LINGUIST List 12.1562

Wed Jun 13 2001

Review: Borjars & Burridge, Intro Eng Grammar (1st rev)

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  1. Viatscheslav Iatsko, Review of Borjars & Burridge, Introducing English Grammar

Message 1: Review of Borjars & Burridge, Introducing English Grammar

Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 19:15:41 +0700
From: Viatscheslav Iatsko <slavaykhsu.ru>
Subject: Review of Borjars & Burridge, Introducing English Grammar

B�rjars, Kersti, and Kate Burridge (2001) Introducing English Grammar. Arnold,
paperback, ISBN 0-340-69173-5, xiii+311pp., $24.95.

Reviewed by Viatcheslav Iatsko, Department of English, Katanov State
University of Khakasia.

It should be noted at once that the title of the textbook under review
doesn't fully correspond to its scope. An experienced linguistic
reader coming across the title "Introducing English Grammar" expects
the book to deal with morphology and syntax, while this textbook
concentrates mostly on the syntax. The structure of the textbook
comprises 10 chapters with only one of them (chapter 3, pp. 45-73)
devoted to the study of English words and morphological and syntactic
characteristics of major parts of speech (noun, pronoun, verb,
adjective, adverb, preposition, and determiner). Some classes
(parenthesis, participle, gerund) and sub-classes (abstract nouns,
defining, negative pronouns, semantic types of verbs) are not
distinguished at all. Apart from that, 6 pages in chapter 2 deal with
the classification of morphemes. The rest of the book concentrates on
the types of phrases, structure of sentences, types of clauses, and
some characteristics of discourse. Perhaps this arrangement of the
book reflects the fact that English doesn't belong to morphologically
rich languages and most of contemporary English grammars make emphasis
on the syntax unlike, for example, Russian grammars, in which grammar
as a linguistic discipline is proportionally divided into morphemics
(the study of morphemes), morphology (the study of morphological
categories and parts of speech) and syntax. Those interested in a more
detailed description of English morphemics and morphology can use some
other book, for example L. Brinton's (2000)'The Structure of Modern
English'.

Another specific feature of contemporary English grammars as well as of
this textbook is emphasis on constituent structure of phrases and
sentences. It is common knowledge that constituent analysis
methodology is based on the specific features of English, on its
configurational character, and can hardly be applied to less
configurational or non-configurational languages. The authors should
have pointed out this fact and should have referred to some other
alternative conceptions, such as, for example, lexical functional
syntax (Bresnan, 2000). In the Preface the authors claim that the
textbook can be used by different kinds of readers: teachers of
English, learners of English, researchers engaged in language analysis
and literary studies. This claim is supported by the plain language,
simple examples and thorough analyses of some linguistic phenomena. An
example of such analysis is constituency tests (substitution, sentence
fragment, movement, and coordination) that are arranged according to
their power and can be successfully applied by the students to identify
syntactic constituents of the sentence (chapter 2, pp.23-38). Another
example is description of X-bar theory and structure of noun phrases
and verb phrases (chapter 3, pp.75-80) A third example is description
of types of sentences distinguished according to their function in
discourse (declaratives, imperatives, interrogatives, and
exclamatives) in chapter 5. These sections of the book can be
successfully used in teaching English as a foreign language at an
advanced level. One of the drawbacks of the textbook is lack of
references to linguistic literature. While discussing semantic roles
performed by the subject (chapter 4, pp.85-86) the authors should have
given references to the works on case grammar (W. Cook, 1998); not
having done that the authors had missed a good opportunity to
introduce case grammar as a branch of linguistics. The statement, that
traditional grammars consider 'there' to be an adverbial (chapter 4,
p.91), seems not substantiated, as the authors don't give any
references. In Russian traditional grammars English construction
'there + be' is considered a predicate (Kaushanskaya, 1973).

The whole chapter 4 "Functions within the clause" (pp. 83-116) is the
weakest in the textbook containing unsubstantiated and sometimes
misleading statements. Treatment of the subject seems superficial,
especially the statement 'verbs agree only with subjects' (p.88).
English presents many examples (not mentioned in the textbook) of
agreement between the verb and some other part of the sentence.
Consider, for example, '30 miles is a long distance', in which 'be'
agrees with 'distance', not with 'miles'. According to the authors
conception 'distance' must be a subject though it is sure to be a
predicative. Considering the predicative complement in the sentence
'Zelda is a pug' the authors write: 'It is really quite simple... the
noun phrase has the same referent as the subject; it is co-referential
with the subject' (p.98). Not so simple and completely wrong! The
words 'Zelda' and 'pug' are in no sense co-referent as they express
notions of different sizes: the size of 'pug' is bigger than the size
of 'Zelda'. The sentence expresses a taxonomic relation between two
words, whereas the relation between co-referent terms is that of
identity. The authors seem to have no notion of the theory of reference
and types of logical relations between the subject and the predicate
(Arutiunova, 1974). On pp. 148-149 (chapter 5) the authors
state:"...there is no future tense in English...there are two tenses in
English: present and past. ...but nothing that we can describe as
future tense" thus repeating the well known point of view formulated
by O. Jespersen and other representatives of American Descriptive
Linguistics. It should be noted that a more substantiated approach was
suggested by M. Blokh who distinguishes future in English on the basis
of the apposition between an 'after-action' and a 'non-after-action'
(Blokh, 1983, p.144). The latter point of view is more useful for
practical purposes since teaching English as a foreign language a
lecturer takes much effort to explain the meaning of 'shall', 'will'
and 'would' combined with progressive, perfect and past forms of the
verb.

Each chapter is followed by 'Points to remember' section summarizing
its content, and 'Exercises' section which could be more helpful for
learners if the authors had given keys to the exercises. The exercises
themselves are very brief. It would have been good if the authors and
editors had followed the practice of leading publishing houses (such as
Benjamins, for instance) and supplied the textbook with extensive
exercises on a CD. Of course, a textbook aimed at such audience should
have been supplied by a glossary of linguistic terms.

References
Arutiunova N.D. Predlozhenie i ego smysl (1974). Moscow: Nauka
Bresnan J. Lexical functional syntax (2000) (the book is available on-
line on J.Bresnan's web page).
Blokh M.Y. A Course in theoretical English grammar (1983). Moscow:
Vysshaya Shkola.
Brinton L. The structure of modern English (2000). Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Cook W.A. Case grammar applied (1998). Arlington: The Summer Institute
of Linguistics.
Kaushanskaya V.L. (ed.) (1973). A grammar of the English language.
Moscow: Prosveshenie.

V.Iatsko is a professor in the Department of English and Head of the
Computational Linguistics Laboratory at the Katanov State University
of Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include
text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of
English and Russian syntax.
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