An introduction to sociolinguistics

An introduction to sociolinguistics. 6th edn. By Ronald Wardhaugh. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. viii, 456. ISBN 9781405186681. $44.95.

Reviewed by Diego Pascual y Cabo, University of Florida

The latest edition of An introduction to sociolinguistics by Ronald Wardhaugh is an indispensable book for scholars interested in the field of sociolinguistics. Students will benefit from this well-written book that effectively balances references to classic and current studies in the field. Despite its length, undergraduate and graduate students alike will find it interesting and thought-provoking. Academic professionals will be gratified to learn that this book provides all the material needed for an introductory sociolinguistics class coherently organized.

This sixth edition is organized in a familiar way. First, a comprehensive introduction (1–20) lays the foundation for the book. Key topics such as the difference between social and asocial linguistic perspectives, the construction of self and others through language use and social interaction, and variationism introduce the reader to the central theoretical issues in sociolinguistics. The four main sections expand on these concepts to enable the reader to understand more technical studies. Part 1, ‘Languages and communities’ (21–133), presents the reader with such traditional issues as languages vs. dialects, pidgins vs. creoles, and multilingualism. Part 2, ‘Inherent variety’ (135–226), discusses language variation. Part 3, ‘Words at work’ (227–330), deals with the social and cultural dimensions of language. Speech acts, politeness, as well as taboo and euphemism are some of the topics presented. Part 4, ‘Understanding and intervening’ (331–408), discusses gender, education, and language planning as factors in the social status of any language. W concludes his work with a strong argument for the inherent relationship between language and society. Social forces and ‘such concepts as “identity,” “class,” “power,” “solidarity,” “politeness,” and “gender”’ (411) are cornerstones for understanding this relationship.

Even though W has maintained the structure of the book for the two most recent editions, his work is far from being a new-old version. This edition is filled with countless examples from current studies. Furthermore, W has added several ‘Exploration’ sections throughout each chapter to elicit critical thinking and help the reader assimilate a wide variety of complex theories and difficult concepts. In addition, W facilitates the reader’s understanding by discussing every term in great depth with a wealth of examples.

In conclusion, this textbook is essential for anyone interested in sociolinguistics. It is well-written, easy to understand, and in no way obscure or esoteric. W has created an invaluable source of information that he has only improved with each edition.