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EDITORS: Aarts, Bas and April McMahon TITLE: The Handbook of English Linguistics PUBLISHER: Blackwell YEAR: 2006
Reviewer: Andrew McIntyre, University of Leipzig and University of Neuchâtel
The chapters of this 800-page handbook introduce readers to thirty-one different areas of English linguistics. Most, but by no means all, of the chapters presuppose little familiarity with the subjects they describe. The book's primary function will thus be as a resource for those teaching English linguistics, be it as a source of texts which can be assigned to students as readings, or as a way of informing themselves about areas in which they do not specialise. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the focus of the book is mainly synchronic, though of course diachronic aspects cannot be, and are not, ignored completely.
The introductory chapter by the editors is followed by thirty-one chapters, each of which is briefly summarized below. The necessity of summarising so many chapters coupled with space considerations has forced me to keep my summaries as short as possible.
Part I: Methodology
2. Description and theory: Kersti Börjars The chapter overviews the notion of a linguistic 'theory'. Some issues relevant to theory construction are discussed, including notions such as observational/descriptive/explanatory adequacy, and the tension between theory and description. The second half of the chapter illustrates some of the notions by comparing concrete examples of theories of language, those chosen being Minimalism, Lexical-Functional Grammar and Optimality Theory.
3. English corpus linguistics: Tony McEnery and Costas Gabrielatos This chapter provides an introduction to corpus linguistics, discussing the nature of the subject and its contributions to linguistics (e.g. in areas such as language description, language change and teaching English as a foreign language). An appendix provides a useful list of English corpora.
4. English grammar writing: Andrew Linn The chapter is an overview of the history of English grammars, in the sense of reference works aiming at a more or less complete description of the English language.
5. Data collection: Charles F. Meyer and Gerald Nelson The chapter surveys the main methods of data collection for linguistic theory, including introspection, corpus work, and various types of experiments.
Part II: Syntax
6. English word classes and phrases: Bas Aarts and Liliane Haegeman The chapter introduces readers to (i) problems attending the demarcation of syntactic categories and (ii) some basic questions of constituency and phrase structure, some of which include the arguments for not treating auxiliaries as part of VP and for the analysis of the clause as a binary branching IP.
7. Verbs and their satellites: D. J. Allerton The chapter discusses theories of the subcategorisation properties and modification of verbs.
8. Clause types: Peter Collins This is a discussion of the distinctions often cast in terms of a fourfold classification of clauses as declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamative. A special concern is the problems the clause types raise for the interactions between syntax, semantics and pragmatics. For instance, the author argues that although a sentence like ''It's such a shame!'' is exclamative in terms of the semantic-pragmatic category of illocutionary force, it is syntactically not an exclamative clause, witness its ability to serve as complement to a non-factive verb unlike syntactic exclamatives:
I think it's such a shame. *I think what a shame it is.
9. Coordination and subordination: Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum Section 1 is a grammar of coordination in English. Section 2 describes some properties of subordinate clauses, including relative clauses, comparative clauses, content clauses, and non-finite clauses involving infinitives and participles.
10. Tense in English: Laura Michaelis This chapter discusses some aspects of the semantics of tense in English. Arguments are presented that it is the reference time rather than the situation described which is located temporally. It is aspect which is responsible for relating the situation to the reference time. The author discusses the present tense in detail, arguing that, rather than being meaningless or semantically underspecified with regard to present reference, the effects it shows can be explained by its selection of states (with possible coercion of the aspectual type of the verb).
11. Aspect and aspectuality: Robert I. Binnick The author introduces various aspectual subcategories (situation aspect, viewpoint aspect, phasic aspect), and some theories of aspect. A final section discusses aspect in discourse.
12. Mood and modality in English: Ilse Depraetere and Susan Reed After a brief discussion of the imperative and subjective, the chapter discusses the literature on semantics of modal auxiliaries in detail.
