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Definition of Sociolinguistics

(noun) The study of the relationship between society and language.

Example of Sociolinguistics

Sociolinguistics Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: so·ci·o·lin·guis·tics

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /soh-see-oh-ling-gwIs-tiks/
  • British English – /soh-see-oh-ling-gwIs-tiks/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈˌsoʊsioʊˌlɪŋˈɡwɪstɪks/
  • British English – /ˌsəʊʃ(ɪ)əʊlɪŋˈɡwɪstɪks/

Usage Notes

  • Variant spelling: socio-linguistics
  • Also called sociology of language.
  • A (noun) sociolinguist studies language by researching (adjective) sociolinguistic phenomena.

Related Quotations

  • Class boundaries are also maintained by language, speech patterns, and pronunciation. Members of the upper class speak more directly and in a more assured manner than do members of the working and lower classes. Their confident demeanor, in turn, enables upper- and upper-middle-class speakers to project images of credibility, honesty, and competence that are important in all social arenas—especially the workplace” (Thompson and Hickey 2012:221).
  • “Every attempt to definitely say what language is is subject to a curious limitation. For the only medium with which we can define language is language itself. We are therefore unable to circumscribe the whole of language within our definition. It may be best, then, to leave language undefined, and to thus acknowledge its open-endedness, its mysteriousness” (Abram 1996:73).
  • Language is the cornerstone of every culture. It is the chief vehicle by which people communicate ideas, information, attitudes, and emotions to one another, and it is the principal means by which human beings create culture and transmit it from generation to generation” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:47).
  • Segregation itself makes linguistic profiling possible. One consequence of historical segregation in the United States is that a large proportion of African Americans speak a distinctive version of English, with different rules for pronunciation, diction, grammar, and syntax from that ordinarily spoken by whites” (McNamee and Miller 2013:191).
  • “Throughout Western society there seems to be one informal or backstage language of behavior, and another language of behavior for occasions when a performance is being presented. The backstage language consists of reciprocal first-naming, co-operative decision-making, profanity, open sexual remarks, elaborate griping, smoking, rough informal dress, ‘sloppy’ sitting and standing posture, use of dialect or sub-standard speech, mumbling and shouting, playful aggressivity and ‘kidding’, inconsiderateness for the other in minor but potentially symbolic acts, minor physical self-involvements, such as humming, whistling, chewing, nibbling, belching and flatulence. The frontstage of behavior language can be taken as the absence (and in some sense the opposite) of this. In general, then, backstage conduct is one which allows minor acts which might easily be taken as symbolic of intimacy and disrespect for others present and the region, while front region conduct is one which disallows such potentially offensive behavior” (Goffman 1956:78).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-human World. New York: Pantheon Books.

Goffman, Erving. 1956. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Edinburgh, Scotland: University of Edinburgh Social Science Research Centre.

Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

McNamee, Stephen J., and Robert K. Miller, Jr. 2013. The Meritocracy Myth. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Thompson, William E., and Joseph V. Hickey. 2012. Society in Focus: An Introduction to Sociology. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Works Consulted

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.

Encyclopædia Britannica. (N.d.) Britannica Digital Learning. (https://britannicalearn.com/).

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).

O’Leary, Zina. 2007. The Social Science Jargon Buster: The Key Terms You Need to Know. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Taylor & Francis. (N.d.) Routledge Handbooks Online. (https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/).

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Sociolinguistics

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “sociolinguistics.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 18, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/sociolinguistics/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

sociolinguistics. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/sociolinguistics/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “sociolinguistics.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/sociolinguistics/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“sociolinguistics.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 18 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/sociolinguistics/>.