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Post by dah_men on Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:32 am


Sociolinguistics, or the study of language in relation
to society, is a relative newcomer to the

linguistic fold. It wasn’t until the early 1960s,
largely as a result of William Labov’s work in

America, and Peter Trudgill’s in Britain, that it
developed into a recognized branch of

linguistics. Before then there had been a long
tradition of studying dialects, usually in remote

rural areas, as part of language surveys, but with an
agenda largely dictated by concerns to

record and preserve historical features of the
language. This kind of dialectology was inherently

conservative and was part of larger, comparative
language studies pursued under the discipline

of philology. Labov was one of the first linguists to
turn his attention away from rural, to urban,

subjects, in an attempt to analyze the contemporary
features of American speech.

Sociolinguistics is in many ways a blend of sociology
and linguistics. It is sometimes referred

to as the “sociology of language”, although that label
suggests a greater concern with

sociological rather than linguistic explanations,
whereas sociolinguists are principally

concerned with language, or, to be more precise, with
what Dell Hymes crucially calls “socially

constituted” language: with the way language is
constructed by, and in turn helps to construct,

society. Its popularity has grown very much as a
reaction to the more “armchair” methods of

generative linguists of the Chomskyan school.
Generative linguists examine “idealized”

samples of speech in which utterances are complete, in
a standard form of the language, and

free from performance errors.

The standard way in which sociolinguists investigate
such use is by random sampling of the

population. In classic cases, like those undertaken in
New York by Labov, or in Norwich by

Trudgill, a number of linguistic variables are
selected, such as “r” (variably pronounced

according to where it occurs in a word) or “ng”
(variably pronounced /n/ or /ŋ/). Sections of the

population, known as informants, are then tested to
see the frequency with which they produce

particular variants. The results are then set against
social indices which group informants into

classes, based on factors such as education, money,
occupation, and so forth. On the basis of

such data it is possible to chart the spread of
innovations in accent and dialect regionally. One

complicating factor, however, is that people do not
consistently produce a particular accent or

dialect feature. They vary their speech according to
the formality or informality of the occasion.

So tests have to take into account stylistic factors
as well as social ones.

A major object of Labovian-type sociolinguistics is to
understand how and why languages

change. At its core is a very precise, empirical
methodology, and its procedures are based on

established ways of working in the social sciences.
Since these classic studies, however,

changes in methods of enquiry have altered the way in
which sociolinguists gather their

material. In particular, procedures using participant
observation, in which observers immerse

themselves in communities, rather than relying on
random sampling for the collection of data,

have yielded more refined accounts of linguistic

At its outer edges sociolinguistics merges into the
related area of stylistics, and in particular,

discourse analysis. Two sub-branches,
ethnomethodology, and the ethnography of

communication, are concerned with style in its
contextual and communicative dimension. The

first is devoted to analyzing conversation and the
rules, or principles, which govern turn-taking.

Knowing when to speak and what counts as reply, as
opposed to an interruption, are important

socializing factors in language use. The second is
concerned, on a much broader scale, with the

effect of social and cultural variables on what is
loosely termed, “linguistic behavior”. Knowing

whether to call someone “Mr. Jones”, “Jimmy”, or “Jones”,
for example, depends on a number

of factors to do with the situational context, the
nature of our relationship and the cultural

assumptions within which we are speaking. “Terms of
address”, as they are known, are a

complex area of study, not least because customs
differ between countries and nationalities.

Comprehension check

Work in pairs: Ask and answer the questions

1. How had dialects been studied before William Labov’s
and Peter Trugill’s work?

2. What did Labov do in the early 1960s?

3. In what way are sociolinguists principally
concerned with language?

4. What do generative linguists examine?

5. What does ethnomethodology study?

6. What does ethnography study?

What do you think?

Talk about advantages of using English as a foreign
language in Vietnamese education.


Argue for or against studying in a foreign country.
Here are some possible matters:

1. new language

2. new people; new culture

3. educational opportunities

4. job

5. being away from problems at home

Here are some difficulties:

1. being away from family and friends

2. being away from familiar places

3. being alone; no one to help

4. difficult language; unfamiliar educational system

5. expensive life

Add some of your own reasons. Be sure to make one
point of view stronger than the

other. Make an outline before you write.


Listen to the following text and fill in the blanks
with the missing words.


1. When
structuralism was in its prime, especially between _______ and 1960, the study

morphology occupied centre stage. Many major
structuralists investigated ______________

in the theory of word-structure (Bloomfield; Harris;

Nida’s course-book entitled Morphology, which was
published ___________ codified

structuralist theory and _______________ It introduced
generations of linguists to the

descriptive analysis of words.

The structuralists __________ that words may have
intricate internal structures.

Traditional linguistics had treated the word as the
basic ___________ of grammatical theory

and lexicography, whereas. American structuralists
showed that words are analyzable in terms

of morphemes. These are the smallest units of meaning
and grammatical function.

2. In
structuralism grammar covers both morphology and syntax, whereas in generative

linguistics the term __________ is employed in a much
wider sense. It covers not only

morphology and syntax, but also semantics, lexicon and

Hence, there are rules of grammar in every linguistic
module. Phonological rules,

morphological rules, syntactic rules and semantic
rules are all regarded as rules of grammar.

3. Morphology
is the study and _____________of word structure. It also studies word




Buy if we were to award the credit for turning
linguistics from the intensively narrow

scholastic position it occupied in the nineteenth
century into the broad-based intellectual

discipline it is today there would be little
disagreement in awarding it to the Swiss linguist

Ferdinand de Saussure, himself a nineteenth century
linguist, who had the vision to see a larger

role for his subject. Saussure, sometimes called “the
father of modern linguistics”, never

actually published any major work on the subject. But,
after his death, his students collected

together his lecture notes and published them with the
title Cours de linguistique générale.

Despite its slimness it had, and continues to have, a
seminal influence on linguistics. Saussure

was instrumental in the development of structural
linguistics. He likened language to a game of

chess in which each piece is defined by both its
situation on the board and its relationship with

the other pieces. Thus a bishop operating on the white
squares has considerably more freedom

of manoeuvre if its opposite number has been taken,
and a pawn occupying a central square is

more powerful if supported by other pawns. And just as
games of chess, though all following

the same rules, are all different, so languages can be
said to vary in a similarly principled


Saussurean linguistics approaches language as a
self-enclosed system. Words are related to

each other as signs and can be strung together in
various combinations to form sentences. The

extent of a word’s capacity to form sentences is seen
as the sum of its potential to combine

with, or substitute for, others. Saussure imagined
sentences as having two axes on which items

could be sorted in these ways. The axis of
substitution he termed paradigmatic, and that of

combination he termed syntacmatic.

English for Philology

Compiled by NGUYEN



Text rearranged by Dr.


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