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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AUTHOR: Crystal, David TITLE: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Third Edition. PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2010
Michael Crombach, Nuance Communications Austria
David Crystal's (DC) 500+ page book is divided up into 11 parts and a total of 65 chapters. Additionally there are the prefaces to the three editions up to now and appendices containing the indices on topics, languages, authors, a table of the world's languages etc. Although the headings and sub-headings are self-explanatory the following gives a sentence or two about the sections, many of which have an average length of two pages. The plan of the book forms some kind of an arch or even a circle, leading from topics at the edge of linguistics over the core linguistic topics to questions again at the interface to other sciences. This makes perfect sense, as it guides the reader to the core questions concerning language, that are hard to understand without a proper presentation of the complexities of language, and on the other side it explains why the issues dealt with by linguistics are relevant in everyday life.
Part I. Popular Ideas About Language (1-15)
1. The prescriptive tradition These pages are actually an overview of a history of linguistics before linguistics; DC will come back to this historical view on pp. 428-433. It also illustrates that the impression of language decline is as old as the awareness of language.
2. The equality of languages DC tries to illustrate and emphasize the intrinsic equality of all language, and that differences in the esteem of languages stem from social or economical inequalities.
3. The magic of language This chapter illustrates the close link between language and religion. The archaic belief that language has ''magical powers'' is still found today in linguistic behavior, as in taboo and euphemism.
4. The functions of language In sum DC lists seven different functions of language, but he does not decide on one primary function. The functions listed by DC are: ''emotional expression'' (10), ''social interaction'' (10), ''the power of sound'' (11), ''the control of reality'' (12), ''recording the facts'' (12), ''the instrument of thought'' (13), ''expression of identity'' (13).
5. Language and thought Here the close connection of language and thought is illustrated, by introducing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. DC argues that a weaker form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is widely accepted.
Part II. Language and Identity (17-81)
6. Physical identity This is about the anatomical and biological foundations of our linguistic identity. Age, pitch, sex, size: all these aspects contribute to our linguistic self.
7. Psychological identity Personality and even intelligence have influence on our language. DC is careful enough to point out that these two aspects are very prone to stereotypes that have to be questioned.
8. Geographical identity This is a relatively extensive chapter spanning over ten pages. The length is closely related to the importance and the practical relevance of this topic. DC discusses the difficulties of distinguishing languages and dialects, dialects and idiolects, accents and dialects.
9. Ethnic and national identity This chapter seamlessly blends into the preceding chapter. Again DC illustrates the difficulties in these relations. This is even more important and relevant as it is still a dominant issue in politics and everyday life.
10. Social identity This is a longer chapter dealing with the interaction of language with social stratification, status, and role. How is language used to express solidarity and distance? Sexism and borrowing (DC suggests it would be better to call this phenomenon ''sharing'' (48)), are also introduced in this chapter.
11 Contextual identity Again a long chapter (50-67); DC covers a wide range of issues, divided into the following areas: setting, participants and activity. The influence of these on language are presented using very different examples from German tax-income forms to heraldry; Maori greetings to seaspeak, secret and hidden languages, riddles, word games and puns. Anagrams, lipograms, palindromes close the chapter and mark the transition to the next chapter.
12. Stylistic identity and literature Style and authorship lead to forensic linguistics, the difference between literary and non-literary language, and literary genres. Poetry, drama and the novel, and finally text deconstruction are presented in this lengthy chapter (68-81).
Part III. The Structure of Language
13. Linguistic levels This is now the core area in linguistics. DC introduces the complexity of layering language, and in consequence the difficulties in ordering these layers. DC clearly establishes the approach used in this book (85). On the top level he presents the distinction of structure and use, linked by pragmatics. The structure of language is then split into three branches; medium of transmission (phonetics and phonology), grammar (morphology and syntax) and finally, meaning/semantics (lexicon and discourse).
14. Typology and universals The never-ending discussion is summarized in four pages. This seems little, but DC manages to present the most important aspects of the universals discussion.
15. The statistical structure of language Georg K. Zipf and his groundbreaking works are presented here in a concise overview.
