AUTHORS: Halliday, Michael A. K.; Yallop, Colin
SUBTITLE: A short introduction
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
Derek Irwin, Department of English, Lakehead University-Orillia Campus
This book is exactly what the title and subtitle imply: it is a short
introduction to the study of words. The text in this book was originally
published in _Lexicology and Corpus Linguistics_ (2004), although in the present
form it does not include the sections dealing significantly with corpus
research, having pared down from 192 pages to 117. It does, however, make sure
to point the reader to corpus resources, noting that the recent massive shifts
in lexicology -- and indeed, its future -- are due to these technological leaps;
specifically, ''the two critical resources here are the computer and the corpus''
Lexicology examines the subject matter from the point of view of systemic
functional linguistics (SFL), thus taking a fundamentally sociolinguistic view
of the importance of language in use as a communicative phenomenon between
people in order to generate meaning, including that meaning which is found at
the word level. In taking this viewpoint, it nevertheless includes a section on
cognitive linguistics, dealing there with the influence of Chomsky and pointing
out that ''it serves no good purpose to avoid or disguise serious differences in
theoretical stance which affect modern linguistics''(66). But more on this issue
The text comprises three chapters. The first and third are written by Halliday,
and the second by Yallop. Chapter 1 concentrates on the scope and history of
lexicology, Chapter 2 examines the application of it, and Chapter 3 discusses
the future of the field. Fittingly, and quite helpfully, the book also contains
a Glossary, and there is an addendum to the References listing a few major corpora.
Chapter 1: Lexicology 1.1 ''What is a word?'' This section brings up the
interesting question of how to classify words, both syntagmatically and
paradigmatically. The discussion includes reference to many different languages,
including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Arabic, Hindi, and Greek; in doing so, some
of the underlying notions of ''word'' in English are explored and illuminated.
Thus, ''writing systems do not always identify words: partly because there are
different kinds of writing system, but partly also because the languages
themselves are different''(3). What this observation leads into is the concept of
''lexicogrammar,'' a familiar term in SFL meant to convey that ''there is no exact
point where the lexicologist stops and the grammarian takes over''(4; see also
Halliday 1978, 1985, or more contemporarily, with Matthiessen 2004; Hasan 1987
refers to this phenomenon) -- so, we do need different models in order to
explore words from each perspective, though this necessarily expands the notion
of ''word'' instead of restricting it to a simply-defined unit.
1.2 ''Methods in lexicology: the dictionary'' This section, along with 1.3,
describes the major traditional approaches to lexical items. Essentially, the
reader is provided with a description of what is typically found under a
dictionary entry, with illustrations from the items ''bear'' and ''cut'' from the
New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993). Such entries are made up of 1) the
headword or lemma; 2) pronunciation; 3) word class; 4) etymology; 5) definition;
and 6) citations. There is also a brief discussion of the use of special
abbreviations, compounds and derivatives.
1.3 ''Methods in lexicology: the thesaurus'' Halliday here introduces the concept
of lexical taxonomy, illustrating the types of semantic relationships (typically
hyponymy and meronymy) and more properly describing ''synonyms'' as either
co-hyponyms or co-meronyms of a superordinate categorical term. The schematic
representation of a dictionary entry (Figure 2, p.14) which is derived from
entries in Roget's Thesaurus (1936) visually demonstrates such taxonomy.
Finally, there is a discussion of collocation, as words in an entry in thesauri
generally will share increased probability of co-occurrence, either with each
other or as the categorical term.
1.4 ''History of lexicology: India, China, the Islamic world, Europe'' One of the
strengths of this book is the inclusion of discussions informed by non-English
and non-European sources, and this section on the origins of lexicology from
several different literate traditions makes for a brief but interesting
grounding in world lexicology. The observation that it was language change that
made glossaries necessary is quite significant, and the global proof for this
phenomenon is striking, given that the evidence from English could lead to the
conclusion that external translation is the impetus to word study.
