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Some Definitions and Divisions of Sociolinguistics

W. Labov (1966:136-7), Social Stratification of English in NYC:

          "We can take 2 different routes to the description of social variation in language. ...We can consider various sections of the population, and determine the values of the linguistic variables for each group... college-trained professionals... [or] longshoremen. The alternate approach is to chart the overall distribution of the variables themselves and then ask, for certain values of each variable, What are the characteristics of the people who talk this way? ..[This] will tell us what group membership we can expect from a person who talks in a certain manner.

          "The first approach, through social groups, seems more fundamental and more closely tied to the genesis of linguistic differentiation.. When we have finished this type of analysis, we may turn to the second approach.. [Thus] we will be able to avoid any error which would arise in assuming that a group of people who speak alike is a fundamental unit of social behavior."


P. Trudgill (1974: 32), Sociolinguistics:

          "Sociolinguistics.. is that part of linguistics which is concerned with language as a social and cultural phenomenon. It investigates the field of language and society & has close connections with the social sciences, especially social psychology, anthropology, human geography and sociology."


Peter Trudgill (1983: 2-5), On Dialect:

            [Trudgill uses 'language and society' as the broadest term, and distinguishes 3 types of study:]

1.      "First, those where the objectives are purely linguistic;

2.      Second, those where they are partly linguistic and partly sociological; and

3.      Third, those where the objectives are wholly sociological.

"Studies of [the first] type are based on empirical work on language as it is spoken in its social context, and are intended to answer questions and deal with topics of central interest to linguistics... the term ‘sociolinguistics’ [here]... is being used principally to refer to a methodology: sociolinguistics as a way of doing linguistics.

          "The 2nd category... includes [areas] such as: sociology of language; the social psychology of language; anthropological linguistics; the ethnography of speaking; & [interactional] discourse analysis.

          "The third category consists of studies... [like] ethno-methodological studies of conversational interaction... where language data is being employed to tell us, not about language but only about society... [This] is fairly obviously not linguistics, and therefore not sociolinguistics."[emphasis added]


Dell Hymes, Foreword to Gillian Sankoff (1980: x-xi), The Social Life of Language:

          "An integration of linguistics and anthropology, of urban ethnography and cross-cultural ethnology, is taken for granted... The congeries of interests that coalesced in the 1960s around the goal of a sustained social study of language have tended to separate out again. In arguing for the social study of language, each had its specific opponent, its specific disciplinary world to conquer. For some, it was conventional sociology, for some conventional linguistics, for others philosophy, for still others anthropology... the impulse to band together depended on a sense of marginality in a home discipline. Achieved legitimacy has weakened the impulse. Old methodological fault lines tend to prevail – logic, intuition, transcripts, cultural ethnography, survey and questionnaire, and the like...

          "[Sankoff's work] is micro-evolutionary in both its model of the human actor & its contextualization of language... People are not tacitly reduced to what phenomenological sociologist Harold Garfinkel has called ‘cultural dopes’, actors who can do only what cultural roles provide. Yet the existence of indeterminacy, the fact that behavior and meaning can be newly interpreted and constituted with each situation, does not lead to a view of actors whose action is an unchartable miasma... What people do is variable according to situation, interest, need, yet intelligible to themselves and others in terms of recurrent patterns... The ingredients required for an adequate analysis of the social life of language in the modern world are[:] technical linguistics, quantitative and mathematical technique, ethnographic inquiry, ethnohistorical perspective."


Wm. Downes (1984: 15), Language and Society:

          "Sociolinguistics is that branch of linguistics which studies just those properties of language and languages which REQUIRE reference to social, including contextual, factors in their explanation."


Janet Holmes (1992, 16), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics:

          "The sociolinguist’s aim is to move towards a theory which provides a motivated account of the way language is used in a community, and of the choices people make when they use language."


Suzanne Romaine (1994, vii-ix), Language in Society:

          "Some distinguish between theoretical and applied sociolinguistics. The former is concerned with formal models and methods for analysing the structure of speech communities and speech varieties, and providing a general acount of communicative competence. Applied sociolinguistics deals with the social and political implications of fundamental inequalities in language use in various areas of public life, e.g. school, courts, etc. ... [In another subdivision:] Macro-sociolinguistics takes society as its starting-point and deals with language as a pivotal factor in the organization of communities. Micro-sociolinguistics begins with language and treats social forces as essential factors influencing the structure of languages. [SR refers this division to Fasold's Sociolinguistics of Society vs. Sociolinguistics of Language]… This [is] an artificial and arbitrary division of labor, which leads to a fruitless reductionism... The large-scale socio-political issues typically addressed by the sociology of language... and the forms and uses of language on a small scale dealt with by sociolinguistics... are manifestations of similar principles, albeit operating on different levels. Variability is inherent in human behavior."


J. K. Chambers (1995, 203), Sociolinguistic Theory:

          "Upon observing variability, we seek its social correlates. What is the purpose of this variation? What do its variants symbolize? … [These] are the central questions of sociolinguistics."


Ronald Wardhaugh (1998, 10-11), Sociolinguistics: An Introduction:

          "[1] Social structure may either influence or determine linguistic structure and/or behavior… [2] Linguistic structure and/or behavior may either influence or determine social structure [Whorf, Bernstein]… [3] The influence is bi-directional: language and society may influence each other… [4] There is no relationship at all between linguistic structure and social structure… each is independent of the other… [4a] Although there might be some such relationship, present attempts to characterize it are essentially premature… this view appears to be the one that Chomsky holds."


Florian Coulmas (1997), Handbook of Sociolinguistics "Introduction" (1-11)

The primary concern of sociolinguistic scholarship is to study correlations between language use and social structure… It attempts to establish causal links between language and society, [asking] what language contributes to making community possible & how communities shape their languages by using them… [It seeks] a better understanding of language as a necessary condition and product of social life… Linguistic theory is… a theory about language without human beings.


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