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On the Proposal of Sociolinguistics as a Discipline of Research

Author(s): Haver Currie

Source: Language in Society, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Dec., 1980), pp. 407-411
Published by: Cambridge University Press
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Lang. Soc. 9, 407-4 I I. Printed in the United States of America.


Reference is to the first of the "Shorter Notices," Language in Society 8,

(April I979).
This notice indicates a report received from R. R. Mehrotra of India to the
effect that "the term 'sociolinguistic' was used in a paper, 'Sociolinguistics in
India,' by T. C. Hudson, published in the journal Man in India in I939."
The present memorandum is written after analysis of the item by T. C.
Hodson (the name was inadvertently given as "Hudson"); a study of the
volume of the quarterly in which it appeared; and an overview of Man in
India from its inception in I92 as a quarterly of anthropology having special
reference to India.
Certain resulting points of consideration are offered on behalf of perspective.
That the term "socio-linguistics" appeared once (that is, in the title of
Hodson's item), is a matter of fact, while neither the term "sociolinguistics"
nor "sociolinguistic" appeared in the body of the item, and discoverable
sociolinguistic suggestion is slender.
(2) Rather than "a paper" in the usual sense, the Hodson item appeared as
four pages of the unusually large print of the quarterly as an introduction to
the series of actual papers (articles) that fill both the second and third issues
of Man in India of I939.
(3) Except for the beginning of a paragraph at the bottom of page 2, the
first two pages of Hodson's item contain a nonsociolinguistic catalogue of
"groups and families" of languages in India, and an ostensible outline of the
"'social organization" of all India, including, in brief mention, the Indian
(4) At the bottom of page 2, Hodson quoted General Smuts: "Language,
says General Smuts (Holism and evolution, 245), is a purely social instrument 'which is of great importance in the development of individuality.' "
Hodson did not pursue this citation, the directly quoted part of which, it is
noted in passing, does not appear as such in Smuts.
As a second statement (3) Hodson quoted a sentence from Malinowski
(drawn from Ogden & Richards, The meaning of meaning) saying that
language is "an element of concerted human action." Again, the statement is
not discussed.
(S) Under General Smuts' view of words in "naming" concepts (245),
Hodson included "terms of address," for which he mentioned "context" as
consisting in such matters as relationship and status.

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He illustrated terms of address with I and "thou [or you]." In view of the
fact that every elementary textbook in Spanish, for example, has for generations considered at length the problem of the tu and Usted, the matter of
"terms of address" mentioned by Hodson does not appear to be surprising.
Much the same can be said, of course, for textbooks in various other
As to General Smuts in Holism and evolution, emphasized by Hodson, of
his several ideas expressed about language (largely confined to p. 245), two as
construed by Hodson (3f) express the ideas of language as "a social
instrument," and of words as naming concepts.
(6) On page 4, Hodson, including "classification" under the naming of
concepts, made references to the "objects and things" of primitive tribes, and
at this point maintained that the initial detailed study of each separate tribe
affords the better procedurefor anthropology.
(7) Articles in the early volumes of Man in India (including the volume of
1939 under discussion), and largely during the history of the periodical from
its inception in 1921, have contained fairly typical anthropological reports in
the style of British "objectivity." The study of languages is reflected from
time to time, but linguistics is not to the fore.
(8) The term "sociolinguistics" in its single use by Hodson seems to have
been a nonce-word.
Under historical circumstances, the following statement seems to remain
"The firstformal proposal of sociolinguistics as a distinctive academic
discipline of research appears to be that of Haver C. Currie (1949, 1952);
and any prior use of the term 'sociolinguistics' to this purpose is unlikely,
and to date (late I979) has not been demonstrated. The independent
invention of the term as the name of the field of concentration here
indicated remains normally as a matter of value."
(9) This brings us to the final sentence of the shorter notice of reference:
"India would thus seem to have priority with 'sociolinguistics,' just as it had
priority 2,500 years ago with the development of formal linguistic analysis."
This observation is not here interpreted as drawing a parallel with respect
to significance.
It is worth mentioning, toward a perspective appropriateto the early Indian
scholarship in linguistics, that the great Indian scholar Panini is famed for the
earliest detailed linguistic analysis (ca. 550 B.C.), toward establishing an
authentic form and pronunciation for the treasure of Vedic literature. He is
credited with the establishment of classical Sanskrit.
under the by-line
(io) In the first two volumes of Man in India (I921-22)
"Col. T. C. Hodson, F.R.A.I.," five anthropological, although essentially
nonlinguistic, articles appeared, under the fairly "typical" anthropological

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titles "The Doctrine of rebirth in various areas of India", "The Garo and
Khasi marriage system contrasted," "The definition of exogamy," "Tree
marriage," and "The antiquity of the succession of the Sister's Song."
The title "Colonel" arose from his service as a dispatcher in the British
armed forces of World War I with rank of Second Lieutenant to Colonel.
In youth Hodson studied at Christ's Hospital, and afterwards served in the

