LINGUIST List 14.67

Thu Jan 9 2003

Review: Language Description: Downing and Locke (2002)

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  1. viatscheslav iatsko, Downing and Locke (2002), A University Course in English Grammar

Message 1: Downing and Locke (2002), A University Course in English Grammar

Date: Wed, 08 Jan 2003 17:32:00 +0000
From: viatscheslav iatsko <>
Subject: Downing and Locke (2002), A University Course in English Grammar

Downing, Angela, Locke, Philip (2002) A University Course in English
Grammar, paperback, ISBN 0-415-28810-X, xx+652 pp., $29.95. Routledge
(Taylor and Francis)

Book Announcement on Linguist:

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 ''A University Course in English
Grammar'' expects the book to deal with morphology and syntax, while
this textbook concentrates on syntax and text grammar providing, as it
is stated in the Preface, ''a clear descriptive account of sentence
grammar and ''an account that offers a means of analyzing texts''
(p.ix). To reduce ''grammar'' to ''syntax'' seems to be a common
feature of contemporary English linguistics which, as I noticed
earlier (Iatsko, 2001), can be accounted for by 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. It would be impossible for a university course in Russian
grammar to deal only with syntax without describing other branches of
grammar. Those interested in a more detailed description of English
morphemics and morphology can use some other book, a perfect example
is L. Brinton's (2000) ''The Structure of Modern English''. The book
was written for students of English as a foreign or second language in
higher education that is why it is primarily aimed at helping students
to acquire a theoretical framework of English. Another specific
feature of this book is that it is based on M.Halliday's
systemic-functional model of grammar. Consequently, this book differs
essentially from numerous grammars of generative stock abounding in
notorious tree diagrams representing hierarchical structures of
English phrases and sentences.

Review of the chapters

The grammatical content of the course is presented in three blocks: 1)
a first chapter giving an overview of the whole course and defining
the basic concepts and terms used in it; 2) six chapters describing
clause structures from semantic, syntactic and functional points of
view; 3) six chapters dealing with syntactic groups. The chapters are
divided into class-length ''modules'' (sixty in all) each one
beginning with a boxed summary which presents the main matters of
interest and ending with practice tasks. The book also comprises ''Key
of Selected Answers'' section, and an extensive index. Chapter 1
''Basic Concepts'' comprises 3 modules, which very briefly describe
main syntactic concepts and notions that are discussed in detail later
in the following chapters. These concepts include: illocutionary
structure comprising communicative acts, such as statement,
exclamation, promise; experiental structure comprising different
semantic roles (process, participant, attribute, etc.); thematic
structure (theme and rheme); types of clauses, classes of syntactic
groups, and syntactic elements of clauses. The last module of the
chapter focuses on different ways of expanding linguistic units.
Chapter 1 is followed by six chapters describing clause structures
from semantic, syntactic and functional points of view. Because this
part of the book seems more interesting I will give a more detailed
account of it. Considering syntactic functions in Chapter 2 the
authors distinguish between complements and adjuncts and provide a
thorough analysis of such syntactic units as subject, predicator,
direct object, indirect object, prepositional object, subject
complement, object complement, predicator complement, adjunct,
disjunct, and conjunct. The analysis includes detailed description of
syntactic features, semantic features, and realizations of each of
these units. It should be noted that one of the most disputable
problems in grammar has been the classification of object types. Many
grammarians point out the fact that the classification of the object
into direct, indirect and prepositional is inconsistent because it is
based on two different criteria: direct and indirect objects are
distinguished according to a semantic criterion whereas prepositional
object is differentiated according to a formal criterion (use of a
preposition) (Ilyish, 1971). To tell the truth, while reading Chapter
2 I had a feeling that the authors would avoid this inconsistency
using their classification of semantic roles described in Chapter 4. I
was disappointed; having assigned some semantic roles to the direct
and indirect objects the authors failed to associate any semantic
roles with the prepositional object. Of course such association
requires additional research. Chapter 3 focuses on different types of
verb complementation. Reading this chapter, students can acquire
profound knowledge of a wide range of verbs distinguished according to
the types of complementation: intransitive, monotransitive,
ditransitive, complex transitive, and copular. What arrests attention
is regular correlation of syntactic structures with their
meanings. For example discussing ''that''-clauses as complements of
monotransitive verbs the authors give detailed account of meanings
that this clause can take in discourse, such as ''facts'',
''reports'', ''proposals'', and ''decisions''. The same goes to
''WH''-clauses and non finite clauses. Chapter 4 outlines a semantic
framework for a situation consisting of 1) process, 2) participants in
the situation, 3) attributes ascribed to participants, 4)
circumstances associated with the process. Processes are divided into
material, mental, relational, and verbal; participants include
animate, inanimate or abstract entities; attributes are qualities or
circumstances of the participants; circumstances comprise time, place,
manner, cause, etc. of the whole situation. The process type
determines classification of semantic roles. For example, semantic
roles in material processes include agent, force, affected, effected,
recipient, beneficiary, and causative agent whereas semantic roles in
mental processes include experiencer and phenomenon. These roles are
further subdivided into different classes depending on the verb's
meaning. On the whole the authors distinguish 15 main roles. It is
evident that this conception of semantic roles, well substantiated and
logical, differs essentially from existing conceptions developed by
leading representatives of case grammar: W.A.Cook (1998), L.Brinton
(2000, pp. 129-163), R.D.Van Valin (2001, pp. 21-85). Since the
authors don't give any references it is not quite clear whether they
developed this conception themselves or adopted somebody other's
conception. In Chapter 5 declarative, interrogative, imperative, and
exclamative clause types are matched with illocutionary acts. The
authors point out an isomorphic correlation between these clause types
and illocutionary acts, which takes place when, for example, a
declarative clause expresses a question and conversely an
interrogative clause expresses a statement. Special emphasis is made
on assertive and non assertive uses of such words as ''any'',
''some'', etc. which is especially important for students studying
English as a foreign language. All conclusions and judgments made by
the authors are supported by numerous examples taken from natural
language discourse. Chapters 6 and 7 make up one unit dealing with
message organization. While Chapter 6 concentrates on thematic and
information structures of the clause and discusses topicalizing and
focusing transformations (ellipsis, deictic elements, clefting,
''there''-structures, extraposition, postponement), Chapter 7 focuses
on structure of clauses' complexes and identifies some relationships
between clauses in discourse. I think that the authors' treatment of
these two topics is somewhat superficial because they didn't take into
account results achieved in the field of text grammar. While
discussing information structures they should have gone beyond the
sentence and analyzed different types of structural connections
between sentences, such as co-referent terms, pronominal substitution,
nominalization, lexical repetition, etc. While discussing types of
thematic progressions they should have introduced the notion of
super-phrasal unit as a configuration of sentences united by
structural connections and the one topic. Rather than concentrating on
formal (paratactic and hypotactic) relationships between clauses the
authors should have given the notion of types of discourse (reasoning,
narrative, description) and logical and grammatical relations
underlying them. All these linguistic notions were described in
numerous books on text grammar published by European authors (see
e.g. Dijk T. Van, 1972). Without studying them it's impossible to
offer ''a means of analyzing texts'' The next 6 chapters (8-13) deal
with syntactic groups: verbal group, nominal group, adjectival group,
adverbial group, and prepositional group. An advantage of this part of
the book is that the authors managed to depart from traditional
hierarchical phrase structures and suggested a non derivational
approach to studying the structure of these groups. Such approach is
sure to be much more useful for foreign students; rather than building
tree diagrams they can acquire profound knowledge of different
variants of structures of the verbal group, meaning of English tenses,
uses of articles, etc. That doesn't mean that notions developed within
the scope of phrase structure grammar are rejected and not used at
all. While discussing the structure of the nominal group the authors
use familiar concepts of head, determiner, modifier, qualifier, but
the emphasis is made on the ways of their realization which is more
important for foreign students.


