In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociolinguistics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Language Variation and Change
  • Individuals
  • Language in Contact
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Sociolinguistics and Social Theory

Anthropology Sociolinguistics
Kara Becker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0117


Sociolinguistics is the study of language in culture and society, within the field of linguistics. In its broad goal of describing language and its relationship to society, social behavior, and culture, it overlaps with numerous other disciplines, most notably linguistic anthropology, but also sociology, philosophy, psychology, and dialectology. More specifically, sociolinguistics may be distinguished in having a narrower goal of advancing linguistic theory. Sociolinguists believe that the pursuits of linguistics, a field devoted to modeling the unique human faculty for language, cannot be accomplished without the incorporation of the social. This is not a view held by all linguists, in particular the formal linguists who work within the Chomskyan generative tradition, and so the work of sociolinguistics is in large part to incorporate the social as a central focus of linguistic inquiry. In contrast, other disciplines that focus on language in use may have the ultimate goal of sociological or anthropological description. This division according to ends is not so rigid in practice, so that sociolinguists can be thought of as part of a larger group of scholars of the social life of language. This broad characterization reflects the emergence of sociolinguistics as an identifiable discipline, generally acknowledged to have occurred in the 1960s in the United States. At that time, scholars from a number of fields worked together as part of a more general move in the social sciences to devote increased amounts of scholarly attention to the social study of language. Today, the term usually references a solidly linguistic enterprise, a result of the solidification of disciplinary boundaries over time. The goal of this article is to capture both the history of sociolinguistics as the study of the social life of language (sociolinguistics in the broader sense) as well as sociolinguistics as an integral part of linguistics (sociolinguistics in the narrow sense).

General Overviews

Texts that are appropriate for an introduction to the field are either singly authored or coauthored overviews, like Romaine 2000; Meyerhoff 2011; and Mesthrie, et al. 2009, or edited volumes that bring foundational texts and early-21st-century scholarship together to provide a sense for the field. Of the latter, Coupland and Jaworski 2009 and Wodak, et al. 2010 provide thorough treatments.

  • Coupland, Nikolas, and Adam Jaworski, eds. 2009. The new sociolinguistics reader. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    An edited, comprehensive introduction to sociolinguistics, with sections on variation, gender and sexuality, style and identity, language ideologies, contact, and interaction.

  • Mesthrie, Rajend, Joan Swann, Ana Deumert, and William L. Leap. 2009. Introducing sociolinguistics. 2d ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    This introductory book covers a broad range of sociolinguistic topics presented in sections written by the coauthors.

  • Meyerhoff, Miriam. 2011. Introducing sociolinguistics. New York: Routledge.

    A thorough overview of major topics in sociolinguistics, including variation, style, attitudes, language choice, change, and contact.

  • Romaine, Suzanne. 2000. Language in society: An introduction to sociolinguistics. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An accessible introductory text with sections on language choice, gender, variation and change, pidgins and creoles, and applied topics.

  • Wodak, Ruth, Barbara Johnstone, and Paul Kerswill, eds. 2010. The SAGE handbook of sociolinguistics. London: SAGE.

    This large, edited book covers a wide range of sociolinguistic topics, including the history of the field, social theory, variation and change, language and interaction, contact, and applied topics.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.