INTRODUCTION In 'The study of language in its social context', Labov draws attention to a contradiction between principle and practice in the Saussurean model of language:

Saussure conceived of linguistics as one part of 'une science qui etudie la vie des signes au sein de la vie sociale.' Yet curiously enough, the linguists who work within the Saussurean tradition (and this includes the great majority) do not deal with social life at all: they work with one or two informants in their offices, or examine their knowledge of langue. Furthermore, they insist that explanations of linguistic facts be drawn from other linguistic facts, not from any 'external' data on social behaviour.