LINGUIST List 19.528|
Thu Feb 14 2008
Review: English Linguistics: Maybin, Mercer & Hewings (2007)
Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert
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Review: English Linguistics: Maybin, Mercer & Hewings (2007)
Message 1: Review: English Linguistics: Maybin, Mercer & Hewings (2007)
From: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>
Subject: Review: English Linguistics: Maybin, Mercer & Hewings (2007)
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-1506.html
EDITORS: Maybin, Janet; Mercer, Neil; Hewings, Ann
TITLE: Using English
Vanessa Leonardi, Research Fellow, Faculty of Economics, University of Ferrara,
Using English is an edited collection of essays divided into seven chapters plus
an introduction. Each chapter begins with an introduction, contains several
activities and extra readings with a further comment on each one of them, and
each chapter ends with a conclusion aimed at summarizing the main points. This
book is thought of as a general introduction to the study of English for
students of both language and linguistics. This text has been designed to target
people with no previous knowledge of linguistics since it introduces and
explains basic concepts. It raises issues related to the use of the English
language in different countries and contexts by both native as well as
The introduction (1-3) highlights briefly the main themes of the book and
provides readers with a description of chapters. In this introductory part the
editors express their attempt to reach ''readers from different linguistic and
cultural backgrounds''(2) and claim that the information presented in their
volume is not to be thought of as definitive but as ''open to critical
In chapter 1, ''Everyday Talk'' (5-41) Janet Maybin claims that talk is a
fundamental aspect of our life and although conversation has experienced little
appreciation in the past, nowadays thanks to the emergence of conversation
analysis more and more linguists have begun to pay attention to it. Taking
linguistic and pragmatic concepts as reference points, she draws the readers'
attention to the structure and function of conversation through examples of
openings, small talk, closings, politeness and turn takings. Further on, she
claims that language produces meanings through functions in specific contexts.
The notion of context is at the core of all the examples and explanations
provided in this chapter and in the rest of the book. Maybin then moves on to
analyze communicative strategies and conversation styles by referring in
particular to Aboriginal English and mixed gender conversations claiming that in
both cases the way people use language is an expression of identity. The chapter
includes two further sections on storytelling and code-switching, the aim of
which is to reinforce the point made in the previous sections in relation to
style and identity.
The aim of Chapter 2, ''Using English to persuade'' (43-81) by Adrian Beard, is to
analyze two major areas in which language is used to persuade people, namely
politics and advertising. The first part of the chapter deals with public
speaking focusing especially on political rhetoric and Beard attempts to show
how through the use of particular persuasive techniques, such as careful choice
of pronouns, repetition, ambiguity, references to countries and national
characteristics, metaphors, euphemisms and contrasts people can distinguish
between different kinds of messages which can signal: 1) personalization, 2)
inclusiveness or 3) distance /detachment. The best way to analyze this kind of
texts is to apply Fairclough's (1995)critical discourse analysis. The second
part of this chapter focuses on the notion of advertising which is characterized
by a particular use of persuasive techniques and language play. The latter
element is eventually covered in the following chapter. Beard attempts to show
how advertising plays with emotions through the use of multimodal texts, that
is, texts which combine words and pictures. He claims that although we are
directly addressed in persuasive texts, in reality we are not offered the
opportunity to reply and we are somehow manipulated in so many different ways.
Advertisements are viewed as difficult texts which are interpreted in different
ways by different people for different reasons. When analyzing advertisements,
several factors should be taken into account, such as age, gender, race, and
cultural contexts. The notion of context here refers to both the context of
production as well as the context of reception needs.
In Chapter 3, ''Language Play in English'' (83-121) also by Adrian Beard, the
focus is on the creative use of language and language play in particular which
may be interpreted in different ways (Crystal, 1998; Cook, 2000). Language play
is classified into three different categories based on Cook's approach (2000),
namely, linguistic form (playing with the look and sound of words), semantics
(playing with meaning of words) and pragmatics (playing with the factors
affecting language choices). These categories are put into practice by providing
a few public examples taken from the shop names, the headline news and songs
(comic songs in particular). Section 3.5 covers the issue of graffiti which are
considered to be another form of language play. They are bound to their
situation and environment and, as such, they acquire meaning and value and
achieve their intended purpose by being written on surfaces and public walls.
