Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN
As the jacket copy suggests, The handbook of historical sociolinguistics offers ‘an up-to-date, in-depth representation of the extent to which sociolinguistic theoretical models, methods, findings, and expertise can be applied to the process of reconstructing a language’s past in order to account for diachronic linguistic changes and processes’.
The thirty-five articles in the book are arranged into five broad subject areas. The articles in Part 1, ‘Origins and theoretical assumptions’, examine broad issues in historical sociolinguistics, such as the emergence of diachrony and synchrony as categories for research, the origins and methods of historical sociolinguistics, and the relationship between social history and the sociology of language.
The articles in Part 2, ‘Methods for the sociolinguistic study of the history of languages methodological issues’, turn to more specific methodological concerns, with articles on topics such as the generalizability principle, the uniformitarian principle, the use of linguistic corpora for studying linguistic variation and change, the editing of medieval manuscripts in their social context, and the use of various kinds of documents (e.g. medical, official, and monastic documents, private letters and diaries, literary sources, and early advertising and newspapers) in sociohistorical linguistic research.
Part 3, ‘Linguistic and socio-demographic variables’, then turns to the role of orthographic, phonological, grammatical, lexical-semantic, and pragmatic variables in sociohistorical linguistics. Issues of class, age, and gender in historical sociolinguistic research are also examined in this section, as are the roles of social networks, social mobility, race, ethnicity, religion, and castes in research.
Part 4, ‘Historical dialectology, language contact, change and diffusion’, offers a series of articles on a broad range of topics, including functional and non-functional explanations for language variation and change, internally and externally motivated language change, lexical diffusion, the role of space in reconstructing regional dialects, and the role of linguistic atlases in research.
Part 5, ‘Attitudes to language’, concludes the book with articles on language ideologies, language myths, linguistic purism, reconstructing prestige language, and reconstructing written vernaculars in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
This book is a wide-ranging and useful anthology of articles on historical sociolinguistics. As is common in books of this type, the articles vary somewhat in the level of linguistic sophistication they assume; some are introductory, while others assume a more advanced knowledge of linguistics. On the whole, however, they are accessibly written, each with a list of suggested readings, and give the reader a good, if brief, orientation to the various topics and guidance for further reading on the topics. The handbook of historical sociolinguistics would, in fact, be a good place for someone unfamiliar with historical sociolinguistics to turn for an introduction to this branch of linguistics, or for a more experienced person to find guidance concerning the current state of the field.