16. Grammar DC presents in a longer chapter various ''types'' of grammar, i.e. what is commonly referred to as grammar can differ significantly. ''Grammar'' can refer to a book designed for second language learners just as to the transformational grammar as laid out by Chomsky in the 1980s. In the next step DC presents the different notions involved in grammar, such as morphology, syntax and word order.
17. Semantics Again a chapter longer than the 2-page average; DC presents the most important aspects of modern semantics. He only very briefly touches on ''propositional meaning'' (111), but at the same time names this ''the most important trend in modern semantics''. So, this aspect could have deserved a little more attention.
18. Dictionaries Semantics is of course closely linked to dictionaries. DC presents a history of lexicography as well as a checklist for buying a dictionary (115).
19. Names This section deals with the various names that are essential to language: personal names, place names, brand names.
20. Discourse and text Communicational success and the structure of texts are discussed in this chapter.
21. Pragmatics DC introduces speech acts and illustrates the interface position of pragmatics, connecting semantics, stylistics, psycholinguistics and discourse.
The following three parts deal with the channels of language. DC starts with the most natural and unmarked one and moves on to the more advanced or specialized ways of conveying language.
Part IV. The Medium of Language: Speaking and Listening (126-183)
22. The anatomy and physiology of speech DC devotes eight pages to the anatomical and motoric basis of language. From the lungs to teeth and lips the essential processes of sound production are shown using very illustrative pictures.
23. The acoustics of speech This is a more complicated issue, presented in a very compact, comprehensive way.
24. The instrumental analysis of speech The incredible advanced tools and machines used to analyze speech in real-time are explained and shown. This section is certainly one of the parts in the book that profited most from the update.
25. Speech reception DC introduces the ear and its functioning and explains the differences between hearing and listening. This chapter also touches on the roles ascribed to the listener: is listening to language an active or passive role? ''It [...] seems likely that some combination of active and passive theories will be required'' is the wise conclusion that DC draws.
26. Speech interaction with machines These pages deal with the various problems that arise when language is used as an interface to machines: speech recognition, to be divided into the detection of speech vs. background noises, speaker detection and identification, speech synthesis, artificial production of language with text-to-speech as the most important case.
27. The sounds of speech This is now the phonetics part that adds what in a first reading is missing in the anatomy and physiology of speech (Chapter 22): the naming of sounds, the organization of sounds into different classes. Finally DC introduces the IPA, but fails to mention that (as can be seen from the dictionary samples quoted on 112) many English dictionaries still neglect the existence of such a standard, although it is taught e.g. in French schools to children from 7 years on.
28. The linguistic use of sound This part now introduces the terms 'phonemes', 'allophones', 'minimal pairs', 'distinctive features'. Furthermore it gives a detailed description of the various sound-groups and vowel systems. (A small typo on p. 168: the corresponding sound for ''seat'' /i:/ in the table on the left is missing for the example ''sit''; presumably /I/ in SAMPA-notation - ''unrounded, close mid, half frontal vowel''.)
29. Suprasegmentals Prosody, again: After the demonstration of how it is used in semantics (see p. 111), now a more global approach to the use of suprasegmental information. DC also adds methods of capturing suprasegmental features; the relation of speech and music and tone languages are the topic of this chapter.
30. Sound symbolism Certain sounds are associated with certain properties, e.g. /i/ is somehow linked to ''light, bright, pointed, tiny'', but DC also makes clear that there are many counter examples, e.g. ''big'' vs. ''small'', and that these aspects may be fascinating, but due to the lack of quantitative analyses throughout the languages of the world, have to be handled with care.
Part V. The Medium of Language: Writing and Reading (184-227)
31. Written and spoken language DC presents a brief overview on the relationship of speech and writing, and discusses the differences. Two pages (188-189) are devoted to the mapping of speech to writing, the means introduced are ''verbal description'', ''spelling'', ''capitalization'' amongst others. This provides a smooth transition to the next section.
32. Graphic expression Lists, matrices, etc. are presented together with a general overview on ''modes of graphic expression''. Actually, the whole book is a very clear example of all the various methods of graphical representation of language. Graphetics (''physical properties of the symbols that constitute a writing system'' (193)), handwriting, print, electronic media are dealt with. DC also provides a basic introduction into layout questions, such as justification, etc.