British Civil Service in India from I894 until I901,

servedas Registrarat East LondonCollege (I903-I4)

when he retired. He
and for a time after

WWI he taught anthropology, as reflected in the by-line to his item of 1939,

and later was an editor of Encyclopedia Britannica. For Hodson, as for all
colonial civil servants of England, it was necessary to become versed in
anthropology, although British anthropology was hardly welcome in India, as
we infer from the complaints of its editor that the government and universities
of India refused to cooperate in the establishment of the quarterly of
anthropology Man in India in I 92 I .
( II) It is of importance to note briefly that sociolinguistic observations are
by no means new, as citations of the papers of Currie I949, I952 recognize.
Indeed, sociolinguistic observations can be found in the Sumerian scripts of
about 2400 B.C. The later Plato, e.g., in The Sophist, considered ideas,
language and communication, as did the much later Locke in The Essay
Concerning Human Understanding, Book III (i86o). The distinguished
American scientist-philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce was much more
emphatic on the same subject (i868), with strong emphasis on the social
nature of language.
D. L. Olmsted has asserted (p.c. 1978) high claims for de Courtenay, of a
century ago, with respect to sociolinguistics. J. Baudoin de Courtenay, of
French origin, and associated by residence with Poland, is reported as a writer
on linguistics to have made primary use of Russian, while at times using
German. In a double review by D. L. Olmsted and Konrad Koerner
(Language Science Oct. 1973, 40ff) of a collection of papers by de Courtenay,
the erudite Koerner, versed in the text of de Courtenay and the commentaries, simply notes in a sentence cer-tain"psychologizing and sociologizing"
by de Courtenay, while devoting himself in detail toward demonstrating a
position contrary to that of Olmsted who maintained that de Courtenay,
rather than de Saussure, was the founder of modern structural linguistics.
Unfortunately, early sociological consideration of language in Germany
tended to be characterized by sociolinguistic dogma of language-andnationhood, reminding one of the earlier new gospel of language-andthe-nation of Fichte (I908), and reflecting the developing Pan-Germanism
and worse, consequent to which, as Professor Fishman points out, West
Germany for a time was inclined to draw back from the "sociology of
language" (Sociolinguistics Newsletter, I972).
An array of linguists have written of the social nature of language, e.g., the

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distinguished historical linguist Meillet who explained semantic changes as

grounded in social changes (Lehmann, Historical Linguistics, I962: 199).
Labov points out (Sociolinguistic Patterns, 1972: 263) the belief of Meillet
that in view of the fact that "language is a social institution" and linguistics
"a social science," it is to social change that we must turn to account for
linguistic change. Labov goes on to say that Martinet in I964 warmly
disputed the viewpoint of Meillet, and that Sturtevant (947) had "represented a late survival of Meillet's fading notion that we must search for an
explanation of the fluctuations of linguistic change in the fluctuating course
of social events."
(I 2) The central advocacy of sociolinguistics as a specialized field of
research is repeated here with conviction in response to the throes of an
ecumenical movement to persist for another century and more under the
stimulus of advances in communication and transportation, a wide dispersal
of industrialism, a continuing upsurge of the lowly, advances in international
education, the increasing process toward unification under central controls of
large nations with many provincial languages and dialects, the growth of
multinational corporations, the increase in the number of wars of world
concern, etc.
Withal, the influences on language of national and regional experience are
not to vanish under any realistic construction of ecumenicism. Furthermore,
tribalism and nationalisms deter or help determine the course of the ecumenical movement.
Thus history seems to provide for a reemphasis on an early plea - at closing
the proposal of sociolinguistics as a specialized field of research (Currie
1952)- "toward researches into the social significance of language in all
respects . . . open researches . . . not hampered by any esoteric, obscurant, or
surreptitiousclique or cult....
"Specifically, a field for quite conscious study here called socio-linguistics
has been envisioned, by warrant of work already done and possibilities hardly
estimable. The coordination and mutual implementation of data presented by
professional linguists, social scientists, and speech specialists have been called
Pursuant to the earlier suggestions, one of our increasing emphases has
been on the importance of emotive language for sociolinguistic research in
view of its pervasiveness and functions. And now we owe to the scientific
philosopher David L. Miller the position delineated in a forthcoming article
that sociolinguistics by this consideration of emotive language is leading to
the special study of the relationship between a language, emotion, and ethics,
and he predicts that "sociolinguistics will foster a new field of ethics, a new
dimension previously altogether overlooked." It is hardly to be denied that
language is a creator and preserver,even if a destroyer, of values.

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Reemphases on the earlier considerations (1949, I952) and the pursuant

considerations look toward appropriate perspective in policy, practice, and
theoretical understanding for the demands on sociolinguistics for continuing
development as a discipline in an age of ecumenical restlessness.
Currie, H. C. (1952). A projection of sociolinguistics: The relationship of speech to social status.
Southern Speech Journal 18:28-37. Reprinted in J. V. Williamson & V. M. Burke (eds.)
(197i). A various language. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Miller, D. L. (forthcoming). Language and theory.
Smuts, J. C. (I1926). Holism and evolution. New York: The Macmillan Company.



Regional Research Associates

Austin, Texas 78704

February 1980)


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