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Review of  Contemporary Linguistics

Reviewer: Ahmad R. Lotfi
Book Title: Contemporary Linguistics
Book Author: John Archibald William O'Grady
Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 12.2273

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O'Grady, William, John Archibald, Mark Aronoff, and Janie Rees-
Miller, eds. (2001) Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction,
4th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's Press, paperback ISBN 0-312-24738-9,
751 pp + Instructor's Resource Manual (88 pp) + 103 transparency

Reviewed by Ahmad Reza Lotfi, Azad University

*Contemporary Linguistics* (first published in 1980) is an
updated introductory textbook with a wide coverage of linguistic
topics as diverse in nature as phonology, syntax, semantics,
psycholinguistics, and computational linguistics. The fourth U.S.
edition of the text is distinguished from its Canadian
predecessors in its new additions intended to meet the readers'
needs in the States such as a chapter on native American
languages, a revised chapter on sociolinguistics, and also an
updated chapter on computational linguistics. Core chapters, esp.
the chapter on syntax, have been thoroughly revised to keep
abreast with the latest developments in the relevant fields of
research. An expanded Instructor's Resource Manual with teaching
advice and answers to the chapter exercises plus 103 transparency
masters for the teacher's use accompany the text. There are 17
chapters in the book each written by an expert or experts (13 in
total) on the topic. For each chapter objectives are set in
advance. A summary of the topics covered in the chapter, key
terms, sources, recommended reading, and questions and exercises
follow the main text. There are also "For the Student Linguist"
boxes at the end of 7 chapters. These are playful short essays
written by students on the subject in question intended to help
the reader to attain a deeper understanding of the topics under

CHAPTER ONE Language: A Preview (William O'Grady)

The chapter begins with the specialisations the human species has
developed in order for language to come into existence. Language
is viewed as a creative system with grammar as the mental system
behind it. The investigation of grammar is important because (a)
all languages have a grammar, (b) all grammars are equal, (c)
grammars are alike in basic ways, (d) grammars change over time,
and (e) grammatical knowledge is subconscious.

CHAPTER TWO Phonetics: The Sounds of Language
(Michael Dobrivsky)

The reader here learns about phonetic transcription, the speech
organ in human beings, vowels, consonants and glides as the
different sound classes and also how they ar produced.
Suprasegmental articulation (including pitch, length, and stress)
is also introduced with specific English examples. A number of
articulatory processes such as assimilation, epenthesis, and
metathesis are described and exemplified.

CHAPTER THREE Phonology: The Function and Patterning of Sounds
(Michael Dobrovsky and Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins)

Phonology is concerned with the sound patterns of a language and
how systematic phonetic variation in language comes into
existence. The authors begin with the major units of phonological
study, that is, features, segments, and the syllable.
Phonological conditioning, complementary distribution, and also
phonemes and allophones are introduced next. The structure of the
syllable with specific examples from English is the other topic
covered here in detail. Major class features, manner features,
and place of articulation features are introduced, too. Some
advanced discussion of the derivation of phonetic representations
from underlying representations with such examples as
assimilation of [+nasal], feature spreading, and tonal
assimilation concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER FOUR Morphology: The Analysis of Word Structure
(William O'Grady and Videa de Guzman)

The chapter begins the definition of the word as the smallest
free form. It also deals with morphemes, allomorphs, and morphs
as the units of morphological studies. Common morphological
phenomena such as compounding, affixation, and cliticisation and
also less common processes such as conversion, clipping, and
back-formation are introduced afterwards. An advanced discussion
of number, case, and tense comes next. How morphology and
phonology interact (morphophonemics) concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER FIVE Syntax: The Analysis of Sentence Structure
(William O'Grady)

In this chapter the reader learns about word categories, phrase
structure, X' categories, complement clauses, transformations,
and deep and surface structures. Universal Grammar and parametric
variation are introduced with examples from English, Tamil,
French, and Welsh. Case is studied as the interaction between
syntax and morphology. A brief comparison of transformational,
relational, and functional analyses concludes the chapter. Some
minimalist notions such as Merge and economy constraint are also
introduced here and there.

