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LINGUIST List 23.4972

Wed Nov 28 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Lexicography; English: Carter (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 28-Nov-2012
From: Vaughan Mak <ktmakhkbu.edu.hk>
Subject: Vocabulary
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2330.html

Author: Ronald Carter
Title: Vocabulary
Subtitle: Applied Linguistic Perspectives
Series Title: Routledge Linguistics Classics
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Year: 2012

Reviewer: Vaughan Mak, Hong Kong Baptist University

AUTHOR: Carter, Ronald
TITLE: Vocabulary
SUBTITLE: Applied Linguistic Perspectives
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Linguistics Classics
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2011

Vaughan Mak, College of International Education, Hong Kong Baptist University

SUMMARY

First published in 1998, this book is an introduction to the study of
vocabulary with a slant towards how such knowledge can be applied to practical
fields such as literary analysis, lexicography, and language teaching. The
second edition, which has just come out, includes updates on major domains in
vocabulary studies, particularly the part played by computational analysis.

The book is divided into three parts: Part I, “Foundations”, deals with basic
concepts and approaches to the study of vocabulary; Part II, “Reviews”,
examines how vocabulary study is applied to different fields to yield deeper
insights into the nature of language, language use, and language teaching;
Part III, “Case studies”, is considerably more scholarly in orientation,
consisting of two informant-based studies that involve relatively advanced
lexical analysis.

Before the book embarks on its three-part discussion in its main body, there
is a prelude entitled “Vocabulary and applied linguistics: recent past and
nearer future”. It delineates the major developments in linguistics that have
had a bearing on vocabulary study in three main aspects: the understanding of
the nature of formulaic language; advances in vocabulary learning and teaching
in relation to formulaic language, both from processing and performance
perspectives; and aspects of lexical (re-)formation in literary creativity.
All of these areas have been enhanced or enabled with the advent of corpus
analytic techniques.

Part I consists of four chapters. Chapter 1, “What’s in a word”, explores the
following basic questions: “What makes a word a word?”; What is a word made up
of?”; “How can words be classified and connected?”. It is in this chapter that
all the most basic concepts and terminology in semantics are clearly defined
and illustrated with examples. Chapter 2, “The notion of core vocabulary”, is
a short but important chapter. It defines what “core” means in vocabulary and
how it can be tested with a series of tools. More importantly, it shows how
core vocabulary is in fact more integrated into basic sentence structures, and
how dominantly such core vocabulary figures in realizing the
expressive-emotive potential of language. Chapter 3, “Words and patterns”, is
centred on one key concept of lexical study, collocation (i.e. the company
that words keep with each other). The emphasis of the chapter is placed on
explaining how collocation can be understood in terms of a continuum of
fixedness, and how somewhere along the continuum, a wealth of lexical patterns
emerges that not only shapes or conditions the structure of sentences, but
also prescribes specific connotative meaning -- a concept now commonly known
as ‘semantic prosody’. Chapter 4, “Lexis and discourse”, addresses several
slightly advanced topics in vocabulary studies, including: cohesion (i.e. “the
means by which texts are linguistically connected” (87)); lexical signaling
(i.e. “lexical items which make explicit the clause relation between the
matrix clause and the preceding clause or sentence” (89)); “discourse markers”
(i.e. items which often “indicate a boundary between what has gone before and
a new stage in the discourse” (98)); and coherence (i.e. “not merely a feature
of text … but a conceptual network which has to be recognized and interpreted
by the sender and the reader of a text” (108)). While the meaning of these
quoted definitions may not seem immediately clear, the chapter provides
numerous corpus-based examples that help readers grasp these concepts and see
their distinctions and inter-connections.

Part II covers three chapters that exemplify the applied linguistic
perspective of vocabulary study. Chapter 5, “Lexis and literary stylistics”,
explores how our multi-faceted and multi-layered understanding of words
enhances the way we interpret literature. For example, new discoveries have
been made in lexical associations, and new insights have been obtained as to
how figurative language works in our mind. Chapter 6, “Lexis and
lexicography”, is a reader-friendly introduction to how vocabulary study has
profitably informed the enterprise of dictionary-making. Grammar turns out to
be more lexically-based than conventionally imagined, and Carter makes that
clear by expounding on the monumental Cobuild Project, which literally
revolutionized the way dictionaries are conceived and made with the use of
corpora, and inspired similar projects that have all deepened and expanded our
understanding of the patterns and behaviors of language. Chapter 7, “Learning
and teaching vocabulary”, is the longest chapter in the book. It discusses how
vocabulary is acquired in both L1 and L2 contexts. Key concepts and paradigms
are covered, though a heavier emphasis is given to L2 vocabulary learning. In
line with that is an elaborate section on L2 vocabulary teaching, with a range
of practical approaches and methods that are readily utilizable in the
classroom.

Part III is composed of two short chapters, both of which are reports on
studies conducted about informants. Chapter 8, “Case study: lexis, tones and
ironies”, is a piece of research that examines how irony works in literary
texts. It argues that irony achieves its effect, at least in part, by lexical
patterns as well as readers’ extra-textual knowledge of different genres, and
as such, the research represents an essentially pragmatic approach to
analysis. Chapter 9, “Case study: style, lexis and the dictionary”, is an
example of a more in-depth study of the different nuances of word meaning. By
employing different scales such as “evaluation”, “potency” and “formality”
(252) as tools of measurement, Carter explores and indicates how people (i.e.
informants) may distinguish closely associated words and how that might bear
on the notion of core vocabulary. The study also reveals more clearly how
cultural meanings may be embedded in closely associated words, and that
dictionary entries should find ways to present or explain such information to
language learners.

