals of developing understanding of the concepts and providing samples of work that readers might emulate are achieved. An interesting variety in the types of studies reported in this section demonstrates the author's concern with encouraging valid and relevant student research. Some of these are: replications of classical studies to evaluate change over time (including Gile's classic 1970 study of reactions to accent and Hewitt's 1986 study of the influence of Creoles on English), corpus analysis in order to investigate the use of euphemism and register, studies employing direct participant observation and transcription to analyze code-switching, genderlects and social networks, discourse analysis to evaluate changes in prestige forms of language and ideology expressed linguistically, and exploratory essays on New Englishes and language planning. Readers of this text who are looking for research ideas will be amply rewarded. The references for further reading in Section B are quite helpful and include classics by such authors as Trudgill, Chilton, Fairclough, Fishman, Gumperz, Hymes, Labov, Bickerton, Tannen, Kachru, and Brown and Levinson.
Section C (exploration) begins with several pages of practice in critical thinking skills. Although the rationale for inclusion of this material is not specified, I presume that it is to help students develop the skills needed to avoid using faulty logic in the examination of their own data. Once again, it seems that this type of content is covered in other introductory university level courses, and this space could have been better used by providing more specific sociolinguistics discussion.
After the critical thinking exercises, there are excerpts of language data that include: a Cockney lullaby (for dialect analysis), writing samples from medical personnel (to exemplify register and style), a transcript from an Internet chat room in Hong Kong (as a sample of code- switching), a literal translation back into English of an interview with Madonna that had taken place in Hungary and was published in Hungarian (the intent was to exemplify sociological variation), descriptions of linguistic minorities in Europe (to encourage discussion of prestige forms and issues of linguistic identity), transcripts of women's and men's speech (for gender analysis), samples from Tok Pisin (for analysis of a Creole), samples of English from Indian and Japanese newspapers (for analysis of variation in world Englishes), and samples of deviations from expected norms in conversation (for analysis of conversational politeness).
At the end of this section are additional language data including: an exercise in identifying non-standard English, a comparison of essays written by youth of varying educational backgrounds, an exercise in comparing E- discourse to traditional written discourse, and an analysis of formal business letters to weed out the hidden ideologies expressed in their language.
Taken as a whole, this collection of data and related exercises and questions will help further students' thinking on the topics. However, several of the individual pieces need improvement. For example, the Hong Kong chat room data is difficult to understand, the Madonna piece reveals translation issues rather than social variables, and the author's instructions to try to translate the Tok Pisin sample into English are inadequate for analyzing possible parallels between the Creole and the standard.
The readings in Section D (extension) are intended, among other things, to familiarize students with "current research areas." However, the readings, ranging from 1987 to 1998, lack real currency, and the year of publication of the Schegloff and Sacks article on conversational closings reprinted from "Semiotica" is omitted. Another problem with this collection of articles is the somewhat weak connection they have with the previous sections. There seems to be a disjunction between the focus of the first three sections and the focus of this last section. The opening article discusses the standardization movement during the Middle English period. This is interesting material, but it seems a strange choice when there is plenty of material available on current issues of language change and standardization. The following article on foreign accents in the United States is also relevant, but its emphasis on demographics rather than on language is a concern. The article that was intended to correspond to previous sections on style and register focuses mainly on ideology. The article corresponding to previous discussions of social class consists of maxims which researchers should follow in order to perform "democratic research." The following article by Milroy is supposed to parallel the previous sections on language and prestige, but its focus is on sound change, a rather narrow part of this topic. Next, there are three articles which all have sound relevance to the previous discussions. First is an analysis of narratives in New Zealand corresponding to the concept of language and gender. This is followed by a Wardhaugh article reprinted from Wardhaugh's own Introduction to Sociolinguistics on the origins of pidgins and Creoles. Kachru's 1987 article related to this text's discussion of "New Englishes" is next. Although it is very relevant, there have been significant works published on world Englishes in the ensuing twenty-five years that may be more up-to-date. The final article, intended to correspond to the previous sections on politeness, is limited to a discussion of conversational closings. Overall, in Section D of this book, since only one article on each concept is included, I think the choice of articles could be reconsidered.
In spite of some of the faults pointed out, this text is stimulating and will prove valuable for those whose priority in teaching undergraduate courses is to encourage students to engage in original research even at the introductory level.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Julie Bruch teaches Linguistic Awareness and History of the English Language at Mesa State College. She is interested in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic comparisons, especially in the area of politeness. Other interests include language acquisition theory and varieties of English.