Sociohistorical linguistics

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Sociohistorical linguistics, or historical sociolinguistics, is the study of the relationship between language and society in its historical dimension. A typical question in this field would, for instance, be: “How were the verb endings -s and -th (he loves vs. he loveth) distributed in Middle English society” or “When did people use French, when did they use English in 14th-century England?”

Sociohistorical linguistics is a relatively new field of linguistic research which represents a merger of two distinct sub-disciplines of linguistics; sociolinguistics and historical (or diachronic) linguistics. Researchers in this field use sociolinguistic methods to explain historical change. This approach is particularly useful when language-internal data alone is unable to account for some seemingly inexplicable developments. Instead of relying solely upon intra-linguistic evidence and data to explain language change, socio-historical linguists search for extra-linguistic causes of change. One of the seminal works in the field is Romaine (1982)'s Socio-Historical Linguistics. Other studies such as John McWhorter's work, The Missing Spanish Creoles, are more specific in this case examining the extra-linguistic reasons why there are no creoles with Spanish as a lexifier language (as opposed to English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc.). Not all linguists believe that sociolinguistic methods can be applied to historical situations. They argue that the sociolinguistic means at our disposal today (e.g. face-to-face interviews, recording of data, large and diverse sampling, etc.) are necessarily unavailable to sociolinguists working on historical developments. They therefore argue that it is exceedingly difficult to do socio-historical linguistics, and that the results will always be suspect due to lack of data and access to native speakers in real-world situations. For those who question the validity of socio-historical linguistics, it is a field of conjecture rather than solid conclusions. Those arguing for the validity of socio-historical linguistics reply that it is better to use what remaining textual evidence is available to begin to posit likely scenarios rather than leave some questions completely unanswered. Methods such as social network theory (cf. Lesley Milroy) that look at human interactions and their effects on the larger society are particularly well-suited to socio-historical research.

State of the art[edit]

The first monograph in sociohistorical linguistics, Socio-historical Linguistics; Its Status and Methodology was published by Suzanne Romaine in 1982.[1][2] The field became established in linguistics in the 1990s. Since 2000 there has also been an internet journal Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics. In 2005 the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN) was founded which now is the main scholarly network in the domain, organizing annual summer schools and conferences.[3][4]


Due to the lack of recordings of spoken language, sociohistorical linguistics has to rely exclusively on written corpora.

See also[edit]


  • McWhorter, John H. 2000. The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Planatation Contact Languages. University of California Press. Berkeley.
  • Nevalainen, Terttu. 2003. Socio-Historical Linguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. Longman. London.
  • Nevalainen, Terttu / Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena (eds.) (1996), Sociolinguistics and Language History: Studies Based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Romaine, Suzanne. 1982. Socio-Historical Linguistics: its Status and Methodology. Cambridge University Press. New York.
  • Sánchez Carrión, José María. 1992. Las lenguas vistas desde la historia versus la historia vista desde las lenguas (o el giro copérnicano de un nuevo discurso social). Eusko Ikaskuntza. Donostia-San Sebastián.[5] [Languages seen from the point of view of history versus history seen from the point of view of languages]
  • Thomason, Sarah Grey and Terrence Kaufman. 1988. Language Contact, Creolization and Genetic Linguistics. University of California Press. Berkeley.
  • Jucker, Andreas H. (2000), History of English and English Historical Linguistics, Stuttgart: Klett.


  1. ^ Curzan, Anne. "Historical corpus linguistics and evidence of language change" in: Lüdeling, Anke and Merja Kytö, eds. Corpus Linguistics Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009; p. 1097
  2. ^ Nervalainen, Terttu. "Historical Sociolinguitics and Language Change" in: van Kemenade, Ans and Bettelou Los, eds. The Handbook of the History of English Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009; p. 558
  3. ^ Simon Pickl. "HiSoN". Retrieved 2016-05-27. 
  4. ^ Nevalainen/Raumolin-Brunberg (1996) provide several introductory chapters on this discipline and a number of case studies. Cf. also Jucker (2000) for an introductory view.
  5. ^ "Eusko Ikaskuntza". Eusko Ikaskuntza. Retrieved 2016-05-27. 

External links[edit]