[Download this Review (15K, Rich Text Format)]
First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics in association
with the publishers (to be announced). © 1998 Nigel Armstrong.
The moral rights of the author(s) to be identified as author(s) of this work are asserted in accordance with §§.77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This work may be reproduced without the consent of the author, in part or in whole in any manner and in any medium subject only to the two following conditions:
(a) no charge shall be made for the copy containing the work or the excerpt,
(b) a copy of this notice shall precede the work or the excerpt.
The first edition of this book was, and remains, a valuable resource: a textbook of sociolinguistics written by a relative non-sociolinguist, or at any rate a linguist with other strings to his bow and sufficiently distanced from the sub-discipline to examine it with a salutary degree of detachment. At the same time, the author is convinced of the necessity of a social input to any theory of language structure, sufficiently so to be able and willing to providing original insights and suggestions into problems that continue to exercise researchers working in sociolinguistics. The result was a somewhat idiosyncratic volume, controversial here and there, stimulating throughout, and much more than a mere introductory volume for neophytes. Thus for example, while the first and second chapters of both editions are largely devoted to defining concepts, the author does not hesitate, while setting out the rudiments, to advance bold and interesting cross-linguistic hypotheses that are capable of interesting professional linguists, perhaps even of initiating research programmes.
The book has received its second edition 16 years after the first, and the author states in the new preface that differences between the first and second editions are consequent, firstly on the considerable developments in sociolinguistics that have taken place in this period, and secondly on evolutions in his own thinking. What are these differences?
Numerically, over a third of the book is new, and nine new sections replace fourteen that have been excised. The new edition is longer, at 279 pages compared to 250 in the first. Changes connected with new developments in sociolinguistics are due, firstly to former sub-sub-disciplines such as discourse analysis and creolistics having in the interim acquired independent status, as well as ideas such as variable rules, panlectal grammars and restricted codes having undergone quiet demise. The second set of changes is due to the rapid growth of relatively new ideas: face, politeness, accommodation and prototypes. The six principal chapter headings remain the same across the two editions: Introduction; Varieties of language; Language, culture and thought; Speech as social interaction; The quantitative study of speech; Linguistic and social inequality. Thus while the broad organisation remains, the later chapters especially have seen interior modification. The introductory chapters are much the same, and the attractive discussion of 'imaginary' and 'exotic' worlds, which remains an excellent and imaginative lead-in to the appeal of the study of language in relation to society, has wisely been retained.
Changes due to developments in the author's thinking are summarised and discussed in a new, substantial concluding chapter, which replaces the four pages of conclusions in the first edition. The aim of this new chapter ("Theoretical summary") is to synthesise the findings and concepts of sociolinguistics, recent as well as tried-and-tested, that the author thinks are worth retaining and capable of providing an input to an overarching theory reconciling the study of language structure and language variation. As the author states, this is an ambitious and difficult aim given that "[t]he findings of sociolinguistics are not simply neutral with regard to theories of language structure, a kind of optional add-on which is compatible with any and every theory" (p. 252). Hudson (pp. 252 53) sets out the four requirements he sees as essential for any theory of language structure to accommodate the findings of sociolinguistics: (i) the theory must be individual-, not community- specific; (ii) it must be part of a larger cognitive theory that accounts for social structure from the individual's viewpoint; (iii) it must accommodate co-variation between linguistic items and socio- stylistic parameters; (iv) it must account for individual variation in competence, and therefore be compatible with prototype theory. The author considers the various theoretical models in the light of these criteria, from generative phonology, through lexical phonology to cognitive grammar among others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he concludes that his own word grammar theory (1984) fits the criteria most closely.
The principal novelty, and new strength, of the new edition is therefore a wider and more concentrated attempt to bring together sociolinguistics and "theoretical" linguistics. As the author rightly states in conclusion, sociolinguistics was for too long satisfied with description and classification at the expense of theorisation. The corresponding shortcoming has been the tendency of armchair linguists to dismiss the need for accountable empirical data. Variationist sociolinguistics is now sufficiently well equipped in method and data to emerge from its butterfly- collecting phase, and indeed "variation theory" is now a vigorous strand in the discipline. Any attempt to correct the divorce between theory and results in the other direction, such as is represented in the present volume, is to be much welcomed.
A further novelty of this new edition is a fairly copious use of line-drawings to illustrate discussions concerning social networks, power/solidarity relations, etc. The feature of these that some readers may find irritating is the inclusion of little stick-people, who in profile have furthermore a rather disturbingly saurian look. But this is a small complaint. Like the first edition, the second is excellently written, and the author has managed to be extremely perspicuous without ever patronising the reader. The new edition deserves to do at least as well as its predecessor.