English Historical Sociolinguistics

Robert McColl Millar

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Sociolinguistics provides a powerful instrument by which we can interpret the contemporary and near-contemporary use of language in relation to the society in which speakers live. Almost since the beginning of the discipline, however, attempts have been made to extrapolate backwards and interpret past linguistic change sociolinguistically. Some of these findings have influenced the discussion of the history of the English language as portrayed in the many textbooks for undergraduate courses. A consistent application of sociolinguistic theory and findings has rarely been attempted, however, despite the specialist literature which demonstrates this connection at specific points in the language's development.

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List of figures vii

List of tables ix

Acknowledgements xi

Foreword: Towards a sociolinguistic history of the English language xiii

1 Sociolinguistics: an overview 1

1.1 Historical linguistics and sociolinguistics

1.2 Sociolinguistics

1.3 Conclusions

Further reading

Some issues to consider

2 Language change and sociolinguistic processes in the past

2.1 Sociolinguistic change in the recent past: /r/ in New York City

2.2 Sociolinguistic change in the more distant past

2.3 Discussion

Further reading

Some issues to consider

3 Standardisation

3.1 Theories of linguistic dominance, subordination and standardisation

3.2 The standardisation of early Modern English

3.3 The development of an English standard

3.4 The dialectalisation of Scots

3.5 Conclusions

Further reading

Some issues to consider

4 Codification and ideology

4.1 Modern ideologies of language

4.2 The codification of English

4.3 Towards a middle class culture

4.5 Lower middle class language ideologies in modern Britain and beyond

4.6 Discussion

Further reading

Some issues to consider

5 Contact and shift as agents of change

5.1 Typological change from Old English to Middle English

5.2 Language contact as catalyst

5.3 Language contact from a theoretical viewpoint

5.4 Weighing up the evidence: contact and linguistic change

5.5 Discussion

Further reading

Some issues to consider

6 Linguistic contact and new dialect formation

6.1 Colonial dialects: an introduction

6.2 Theoretical models

6.3 Case studies

6.4 Conclusion

Further reading

Some issues to consider

7 Some final thoughts

Further reading



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Robert McColl Millar is Reader in Linguistics in the School of Language & Literature at the University of Aberdeen. His books include Northern and Insular Scots (2007), Authority and Identity. A Sociolinguistic History of Europe before the Modern Age (2010) and English Historical Sociolinguistics (2012).

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