AUTHOR: Yule, George TITLE: The Study of Language PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2010
Megan E. Melancon, Department of English and Rhetoric, Georgia College and State University
This book is an introductory textbook designed for beginners and those interested in the field of linguistics in general. It covers all the major subfields of linguistics in an engaging and informative manner, without overwhelming the reader with technical terms. This newest edition of the text (the 4th) comprises twenty chapters, all of which are written in extremely readable prose with examples and explanations for new and important concepts in the field of linguistics. Each chapter follows the same format: quotations, current issues, jokes, anecdotes, and current uses of language introduce each one (in the chapter on Second Language Acquisition, for example, the author uses a passage from David Sedaris, 2000, in which Sedaris discusses his difficulty in explaining the concept of Easter, in French, to his French teacher). The author then follows each of these blurbs with a brief discussion about how it applies to the material in the chapter. The major headings within each chapter are clearly set apart by font size and color, with appropriate subheadings beneath. The final sections of each chapter, although typically overlooked by students, actually contain as much information and learnable material as the chapters themselves. These sections contain Study Questions, Tasks, Discussion topics/projects, and further reading suggestions. The Study Questions are simple memorization and regurgitation exercises, while the Tasks and Discussion topics/projects sections build on the information presented in each chapter. They go far beyond simple memorization of concepts and terms, and enable the instructor to branch out into areas in which students seem to need more instruction, thereby challenging students to perform linguistically-based tasks and research projects. The book also includes a glossary, a reference section, and an index, all of which are very complete and very useful.
Chapter 1 begins with the origins of language, and has been updated to include a discussion of the most recent research on genetics and language. Chapter 2, entitled 'Animals and Human Language', has information about the early studies done on chimps, and also includes some vital concepts for the students: displacement, arbitrariness, productivity, cultural transmission, and duality. Chapters 3 and 4 introduce students to phonetics ('The Sounds of Language'), and phonology ('The Sound Patterns of Language'). The two chapters are, of course, at the heart of any linguistics course, and the explanations of the concepts and terms dealing with these subjects are clear and succinct. Chapters 5 and 6, entitled 'Word Formation' and 'Morphology', respectively, deal with those two subjects in a compendious manner. The examples in these two chapters, in particular, are extremely current, and are therefore appealing to a general audience. For example, the author quotes Bill Bryson (1994) discussing the origin of the word 'Santa Claus' in the introduction to Word Formation (52), and introduces the challenging hurdle of morphology by quoting Coupland (1991) on the definition of 'bambification' (66).
The following three chapters (Chapter 7, 'Grammar', Chapter 8, 'Syntax', and Chapter 9, 'Semantics') build on the knowledge acquired from the previous chapters and introduce some extremely basic concepts about these incredibly rich and dense topics. The topic of Chapter 10 is pragmatics; this chapter includes discussions of deixis, various forms of reference, speech acts, politeness theory, and context, and is a fine example of a concise overview of these topics. Chapter 11, 'Discourse Analysis', follows this model by introducing the reader to topics such as cohesion, coherence, conversational analysis (including a very detailed and well-exemplified discussion of the Gricean maxims, turn-taking, hedges, and implicatures), and the notions of the usage of schemas and scripts and their importance in conversational analysis.
The next three chapters: Chapter 12, 'Language and the Brain', Chapter 13, 'First Language Acquisition' (FLA), and Chapter 14, 'Second Language Acquisition' (SLA), fall together quite nicely in terms of the information blending seamlessly from one chapter into the other. The chapter on how language and brain functions interact is a brief overview of biology, psychology, and the intersection of linguistics with both of these topics, all written very compactly and coherently. The sections in the chapter include discussions on language areas in the brain, aphasia, the dichotic listening test, the critical period hypothesis, and Genie. For Chapters 13 and 14, the decision to maintain the distinction between discussions of FLA and SLA (unlike many introductory linguistics texts) is one that benefits both teacher and learner. The teacher using this text and the student acquiring the information gain knowledge about acquisition vs. learning, the stages in the first language (L1) acquisition schedule, the development of morphology and syntax in an L1, and semantics in Chapter 13. In Chapter 14, one finds information about acquisition barriers and aids, a brief history of the methods used in the attempt to teach second languages, and a variety of processes undergone by second language learners. Both chapters cover the most important basic concepts in their fields, and provide many examples for students, who, for their part, have experienced at least one of these types of acquisition of a language.
Chapter 15, 'Gestures and Sign Languages', includes very brief overview of signed languages in general, and a more extensive yet still succinct history of American Sign Language (ASL). The material in this chapter, although dated, is accurate as concerns the formation, structure, and meanings of signs in ASL. Chapter 16 is a discussion of writing systems of the world's languages, and contains a short history of the evolution from pictograms to ideograms and logograms. A discussion of syllabic and alphabetic writing systems make up the remainder of this chapter.