13. Information structure: Gregory Ward and Betty Birner This treatment of information structure shows how the notion of 'open proposition' (roughly a discourse-salient proposition with a variable replacing the focussed, discourse-new information) is necessary for our understanding of a number of information-structure-sensitive constructions, including clefts, gapping, preposing, and inversion, among others. Section 3 introduces the notion of 'information status' (the degree of familiarity of some element within a proposition) and applies it to various kinds of non-canonical argument orderings.
14. Current changes in English syntax: Christian Mair and Geoffrey Leech After some general discussion, the chapter provides a corpus-based examination of some syntactic innovations in English. These include changes in the use of the progressive, modals and non-finite complementation, the colloquialisation of written English and several developments inside the noun phrase. A general discussion is provided of the causes of these changes (grammaticalisation, socio-cultural factors).
15. English constructions: Adele E. Goldberg and Devin Casenhiser The article discusses the controversy over the notion of 'construction' as a theoretical primitive: does one take the constructionalist approach, treating constructions as arbitrary form-meaning parings, or does one take the non-constructionalist approach, common among Chomskyan linguists, according to which constructions are epiphenomenal of the elements of which they consist? The article goes on to discuss constructions from the constructionalist vantage point.
Part III: Phonetics and Phonology
16. English phonetics: Mike MacMahon The article provides an introduction to articulatory phonetics, followed by brief introductions to acoustic phonetics, suprasegmentals, voice quality and the history of the discipline. The article is probably not suitable as a first introduction for readers with no prior knowledge of phonetics, but contains information not found in other introductory texts and would thus be a good as a supplementary reading or revision text for more advanced students.
17. English phonology and morphology: Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero and April McMahon This chapter, pitched at a more technical level than most other chapters in the book, discusses problems of morphophonology, with particular attention to theories of the division of labour between morphology, phonology and the lexicon.
18. Prosodic phonology: Michael Hammond The article discusses two prosodic domains: the syllable and the foot, in both cases reviewing the linguistic and extralinguistic evidence for the existence of these units, and then discussing some further aspects of each type of prosodic unit.
19. Intonation: Francis Nolan After an introduction to some basic properties of intonation in English, the author discusses its functions in demarcating grammatical units, making information-structural distinctions, indicating the discourse function of the clause (statement vs. question), expressing the speaker's attitude and regulating the discourse. After this, speaker variation is discussed.
Part IV: Lexis and Morphology 20. English words: Donka Minkova and Bob Stockwell A more informative title for this chapter might have been 'The English Vocabulary'. The authors discuss estimates of the size of the English vocabulary, the notions of 'core' and 'periphery' of the language's vocabulary and the historical influences on it.
21. Compounds and minor word-formation types: Laurie Bauer The chapter discusses non-affixal word formation processes in English. (Backformation and conversion/zero derivation are not treated. The author says that they are best discussed in conjunction with affixation (p. 483) -- however, the treatment of affixal derivation in chapter 22 does not discuss them either.) Compounding is discussed in fair detail in its phonological, structural, semantic and pragmatic aspects.
22. English inflection and derivation: James Blevins The chapter presents a discussion of inflectional categories and exponence in English. Apart from the basic descriptive facts, some interesting issues are discussed, including (i) the claim that the distinction between 'I' vs. 'me' etc. is an opposition between 'subject' and 'general', and thus does not parallel the case distinctions found in other languages, (ii) the claim that 3rd person '-s' on verbs is a marker of non-agreement, appropriate for the maximally unmarked context and (iii) the status of participles and gerunds. The treatment of derivational affixation covers matters of affixal derivation not discussed in ch. 21, but in less detail.
23. Productivity: Ingo Plag The chapter defines the notion of morphological productivity and indicates how it can be measured. Next the author provides a discussion of the workings of lexical access with a view to working out what determines the degree of productivity of an affix. The notion of productivity is an epiphenomenon of several different factors including parsability, phonological and semantic analysability. Other restrictions on productivity are noted (blocking, pragmatic restrictions, structural restrictions).
