Recent studies have taken advantage of newly available, large-scale, cross-linguistic data and new statistical techniques to look at the relationship between language structure and social structure. These ‘nomothetic’ approaches contrast with more traditional approaches and a tension is observed between proponents of each method. We review some nomothetic studies and point out some challenges that must be overcome. However, we argue that nomothetic approaches can contribute to our understanding of the links between social structure and language structure if they address these challenges and are taken as part of a body of mutually supporting evidence. Nomothetic studies are a powerful tool for generating hypotheses that can go on to be corroborated and tested with experimental and theoretical approaches. These studies are highlighting the effect of interaction on language.