Integrated perspectives on sociolinguistics

Integrated perspectives on sociolinguistics

Available online at Linguistics and Education 19 (2008) 406–407 Book review Integrated perspectives on sociolinguistics Introd...

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Available online at

Linguistics and Education 19 (2008) 406–407

Book review Integrated perspectives on sociolinguistics Introducing Sociolinguistics, M. Meyerhoff. Routledge, New York (2006). pp. xxiii + 320, ISBN: 0-415-39948-3 Miriam Meyerhoff’s Introducing Sociolinguistics is a welcome addition to the spectrum of introductory sociolinguistics textbooks. The book, written in a highly accessible style yet with careful attention to the complexity of the subject matter, includes twelve chapters in which thematic areas are explored through integrated discussion of key sociolinguistic concepts: “Introduction” (chapter 1), “Variation and Language” (chapter 2), “Variation and Style” (chapter 3), “Language Attitudes” (chapter 4), “Being Polite as a Variable in Speech’ (chapter 5), “Multilingualism and Language Choice” (chapter 6), “Real Time and Apparent Time” (chapter 7), “Social Class” (chapter 8), “Social Networks and Communities of Practice” (chapter 9), “Gender” (chapter 10), “Language Contact” (chapter 11), and “Looking Back and Looking Ahead” (chapter 12). Across these thematically organized chapters, Meyerhoff succeeds in presenting a rather balanced picture of theoretical and methodological orientations. Each chapter clearly illustrates through discerning syntheses of major research findings and well chosen case study examples that “sociolinguists use a range of methods to analyse patterns of language in use and attitudes towards language in use” (p. 1). The author’s presentation of gender (chapter 10), for example, includes discussion about topics ranging from gender and sociolinguistic variables to the discursive (re)construction of gendered identities, with reference to work by a diverse set of scholars such as Judith Butler, Penelope Eckert, and William Labov. Similarly, in chapter 9, Meyerhoff explains how the concepts of social networks and communities of practice, respectively, are useful to understanding patterns of language use in social groups. The inclusion of communities of practice is especially nice to see since it is a concept that receives comparatively less, if any, attention in other introductory sociolinguistics textbooks (e.g., Holmes, 2001; Mesthrie, Swann, Deumert, & Leap, 2000; Wardhaugh, 2002). Chapter 8 (“Social Class”), as another example, demonstrates the application of both variationist and historical analyses of stratification. Both within and across chapters, Meyerhoff characterizes dimensions of sociolinguistic inquiry as interconnected along continua of social life. Rather than falling back on micro–macro dichotomies, the author consistently portrays individual actions as intimately related to societal processes. For example, chapters on style (chapter 3), language attitudes (chapter 4), politeness (chapter 5), and multilingualism (chapter 6) explore how interpersonal interaction and individual beliefs about languages both shape and are shaped by broader social values and expectations. Chapter 6 typifies Meyerhoff’s multi-layered approach by incorporating aspects of societal and individual multilingualism within a single chapter. Here she adeptly integrates discussion of topics such as language policy and politics, ethnolinguistic vitality, diglossia, and code switching. Despite the thorough treatment and integration of topics, there are a few missing elements that would have made this textbook even stronger in its coverage. The subject of language policy and planning (LPP) is situated within the broader discussion of multilingualism in chapter 6. Meyerhoff addresses basic aspects of LPP, illustrated with useful examples about language rights in the contexts of South Africa and Vanuatu, in this chapter; however, a stand-alone chapter about this topic, as other introductory sociolinguistics textbooks include (e.g., Holmes, 2001; Mesthrie et al., 2000; Wardhaugh, 2002), would have permitted greater attention to the intricacies of a wide range of LPP issues. The growing area of the sociolinguistics of sign languages (e.g., Lucas, 2001; Lucas, Bayley, & Valli, 2001; cf. Mesthrie et al., 2000: pp. 419–448) receives relatively little attention, with some mention of Nicaraguan Sign Language in relation to language contact (pp. 248–249). Another missing area is critical sociolinguistics. Although not often included 0898-5898/$ – see front matter © 2008 Published by Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.linged.2008.09.003

Book review


in introductory sociolinguistics textbooks (see Mesthrie et al., 2000 for an exception), it might have fit well here, considering the broad theoretical and methodological tack Meyerhoff generally takes throughout the book. Critical sociolinguistics would have added further dimension to chapter 8 (“Social Class”), in particular. These quibbles aside, this is an excellent introductory textbook. In addition to the content itself, a number of textual features make the book especially lively, engaging, and pedagogically useful. Each chapter is peppered with sidebar definitions as well as textboxes that include trivia, connections to additional theoretical information, and questions for reflection. These features all make the book user-friendly for readers who are new to the field. The sidebar definitions, which are also collected into a glossary for ease of reference, provide readers with visually salient summaries of key concepts that facilitate comprehension of the main text. The text boxes, in turn, are interspersed frequently in the chapters at strategic locations to help the reader pause and reflect on the content. In all, Meyerhoff skillfully presents core principles of sociolinguistics in concise and cogent prose well suited for a novice reader. Instructors wishing to use it for a course in educational sociolinguistics, though, would need to supplement it with additional readings since this text is clearly designed for a more general audience (cf. McKay & Hornberger, 1996). For its intended reader, the book is splendid—well worth considering for an introductory course. References Holmes, J. (2001). An introduction to sociolinguistics (2nd ed.). Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited. Lucas, C. (Ed.). (2001). The sociolinguistics of sign languages. New York: Cambridge University Press. Lucas, C., Bayley, R., & Valli, C. (2001). Sociolinguistic variation in American sign language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. McKay, S. L., & Hornberger, N. H. (Eds.). (1996). Sociolinguistics and language teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press. Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A., & Leap, W. L. (2000). Introducing sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Wardhaugh, R. (2002). An introduction to sociolinguistics (4th ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Francis M. Hult Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, University of Texas at San Antonio, One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, TX 78249, United States E-mail address: [email protected]