33. Graphology The first issue is to distinguish linguistic from psychological graphology, the latter an attempt to interpret character and personality from handwriting. Linguistic graphology on the other hand studies ''the physical properties of manuscript, print, and other forms of graphic expression'' (204). In this chapter DC also provides a condensed history of writing and introduces various writing systems.
34. The process of reading and writing DC gives an overview of the theories of reading, the issues related to ''writing'' and ''spelling''. Finally, DC discusses the pros and cons of an orthographic reform in English.
Part VI. The Medium of Language: Signing and Seeing (228-235)
35. Sign language In this chapter DC stresses the relevance of sign-languages for linguistic research and argues against common misconceptions regarding sign language.
36. Sign language structure DC explains certain, commonly unknown facts about sign language, e.g. the usage of space to express time, or the ''aspect modulations''.
37. Types of sign language This is a short chapter with a lot of illustrations to explain sign language as such and to point out the differences between various sign languages.
Part VII. Child Language Acquisition (236-265)
38. Investigating children's language As one of the most relevant issues in child language acquisition is the data collection, DC introduces the various research paradigms and methods. This eight-page chapter closes with an overview on the main language acquisition theories.
39. The first year The first year of a baby's linguistic development is presented in a fast-forward mode, introducing the first vocalizations to the melodic utterances that develop into language, the perception and interaction within the short non-linguistic period in the human life cycle.
40. Phonological development This chapter explains the acquisition of sounds from the 13th month onwards.
41. Grammatical development From one word to two words and beyond, the emergence of questions, and the structure of asking are presented in this chapter.
42. Semantic development Learning vocabulary and refinement of semantic use, the explosion of language use during childhood are the topic of these two pages.
43. Pragmatic development DC illustrates that it takes more to communicate than sounds, meanings and structure. Language has to be used properly. This is a process that also has to be learned.
44. Language development in school School and language are a strongly interlinked area. Language starts to become structured; reading and writing are introduced and have to be mastered. DC introduces the current approaches and points to common misconceptions, e.g. that poor handwriting is in any way linked to personality or intelligence (263).
Part VIII. Language, Brain, and Disability (266-291)
45. Language and the brain This chapter is a concise two-page introduction into the basics of the human brain and the critical period in language acquisition and leads to slips of the tongue and the tragic case of ''Genie,'' a child who was ''brought up in condition of human neglect and extreme isolation'' (273), which proved a soft version of the critical period hypothesis.
46. Language disability A long section (18 pages) on the different forms of language impairment. After an introduction into the classification and the causes of language disabilties DC explains deafness (276-277), aphasia and its types (280-281), dyslexia and dysgraphia (282-285), voice disorders (286), articulation disorders (287), fluency disorders (288), and language delay (289). The chapter closes with a very short presentation of ''alternative communication systems'' that can enable handicapped people in their communicative needs.
Part IX. The Languages of the World (292-349)
The last three parts now lead a little bit further from the main/core/mainstream linguistics. Again DC deals with topics that are of great interest especially for the general reader. DC tries to provide scientifically sound answers to frequently asked questions.
47. How many languages? As in the beginning in chapter 8 ''Language and Geography'' (p. 24ff), DC briefly outlines the problems in distinguishing languages and dialects. The chapter also includes a short introduction into the naming of languages.
48. How many speakers? Another very common question in connection with language(s) is the language with the most speakers. DC refers to Appendix III and explains that all these numbers are estimates.
49. The origins of language After a short overview of the pre-scientific considerations about the origins of language DC presents a short overview on the evolution of language without going into too much detail.
50. Families of language DC presents the origins of the concept that some languages are more closely related than others. He also introduces the ''Comparative Method'' and explains the two general types of linguistic classification, ''genetic classification'' and ''typological classification''. (DC refers also to ''areal classification'' as introduced in Chapter 8.) Of course DC again stresses the difficulties there are in sorting languages into these given categories.
51. The Indo-European family These eight pages give a very concise overview on the history and findings of Indo-European linguistics, and they also introduce the subfamilies of Indo-European. DC uses Celtic as an example to illustrate the more detailed history of an Indo-European language.
52. Other families Twenty pages illustrate the diversity of the world's language families. Supported by maps, this is a very impressive overview of the sheer amount of languages out there.