24. Lexical semantics: Kate Kearns This chapter introduces many notions which one would expect to find in an introduction to semantics in a general linguistics textbook, including e.g. semantic fields, lexical relations, and decomposition. Rather less standard is section 5, devoted to sense variation. It discusses homonymy, polysemy and underspecified meanings, as well as theories dealing with these matters.
25. Lexicography: Julie Coleman This introduction to lexicography discusses the nature of dictionaries, areas of research in lexicography (e.g. the history of the discipline, the impact of computer technology on dictionary compilation) and some of aspects of dictionary entries.
Part V: Variation, Discourse, Stylistics and Usage
26. Syntactic variation in English: a global perspective: Bernd Kortmann In sections 2-6, the chapter catalogues a broad range of (morpho)syntactic phenomena subject to variation between varieties, including phenomena in the noun phrase, the verb phrase, negation, agreement and subordination. Section 7 discusses some general factors at work among the specific phenomena discussed in previous sections, and indicates why syntactic variation should be taken note of.
27. Phonological variation: a global perspective: Paul Foulkes This chapter starts with a discussion of the causes of, and constraints on, phonological variation: physical causes, contextual causes (coarticulatory and prosodic phenomena), grammatical constraints, geographical and social constraints. Later sections in the chapter examine the consequences of phonological variation for theoretical and applied linguistics.
28. Spoken and written English: Jim Miller The author begins by arguing for the status of spontaneous speech as a special genre (the boundary between spoken and written being quite blurry –consider the relative formality of speech based on writing and the informality of personal e-mails). There follows a discussion of the differences between writing and unplanned speech, and the theoretical implications of the subject are noted.
29. The grammar of conversation: Douglas Biber and Paulo Quaglio Some features of spoken conversation are noted, and explanations are given for why conversational speech has the features it has. Finally, scripted television dialogue is noted as a source for the study of conversational phenomena.
30. Gender and the English language: Deborah Cameron The chapter is an overview of (i) the influences of the language user's gender on the language produced (including on its phonological and discourse properties) and (ii) the way in which gender is represented in the language itself.
31. Language and literature: stylistics: Peter Stockwell The article provides an overview of the history of stylistics, discusses the status of stylistic analysis, gives a few examples of stylistic analysis and discusses new trends in work on stylistics.
32. English usage: prescription and description, Pam Peters This chapter introduces readers to the history of and research on prescriptivism and of the more modern movement in the descriptive direction. It also discusses the influences that prescriptivism has had on the language and –to pick out a relatively minor point which I found particularly disturbing– the negative responses to attempts by serious linguists at debunking prescriptivism.
I requested to review this book because, as someone who works in a department of English linguistics, I am constantly on the lookout for texts which (i) give self-contained introductions to sub-areas of the subject and discuss interesting questions within those areas, and (ii) can be approached by students for whom linguistics is only a small part of their curriculum, with the consequence that they are not able to read much in the way of primary research. Most of the chapters in the book fulfil these requirements. In this respect, the book is a success.
As the editors note in their introduction, there is scope for quibbling about what should have been included and what could have been left out. However, I do not wish to hold forth on this because such quibbling is inevitable with any handbook. Ask ten specialists what they would have included in a handbook on some area and you would receive (at least) ten different answers.
One annoying defect in the book is the publisher's use of endnotes instead of footnotes, an exasperatingly reader-unfriendly practice which has no technical justification and whose aesthetic benefits are paltry recompense for the drain on the reader's time and concentration. I am sure I am speaking for the overwhelming majority of readers in asking publishers to think carefully about whether there is any justification for the use of endnotes in future publications.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew McIntyre has had a postdoctoral research and teaching position for
English linguistics at the University of Leipzig for several years and will
shortly take up a similar position at the University of Neuchâtel,
Switzerland. His research interests include argument structure, and
syntactic, semantic and morphological aspects of verbal and prepositional
elements. His homepage is www.uni-leipzig.de/~angling/mcintyre.