Graffiti may bear upon political, social, economic or other topics and should
not always been given a negative connotation because at times it is meant to be
the only way to express people's identity and opinions in cases where this is
not publicly possible. Beard claims that puns can play with 1) meaning, 2)
sound, 3) appearance and that they can also be cross-linguistic phenomena. He
also acknowledges that puns are not regarded as seriously as other forms of word
play and therefore they tend to be ignored. He finally provides the readers with
short analyses of puns in private texts, such as in an email exchange between
colleagues and chat rooms and insists upon the need to give more importance to
puns and their potential in terms of language play which ''is everywhere around
In chapter 4, ''Literary Practices in English'' (123-166), Mike Baynham and Janet
Maybin focus their attention on the use of written English in order to show how
''literary practices in English vary across different social and cultural
contexts'' (151). This chapter also includes a section on the differences between
spoken and written English by highlighting the major differences. Although this
distinction may seem to be quite straightforward, in reality it is no longer so
clearly defined due to the growth of technologies and electronic communication.
Besides, spoken language is more complex than it first appears especially in
terms of grammatical relationships as also acknowledged by Halliday (1987). The
examples provided are taken from both email messages and chat room conversations
and are aimed at making readers aware of shifts from formal to informal language
so that literary practices from both written and spoken language are mixed
together. The authors suggest that in order to analyze and fully understand any
kind of text written in English, readers need to take into account the context
in which it is set. This is important because literary practices are likely to
change as a result of both technological and social changes. This chapter
includes some interesting references to social semiotics, mainly in the work
carried out by Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001), claiming that the preference of a
particular code does not only reflect a particular language community, but may
be a result of a variety of factors, such as 'geopolitical ideology', 'pragmatic
convenience' or 'current fashion' among others (140). Stress is laid on the
importance of literary mediation which does not only include language matters,
but also technological and other generic conventions.
In chapter 5, ''English at Work'' (167-203), Neil Mercer and Almut Koester focus
on both spoken and written English used in the work environment. The main
assumption here is that language is used as a 'tool', as also acknowledged by
the Russian psychologist L. S. Vygotsky (1978. The authors claim that this kind
of working language is characterized by its own specialized vocabulary and
specialized texts and can be used in two different social events, namely English
among co-workers and working with the public, which are the two main sections of
this chapter. In the first section, stress is laid upon the fact that English is
indeed nowadays the lingua franca par excellence in business communication and,
as it used differently and adapted by the non-native speakers all around the
globe, English is evolving into new varieties called pidgins or New Englishes.
Different views are highlighted as to whether problems in using English in
intercultural business negotiations are related exclusively to differences in
the speakers' cultural background (Marriott, 1995; Poncini, 2002). In the second
section, ''working with the public'', the authors address the issue of how
professionals communicate things to lay people and highlight four main reasons
for misunderstanding between these two opposite groups: 1) different cultural
backgrounds, 2) high technical nature of subject matters, 3) low proficiency in
language and 4) power and control. Their findings lead them to conclude that the
kind of language used at work fulfils two important functions, namely the
ideational and the interpersonal functions as defined by Halliday (1978).
Chapter 6, ''Market forces speak English'' (205-244) by Sharon Goodman, deals with
the phenomenon of the English language border crossing in a world where
socio-political and economic changes are having a dramatic effect on the kind of
English used in different contexts. Goodman focuses on the informalization and
marketization of the English language border crossing. He claims that English is
becoming more and more informalized in many public and professional contexts and
this can be interpreted as a sign of friendly environments or as a lack of
professional distance since ''informality can serve to build and maintain social
bonds'' whereas ''formality [...] can be used as a resource to create and maintain
professional relationships'' (208). In the last few years language has been
considerably simplified by institutions in order to make it more accessible to
the public and this tendency, in Fairclough's (1992) opinion, mainly reflects
two clear and distinct strategies, namely: 1) a form of democratization of power
towards the public as well as 2) a clever way to disguise more subtle and
implicit power control over the public. As far as the marketization of the
English language is concerned, there seems to be a close link between political
speeches and language used for selling in the field of advertising. This implies
a crossing from the field of advertising to the field of information. Political
institutions are indeed turning nowadays to commercial advertising strategies in
order to: 1) better persuade the public and 2) sell them their policies. This
phenomenon is so widely spread that even employees working in commercial and
political institutions are trained on how to use language at work. Both
informalization and marketization of the English language question the issue of
agency, that is, ''who does what to whom'' (230). Goodman concludes that
informalized and marketized forms of English may be viewed as positive or
negative depending on our personal opinion and experience. Nevertheless, it is
fundamental to note that while these institutions employ particular strategies
to persuade the public and sell them their services, products or policies,
people are not always passive or powerless and, indeed, they are now developing
other strategies to resist them.