1.5 ''Evolution of the dictionary and the thesaurus in England'' Indeed, though,
as this section points out, ''it is important to bear in mind that English
dictionaries did not evolve in isolation from other traditions''(19). Even though
the initial works were attempts to provide English-Latin lists, this tradition
quickly gave way to the ''unusual word'' lists such as Cawdrey's (1604) _A Table
Alphabeticall if Hard Usuall English Wordes_, which was the first monolingual
dictionary in English. Halliday then provides the reader with ''four
achievements'' in English lexicology: Roget's Thesaurus, the Oxford English
Dictionary (originally the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles),
Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, and ''the nineteenth-century
dictionaries of the classical languages''(22). The chapter closes with a
paragraph discussing dialect dictionaries of the 20th century.
Chapter 2: Words and Meaning 2.1 ''Words in language'' This short section situates
the basic approach to follow: ''The main function of language - and hence of
words used in language - is to mean''(24). However, this deceptively simple
statement is then unpacked in the following sections where different types of
meaning are explored.
2.2 ''Words and meaning'' The first type of meaning is typically associated with
the dictionary; more correctly, there are quite a number of different
dictionaries available for such meanings to be found in. Referring back to
Samuel Johnson's more idiosyncratic and individualistic endeavours, Yallop then
points out that even when compiled by committee, there is still ample room for
editorial bias in a given dictionary. Even under ideal circumstances, though, a
definition can still only get at a very narrow range of a word in use. Further,
and opposite to the impression dictionaries typically impart, ''contextualization
of meaning is in the very nature of language and not some unfortunate deviation
from an ideal situation in which every word of the language always makes exactly
the same semantic contribution''(27). What follows is a discussion on denotation
and connotation, and the observation that if ''meaning is ultimately shaped and
determined by communal usage''(32) then the two concepts are so intimately
entwined as to make the distinction between 'core' and 'peripheral' meaning
2.3 ''Etymology'' The discussion on etymology is pretty standard from one
perspective, supplying the reader with some interesting examples of sense
shifts, including a short discussion on folk etymology. As stimulating as the
studies of individual items are, it is the argument against a kind of
'prescriptive etymology' that is the most striking: ''the history of a word is
not the determinant of its current meaning, and the greatest persisting drawback
of etymological studies is that they may be misused to support assertions about
what words 'ought' to mean''(40). Yallop argues against the idea of ''original
meaning,'' which moves him into the discussion on the prescriptive tradition.
2.4 ''Prescription'' Here Yallop broadens the view of the prescriptive approach
from lexis into lexicogrammar, concentrating on the eighteenth-century censure
of early 'corruption' of comparatives and superlatives (i.e., ''more corrupter''
or the like) and then to the idea that prepositions should not be used to end
sentences. The latter topic is very subtly illustrated -- I will assume with
intentional irony -- where the author uses the construction ''in which'' and
''which [X] should conform to'' in two consecutive paragraphs (46). Ultimately,
the argument here is that ''the social nature of language brings a normativity of
its own,''(48) and thus language commitments should be made not from on-high, but
rather continue to evolve through social agreement.
2.5 ''A social view of language and meaning'' At this point the book moves into a
discussion on the democratization of language authority; while meaning is
settled in communal use, meaning itself is therefore somewhat ephemeral but most
certainly not useless, and ultimately, ''if dictionaries and grammar books have
authority, it is because they reflect general usage''(51). Yallop demonstrates
with the examples of ''stakeholder,'' ''gender,'' ''sex,'' and ''patron,'' showing how
the meanings these terms embody have undergone negotiation over time.
