Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth
This handbook is one of a kind in its detailed and multifaceted content and design, covering the founders of the field of sociolinguistics, key sociolinguistic phenomena, and the application of sociolinguistic theories in real life contexts. It offers solid proof that sociolinguistics indeed is the study of language and/in society. The editors must be commended for this heralding effort in putting together this excellent narrative of the beginnings of sociolinguistics in the 1960s alongside thoughtful investigations of its ever-expanding scope in today’s globalized and digitalized world.
The handbook consists of thirty-nine chapters written by fifty authors. The six thematic parts address the aims of the editors which include ‘situating sociolinguistics in its historical and theoretical contexts, introducing the founders of the discipline and focusing on major theoretical themes which have influenced sociolinguistic research at both the macro and micro levels’ (1): history of sociolinguistics, sociolinguistics and social theory, language variation and change, interaction, multilingualism and contact, and applications.
Part 1 offers a succinct glimpse into the beginnings of the field of sociolinguistics narrated in a fluent, personal style. We hear very clearly the voices of the founders of the field, share their fears and insecurities, and thereafter appreciate the sacrifice they put in for the discipline. These founders are Charles Ferguson vs. Joshua Fishman in the sociolinguistics vs. sociology of language debate (Bernard Spolsky), William Labov on language variation and change (Kirk Hazen), Basil Bernstein on codes and social class (Gabrielle Ivinson), Dell Hymes and the ethnography of communication (Barbara Johnstone and William M. Marcellino), and John Gumperz on interactional sociolinguistics (Cynthia Gordon). With this background, the reader develops a fresh focus which guides them through the rest of the handbook.
Parts 2–5 deal with regular topics in sociolinguistics, ranging from social stratification (Christine Mallinson), globalization theory and migration (Stef Slembrouck), courtroom discourse (Susan Ehrlich), to global Englishes (Alastair Pennycook). In Part 6, we are introduced to sociolinguistics at work, including the application of sociolinguistic theories in forensic linguistics (Malcolm Coulthard, Tim Grant, and Krzysztof Kredens), language teaching and assessment (Constant Leung), and literary studies (David Barton and Carmen Lee). This part follows traditions in the subfield of applied sociolinguistics but applies up-to-date analytical frames to recent datasets.
This handbook is certainly the most solid and thorough masterpiece on sociolinguistics in the last half-century. It presents a complete picture of the field from its early years in the 1960s to its contemporary globalized and interdisciplinary scope. Both the young and experienced sociolinguists will develop a refreshed attachment to the field after reading the personalized and interactive accounts of its origins in Part 1. The carefully selected topics and the depth in which they are studied are evidence of the editors’ success in adding ‘new knowledge and new insights’ to extant knowledge on ‘an established field like sociolinguistics’ (1). For any scholar—linguist, anthropologist, sociologist, or cultural or communication theorist—interested in the social functioning of language within different types of societies, this handbook is a natural choice.