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LINGUIST List 19.213

Thu Jan 17 2008

Review: General Linguistics: Plag et al (2007)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>

This LINGUIST List issue is a review of a book published by one of our supporting publishers, commissioned by our book review editorial staff. We welcome discussion of this book review on the list, and particularly invite the author(s) or editor(s) of this book to join in. To start a discussion of this book, you can use the Discussion form on the LINGUIST List website. For the subject of the discussion, specify "Book Review" and the issue number of this review. If you are interested in reviewing a book for LINGUIST, look for the most recent posting with the subject "Reviews: AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW", and follow the instructions at the top of the message. You can also contact the book review staff directly.
        1.    Randall Eggert, Review: General Linguistics: Plag et al (2007)

Message 1: Review: General Linguistics: Plag et al (2007)
Date: 16-Jan-2008
From: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>
Subject: Review: General Linguistics: Plag et al (2007)
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-2485.html
AUTHORS: Plag, I., M. Braun, S. Lappe and M. Schramm
TITLE: Introduction to English Linguistics.
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Jonathan White, Högskolan Dalarna, Falun, Sweden

The aim of this book is to introduce students to basic linguistic terminology
and the analysis of English data, although other languages are considered,
especially German. It is intended as a textbook for an introductory course in
Linguistics, as well as a sourcebook for teachers and a book for self-study. The
following areas are taken up: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax,
semantics and pragmatics. The book ends with a chapter showing how the material
can be applied to historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and
psycholinguistics. At the end of each chapter, there are recommendations for
further reading, and basic and advanced exercises based on the material; at the
end of the book there is a comprehensive glossary.

Chapter 1: Phonetics
The first chapter starts with the main problem for analyzing English
phonetically, namely the mismatch between spelling and pronunciation. The IPA
symbol set is gone through, and finally the classification of speech sounds is

Chapter 2: Phonology
The contrast between phoneme and allophone is covered in chapter 2. Spectrograms
are used to illustrate the idea that sounds may be produced differently in
different contexts. Next connected speech phenomena specific to English are
dealt with, and finally the structure of the syllable.

Chapter 3: Morphology
The first issue dealt with in chapter 3 is the difference between morpheme and
morph. Standard terminology is gone through like suffix/prefix/infix and
derivation/inflection. Allomorphs in English are gone through in detail,
including the conditions for using them. Then, word-formation processes are
discussed in general, concentrating on non-affixational techniques like clipping
and compounding.

Chapter 4: Syntax
The notion of constituency and basic constituency tests are dealt with in
chapter 4, including cases of structural ambiguity. Phrase types and functions
are covered, and form-function mismatches are discussed at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 5: Semantics
The difference between reference and denotation is dealt with at the beginning
of chapter 5. Compositionality is covered, and then notions like inference and
scope. Basic meaning relations are presented, and the role of register in
determining where synonyms are used is covered at the end.

Chapter 6: Pragmatics
Chapter 6 begins by dealing with speech acts in terms of types and directness,
with felicity conditions being a part of this discussion. The role of background
knowledge in utterance interpretation is discussed and then the Cooperative
Principle and associated Maxims. Politeness and the notion of face end the chapter.

Chapter 7: Extensions and Applications
The final chapter discusses how the terminology and techniques presented in the
earlier chapters can be applied to historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and
psycholinguistics. In historical linguistics, sound correspondences are the
focus, as are sound shifts. Sociolinguistic variables like class and age are
covered in terms of language variation. Finally, what psycholinguistic research
tells us about the structure of the lexicon is presented.

Overall, I find this to be an excellent textbook introducing the linguistic
analysis of English. All the terminology and analytical techniques are presented
thoroughly, and are applied to a wide range of data from English. I particularly
like the fact that examples from the BNC are brought in as additional evidence.
Specific issues in the analysis of English are covered, such as the wide range
of allomorphs, and it is good to see that the conditioning of these morphs are
dealt with as well. The exercises cover the material in each chapter, and extend
it to give the student insights into further study. The glossary is comprehensive.

I have a few issues that might be considered in later editions. One is that
there is no real introductory chapter dealing with issues like the
competence/performance distinction, and the notion of language as a discrete
system. This, I feel, would give useful background to the approach as a whole
and explain the organization of linguistic knowledge presented in the remainder
of the book.

Also, additional exercises could be provided for self-study. If I were to adopt
the book, I would supplement this material with other exercises. The book is
also presented as a source-book for teachers, so maybe some teachers' guide
would be useful as well.

An additional comment I have about the exercises is that the book is intended
also as a self-study book for students. However, there is no key to the
exercises (I don't know if one is intended in the future, but it would be welcome).

All in all, though, I find this to be an excellent textbook, and I would
certainly recommend it for introductory courses in English linguistics.

Jonathan White is a senior lecturer in linguistics at the Department of English,
Högskolan Dalarna, Falun, Sweden. His research interests are English
linguistics, syntax, phrase structure, morphology, and form-function mismatches.

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