2.6 ''Saussure and Firth'' Saussure and Firth represent the two major
theoreticians which the perspective of this book was built upon. The reader is
presented with a brief academic biography of each, and then presented with the
theoretical point most important to the study at hand. For Saussure, it is not
simply that of the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, but the fascinating
assertion that ''languages often see the world very differently,''(58) implicitly
hearkening forward to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Here the text presents
contemporary examples from several different sources, including Australian
Aboriginal languages. For Firth, what is stressed is the interesting tension
between derivation of meaning from language in use, or else from the contexts of
use themselves. Yallop concedes that this point of view seems ''bizarre,''(61) and
yet holds that corpora studies have often shown our language intuitions to be
mistaken, and Firth's point of view to be more valid than at first glance.
2.7 ''Cognitive linguistics'' At this point the reader is presented with the
author's reading of Chomsky, and, more specifically, Chomsky's approach to
meaning as exemplified in Cartesian Linguistics (1966). Of interest here is the
point of view that there is some sort of divide between body and mind, and that
language is a direct reflection of mental processes. Halliday and Yallop,
though, argue that ''the mind-body dichotomy represents a particular conception
of humanity, a conception that is by no means self-evident and universal''(65).
In order to then develop this concept, the book moves into a discussion on
language and reality.
2.8 ''Language and reality'' These are two very obviously difficult topics, and so
the intersection between them will certainly be shifting ground. Yallop takes
the point of view ''that what we call 'reality' or 'the real world' is by no
means as natural and self-explanatory as we sometimes like to believe''(67) and
indeed some words do not even necessarily have to make reference to anything
external to language itself. To demonstrate language that is meant to directly
intersect with the external, the reader is presented with the field of
'terminography,' the study of specialist terms, and the off-shoot occupation of
the terminologist. Specialist terms are illustrated through taxonomical
descriptions of biological species and the conventions in that genre. However,
such taxonomies are of only limited use in daily life, for although tomatoes may
technically be a fruit, we would not necessarily choose to pour them over ice
cream. Thus, although there is linguistic knowledge, and there is encyclopaedic
knowledge, the line between them cannot be finely drawn (75) – and again, this
is a very similar argument to that of denotation versus connotation earlier (see
2.9 ''Language and languages'' It is in this section that the argument against
universal grammar is taken up, and Yallop does so by the simple observation that
universalism – on the subject of language, at least – is based on faith and not
on observation. Human languages and cultures have ''evident diversity,'' which
leads to ''their own semantic strengths, their own areas of richness and
elaboration''(83). Thus it is a rewarding experience to learn another language,
not simply because of the acquisition of a new list of words for describing
familiar things, but because it is truly a mind-expanding procedure. The idea
that there is a universal similarity in all language is premised on what Yallop
calls ''something which is actually not observable''(84) in combination with ''a
vast inventory of universal concepts or components of meaning''(85) that each
language then selects from. Much simpler, from his perspective, ''the
similarities are better understood in terms of functions''(86). As a
demonstration of this theory in action, he then turns to the field of translation.
2.10 ''Translation'' As anyone who has tried his or her hand at translation can
attest to, it is most certainly not a science. The translator cannot simply
'reword' one language into another and have a comprehensible result. This
section therefore discusses ''the rashness of claiming that [translators] are
preserving meaning unchanged''(89). We return again briefly to a discussion of
Australian Aboriginal familial terms, before a more concrete discussion on how
to best translate a letter in order to facilitate the discussion on how it is or
is not possible to separate meaning from wording, and the potential implications
should the translator succeed. Finally, Yallop presents a quote from Haas' ''The
Theory of Translation'' which compares the work of the translator to that of a
sculptor who ''constructs freely''(92).
Chapter 3: The Future of Lexicology 3.1 ''Recent developments in lexicology'' I
have already mentioned the importance that Halliday places on the computer and
corpus, and by this point it should be evident why: ''the way the different
meanings of a word are described and classified can be worked out afresh from
the beginning (instead of relying on previous dictionary practice) by inspecting
how the word is actually used''(95). Halliday illustrates some of the potential
of this revisiting of words using examples from the Collins COBUILD
dictionaries. Once again, the discussion turns to lexicogrammar and how
conceptually it may assist in language learning. Finally, the discussion turns
to the concept of neologisms, and how they are in fact ''no more remarkable than
a new phrase or a new clause,''(100) emphasizing the fundamental power of
language itself to evolve at every stratum.
