An introduction to English sociolinguistics

An introduction to English sociolinguistics. By Graeme Trousdale. (Edinburgh textbooks on the English language.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 152. ISBN 9780748623259. $24.50.

Reviewed by Irene Theodoropoulou, Qatar University

This textbook introduces topics concerning formal and functional variation in English. The first chapter discusses the notion ‘English’ and argues for a social rather than a mental treatment of the term, while underscoring the different degrees of standardizability between languages and dialects and between spoken and written language. Ch. 2 considers how speakers of English varieties can be categorized and claims that the only stable boundaries among communities, networks, and individuals are social (socially unique speakers) and linguistic (linguistically unique knowledge of language).

Ch. 3 focuses on the role of English in two types of language planning, status planning, and corpus planning, in England, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and the European Union, and it illustrates how some factors (e.g. prestige, power) remain constant, while some others (e.g. sociopolitical circumstances) vary. Regional and social variation in contemporary English are taken up in Ch. 4. The author maintains that these two types of variation go hand in hand when it comes to the emergence of new, non-local, non-standard forms of the language. In Ch. 5, the author looks into change in English and, through the consideration of studies from urban and rural contexts, makes the claim that a change in a particular variety materializes when used by particular speakers in specific contexts for particular communicative purposes.

Ch. 6 offers an overview of English historical sociolinguistics, whereby demythologizing the idea of pure English by illustrating how English is a mongrel language in all its historical periods up to date. Ch. 7 is concerned with English language contact with other languages. Along with coverage of English-lexifier pidgins and creoles and code-switching, the chapter also discusses English as a global language. Ch. 8 discusses dialect contact in and beyond Britain and argues that heterogeneity of speech communities entails the diffuseness of linguistic forms in contact, while their cohesion leads to levelling and standardization, and thus to the reduction of linguistic variation. In Ch. 9, the possibility of explaining sociolinguistic variation in English using the modular approach and the usage-based model, namely through analytical tools drawn from theoretical linguistics, is discussed.

Finally, Ch. 10 summarizes the main themes covered in the book by highlighting two significant issues: (i) the arbitrariness of the form-function distinction in variation in English, and (ii) the challenging need to think about potential (analytical) ways to link the sociolinguistics of contemporary English-speaking societies with the sociolinguistic state of affairs of those in the past and the ways that varieties of English are used in diverse contexts.

Due to the repetitiveness of the concluding chapter, it may have been more fitting for Chs. 9 and 10 to be clustered together as a concluding discussion of how theoretical linguistics can inform the description and interpretation of the topics covered in the book. Overall, however, the book is very accessible and offers a brief and concise introduction to the sociolinguistics of English, which will appeal to students and scholars alike who are interested in the sociolinguistics of the English language.