Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2004 15:49:27 -0500 From: Lynn Burley Subject: How To Study Linguistics: A Guide to Understanding Language
AUTHOR: Finch, Geoffrey EDITORS: Peck, John; Coyle, Martin TITLE: How To Study Linguistics SUBTITLE: A Guide to Understanding Language SERIES: Palgrave Study Guides PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2003
Lynn A. Burley, University of Central Arkansas
INTRODUCTION How to Study Linguistics is meant to be used by beginning linguistics students, and is written in an engaging, relaxed style appropriate to the book's purpose of looking at ''linguistics in a clear, sensible way'' (x). Four chapters cover the expected areas, an introduction to basic concepts, sound, syntax, and meaning, while the other three, ''Beginning Linguistics,'' ''Studying Linguistics Further,'' and ''How to Write a Linguistics Essay,'' offer some fare not usually found in other Introduction to Linguistics-type texts.
SUMMARY Chapter One, ''Beginning Linguistics,'' explains two pieces of advice that any new linguist should consider: to beware of all books on linguistics and to learn to think linguistically. Linguistics books often present information in technical terms and are based in one or another of the theories, which is not necessarily bad, but quite daunting to the beginner. Hence, the discussion on learning to think like a linguist, meaning to separate social ideas of language from linguistic uses of language -- correct/wrong vs. well-formed/ill- formed.
Chapter Two, ''The Linguistic Context,'' further helps students to think like a linguist by first getting them to defamiliarize language. Through this process, Finch introduces the basic ideas of competence and performance. The rest of the chapter is devoted to the functions of language, which he breaks down into micro and macro functions in order to build a framework for further study. He discusses seven micro functions: physiological, phatic, record keeping, identifying, reasoning, communicating, and pleasure functions. The macro functions include ideational, interpersonal, poetic and textual. Understanding these functions gives students a basis for delving further into the native competences as concerns the next few chapters.
Chapter Three, ''Studying Sound,'' begins a traditional chapter on sound, but there is more here than the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and a description of the speech organs. Finch begins by getting students thinking about sound first -- the differences between spoken and written representations of sound, what combinations are permissible in English, how we use sound aesthetically, and the problems our alphabet has in describing our speech sounds. Then he introduces the idea of phonemes and allophones followed by minimal pairs and the description of consonants and vowels. The final section discusses some of the phonological processes that occur in connected speech.
Chapter Four, ''Studying Syntax,'' is divided into two parts: the formalist approach and the functional approach. Finch tells students that the idea here is to just develop the right mental attitude rather than floundering in the complexities of the subject. He shows students that they already have knowledge of syntax by having them fill in the blank slots of various sentences, which gives them a list of determiners, verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Now students just need to learn to how these constituents work in syntax. The formalist approach is presented as the idealization of sentences, a way to get at our competence in order to better understand the cognitive processes our brains use in regard to language. Students learn the basics of phrase structure grammar and building trees. The functional approach introduces the student to grammatical functions of words and phrases, functional roles (actor, patient, goal, etc.), textual function, interpersonal function, and poetic function.
Chapter Five, ''Studying Meaning,'' covers both semantics and pragmatics. The main division is between what words mean in a sentence and what the force of the sentence is. The chapter begins with a discussion of sense and reference, briefly covering semantic features, connotation, register, and semantic fields. Finch also covers sense relations -- synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, hyponymy and incompatability. Next is a discussion of diachronic semantics and the processes of semantic change. Lastly, some time is spent on prototype theory and a discussion of truth as it pertains to semantics. The pragmatics section begins with the concepts of communicative intention, thematic force, inference and implicature. The cooperative principle and the maxims are introduced, followed by speech acts.
The longest chapter, Chapter Six, ''Studying Linguistics,'' is again divided into two parts. The first is dedicated to exploring each of the three main areas of phonology, syntax and semantics in more detail, and the second examines some applications of these areas in sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics and stylistics. In phonology, Finch covers rule notation, complementary distribution, free variation, and intonation. In-depth syntax begins with some morphology -- bound and free, word formation processes, and allomorphs. This allows a closer look at X bar theory and transformational grammar. In semantics, Finch delves deeper into logical semantics, including truth conditions and intension and extension.
In the second part of the chapter, Finch gives students an idea of what each of the three fields of sociolinguistics, stylistics and psycholinguistics is about. There is a brief discussion on the social factors affecting language use, dialect and style-shifting. Stylistics gives students some tools for looking at literary texts -- ways to discuss textual function, ideational function and interpersonal function, and the psycholinguistics section is a very brief introduction to child language acquisition.
