Language Documentation and Sociolinguistics

  • GCS Iwuchukwu


While a good language documentation programme requires the collaborative assistance of a sociolinguist, some promoters and scholars of language documentation tend to think otherwise. It does appear that such are overwhelmed by the time long controversy on the validity of sociolinguistics as an integral part of Linguistics. One of the evidence of the above assertion could be found in the recent advertisement of some international conferences/workshops on ‘Language Documentation and the development of Indigenous Languages. The Sub themes for such conferences/workshops centered on several areas of Linguistics, could be any of the following phonology, phonetics, morphology, syntax, semantics, orthography, lexicography etc without any reference on sociolinguistics. The list of sub-themes on the flier may not be exhaustive, nevertheless, its omission or neglect tend to be indicative of the place and role accorded sociolinguistics in the enterprise of language documentation. The position of this paper is that one of the criteria of a genuine language documentation project is that it must represent the language as it is used e.g. the breaking of kola or pouring of libation by the Igbo, the naming ceremony, new yam festival, burial and marriage ceremonies in Bekwarra, Lokaa, Ibibio, Efik, Yoruba, Hausa, Echie, etc. Sociolinguistics analyses the use of language in society. Excluding an inquiry of Sociolinguistics in the awareness, sensitization or scholarization of language documentation process in preference for core linguistics areas is not a holistic approach to it. Our conclusion is that the phonetician, phonologist, syntactician, semanticist as well as the sociolinguist are all strategic partners in achieving or evolving a viable language documentation project or theory.