In 1980, in this journal, Joshua Fishman presented the major theoretical issue in sociolinguistics as being the link between microsociolinguistic and macrosociolinguistic processes. In 1984 that is still the case, although the issue is receiving more explicit attention than it did four years ago.
There are two branches of sociolinguistics which approach this issue in different ways. These two branches are interactionist and variationist sociolinguistics. Interactionist sociolinguistics is principally interested in what language use can tell us about social processes, and therefore a central concern is the social meaning of language use. Variationist sociolinguistics is interested in accounting for linguistic variation and change, at least partly as a product of the social distribution of language varieties. It is, therefore, less concerned with meaning as process, and more concerned with the interaction of linguistic and social systems; in this view the significance of language is mainly symbolic. In this review, I will discuss the contributions of these branches to the problem of the relationship between microsociolinguistics and macrosociolinguistics, as well as the theoretical problems peculiar to each branch.