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Review of Esbozo de una Gramática Viva del Español, una Gramática Centrada en el Verbo
AUTHOR: Corrales-Martín, Norma TITLE: Esbozo de una gramática viva del español SUBTITLE: una gramática centrada en el verbo SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Romance Linguistics. Vol. 66 PUBLISHER: LINCOM Europa YEAR: 2010
Zahir Mumin, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY)
Corrales-Martín proposes an innovative morphosyntactic orientation for native English-speaking students learning Spanish grammar within the context of Hispanic songs and literary texts by presenting the phrase structure model V(Verb) + N(Noun) x(modifiers and complements). She identifies Spanish verbs as centerpieces of sentences and examines nouns, their modifiers, and their complements as equal ranking entities in relation to verbs. Her main argument prioritizes verbs over nouns, as opposed to the traditional phrase structure model (Nominal Syntagma + Verbal Syntagma + Prepositional Syntagma), which prioritizes nouns over verbs. The author's teaching methodology attempts to develop students' cultural, grammatical, and linguistic knowledge by exposing them to song lyrics that exhibit authentic syntactic structures. Corrales-Martín organizes the book using seven modules that address issues dealing with syntax and morphology, while also explicating different phonological and semantic aspects of Spanish.
In Module 1, the author's main objective is to develop students' communicative and cultural competence through a morphosyntactic analysis of Spanish grammar as a dynamic semantic continuum. She argues that students must grasp how language is employed by different Spanish-speaking cultures in order to enhance their overall linguistic knowledge. Corrales-Martín supports this argument by providing general student objectives, such as understanding how to relate language to culture, in order to improve students' writing and communication skills. The author also briefly defines language, phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics in order to argue that language consists of knowledge objects derived from grammar. These knowledge objects, often used to transmit messages between interlocutors, include frequent changes in sounds, verbal inflection, word order, and basic word-level meaning. The proposed phrase structure model applies knowledge objects to different contextual situations in Hispanic songs and literary texts to facilitate students' acquisition of Spanish grammar.
Module 2 provides a two-part classroom activity designed to develop students' writing, listening comprehension, reading, and speaking skills. The first part of the activity furnishes students with a detailed analysis guide questionnaire which includes six semantic categories. This questionnaire requires students to practice writing, listening comprehension, and speaking by examining the dialectal traits of different singers, the geographical and social contexts in which the songs are written, and the potential stereotypes conveyed through the main messages of the songs. The second part of this activity enhances students' reading skills through analysis of song lyrics according to verb type (simple, compound, or periphrastic), verb mood (indicative, subjunctive, and imperative), and agent. The author defines 'agent' as the linguistic entity that carries out an action, which may or may not be explicitly expressed by Spanish verbs. Corrales-Martín gives the example, ''Estoy pensando[,] agente (yo)'' (''I am thinking[,] agent (I),'' p.7), where the first person indicative present tense verb ''estoy'' (''I am'') is the auxiliary verb which represents the agent using the syntactic construction Verb+Gerund. She also provides a second example, ''Sale el sol[,] agente, el sol'' (''The sun rises[,] agent, the sun,'' p.7) where the third person present tense verb ''sale'' (''rises'') expresses the theme and ''el sol'' represents the agent and rheme employing the language structure Verb+Noun Phrase. The module overall emphasizes students' ability to first identify the different functions of Spanish verbs and then examine the surrounding linguistic entities of these verbs to enhance their acquisition of Spanish grammar.
Module 3 discusses how the semantic-communicative process and the concept of reality should be applied to teaching Spanish grammar in order to argue that students' successful development of linguistic-communicative competence depends on their ability to objectively conceptualize language as a social product. To support this argument, the author provides a semantic map of the aforementioned process, which includes interlocutors, discourse components, and referents, to accentuate that communication between human beings should be examined through the function and meaning of words in different contextual situations. Corrales-Martín also portrays the concept of reality as a dynamic, multifaceted system that represents human beings' interpretations of the relationship between actions and objects and between quantities and qualities. For example, ''llover duro'' (''to rain hard,'' p.9) describes rainy weather as an action, but ''lluvia suave'' (''a light rainfall,'' p.9) expresses rain as an object. The adjective ''duro'' (''hard'') represents the quantity of rainfall by modifying the action ''llover'' (''to rain''), and ''suave'' (''light'') represents the quantity of rainfall by modifying the object ''lluvia'' (''rain''). The author concludes the module by reinforcing the aforementioned argument through analysis of the semantic-communicative process and different aspects of reality manifested in the popular Spanish ballad ''las señas del marido'' (''The Husband's Description'').
