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Review of  Sociolinguistics, Second Edition


Reviewer: Julie Bruch
Book Title: Sociolinguistics, Second Edition
Book Author: Peter Stockwell
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 14.1692

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Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2003 15:17:37 -0600
From: Julie Bruch <jbruch@mesastate.edu>
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

OVERVIEW

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.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

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.

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ISBN-13: 9780415401265
Pages: 272
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