LINGUIST List 12.2950

Mon Nov 26 2001

Review: Carter et al., Working with Texts

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  1. Viatscheslav Iatsko, Review of Carter et al., Working with Texts

Message 1: Review of Carter et al., Working with Texts

Date: Sat, 24 Nov 2001 10:21:19 +0700
From: Viatscheslav Iatsko <slavaykhsu.ru>
Subject: Review of Carter et al., Working with Texts

Carter, Ronald, Angela Goddard, Danuta Reah, Keith Sanger and Maggie
Bowring (2001) Working with Texts: A Core Introduction to Language
Analysis, 2nd ed. Routledge, xviii+342pp, paperback ISBN 0-415-23465-4,
$22.95, hardcover ISBN 0-415-23464-6, $75.00, The Intertext Series (1st ed.
1997).

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

The second edition of "Working with Texts" is a revised and updated
version of a well established introductory language textbook written by
the authors who are practitioners with much experience of language
teaching. The textbook doesn't assume any previous experience of
language analysis and can be most appropriately used as an introduction
to language analysis at high school.

The textbook comprises 6 units, a glossary of terms, index of main
texts used by the authors to exemplify different ways and methods of
language analysis, list of URLs, recommendations for further reading
arranged by units with a special "Books for teachers" section, and a
"References" section including 19 items of main works on language
analysis, though the authors should have also referred to the
"Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics" by R. Asher (1994). The
impression is that recent textbooks in linguistics constantly ignore
this valuable reference source that can be used at different levels of
language teaching and language analysis.

Each unit of the textbook opens with "Aim of this unit", Contents", and
"Texts used include" sections. The last one presents a list of texts
used in a given section.

The book uses an interactive, activity-based approach to support
students' understanding of language structure and variety. Theoretical
explanations and descriptions of language features are followed by
activities, which include texts and assignments, (mostly in the form of
questions), to these texts. Commentaries provided after many of
activities not only suggest answers, but also stimulate students to
discuss main points of language use. Thus the textbook may form the
basis for work in groups though it can also be used by individuals
working alone. Answers to the activities not followed by commentaries
are provided in "Answers to activities" section concluding each unit.
An advantage of the textbook is a wide range of texts and snippets,
which, along with verses and fiction, include texts produced by
children, advertisements, texts from the Internet, and other texts from
real language in everyday use.

The first unit entitled "Signs and sounds" explores some aspects of
meaning in written sign systems and in the sounds that constitute the
basic ingredients of spoken language. It can be divided into three
parts. In the first one the authors introduce main notions of semiotics
and describe two types of signs: iconic and symbolic. The second one
deals with some specific features of reading and writing, use of
abbreviated forms of words (initialisms, acronyms), rhetorical functions
of punctuation and some other language devices, intertextual strategies.
The third part concentrates upon classification of English vowels and
consonants and describes some phonetic stylistic devices, such as
onomatopoeia, alliteration, and rhyme.

Thus starting with semiotics the authors proceed to phonetics and touch
upon stylistics. Since neither phonetics nor stylistics is mentioned, an
inexperienced reader can get a false impression that the content of the
whole unit belongs to the domain of semiotics. This is the essential
drawback of the textbook in general: describing linguistic phenomena and
linguistic units the authors name neither them nor corresponding
branches of linguistics. Such terms as "phonetics", "stylistics",
"lexical semantics", "syntax" are not given at all and their meaning is
not explained. The term "phonology" is mentioned (p.125) but not
explained and not reflected in the glossary. At the same time the
authors give definitions and describe the subject matter of semiotics
and morphology. This choice seems rather strange and can hardly be
accounted for. It should be noted that the description of semiotics is
in no sense satisfactory, as the authors do not reveal its structure,
i.e. traditional division into semantics, syntax and pragmatics, though
it is pragmatic aspects of sings which are emphasized throughout the
whole unit and the whole book.

The second unit "Words and things" examines the nature of the English
lexical system. It deals with the classification of morphemes, problems
of lexical ambiguity and polysemy, metaphorical and idiomatic uses of
words, computational analysis of word frequency, origins of the English
word stock. This chapter is the best in the textbook being logically
arranged with a good choice of texts. The readers can get enough
information about the subject fields of morphology and lexical
semantics.

The third unit "Sentences and structures" describes specific features of
English nouns and noun phrases, pronouns, verbs and their tense forms,
modal verbs and modality, modifiers, structure of sentences and clauses,
active and passive voice constructions. Although this unit contains some
useful information about the use of pronouns, it abounds in
inconsistent, contradictory, and misleading statements. An example is
the notion of "main verb". "There are no main verbs in 'off Course'"
write the authors on p. 132 without taking the trouble to explain the
meaning of the term. On the next page it turns out: "However, it is not
true to say that there are no verbs in the poem. There are verbs in the
poem". The authors give a list of -ing forms stating: "The words ending
in -ing are all what are termed present participles" (p. 133). The reader
is confused: are -ing forms verbs or participles? Then the authors
proceed to the analysis of Dickens's "Bleak House" stating: "One of the
most striking features of Dickens's use of the language is that the
opening three paragraphs do not contain a single main verb" (p. 139).
The reader is taken aback because in the second sentence of the first
paragraph he finds "as if the waters...had retired", and in the first
sentence of the second paragraph "where it flows", and "where it
rolls". "Had retired", "flows", and "rolls" all seem to be "main verbs".
To enlighten the reader the authors explain on the next page (141):
"Yet there are no finite verbs in main clauses in the text" without
explaining what the term "main clause" stands for. Such contradictory
statements do not contribute to better understanding of the described
linguistic phenomena and can only baffle an inexperienced reader.

The fourth unit "Text and context: written discourse" focuses on the
cohesive devices that tie texts together across sentence boundaries. The
authors successfully resort to the inductive method first giving a set
of activities and then describing such linguistic phenomena as lexical
cohesion, foregrounding, the use of formal and informal style,
grammatical cohesion, anaphoric and cataphoric connections between
sentences, demonstrative reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction,
and thematic continuity. Much attention is paid to functions of personal
pronouns and different forms of address in English. Generally the
authors have coped to describe in a clear and logical manner most of
cohesion devices successfully using interesting and instructive
activities.

The fifth unit "Text and context: spoken discourse" looks at some
important aspects of spoken varieties, both in naturally occurring and
in mediated texts. This section centers around three varieties of spoken
discourse: storytelling, speeches, and conversation (mostly telephone
dialogues). The analysis is based upon Searle's classification of speech
acts, Labov's description of oral narrative's structure, Grice's
classification of conversational maxims and Schegloff's model of
conversational routine. Much attention is paid to genderized talk and
the representation of region, social class and ethnicity in oral
discourse. Analyzing these types of oral discourse the authors single
out the specific features of vocabulary and grammar of analyzed texts
thus establishing connections with previous units. On the whole the
analysis is rather instructive.

Unit six, the last and the shortest one, points forward to the ways in
which language and analysis can be taken further in investigative
research. This section has some hints that can be helpful for students
when they decide upon the topic of their course work, or term paper.

In conclusion it should be said that the textbook has much material that
can be used by teachers but they should pay attention to the drawbacks
and take care of filling gaps, some of which have been noted in this
review.

REFERENCE
Asher R. (ed.) (1994) The encyclopedia of language and linguistics, 10
volumes. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

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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