CHAPTER SIX Semantics: The Analysis of Meaning
(William O'Grady)

Semantic relations among words (synonymy, antonymy, polysemy and
homophony) are briefly examined first. Then we learn about
sentence semantics with specific reference to such terms as
entailment, connotation, and denotation. Semantic features and
how the meaning of a word can be broken down into its components
(componential analysis) come next. This paves the way for a
deeper understanding of the conceptual system of language. The
relationship between meaning and syntax (thematic roles and deep
structures, Principles A and B of Binding Theory), and that
between semantics and pragmatics (presupposition, setting,
information structure, conversational maxims) bring the chapter
to its end.

CHAPTER SEVEN Historical Linguistics: The Study of
Language Change
(Robert W. Murray)

Languages change in pronunciation, morphology, syntax, and also
lexicon and meaning. The chapter examines the systematicity with
which such changes occur. Articulatory simplification, spelling
pronunciation, analogy and reanalysis, and language contact are
among the factors that systematically change pronunciation in a
language. With morphological changes brought about due to
phonological changes, e.g. articulatory simplification resulting
in dropping affixes that characterise grammatical relations, the
syntactic realities of a language such as word order change
drastically, too. Contact with other cultures and also
developments due to technological advancements make lexical and
semantic changes inevitable. A review of the major techniques
employed in the reconstruction of the earlier varieties of a
language (the phonetic plausibility strategy and the majority
rules strategy among them) concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER EIGHT The Classification of Languages
(Aleksandra Steinbergs)

The reader gets familiar here with different types of language
classification, namely, genetic classification (classifying
languages according to their descent), typological classification
(according to their structural characteristics), and areal
classification (according to the properties shared by languages
in geographical contact). The author focuses on phonological,
morphological, and syntactic characteristics of languages
throughout the chapter. She examines different language families
and also phyla (macrofamilies) in such respects.

CHAPTER NINE Indigenous Languages of North America
(Victor Golla)

The chapter classifies approximately 325 indigenous languages of
North America into more than 60 language families. Phonological,
morphological, and grammatical characteristics of some of these
languages are examined briefly.

CHAPTER TEN First Language Acquisition
(William O'Grady and Sook Whan Cho)

Two complementary methods of data collection in L1 acquisition
studies are (a) naturalistic approach in which the child's
spontaneous utterances are observed and recorded, and (b)
experimental approach in which a task is designed to collect
data. The studies of the first type are usually cross-sectional
while those of the second type are longitudinal. The chapter
focuses on some of the findings of L1 acquisition studies of both
types. The developmental stages through which the child passes on
her way to the mastery of pronunciation, vocabulary, morphology,
and syntax are examined. The possible role of inborn knowledge in
L1 acquisition, and also those of adult speech, feedback, and
cognitive development are dealt with next.

CHAPTER ELEVEN Second Language Acquisition (John Archibald)

In this chapter the reader learns about the factors that
influence the content of L2ers' interlanguage and also how they
approach the process of second language acquisition. Among the
factors affecting the process, the author focuses on the role of
the first language, that of the second language itself, and also
those of age, and individual differences. The development of
interlanguage is reviewed in terms of phonology, syntax, and
morphology. Markedness and the Subset Principle are given special
attention. A review of the educational dimensions of L2
acquisition concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER TWELVE Psycholinguistics: The Study of
Language Processing
(Gary Libben)

The chapter summarises a number of methods and techniques psycho-
linguists employ in order to learn more about the way language-
users process linguistic data: (a) the study of the slips of the
tongue,(b) experimental methods involving lexical decisions and
priming, experimental methods concerning sentence processing such
as timed-reading and eye-movement experiments, and (c) the study
of event-related potentials produced by the brain while
processing language. A number of psycholinguistic findings
concerning pronunciation, morphology, and syntax are reviewed. An
outline of different psycholinguistic models of language such as
those of serial and parallel processing comes at the end.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN Brain and Language (Gary Libben)

In this chapter we read about the anatomy and functioning of the
brain in general and also the techniques and findings of autopsy
studies, brain imaging surveys, dichotic listening studies, and
split brain investigations of language. Different forms of
aphasia (fluent, nonfluent, Broca's, Wernicke's, jargon aphasia,
etc.) are described in reference to both the anatomy of the
damaged brain and the impaired function. The relevance of
linguistic theory to the studies of aphasia concludes the

CHAPTER FOURTEEN Language in Social Contexts
(Marjory Meechan and Janie Rees-Miller)

