LINGUIST List 10.650

Sun May 2 1999

Review: Russakovskii: Encycl. of English Verb Forms

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  1. Karen A. Van Hoek, Book review

Message 1: Book review

Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1999 18:30:10 -0500 (EST)
From: Karen A. Van Hoek <>
Subject: Book review

Title: Entsiklopedia Form Angliskix Glagolov: Pravila i Isklyucheniya
(Encyclopedia of English Verb Forms: Rules and Exceptions)

Author: E. M. Russakovskii

This book presents past tense and past-participle forms for a vast range
of English verbs, both regular and irregular. It is intended as a
handbook to be used by researchers and Russian-speaking students of
English as a second language. Unfortunately, the work is seriously flawed
by the inclusion of vast numbers of verbs which are not, so far as I am
aware, actually used by native English speakers. 

The English verb forms are primarily presented in the form of tables,
listing the infinitive, past tense, past participle, and translation into
Russian. Almost every single page of these tables includes verb forms
which I (a native speaker of American English) had never heard of and
which would certainly be flagged as errors if they were used by a
second-language speaker of English. 

One type of distortion is particularly common and could be seriously
problematic for any non-native speaker using this book as a guide:
particle verbs are consistently listed as prefixal verbs. That is, 'wear
out' is given as 'outwear'; 'tear out' is given as 'outtear'; 'tear up' is
given as 'uptear'; 'seek out' is given as 'outseek'; etc. In some cases,
a small notation in the table points to additional information given in
notes that are separated from the table by many pages; assuming that one
is diligent enough to look in these notes instead of just taking the verb 
form directly from the misleading table, one may sometimes discover
that these prefixal forms (which to my ears are simply mistakes) are
either archaic or poetic forms. However, the text does not explain what
the standard form would be, and in many cases there is simply no warning
at all to keep non-native speakers from using these forms. 

Similar comments apply to what appear to be archaic past tense forms, such
as 'fixt' as the past tense of 'fix', 'mixt' as the past tense of 'mix',
etc. Even when a warning to the reader is given, it is many pages distant
from the listing of the verb form, and the standard, modern form is not
clearly stated. 

This book may conceivably be useful to a researcher who wants a complete
listing of English past tense verbs, including poetic and archaic forms
(though I am skeptical as to whether every one of these exotic-looking
prefixal forms is actually attested). But as a teacher of English to
native speakers of Russian, I would not give this book to my students. It
contains far too many misrepresentations of English usage to be safely
used as a handbook by a non-native speaker.

Karen van Hoek
University of Michigan
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