I would like to point out some advantages and disadvantages of this
textbook. - Comprehensive approach to the description of linguistic
units. Analyzing syntactic structures the authors regularly associate
them with their meanings and communicative structure. Such an approach
is in line with integrational analysis of language suggested by
several scholars (Steedman, 2002, Iatsko 2002, Iatsko 1998, Apresian
1986). - Attempt to substantiate isomorphic correlation between
different levels of syntactic analysis and syntactic
structure. Discussing correlation between different types of syntactic
structure (pp. 6-7), types of syntactic units and their functions
(pp. 16-17) the authors state: ''this many-to many relationship is
fundamental for the understanding of the relationship of the grammar
of English to text'' (p.17). One cannot help agreeing with this
statement. - Non derivational approach to the description of phrase
structures. Non derivational description of English phrases is much
better understandable for foreign students than hierarchical tree
diagrams adopted in generative grammar. - An essential drawback of
the textbook is lack of references to linguistic literature. Since the
authors develop an approach dealing with different levels of syntactic
analysis it would have been reasonable to give references to works on
case grammar, communicative syntax, and generative grammar, to
describe correlation between these grammars. Actually, students
studying an academic course must be aware of different approaches to
the investigation of a given linguistic phenomenon developed by
different authors. Apart from that, they are supposed to learn some
pieces of material on their own that is why university textbooks
provide extensive ''References'' and ''Futher Reading'' sections (see,
for example, Borjars&Burridge 2001, L.Brinton, 2000). Unfortunately,
nothing of the sort can be found in the book under review. In case
the authors decide to prepare another edition of the textbook taking
into consideration flaws mentioned above the linguistic community has
all chances to get a perfect university course in English syntax.


Apresian Y. D. (1986) Integrational description of language . In: Voprosy
yazykoznania. No 2. P.57-70. (In Russian).

Borjars K., Burridge K. (2001) Introducing English grammar. New York:
Oxford University Press.

Brinton L. (2000) The structure of modern English. Amsterdam;
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Cook W.A. (1998) Case grammar applied. Arlington: The Summer Institute of

Dijk T. Van. (1972) Some aspects of text grammars. The Hague, 1972.

Iatsko V. (1998). Textual deep structure . In: Text, speech, dialogue.
Proceedings of the first workshop. Brno: Masaryk University Press.

Iatsko V. (2001) A review of Borjars & Burridge Introducing English
Grammar. In: Linguist List 12.1562

Iatsko V. (2002).Integrational discourse analysis. Katanov State
University of Kahakasia

Ilyish B.A. (1971) The structure of modern English. Moscow; Leningrad:
Downing, Angela, Locke, Philip (2002) A University Course in English
Grammar, paperback, ISBN 0-415-28810-X, xx+652 pp., $29.95. Routledge
(Taylor and Francis)Vysshaya Shkola

Van Valin R.D. (2001) An Introduction to Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.


V.Iatsko is professor in the Department of English and Head of
Computational Linguistics Laboratory at 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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