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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Sociolinguistics
  • Journals
  • Identities
  • Ethnographic Approaches
  • Narrative
  • Style and Stance
  • Ideologies and Attitudes, Practices and Policies
  • Applied Sociolinguistics

Sociology Sociolinguistics
Richard Cameron, Janet M. Fuller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0202


Sociolinguistics is a multilingual collection of research methodologies with distinct objects, dissimilar agendas, and differing points of origin. Broadly, sociolinguists investigate the relationship between social context and language structure or use on the assumption that aspects of structure and use require reference to social context for their description and explanation. In practice, the “socio-“of sociolinguistics can refer to three things, separately or in combination: an act or action of language use that requires, minimally, two people for its performance or one person acting as two; language use that is connected to the identity or identities, be they achieved or attributed, of a speaker or speakers; and/or language use that is involved in the expression of ideology. Using these three types of social facts, we may ask how researchers find the social in a sociolinguistic analysis of structure and use. We suggest here that sociolinguists use three fundamental approaches. Each involves a positioning of the social with respect to the linguistic or the linguistic with respect to the social. These approaches are: Constraint Approach: One may find the social as extra-linguistic constraints or conditions on use of competing forms. Indexicality Approach: One may find the social as indexed by structures/forms, codes (styles, dialects, languages), or acts. Discursive Construction Approach: One may find the social in the explicit and inferrable details of collaborative, sequential, discursive construction. Because the Indexical and Discursive Construction approaches overlap, we will present selected readings in two broad categories. In the first, we will focus on research in Variationist Sociolinguistics which most aptly illustrates the Constraint Approach. In turn, we will review key publications in socially informed discourse analysis which illustrate both the Indexical and Discursive Construction Approaches.

General Overviews of Sociolinguistics

While these general overviews may be used as texts in courses on sociolinguistics (in particular, Bell 2013, Meyerhoff 2011, Van Herk 2012, Wardhaugh and Fuller 2015, and Wolfram and Schilling 2016), they are also resources for scholars working in the field, providing overviews of major topics, themes and theories, and summaries of important findings and subfields. While Bayley, et al. 2013 addresses topics in sociolinguistics more generally, Coupland 2016 focuses on theory and Milroy and Gordon 2003 focuses on methods.

  • Bayley, Robert, Richard Cameron, and Ceil Lucas, eds. 2013. The Oxford handbook of sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Presents multiple research theories, methodologies, and topics such as bilingualism, variation, and applications of sociolinguistic findings to patterns and controversies of public interest.

  • Bell, Allan. 2013. The guidebook to sociolinguistics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Provides wide-ranging overview of methods and topics in current sociolinguistics including multilingualism, language contact, socio-pragmatics, variation and change, style, language ideology, and the role of social theory.

  • Coupland, Nikolas. 2016. Sociolinguistics: Theoretical debates. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107449787

    Identifies important conflicts within contemporary theorizing across topics of social meaning, linguistics markets, power, social change, and the future of theory.

  • Meyerhoff, Miriam. 2011. Introducing sociolinguistics. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    Fine textbook which introduces sociolinguistics across issues such as style, attitudes, multilingualism, language change, social class, and communities of practice.

  • Milroy, Lesley, and Matthew Gordon. 2003. Sociolinguistics: Method and interpretation. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470758359

    Provides an introduction to sociolinguistics with an emphasis on research methodology and connections to theory.

  • Van Herk, Gerard. 2012. What is sociolinguistics? Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

    Introductory textbook exploring key factors such as regional dialects, gender, style, ethnicity, culture, and multilingualism.

  • Walker, James A. 2010. Variation in linguistic systems. London and New York: Routledge.

    A concise overview of variationist sociolinguistics, including a chapter on statistical analysis.

  • Wardhaugh, Ronald, and Janet M. Fuller. 2015. Introduction to sociolinguistics. 7th ed. Oxford: John Wiley.

    Wide-ranging introductory text with focus on key concepts, the role of communities in linguistic diversity, multilingualism and language contact, variation and change, discourse and interaction, and proactive applications of sociolinguistic findings to social problems.

  • Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling. 2016. American English: Dialects and variation. 3d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

    Thorough review of the regional and social dialectology of American English along with chapters on style, gender, African American English, and applications to problems of education.

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