53. Language isolates A chapter that stimulates the interests and fantasies of many people; it deals with a topic that leads to amusing speculations about the relations of these languages. But they are commonly classified as ''isolated'' because, as DC comments, e.g. for Sumerian, ''[a]ttempts have been made to relate the language [...] but none has been successful.'' (336)
54. Language change Still a very mysterious phenomenon is described in this chapter. Languages change, in sound, grammar and semantics. DC explains how the pronunciation of former times can be reconstructed without tape recordings, and the typical phenomena of sound change, like assimilation and haplology (but DC leaves out the pun that ''haplology'' is in itself a good candidate for a ''haplogy'') are presented.
55. Pidgins and creoles A fascinating and in the public hardly recognized field of linguistics involves the emergence of new languages, through pidgin stages; that is, a language as a means of communication ''which has grown up among people who do not share a common language'' (344) to a full-fledged language. This chapter also includes a listing of pidgins and creoles with a very short description of influences and the region where the language is used.
Part X. Language in the World (350-417)
Again a new major section begins; again it is skillfully linked to the previous section.
56. The language barrier Language is not only a means of communication but also an obstacle in communication. This can be clearly seen in globalized economics: business can become difficult when the fact that the customer does not (or is not willing to) speak English is neglected.
57. Translating and interpreting A consequence of the language barrier is translation. DC gives an account of the complications and obstacles that may occur in the translation process. Transliteration and false friends are presented as well as the art of interpreting. The chapter closes with a status description and a look into the future of machine translation.
58. Artificial languages DC gives a five page overview on the motivations for and historical background of artificial languages. After a description of the ideal artificial language, DC explains why all attempts have failed so far.
59. World languages The ''International year of languages 2008'' and the ''International Mother-Language Day'' (February 21st), ''European Day of Languages'' (September 26th) are presented in this part as well as the varieties of English and its speakers found around the planet.
60. Multilingualism DC starts out with the important statement that multilingualism is a very common thing, not a special case, and he also explains the reasons for multilingualism. The related issue discussed here is bilingualism.
61. Language planning Creating and or choosing an alphabet, deciding on an orthography, or changing it are part of language planning, just as role of the mother tongue in the educational programs are part of this field. DC also adds the large, interesting and important topic ''endangered languages'' here. The reasons for language death and endangerment are discussed, just as reasons and methods for the preservation of languages are listed.
62. Foreign language teaching and learning Reasons for and methods of second language acquisition are presented on ten pages.
63. Language for special purposes The language of science, law, medicine and religion are used as examples of how language can be put into use in a way that is not intelligible without a certain amount of knowledge beyond the language itself. But the press and advertisements also have characteristics that can be investigated. DC introduces the EMC (electronically mediated communication) that ''is in many respects similar to spoken or written language, [...] but its configuration turns out to be unique.'' (415).
Part XI. Language and Communication (418-438)
64. Language and other communication systems The beginning part of many introductory courses to linguistics comes at the end: language and communication. Why is the dance of the bees not a language, but a means of communication? Language trained apes and other aspects of communication (e.g. tactile factors) are presented.
65. Linguistics From the Greeks and the ancient Indians via the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Ferdinand de Saussure and finally Noam Chomsky, DC rushes through the history of linguistics. This closes the cycle to ''linguistics before linguistics'' at the beginning of the book, in chapter 1. A double page on the most critical part of linguistic work, data collection, follows. The use of computers in linguistics and the ''domain of linguistics'' close the text part of the book.
Pages 441-513 are the mentioned Appendices, followed by acknowledgements.
''The main aim of this encyclopedia is to provide information about all aspects of language structure and use, so that the complex forces which act upon language, and upon the people who use it, will be more readily understood.'' (1) DC manages this huge endeavor a third time. It is a real challenge to adequately review this book. I used the German translation of the first edition (Crystal 1993) every now and then, but I never READ, let alone reflected on it. When I received my evaluation copy in a 2.6 kg parcel I started reading and page by page I admired more the diligent efforts to present human language in all its miraculous wanderings: from the stylistic theories of Ancient Rome to the latest findings using PET (positron emission tomography) machines.
