The study of second language acquisition involves understanding what bilinguals know about their second language and how they acquire and use it. Because acquisition and use occur in a social context, it is important for second–language acquisition researchers to understand the ways in which social context and the acquisition and use of a second language are related. In recent years, our understanding of language as a social phenomenon has increased greatly. In a recent survey of sociolinguistics and language teaching, McKay and Hornberger (1996) divide the field into four related areas: 1) studies of language and society–how large–scale social and political issues affect language use in a particular society, 2) studies of language variation—how the “same” language varies from speaker to speaker, from place to place, and from situation to situation, 3) studies of language and interaction—how language is used in face–to–face communication, and 4) studies of language and culture—how particular cultures privilege some kinds of language over others.
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