LINGUIST List 7.620

Thu Apr 25 1996

Sum: English Textbooks in Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Johanna Rubba, English Textbooks in Linguistics

Message 1: English Textbooks in Linguistics

Date: Thu, 25 Apr 1996 12:23:02 PDT
From: Johanna Rubba <>
Subject: English Textbooks in Linguistics

Hello all,

My posting is prompted by Livia Polanyi's request for information about
textbooks for a class on the Structure of English, but I am posting it to
the whole list in fulfilment of a promise to post a summary of
suggestions sent to me when I sent out a similar request a good while
ago. Here are the results of my search, as well as results of using some
of the books for classes. (All except Kolln are paperbacks.)

Books focused on structure of English (vs. general ling with English focus):

I have used:

-Givon, T. English grammar, a function-based introduction Vols. I & II,
Benjamins, 1993, ISBN 1-55619-464-1 & 465-X
A relatively comprehensive survey of English syntax (1 chap. on morph.),
lots of examples, in outline form with text explanations. Students who
are not ling. majors had trouble with the mass of information and the
relative sophistication of explanations in this set. No exercises; no
phonetics/phonology; very little sociolinguistics.

-Traugott, Elizabeth C. & Mary Louise Pratt, Linguistics for students of
literature. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, 0-15-551030-4.
A combo intro-ling, intro to structure of English, and
application of linguistic concepts to literature (the latter is separable
from the the former two). Has chapter exercises, incl. appl. to lit.
Also has chapters on discourse, text, semantics, and language variation
and language in contact.

-Kolln, Martha, Understanding English Grammar. Macmillan, 1990 (4th ed.).
ISBN 0-02-366072-4.
A combination of linguistics and traditional grammar, with emphasis on
syntax, incl. sentence patterns based on verb type; uses traditional
sentence diagrams, not trees (though trees are introduced in an
appendix). Syntax chapters come first; morphology is in later chapters,
and phonology (a short treatment) is in an appendix; I just took them in
my own order, which worked fine. The book has exercises, and there is
also an accompanying workbook which I did not use -- basically, more of
the same as in the text. The exercises are of two types:
practice-application type, and inductive 'do linguistic analysis from
your own intuition' type; some mix the two. Has a section on 'Grammar for
writers' which covers some discourse/text/rhetoric/formal English

As to my assessment of these books, I seem to change the book every time
I teach the course, so clearly I see shortcomings with all of them. I
will be examining a few other books for use next year, but I may return
to Kolln if none seems workable.

Books I haven't used:

-Kaplan, Jeffrey. English grammar: Principles & facts. Prentice Hall.
There is a new edition out of this book that I haven't seen. The one I
have in front of me is very like an intro ling book in arrangement & tone.
Linguistics insights about lang., variation, and change are in Ch. 1; the
remainder marches through phonetics/phonology, morphology, & syntax, with
a lot of detail in the syntax portion that may be a bit much for
non-linguists, but could be very good for ling. majors. I will definitely
review the latest edition for possible use next year. Has within-chapter
& chapter-end exercises.

-Sedley, Dorothy, Anatomy of English. St. Martins', 1990. OUT OF PRINT.
Linguistics/traditional grammar combo, mostly linguistics; lots (some
might say overkill) of inductive exercises within the chapters. Includes
chapters on phonology (very short), variation, history, the spelling
system, usage. Good summaries at end of chapter and study questions. I
have lifted ideas and strategies from this book, but couldn't test it, as
it is out of print and I couldn't get the permission to reprint in time
for my class.

-Murray, Thomas E. The structure of English. Allyn & Bacon,1995. ISBN
0-205-16053-0. Covers only phonetics,
phonology, and morphology, and is intended to cover only a portion of an
Engl. structure course. Takes a linguistic approach; has exercises within
and at end of chapters.

-Lock, Graham. Functional English grammar: An introduction for second
language teachers. Cambridge U., 1996. ISBN 0-521-45922-2.
A notion-based grammar (e.g. "Doing & happening: the transitivity of
action processes"; "Organizing messages: Theme & focus"). I haven't
examined this book closely yet, but I will. I think it may be useful for
my courses in spite of the teaching focus. It does not appear to cover
phonetics/phonology. Morphology seems to be incorporated into the various
notion-based discussions. Has 'Tasks' peppered throughout the chapters.

-Huddleston, Rodney. Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge
Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge U., 1984; reprinted 1995. ISBN 0 521
29704 4
I haven't examined this book. Seems to focus on syntax/morphology. No
exercises. British English.

There are two books I would recommend highly as sociolinguistic

-Wolfram, Walt, & Donna Christian, Dialects & education: Issues &
answers. Prentice-Hall, 1989. ISBN 0-13-209867-9. OUT OF PRINT, but I
obtained permission to have my bookstore produce it in photocopy. A
very basic introduction to dialect variation, written in nontechnical
language in a very accessible question-answer format. I find it very
useful for courses taken by students intending to teach at elementary
and secondary levels. It's very short and can be used as a
supplemental text.

-Wolfram, Walt, Dialects & American English. Prentice-Hall, 1991. A
standard-length treatment of variation in English, including
treatments of gender and style as well as educational issues. With
exercises. I've never used this in a course, but might consider it in
a class focusing on sociolinguistic issues.

As to intro ling texts that focus on English in their examples, the
ones I have had success with are O'Grady, Dobrovolsky & Aronoff,
Contemporary Linguistics: An introduction (St. Martin's) and Edward
Finegan, Language: Its structure & use. Both contain chapters on
sociolinguistics, though Finegan goes into more detail and also treats
register in a chapter of its own. Both treat historical ling and/or
history of English, and have good chapter exercises.

I've been using O'Grady for a long time, but will probably stop soon,
because my students (non-ling major undergrads) are complaining that
they don't understand the book. I think it is because it is written in
scientific-discourse mode, and they can't take the combination of the
relative difficulty of linguistics concepts and 'big words'. Rather
than go back to Finegan, I will probably try Language Files (Ohio
State U). This book is nicely arranged and seems to have good
explanations; it may focus too much on other languages than English
for use in an English structure course. I have reviewed several other
intro ling books (Fromkin & Rodman, Burling, Parker & Riley, Akmajian
& Heny), but chose not to use them for various reasons.

I hope those who were waiting for my summary to come forth will
forgive the delay; and that the summary will be useful for people
teaching courses focused on English. I'd welcome further input on any
of these books as well as queries of any sort from my colleagues.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Johanna Rubba	Assistant Professor, Linguistics =
English Department, California Polytechnic State University =
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 =
Tel. (805)-756-0117 E-mail: =
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