3.2 ''Sources and resources'' Halliday encourages the reader to find out about
lexicology first-hand, going to the dictionary and the thesaurus, and then
comparing amongst different forms of dictionary before branching out to the
encyclopedia. It's an interesting question where one of these texts leaves off
and where another begins (in my own work I often consult the Canadian Oxford
Dictionary in combination with A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical
Principles and The Canadian Encyclopedia, which all inevitably have entries on
many of the same terms). Halliday then mentions humorous or game dictionaries,
and then moves into the importance of language games as a whole in language
development, especially for children. Finally, he lists some of the more
prominent academic texts in the field.
The text includes the aforementioned ''Glossary,'' which is in and of itself a
fine resource, and the references include the short list of corpora.
This book is an excellent introduction to the subject area, and would thus be
valuable to anyone seeking a highly-readable entry-point into lexicology, and I
highly recommend it as such. It points to many other areas of inquiry for
interested readers, the most prominent among these being the aforementioned
field of corpus linguistics. Many of the textual examples are quite interesting,
as well as typically being original, insofar as they tend towards new citations
from traditional sources (it is difficult to imagine the willpower it took to
avoid Samuel Johnson's definition of ''Lexicographer,'' for example).
However, it is with the examples that I will raise my single criticism of this
text: since it is incredibly short, any repetition or wasted space stands out.
Thus, on the topic of dictionary entries, having two full pages dedicated to
exemplars (6-7) seems a bit much, even though they are abridged. A more careful
choice, directly matched up with the following organizational criteria (i.e.,
numerically associated), would assist the reader's comprehension instead of
tempting him or her to skip past. The repetition of the factoid that the OED was
originally entitled ''A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles''(21 and
37) is a very minor irritation, and Yallop's triumvirate of references to
kinship terms in Australian Aboriginal languages is similarly so (59, 68, and
89, with brief mention on 81).
As can be seen, though, there is very little to criticize in this text, since it
fulfills its purpose admirably. It is a very good read as well, drawing on a
remarkable knowledge of language and languages. One feature that is quite
helpful is the use of bold text for terms which are deemed important enough to
make it into the glossary, allowing for easy cross-reference. The discussion on
psychological versus social approaches to language is quite convincing, at least
insofar as the fields this book discusses, although I am quite sure that the
debate over language, meaning, and reality is not yet settled. This text makes a
fascinating foray into these matters from the perspective of the word, though,
and for that alone is valuable to those who lean towards a social and functional
view of language.
Avis, W.S. (1967). _Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical_Principles.
Toronto: W.J. Gage.
_The Canadian Encyclopedia_. (1999) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
_The Canadian Oxford Dictionary_, 2nd ed. (2004) Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Chomsky, N. (1966) _Cartesian Linguistics: a Chapter in the History of
Rationalist Thought_. Harper & Row, New York and London.
Haas, W. (1962). ''The Theory of Translation.'' _Philosophy_ 37: 208-28.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). _Language as a Social Semiotic_. London: Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). _An Introduction to Functional Gramma_r. 1st. ed.
Halliday, M.A.K. and Matthiessen, Christian M.I.M. (2004). _An Introduction to
Functional Grammar_, 3rd ed. London: Arnold.
Hasan, R. (1987) ''The Grammarian's Dream: Lexis as More Delicate Grammar.'' In
M.A.K Halliday and R.P. Fawcett (eds), _New Developments in Systemic
Linguistics, Vol 1: Theory and Description_. London: Pinter, 184-211.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Derek Irwin is a lecturer at Lakehead University's Orillia campus. Interests
include loan word integration into English, cultural contact, genre, and
language development in primates. He is currently completing his dissertation,
''Creating Canadian English: First Nations' Loan Words in Early Canadian Texts,''
at York University.