The Interdisciplinary origins of Sociolinguistics: Lessons for us today

Author: Finex Ndhlovu (University of New England)
Speaker: Finex Ndhlovu
Topic: General sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Nearly three decades ago, Roger Shuy, an American sociolinguist, suggested that a scientific field reaches its maturity only by becoming aware of its history and by becoming interested in having that history documented (Shuy, 1990). A lack of historical consciousness regarding one’s field of study can sometimes easily lead into believing claims of novelty and revolutionary breakthrough–that supposedly hold promises for the future of the discipline. In this talk, I discuss the interdisciplinary origins of Sociolinguistics with an eye on those foundational questions that drew scholarly interest into investigating the complex relations between language and society. I locate the genealogy of the field within interdisciplinary conversations among like-minded scholars across diverse fields of study: dialect geography, anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics and bi-/multi-lingualism studies. I argue that although they were attracted by different aspirations, and disagreed on a number of occasions, the founders of Sociolinguistics were united in two things: (1) theory building had to be guided by a combination of fieldwork in complex multilingual settings; and (2) the creation of opportunities to discuss their work with a diverse group of scholars.

I conclude with two reflective questions: To what extent do the foundational questions of Sociolinguistics constitute the core of our work today? If those questions are still at the heart of what we do, are we pursuing them in an interdisciplinary manner or we have taken our eyes off the ball and switched onto the mode of disciplinary provincialism?

Keywords: Sociolinguistics, Anthropology, Interdisciplinarity, Geneology