Sociolinguistics--the study of language in social contexts--is
concerned with the question of how differing sociolinguistic
norms express one's social identity (the sociolinguistics of
society), or on the other hand, how social circumstances
determine the structure language of language (the
sociolinguistics of language). The chapter shows how the former
focuses on sociolinguistic norms, standard/nonstandard varieties,
and language attitudes towards them while the latter is primarily
concerned with the topics typically covered in such fields of
research as discourse analysis, the ethnography of communication,
ethnomethodology (conversation analysis), and text analysis. It
also covers the major methods of studying these sociolinguistic
topics such as indexing analysis, marginal analysis, and variable
rule analysis. A review of the major sociolinguistic findings of
variation (both regional and social) in the United States comes
next. A brief account of such varieties as pidgins and creoles
concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN Writing and Language
(Michael Dobrovsky and William O'Grady)

The chapter gives a detailed account of a variety of writing
systems including logograms, pictograms, syllabaries, and
alphabets, and where and how they developed through history. The
chapter comes to an end with a short survey of the relation
between writing and reading in aphasics and children.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN Animal Communication (Michael Dobrovsky)

The chapter deals with a variety of topics such as nonvocal
animal communication by means of scent, light, electricity,
colour, posture, gesture and facial expressions, types of signs
(iconic, indexical, symbolic, and mixed), the structure of signs,
bee communication, bird vocalisation, and communication by
nonhuman primates. It also focuses on specific experiments with
animals designed to test nonhuman primates for linguistic
ability. An outline of the design features distinguishing animal
communication from human language concludes the chapter.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Computational Linguistics (Judith Klavans)

The chapter covers a good number of topics in computational
linguistics like speech analysis and synthesis, natural language
processing, parsers and grammars, and machine-readable
dictionaries. In addition to definitions and descriptions, the
chapter gives an account of the major applications of
computational linguistics such as indexing and concordances
(finding and identifying word occurrences, and also determining
which words occur near others), information accessing and
retrieval, machine translation and automatic summarisation.

I found this fourth edition of *Contemporary Linguistics* one of
the best introductions to modern linguistics I've ever read.
Almost all chapters are very good both in content and
organisation. Although CL is a work written by 13 different
authors, the text enjoys full harmony and a very high level of
cohesion throughout the book. At the same time, it is flexible
enough in organisation to allow the instructor to teach the text
in the order s/he wishes to. Chapters 2 and 3 (on phonetics and
phonology) are particularly well-written, which (in my subjective
judgement as I have not tried the text in my classes yet) helps
the student to go through the challenging content of these
chapters as smoothly as possible. Chapter 5 on syntax is one of
the most cleverly written chapters in the text, too: while
comprehensive enough for an introduction to general linguistics,
it avoids the unnecessary complications that are usually
thoroughly revised (if not banished for ever) before the novice
linguist has a chance to pick up the expertise needed to fully
appreciate them. I also recommend chapters 12 and 13 on psycho-
linguistics and neurolinguistics for both their relative
thoroughness and the interest they raise in the reader.

Like any other work, CL has its own shortcomings. The first
chapter of the text (though clear enough in content and style) is
not stimulating enough for a reader with little interest in
linguistics. Pragmatics has not been treated at the length and
with the depth it deserves. It would be fair enough to devote a
whole chapter to this field of research. On the other hand,
indigenous languages of North America are of less interest to the
readers of a first book on linguistics (at least to those outside
the US) to be incorporated into the book as a whole chapter.
Chapter 14 on sociolinguistics is unnecessarily detailed. Its
treatment of methods of studying variation (pp. 559-563) is not
very practical for readers with no background in research
methodology and also too shallow for those with it! Finally, the
concluding chapter on computational linguistics is somehow boring
and shallow (section 6 of the chapter dealing with the practical
applications of computational linguistics being an exception) as
the author spends most of her time and space on defining the
discrete terms recurrent in the computational literature without
incorporating them into a cohesive whole.

About the reviewer:
Dr. Ahmad R. Lotfi is Assistant Professor of linguistics at the
English Department of Esfahan Azad University, where he teaches
linguistics to graduate students of TESOL. His research interests
include minimalist syntax, second language acquisition studies in
generative grammar, and Persian linguistics.


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