An introduction to sociolinguistics

An introduction to sociolinguistics. 5th edn. By Ronald Wardhaugh. (Blackwell textbooks in linguistics.) Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. 418. ISBN 140513559X. $43.07.

Reviewed by Jan Holeš, Palacký University

The new edition of this popular textbook offers comprehensive information on this very rapidly developing branch of linguistics. The subject matter is organized into four main parts that present four major sociolinguistic topics. After the introduction, which explains basic sociolinguistic notions, Part 1, ‘Language and communities’, examines some traditional language issues, such as the essential differences between a language and a dialect, and between regional and social dialects, presenting their main features. Wardhaugh focuses on pidgin and creole languages, provides definitions for them, and explains their distribution and hypotheses about their origin. Two other chapters look at such terms as codes, diglossia, bilingualism and multilingualism, code-switching, and speech communities.

In Part 2, ‘Inherent variety’, W deals with issues that have been often regarded as core sociolinguistic problems, in particular the problem of regional and social variation. He explains why and how a language changes. Based on several famous examples drawn from the history of sociolinguistics, the reader learns how such changes can be discovered, explored, and evaluated.

Part 3, ‘Words at work’, investigates the relationship between language and culture. In the first place, it describes the history and the current state of the so-called Whorfian hypothesis (or linguistic relativity hypothesis). Several chapters in this part are concerned with areas in which language and culture have been said to be related, such as kinship and color terminology and the domain of language taboo. This part also does not neglect expressions of solidarity and politeness, such as forms of address or the distinction between singular you’ and plural you’ (corresponding to the : "Times New Roman",&quottu – : "Times New Roman",&quotvous distinction in French).

Finally, Part 4, ‘Understanding and intervening’, acquaints the reader with gender issues, especially with differences between the use of a particular language by men and women. Using English usage as an example, the reader learns about the social and educational consequences of the use of a different language or a variety of a language. The last chapter focuses on language planning and contains an abundance of examples of well-known as well as lesser-known planning decisions adopted throughout the world.

Each chapter concludes with a discussion section, which stimulates further reflection on the matter and is usable by teachers as a source of various assignments, and a further reading section, which comments on main works in the field. In addition, the book contains an immensely rich bibliography, covering almost thirty pages, and a reliable index.

The text is complemented by a number of examples taken from widely known Indo-European languages as well as from more exotic languages, often offering highly interesting solutions to the theoretically described problems. The book is written in a clear and student-friendly language. This feature, combined with the quantity of examples given, a pleasant graphic design, and various charts and tables, makes this publication an excellent textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses. This overview of sociolinguistics may also, however, interest many teachers and research workers in the field of linguistics and sociology.