In chapter 7, ''Making judgements about English'' (245-280), Donald Mackinnon
explores the issue of how people judge the quality of the English language. In
this chapter there is no linguistic approach to the issue since Mackinnon is not
himself a linguist but trained in English language and philosophy. After listing
a series of possible categories of judgments, he focuses on that of correctness
as well as looking briefly at three more categories connected to it, namely
appropriateness, social judgments and offensive language. The judgments reported
in this chapter are taken from a variety of sources and are bound to their own
contexts. Most of them refer to British English although they could easily apply
to other English-speaking countries all around the world. Among the most
important criteria used to judge the correct or wrong use of English, Mackinnon
mentions 1) the frequency of occurrence, 2) appeals to authority, 3)
disapproval, 4) logic, 5) conservative or innovative views on language and 6)
etymology. Nevertheless, some linguists substitute the notion of correctness
with that of appropriateness of usage in terms of informal or formal style.
According to Mackinnon this notion is not so convincing as that of correctness
although he acknowledges that both notions raise more or less the same problems.
When judging the quality of English usage, speakers' social position seems to be
a crucial factor. Spelling, for instance, is an important social and educational
marker in English-speaking countries. Finally, one of the strongest judgments
about the quality of English refers to offensive language and, more precisely,
to swear words and discriminatory language. Both categories are, in Mackinnon's
opinion, bound to their context of use and their ''offensiveness lies in the
abusive intent, not in the words themselves'' (273).
The volume has been described as ''an invaluable introduction to the study of
English for students of language and linguistics.'' I would add that it might
also be helpful to scholars and anyone interested the use(s) of the English
language and its varieties.
The strength of this book lies in its practical character. Theoretical notions
are indeed very well related to practice and this renders it a very useful
resource to English language use. Thanks to both the variety of sources used in
this volume as well as the topics covered in the extra readings the readers are
left with a desire for further information.
This book is a perfect example of active reading where readers are given the
opportunity to play an active role. The activities included in each chapter,
indeed, are very helpful as they allow readers to think about the issues and put
them into practice.
The volume is engaging, challenging and well documented. It covers a variety of
linguistic concepts ranging from general linguistics to applied linguistics,
from sociolinguistics to pragmatics. Readers are therefore offered a wide range
of concepts and notions for which a short gloss is provided.
Regrettably, there are a few minor deficiencies which should be pointed out.
Firstly, it would have probably been more helpful to either focus on fewer
concepts or provide larger explanations for them (even by adding a comprehensive
glossary at the end of the book). Secondly, some theories and concepts lack
proper references to authors or scholars who have developed and/or adopted them.
Thirdly, the extra-reading on p. 223 is not followed by the author's analysis as
in the rest of the chapter as well as in the rest of the book and readers
probably miss an important opportunity to reflect upon the issue and further
relate it to the theme of the chapter. Fourthly, section 2.3 (classical
Graeco-Roman oratory) is perhaps too long and too detailed as compared to
previous sections. In general, the extra readings are very interesting but it
would probably be better to have a detailed analysis of them right at the end so
that readers do not have to switch back and forth to read the authors' comments
Despite those minor shortcomings, this volume is thoughtfully compiled, very
well referenced and written in simple language.
Cook, G. (2000) _Language Play, Language Learning_. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Crystal, D. (1998) _Language Play_. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Fairclough, N. (ed.) (1992) _Critical Language Awareness_. London: Longman.
Fairclough, N. (1995) _Critical Discourse Analysis_. London: Longman.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1978) _Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation
of Language and Meaning_. London: Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1987) Spoken and written modes of meaning, in Horowitz, R. and
Samuels, S. J. (eds) _Comprehending Oral and Written Language_. Orlando, FL:
Kress, G. and T. Van Leeuwen. (2001) _Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media
of Contemporary Communication_. London: Edward Arnold.
Marriott, H. (1995) Deviations in an intercultural business negotiation, in
Firth, A. (ed.) _The Discourse of Negotiation: Studies of Language in the
Workplace_. London: Pergamon.
Poncini, G. (2002) Investigating discourse at business meetings with
multicultural participation. _International Review of Applied Linguistics_, vol.
40, pp. 345-73.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) _Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological
Processes_. London: Harvard University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Vanessa Leonardi is a Research Fellow and Lecturer in English Language and
Translation at the University of Ferrara (Italy). Her main research interests
include Translation Studies, linguistics and English language teaching.
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