What is a subject for sociolinguistic research

Structure and history of Dutch An introduction to Dutch linguistics


Sociolinguistics is a field of linguistics that Language and use of language in the context of society and culture examined. Within the linguistic disciplines, sociolinguistics is a relatively young subject; its emergence can be traced back to the 1960s. Since then, sociolinguistics has developed into a wide-ranging subject with a large number of different research subjects.

Sociolinguistics generally includes subjects as diverse as anthropological linguistics, dialectology, discourse analysis, language contact research, multilingualism, language planning, language preservation and creolistics.

One subject that deals specifically with the topic of language and society in the past is that Historical sociolinguistics. That plays an important role in this Network HiSoN as a platform for linguists (and historians) who deal with questions such as language and identity from a historical perspective, with the social and political context of the development of standard languages, with historical language contact, etc.


Microsociolinguistics and Macrosociolinguistics

An important distinction within sociolinguistics is that between microsociolinguistics and macrosociolinguistics.

The Microsociolinguistics examines language variation and relates it to social variables: it relates differences in pronunciation, word usage and grammar to variables such as social class, gender, age, religion and ethnic or regional origin. For example, the use of the Dutch pronoun hun (Object shape) in subject position (Hun come slow tomorrow. - 'You will come by tomorrow.') Can be related to the variable 'social class'.

The Macrosociolinguistics deals with the interaction between language and society. Your focus is primarily on the choice of language and its social, psychological and political background. The subject of investigation is, for example, the process of language change in the case of migration (as in the case of Dutch emigrants in Australia or the United States) or language policy in majority-minority contexts (for example Dutch legislation on Frisian or language policy in the Dutch colonies). A well-known representative of macrosociolinguistics is the American sociologist of language Joshua Fishman. He examined the situations in which members of the Puerto Rican language community in the United States speak Spanish and in which situations they prefer English. Fishman was the first to use the term domain (Domain) in the meaning of 'linguistic situation' (for example family, neighborhood, church, school ...) and he formulated one of the key questions of (macro) sociolinguistics: 'Who speaks what language to whom, and when?'


William Labov's Classical Studies

Interview with William Labov about
Changes in standard pronunciation
of American English (i.a. in reference to
the changed pronunciation of / r /).

Sociolinguistics begins for many 1963when the American linguist William Labov published an article about his research Martha's Vineyard published. He was able to demonstrate a connection between the pronunciation of certain diphthongs by fishermen on Martha's Vineyard and the attitude of these fishermen towards American tourists from the mainland.

Interview with William Labov on
Northern Cities Vowel Shift (a
Focus of his current research).

Labov conducted a second, now classic, study (1966) in New York by. In it he related the realization of the phoneme / r / in certain phonological contexts (post-vowel) with the social class of the speaker. This investigation is best known because of the method that Labov used. He selected three New York department stores that were visited by customers from different social classes: Klein, Macy's, and Saks. He checked what products were on the fourth floor ('fourth floor') of the respective department store and then asked the staff (who he assumed would adapt to his customers in terms of language usage) on the other floors where these products were sold. He got the answer 'fourth floor' every time. In this way he succeeded authentic language to investigate.

Labov himself was of the opinion that he had not created a new linguistic discipline, but only found a new way of doing linguistics. He was convinced that Knowledge of social variation is necessary for a description of the language system and for a better understanding of language change.



Sociolinguistics 'avant la lettre'

Of course, sociolinguistics did not emerge overnight. Even before the emergence of sociolinguistics as a separate linguistic discipline, there was an interest in social differences in linguistic usage - these were just never the focus. This had mainly to do with the fact that the subject of investigation in linguistics in general was the 'language system', the 'competence', and not the 'performance', the actual use. There was also another practical obstacle: before the invention of the phonograph (1877 by Edison), with which sound could be recorded and later played back, the spoken word could not be recorded to a large extent.

The fact that sociolinguistics developed into its own discipline in the 1960s of all places has indirectly to do with the flowering of another new trend in linguistics, generative linguistics. The exclusive attention that the generativists devoted to the "competence" of the ideal speaker was an additional incentive for some linguists to investigate the actual use of language and its relationship to social factors.

However, even before sociolinguistics became a discipline in its own right, there was already sociolinguistic research - sociolinguistic research 'avant la lettre'. This also applies to the Dutch-speaking area - an example of this is the research carried out by the Leiden professor G.G. Kloeke (1877-1963). He examined the diphthongization of the vowels [i:] and [y:] to [ei] and [oey] (in other words the change in the pronunciation of from tiid to tijd and from huus to huis from the sixteenth century. Diphthongization first appeared in the Brabant dialect and eventually made its way into the standard Dutch language via the prestigious language of the higher Dutch circles. Kloeke had a 'sociolinguistic' argument for how the diphthongs had penetrated from Brabantian into Dutch: he explained the borrowing of the diphthongs from the language contact between Dutch city dwellers and influential southern Dutch, which in the sixteenth century as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the Dutch cities had emigrated.

There are two introductions to sociolinguistics in Dutch: an old one from 1976, which is dedicated to micro- and macro-sociolinguistics (Appel / Hubers / Meijer, 1976) and a more recent one, which focuses on language variation (Boves / Gerritsen, 1995) . A very useful introduction to various aspects of language variation in Dutch is the chapter 'Taal en maatschappij' ('Language and Society') by Renée van Bezooijen in Janssen (2002). A good English-language introduction to sociolinguistics is Holmes (2001), an introduction to the terminology of sociolinguistics is given by Trudgill (2003).
The Martha's Vineyard study is described in Labov (1963), the famous fourth-floor study is in Labov (1966). More recent developments in the research area can be found in Labov (1994). Labov's research on phonological change in American English can be found in Atlas of North American English (Labov / Ash / Boberg (2006)). For more on the usage of Puerto Ricans in the United States, see Fishman (1966).
For a detailed treatment of sociolinguistic research 'avant la lettre' see Chapter 3 of Boves / Gerritsen (1995).