Sociolinguistics is the study of the relation of language to social organization and the way in which linguistic rules and patterns affect social group and status definition and how that structure  communication between them. The social aspects of language usually emerge most clearly in the course of contacts between members of different social groups and occupants of different social statuses. Accordingly, sociolinguistics often deals directly or tangentially with issues of language politics.

One major area of sociolinguistic study is the use of language between individuals in reference to status differences and the selection of special vocabularies, speech styles, and terms of address to mark them. Other areas of research centre on language behaviour within subgroups and categories of the larger society, e.g., the use of language within American ethnic and racial groups, or noticeable gender differences. A final area of special concern to cultural anthropologists is the status and continuity of aboriginal languages under pressures of westernization in colonial situations. In extreme situations languages may completely disappear and along with them the survival of group identity as well as valuable cultural knowledge and practice.

You may want to follow up some of these issues on the following Internet sites:

Sociolinguistics, Cyndi Pattee, University of Oregon

Sociolinguistics, Cathy Ball, Georgetown (Internet Resource List)

Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Communication, Susan Herring (keynote talk at panel entitled "Making the Net*Work*, American Library Association annual convention, Miami, 1994).