EVALUATION

Indeed, the book is what the name of the series indicates, one of the
linguistic classics. Renowned for his work in stylistics, Carter has, over the
past few decades, applied and extended his expertise to English language
teaching and applied linguistics in general, thus privileging these fields
with enlightenment from his new discoveries and insights. The book
“Vocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspectives” is in and of itself a remarkable
piece of linguistic work, embracing the basics while addressing topics or
areas of particular interest or technicality. It will not only be a good text
for beginners of linguistics who are interested in vocabulary as an object of
study, but will also appeal to more advanced readers who are well aware of the
interdisciplinary nature of various linguistic disciplines and are therefore
looking to see how lexical study can link them all up and produce analyses
that may at once be both challenging and inspiring.

To be more specific, the four chapters in Part I should be essential reading
for students taking a course in vocabulary or semantics in any linguistics or
ELT / TESOL programme. In addition, Chapter 7, “Learning and teaching
vocabulary”, is a must-read for language teachers, both novices and veterans,
since it: (1) provides a succinct historical background to vocabulary
teaching; (2) covers key classical studies related to vocabulary development
in first and second language acquisition; (3) outlines recent trends in
research on vocabulary learning; and (4) reviews common methods and tools for
teaching vocabulary. The last part is especially useful to practitioners, with
concrete strategies and activities explained and illustrated, including: words
in context, word sets and grids, cloze procedures and discourse cloze, and
corpus-based word lists. Certainly, the discussion will suffer in comparison
to full-length treatments such as Nation (1990) and Schmitt (2000), but given
the limitations of space, Carter has still done a very good job of giving
TESOL professionals “a crash course”, so to speak, on the teaching of
vocabulary.

While the book is a gem for beginners and more advanced readers, it should
also be of considerable interest to linguistic researchers. One type of
researcher who will benefit from this book is a stylistician, whose approach
to literary works is primarily informed by linguistic theories and principles.
The two sections on literary analysis in the book, Chapters 5 and 8, represent
two levels of lexis-centred enquiry into literary texts. Chapter 5, “Lexis and
literary stylistics”, is a more general and reader-friendly discussion on how
a multi-dimensional understanding of word meaning and association can yield
stronger and more precise literary interpretation. In particular, this chapter
explores the argument on whether words are selectively configured into a
“literary lexicon” (132), thus giving rise to a “literariness” in language and
a “literary competence” (132) that lies in the ordinary reader. In relation to
questions like this, Carter conducted an informant study which accessed
individual interpretive procedures through a questionnaire enquiring into
readers’ responses to a poem by W. H. Auden. This approach found a fuller
expression in scale and depth in a related study, the major findings of which
are reported in Chapter 8. What is most recommendable about this chapter is
the inclusion of sample informant tests used in the study, accompanied by an
illustration of how the results are to be analysed and interpreted. The
chapter is therefore a prime example of how a “reader-response” study can be
designed with ingenuity to yield refreshing insights into analyses that would
otherwise have appeared impressionistic, as is often unjustly claimed about
literary interpretation. Although similar sample tests are not made available
in Chapter 9, the case study there still provides excellent research ideas
about how to use informants to reinforce a study on associative meaning in
terms of its inter-subjectivity and generalisability. Meanwhile, researchers
who are interested in corpus research will find the bibliography of language
corpora in the back of the book a delightful wealth of resources.

Indeed, there are not many drawbacks to the book. One minor shortcoming may be
the omission of Prototype Theory altogether in Chapter 1, “What’s in a word”.
Whereas Componential Analysis and Structural Semantics as approaches to the
study of meaning are quite adequately discussed, the concept of prototype
(i.e. understanding meaning by way of the best example in a category) is not
touched upon at all. Even a brief exposition of the theory would do well to
make the discussion on semantic approaches slightly more complete in its
coverage. Similarly, in Chapter 3, “Words and patterns”, dozens of terms --
even similar ones -- are given due attention and meticulously explained, but
the concept of “phraseology”, which is very common in collocation studies,
goes totally missing. Also missing in the discussion on collocation is a
section about the use of common, simple statistical techniques employed in
corpus linguistics, such as those for measuring the significance or strength
of collocation. Carter makes it quite clear that corpus techniques are
instrumental to making new discoveries in lexical studies; and if collocation
has a central place in his approach to lexis, it would only make more sense
for him to show how collocation can be better empirically harnessed with
computational procedures to explain language structures.

Meanwhile, there is also some room for improvement regarding effectively
updating the contents of the book. One clear example can be found, again, in
Chapter 3. It expounds on how words co-pattern with one another to different
extents of strength and predictability; but when examining these different
word patterns, which Carter refers to as “idioms galore” (74), he is still
basing his discussion on a taxonomy that originated in 1984, which espouses 14
main and sub-categories and is therefore hardly a neat and accessible
framework, not to mention dated in nature. Carter does address the recent
updates in terminology and categorization, but only does so in the prelude to
the book, where he mainly highlights major studies. It would have been much
more helpful if he had incorporated these updates into Chapter 3 itself and
come up with a trimmer version of “idioms galore” that is more consolidated
and up-to-date.

Nevertheless, “Vocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspective” stands as a highly
readable academic text that serves well to both inform and inspire. The
breadth of its coverage is highly satisfying, while the depth of its insights
may well bring intellectual sparks. I would strongly recommend this book, even
simply as a reference for a linguistics course.

REFERENCES

Nation, I. S. P. (1990). Teaching and Learning Vocabulary. Boston, MA: Heinle
and Heinle.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Vaughan Mak is a Senior Lecturer at the College of International Education
under Hong Kong Baptist University. He is currently teaching academic writing
and linguistics courses to college students. He is interested in research on
corpus linguistics and corpus-driven grammar, pragmatics, text and discourse
analysis, and stylistics. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the pragmatics
and phraseology of the introductory-it construction.
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