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The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics
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Book description

The most comprehensive overview available, this Handbook is an essential guide to sociolinguistics today. Reflecting the breadth of research in the field, it surveys a range of topics and approaches in the study of language variation and use in society. As well as linguistic perspectives, the handbook includes insights from anthropology, social psychology, the study of discourse and power, conversation analysis, theories of style and styling, language contact and applied sociolinguistics. Language practices seem to have reached new levels since the communications revolution of the late twentieth century. At the same time face-to-face communication is still the main force of language identity, even if social and peer networks of the traditional face-to-face nature are facing stiff competition of the Facebook-to-Facebook sort. The most authoritative guide to the state of the field, this handbook shows that sociolinguistics provides us with the best tools for understanding our unfolding evolution as social beings.


‘Offers breadth, depth and up-to-date insight.'

David Britain - University of Bern

'Mesthrie has succeeded in assembling an impressive list of contributors who are leading scholars in their respective subfields. Many chapters are written by authors who have themselves either edited handbooks or other survey volumes on their topic (Duranti on linguistic anthropology, Singler and Kouwenberg on Pidgins and Creoles, Tollefson on language policy and planning) or who have authored introductory monographs (Bayley and Lucas on sign languages, Blommaert on discourse and pragmatics, Coupland on style, Eades on sociolinguistics and the law, Fought on ethnicity, Muysken on code-switching, Schneider on World Englishes).'

Philipp Sebastian Angermeyer Source: Journal of Sociolinguistics

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  • 8 - Pragmatics and discourse
    pp 122-137
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    This chapter discusses the inspection of the relevance of language to power and social diversity. It explores the elastic impact of power on the social life of living languages. Sociolinguists and historical linguists have demonstrated that linguistic evolution has been shaped by many forces, including political circumstances that are not egalitarian. Einar Haugen promoted the study of language within its ecological context. Some critics of quantitative variationist sociolinguistics have noted that scholars who classify speakers based on pre-ordained social categories, like race, may miss important nuances in linguistic behavior that defy easy circumstantial classification. Hymes affirmed that communicative events demand a high degree of communicative competence as related to language usage throughout the world. William Labov's study of the social stratification of English speakers in New York City is illustrative of urban linguistic stratification. The majority of speech communities throughout the world set the indigenous standard linguistic norms.
  • 9 - The sociolinguistics of style
    pp 138-156
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    This chapter conceptualizes the field of linguistic anthropology in terms of one general criterion: ontological commitment. Linguistic anthropologists share some core ideas about a small set of essential properties of language, all of which are centered upon one basic assumption that language is a non-neutral medium. The ways in which this basic assumption has been interpreted and transformed into particular research projects gives linguistic anthropology its unique identity within the social sciences and the humanities. The chapter focuses on three essential properties of language that are assumed by linguistic anthropologists: language is a code for representing experience, language is a form of social organization, and language is a system of differentiation. Boas' discussion of the influence of language on the ability of an individual to hear subtle differences in the sounds of another language is the explicit statement of the ontological commitment to thinking of language as a non-neutral medium.
  • 10 - Language, social class, and status
    pp 159-185
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    The oral-written contrast has roots in both cultural psychology and anthropology. The contrast between oral and written language has proved to be especially productive in educational linguistics, particularly for understanding the enormous task that speakers face as they become fully literate in their first language. Written texts differ from oral discourse in numerous dimensions that reflect both the real-world contexts of language production and comprehension and the conventions that have become associated with particular written and spoken genres over time. Communicative goals of speakers and writers in relation to their audience are broadly similar across genres and modalities: the task of securing the interactant's commitment, interest, and uptake is an overriding concern in the production of even prototypically written register texts like academic articles. The influence of written language on oral communication comes through children's exposure to new words and grammatical structures in written text.
  • 11 - Language and region
    pp 186-202
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    The sociolinguistics of sign languages includes the study of regional and social variation, bi- and multilingualism and language contact phenomena, language attitudes, discourse analysis, and language policy and planning. Sign languages exhibit both regional and social variation. Phonological variation can be seen in the production of the component parts of signs such as handshape, location, palm orientation, number of articulators, non-manual signals, and segmental structure. Deaf communities contain examples of many types of bilingualism. The most crucial language attitudes are those that pertain to the very status of sign languages as viable linguistic systems. The discourse of natural sign languages is structured and subject to sociolinguistic description, and there are as many discourse genres in sign languages: conversations, narratives, lectures, sermons. The legal recognition of sign languages has increased in many countries and the use of sign languages has expanded in many domains.
  • 13 - Language, gender, and sexuality
    pp 218-237
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    This chapter provides an overview of approaches to conversation, and outlines key themes and methods of research. It briefly sketches out three approaches to conversational discourse in the Goffmanian tradition: conversation analysis, the ethnography of communication, and interactional sociolinguistics. The chapter presents major research themes in the field: the exploration of conversation as a structured and emergent phenomenon, as a collaborative endeavor, as an interpersonal and social ritual, as a cultural phenomenon, and as a locus of action. Conversation analysis (CA) investigates conversational structure and takes an interest in exploring how unfolding conversational structure (re)creates social organization. Researchers of conversational discourse must make fundamental choices at every step of the data collection and analysis processes. CA has developed a very detailed transcription system as a means of exploring how interlocutors create discourse and their social worlds turn-by-turn in talk.
  • 14 - Language and ethnicity
    pp 238-258
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    This chapter first engages in a discussion of the integrative effect of pragmatics in the field of discourse. It discusses critical discourse analysis (CDA) and multi-modal discourse analysis (MDA), and examines the way in which both approaches to discourse can be seen as the outcome of a long pragmatic process. The chapter then turns to the question of the integration of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. The textual and linguistic bias of mainstream discourse analysis is strongly present in CDA. Slembrouck identifies profound influence on CDA: British cultural studies. The purpose of CDA is to analyze opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language. Multi-modal analysis expands the range of data to include material processes in spoken communication, such as gesture, movement in space, spatial organization, dress and body posture.
  • 16 - Pidgins and creoles
    pp 283-300
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    This chapter discusses sociolinguistic divisions associated with differences in social prestige, wealth, and power. Class divisions are based on status and power in a society. The linguistic data illuminates the structure of society, and identifies social divisions and points of conflict and convergence. The four central problems on language and class are the definition of class, the description of language use, the explanation of language change, and the construction of linguistic theory. One of the most influential thinkers on the subject of social class is Karl Marx. In Marx's view, the basic dynamic of human history is conflict between classes. The basic difference Bernstein sees between social classes is the range of codes they command: working-class people tend to be confined to the restricted code, whereas middleclass speakers are also versatile in using an elaborated code. The problem for linguistic theory is the variation in the meaning systems of language.

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