The last four chapters of the book form a natural grouping. They include Chapter 17, 'Language History and Change', Chapter 18, 'Language and Regional Variety', and Chapter 19, 'Language and Social Variation', and Chapter 20, 'Language and Culture'. The language history chapter (Chapter 17) starts with a short look at language change in general then moves to a description of English in particular. The author includes a discussion of family trees, cognates, and comparative reconstruction, then focuses in on a history of English: Old, Middle, and Present-day English are discussed and exemplified, along with sound changes, syntactic changes, and semantic changes in each stage. Chapter 18 tackles language and regional variation, and contains discussions of the differences between accents, dialects, languages. Examples and explanation of isoglosses and dialectology as a field are also given. In addition, the author has included in this chapter topics that do not, on the surface, immediately seem to apply to regional variation in its traditional sense: bilingualism and diglossia, language planning, and pidgins and creoles. In chapter 19, the focus shifts to sociolinguistic variables and their effects on language. Here one finds discussions about social dialects, education and occupation, social markers, prestige dialects, and registers and jargons. In addition, the last part of the chapter contains a sound but brief look at African American English, in which the author contrasts what he terms 'African American Vernacular English' (AAVE) with ''what we might call 'European' American English''' (260). In Chapter 20, 'Language and Culture', the author takes a shotgun approach to a very broad subfield of linguistics; he discusses gender and gendered language, categories, with examples from kinship terms and time concepts, linguistic relativity, address terms, and cognitive categories, using classifiers to illustrate his points.
The latest edition of this text contains the most extensive changes to date, and all have served to make a good textbook even better. The major complaint about this book in its previous iterations is that the book is too simple, too short, and is essentially linguistics 'lite'. There is merit to that claim, but the text serves as one of the best, if not the best, book for many linguists who are in programs in which they may be the only instructor, or at least in the minority, and who therefore have many students who do not plan to major in linguistics. For that reason, the book is eminently valuable in terms of a general overview of the field of linguistics, and is accessible to people with no background whatsoever in the field. On a very practical note, due to its size, the publisher and author have managed to keep the cost of the book down; it is cheap, valuable, and useful as a text.
One major defect of the book to date has been the lack of a supporting website; that has been addressed to some degree with this newest edition. This website, found at www.cambridge.org/Yule, although very minimalist (much like the book) contains suggested answers for the Study Questions and the Tasks following each chapter. In the previous editions, the Study Question answers were given in the back of the text, meaning that students who were required to complete them for homework just copied them, while the Tasks, the most important part of the post-chapter material insofar as testing students' knowledge of the material, had no answers (suggested or not) provided at all. The addition of the suggested answers contained on a website makes the book much more attractive to potential users. The website also contains the figures found in each chapter, and reproduces the glossary found at the end of the text. It should also have included the 'Further Reading' lists found at the end of each chapter; these concise bibliographies focus very specifically on the issues discussed within each chapter, and a list of them and a link to other resources would have been extremely helpful.
In the previous editions, the physical placement of the chapters on the development of writing (renamed 'Writing' in the new edition) and gestures and sign languages have been problematic. In this edition, the chapter on writing has been moved to a place which enables it to be more seamlessly integrated into the flow of a semester, but the chapter about sign languages (which is in fact a discourse about ASL) does not belong in this book at all. The information is dated and uninteresting, and does not do credit to this language code. It would be as useful to include a chapter entitled 'French', or 'Spanish', and expect students to understand the language.
Lastly, anyone looking for any theoretical discussion about any of the topics in the book will be disappointed. They do not exist, but this seeming negative is what makes the book so appropriate for its intended audience; a group of people who may or may not continue linguistic study, but who are interested in learning more about language and languages in general, in terms that they can understand, with examples that they can relate to. It is the perfect textbook for the many linguists outside of linguistics departments who are teaching an introductory course.
Given that, the merits of the book far outweigh the negatives. One important point in particular has been touched on repeatedly in this review: the book is concise, thorough, and succinct. It is also extremely well-written. Pedagogically speaking, the final paragraphs of each chapter introduce the upcoming chapter so well that they should be used as both a preview and a review of the material being covered. It is difficult to express how much information this author covers in so few words, while being so informative. There is no fluff in this book; every single sentence counts, every word is important. This style of writing gives the book its major strength and gives the instructor of the class an impressive amount of flexibility. If s/he chooses to expand on the basic, yet thorough, information in each chapter, the suggested readings, along with the instructor's knowledge and interest enable that. The length of the book and the chapters therein also lend themselves very nicely to a semester-long course, meaning that the teacher does not have to rush instruction in order to 'cover all the material' in the text. The flip side of that coin is that, although the brevity of the chapters is appealing to students, it is also misleading, since students typically count how many pages they have to read for each assignment. The average number of pages is nine in this text; the amount of information contained within each would take up three times that amount in other introductory linguistics textbooks. Given that, this book is perfect for instructors who are very familiar with the material presented in the text, and for students who are interested in a general overview of the topic of linguistics.
Bryson, B. (1994). Made in America. William Morrow Press.
Coupland, D. (1991). Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. St. Martin's Press.
Sedaris, D. (2000). Me Talk Pretty One Day. Little Brown Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Megan E. Melancon is an associate professor at Georgia College and State
University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics at Louisiana State
University. Her research interests include Cajun French, Louisiana Creole
French, Georgia (USA) speech, American Sign Language, Second Language
Acquisition studies, and Genomics and Linguistics. Her most recent
co-authored publication is 'Using Critical Literacy to Explore Genetics and
its Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues with In-service Secondary Teachers'
(CBE-Life Sciences Education).