Pictures, maps, tables and text boxes make it an adventurous journey through language. But at the same time I realized the short-coming of such a book: whenever something starts to get interesting, more specific information has to be searched in the references, and here the book also gives only a glimpse of the amounts of contributions available in each subfield of language. But, this book at least provides a starting point.
The question that arises out of these limitations is: Who is the book written for? The book certainly is no replacement for an introductory course in linguistics, even less an introduction to one of the subfields. DC cannot - and does not intend - to replace Hurford et al.'s (2007) ''Semantics. A coursebook'', or Radford's (1988) ''Transformational grammar: A first course'', or more advanced and exposed works such as Chomsky (1995) ''The minimalist program''. It is primarily a work of orientation, a book recommendable to everyone interested in language and especially the beginning student of linguistics to gain an overview. DC is the perfect evening lecture for the advanced and professional linguist to broaden their scope. In doing everyday linguistic work one is prone to lose the larger picture of language. DC reminds us of the various dependencies and fields and facts mentioned many years ago in introductory courses when we were at university. This is the great strength of this book.
A very positive aspect is that DC tries to stay neutral, and present all approaches to language in approximately the same detail; this is what makes a significant difference to other books that deal in a very general way with language, e.g. Jackendoff 2002; in this encyclopedia of language the encyclopedic approach is fully met and weighted against a single - however good or coherent - picture of language.
Another important thing that this book could achieve is that it might reduce the number of people that consider themselves linguistic experts just because they speak a language. This is the great misconception of ''native-speaker'': speaking a language enables (intuitive and situational) judgments about sentences or utterances, but does not entail an understanding of linguistics. This book allows the general reader, the native-speaker, to glimpse the vast complexities of language, and all the trapdoors hidden in presumably simple answers to even simpler questions, like ''Where are you from?'' All answers like ''America'', ''East Coast'', ''New York'', ''Brooklyn'' are correct (24).
DC is the proof that there is more to language and linguistics than ''Sprachkritik''. ''Remember always that a language is what the speakers do and not what someone thinks they ought to do,'' as Bloomfield (1942:16) put it. And that discussions about language should not stop with obligatory language courses for immigrants.
It would not do the book justice to quibble about incidentally discovered minor errors; I only mention them, to have them fixed in upcoming editions: the Åland islands should be included to the Scandinavian dialect continuum in Europe (map on 25) rather than in the North Slavic. It would be useful to add the example ''John's BOUGHT a red car (not stolen or borrowed)'' on p. 111 to make clear that prosodic meaning is not restricted to nouns or adjectives, but can also affect verbs. Of course there are always things that could have been added. Just to give an example, in the chapter on sound symbolism (182f) it could be nice to add a paragraph about the rather absurd discussions concerning the ''sacred u'' in the first half of the 19th century (Havers 1947). Finally, a typo on p. 80: ''Tests were seen...'' instead of the correct ''Texts were seen...''
Overall this is a very useful advertisement for the science of linguistics (although it is not an encyclopedia of _linguistics_, that presents and/or explains all the different linguistic schools and theories, methods and terminologies!) and a valuable and concise, though not handy, handbook for linguistic beginners, linguistic researchers looking for a quick overview and, most of all, the general reader interested in language.
Bloomfield, L. 1942. Outline guide for the practical study of foreign languages. Baltimore: LSA, Waverly Press.
Chomsky, N. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Crystal, D. 1993. Die Cambridge Enzyklopädie der Sprache. Frankfurt/Main: Campus.
Havers, W. 1947. Zur Entstehung eines sogenannten sakralen u--Elementes in den indogermanischen Sprachen. (Ein Versuch über die Lautbedeutsamkeit in indogerm. Frühzeit.) Anzeiger der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch--historische Klasse. 84, 139--165.
Hurford, J., B. Heasley, and M. B. Smith. 2007. Semantics. A coursebook. 2nd. Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jackendoff, R. 2002. Foundations of language. Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Radford, A. 1988. Transformational grammar. A first course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Michael Crombach is a research and development engineer at Nuance
Communications Austria, working on statistical language models and phonetic
transcriptions for speech recognition systems. He has a background in
historical linguistics (Ph.D.) and biology. His main interests are biology
and evolution of language, statistics and language, and theory and history