How has the field of sociolinguistics—for our purposes, the study of the relationship between communicative and social processes—developed in the last half century? What questions is it asking now that were relatively ignored in the past? What intellectual and political currents have shaped it in past decades and, in turn, how has the field resonated in broader public arenas?

“Sociolinguistic Frontiers” aims to take up these questions. This series was inspired by a September 2018 Items essay by Monica Heller that reflected on the history, influence, and limits of the SSRC’s Committee on Sociolinguistics in the 1960s and 1970s, based in part on her research in the SSRC archives. The essay argued that the Committee, a product of its time and place during the Cold War and the growth of US global power, privileged some key topics, questions, and approaches to the relationship between language and culture while downplaying others. Notably, less attention was paid to questions of power and conflict than might have been the case for a discipline focused on social variation in communicative form and practice.

With Prof. Heller on board to help curate this new series with the Items editorial team, we are publishing a series of essays in “Sociolinguistic Frontiers” by a variety of scholars of different generations and areas of interest. In this series, they reflect on the trajectory of the field of sociolinguistics from the end of Committee’s work to today, drawing on new research approaches and questions not addressed by the Committee or not even conceived at the time, as well as ongoing debates within the field. These essays reflect on the present state and possible futures of sociolinguistics both in the United States and beyond.