The last chapter, ''How to Write Like a Linguist,'' is full of advice that works for whatever type of assignment students may be writing. Finch stresses the importance of continuing to think like a linguist, of studying language as it is used rather than how some entity thinks it should be used. To start, students need to approach a subject as a problem to be solved rather than as a report on what some textbook says about a topic. This means students must ask questions, find the gaps that are not covered in the readings. He also stresses that students should use their own examples as this will aid them in thinking linguistically and engaging them in the subject. Then students are to organize their data in such a way as the assignment requires. Basically, most papers will require students to observe, describe and explain. Finally, students needs to be aware of their use of terms, that they truly understand them and use them correctly, that they write clearly, develop an argument, and thoroughly discuss their points.
EVALUATION The blurb on the back of the book states that How to Study Linguistics is an ideal companion to students' studies at the introductory level, and I agree that it should be just that -- a companion. This is not an introductory textbook since it does lack exercises and does not offer many examples as most introductory textbooks do. It works well as a companion book for several reasons. First, it is much more readable than most textbooks -- Finch stays away from technical terms as much as is possible and clearly gives advice to students on what to think about when encountering technical terms. He uses analogies and examples to get students thinking about how they use language, often asking them to consider their own use and to listen to those around them. For example, he discusses how one dresses for a business function to introduce the concepts of right/wrong language use and well-formed/ill- formed.
A second feature that makes this text a student-friendly companion is how each subject is introduced. Most introductory level textbooks are quite good at giving lots of information on a particular subject, but not at explaining why students may be studying it. Finch mentions throughout why it may be worthwhile to take a look at some particular aspect of linguistics. In this way, it becomes more meaningful to students rather than just getting through it. Finch is also quite candid about some of what students will study. He quotes an extensive piece of scholarly text on syntax, saying it ''looks like the stuff of nightmares,'' (p. 84), which is absolutely true even for advanced students. But he continues by explaining how this piece is both realistic -- syntax is a very rich and complicated area -- and that it can be approached one step at a time and need not be so daunting. He is good at reassuring students there is value in what is to be studied and that it is actually easily studied when one learns to think linguistically and pay attention to how language is used.
A third feature that makes this a good companion guide is that last chapter on how to write like a linguist. Even linguistic papers at the beginning level require a form students may not yet have encountered in their studies -- namely, working with real data that they themselves have collected. And while students may be used to generating their own topics, doing so in linguistics, I think, is much more difficult since the subject matter is so new and different. The recurrent advice of thinking like a linguist does need to be emphasized when writing like a linguist since students have been taught for so long to trust what they read in books rather than natural data. Finch goes through an example of writing a paper on tense to show how students can generate questions to be answered, how they can avoid just regurgitating what other texts have to say and how to organize their data most effectively. I believe such a chapter should be standard in other introductory textbooks.
Other user-friendly features include bold-facing new terminology together with about a 230 term glossary in the back. There is also an index and the revised 1993 IPA chart. Chapters are divided into sections and subsections for easy thumbing through.
As for depth of coverage, there is here about as much as I would expect from an introductory level book; even more so with the chapter on studying further. I know most textbooks do not cover X bar theory in syntax or the symbols used in logical semantics, so having that available for the more curious student is an advantage. On the other hand, some subtopics do not get as much coverage as might be expected. For example, the discussion of antonyms does not cover some types, and the discussion of synonyms is just a paragraph. In syntax, while Finch does a good job of showing students that they already know about grammar by having them fill in blank slots of sentences where determiners or nouns would go, there is no other help in figuring out these lexical categories. In my experience, students need more tools to learn to identify lexical categories in order to do syntax.
My only other caveat here is no fault of anyone's, least of all Finch, and that's simply he is British and I am not. He classifies some sounds as diphthongs that are not for many American dialect speakers, and his discussion of postvocalic r and h dropping will be a little confusing for most American speakers.
All in all, I would highly recommend this book as a supplement for any beginning linguistics student. Given how readable it is and the attitude that anyone can do this with a little thoughtfulness is invaluable to students who often feel overwhelmed by a subject they think they know very little about. The last chapter on writing is a useful tool no matter what level the student is and can be summarized and supplemented to fit any undergraduate class. This is a fine addition to the tools available to beginning students.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Dr. Lynn Burley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing and Speech at the University of Central Arkansas. She teaches courses in semantics, sociolinguistics, world languages and linguistics for educators. Her research interests center on Native American linguistics, and she is currently finishing a paper on the production of morphological errors.