In Module 4, Corrales-Martín argues that the process of identifying grammatical categories should focus on the actions that verbs express in order to determine how surrounding words function in relation to these verbs. Through analysis of predicate phrase structure, the author differentiates between noun-adjectives used in response to questions and regular adjectives that are not used in response to questions. In the first case, ''[Eso] está [malo]'' (''[That] is [bad],'' p.16), ''[malo]'' (''[bad]'') functions as a noun-adjective that primarily modifies the action of the verb ''está'' (''is'') and secondarily modifies the neuter demonstrative pronoun ''[eso]'' (''[that]''). In the second case, ''Canto [de momentos malos]'' (''I sing [about bad moments],'' p.16), ''[…malos]'' (''[…bad…]'') functions as a regular adjective that modifies the proper noun ''[…momentos…]'' (''[…moments]''). In addition to differentiating functions of words, the author defines Saussure et al.’s (2006) concepts of signifier (the linguistic form), signified (the meaning of the linguistic form), and referent (the object that represents the linguistic form) in order to highlight the interrelatedness of morphology and syntax when examining verbs as the main linguistic entities of Spanish language structures. The last part of the module focuses on how linking words such as conjunctions, prepositions, and relative pronouns help clarify the syntactic meaning of verbs used in different contexts.
Module 5 discusses basic case relationships that focus on how different linguistic entities such as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs function in relation to verbs. The author's examination of these relationships includes the identification of agents, patients (recipients of actions), and experiencers (linguistic entities indirectly affected by actions), as well as constituent groups which help explain how, why, and when actions occur. Corrales-Martín argues that ''Esbozo de una gramática viva del español'' (''Outline of a Lively Spanish Grammar'') is a metaphoric grammatical extension of Charles Fillmore's (1968) study of case grammar in his article ''The case for case.'' This grammatical extension argument is supported by analyses of cases of agents in the active and passive voice. The author argues that when analyzing cases such as ''Yo canto una canción/Una canción es cantada por mí'' (''I sing a song/A song is sung by myself,'' p.26), the agent of the action is not always the agent of the verb. In the first sentence of this example, in active voice, ''yo'' (''I'') is the agent of both the action of singing and the first person present tense verb ''canto'' (''sing''). In the second sentence of this example, in passive voice, ''una canción'' (''a song'') is the agent of the action of singing and ''mí'' (''myself'') is the agent of the verb ''es'' (''is''). The author further substantiates these analyses by providing matrix tables that explicitly demonstrate how case relationships should be interpreted when examining Spanish verbs as centerpieces of Spanish language structures.
In Module 6, the author establishes the following two main arguments about basic constituent structures of the Spanish language:
1) Native Spanish speakers intuitively recognize when semantic and unsemantic combinations of words used to form sentences are expressed grammatically or ungrammatically.
2) The different constituent groups in Spanish language structures have protonoun nuclei which provide essential content information in response to questions about actions expressed by Spanish verbs.
Corrales-Martín supports the first argument through a grammatical and semantic analysis of Chomsky's (1997) well-known syntactically complex sentence, ''Las ideas verdes incoloras duermen furiosamente'' (''Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,'' p. 46) and her own syntactically comparable contribution, ''*Incoloras furiosamente ideas las duermen verdes'' (''*Colorless furiously ideas the sleep green,'' p. 46). She argues that Chomsky's sentence is grammatical but unsemantic based on the peculiar combination of words that do not pragmatically convey an intelligible message in a real-life context. The author also argues that her comparable example sentence is both ungrammatical and unsemantic because in addition to the unintelligible pragmatic message being conveyed, the syntactic structure of the sentence does not produce a coherent grammatical composition. The author's second argument also examines grammatical and semantic issues dealing with how constituent groups function in different Spanish language structures. Corrales-Martín strengthens the second argument by examining how words function in relation to verbs when they are organized into constituent groups and identified by different grammatical categories. The author employs a wide variety of common Spanish proverbs in order to explicate the relationship between constituent groups, grammatical categories, and actions expressed by Spanish verbs, e.g. ''[Quien] [a hierro] mata] [a hierro] muere'' (''He who kills by the sword, dies by the sword,'' p. 50). In this example, the author identifies ''[quien]'' (''[he who]'') as a linking pronoun and separate constituent group that structurally relates the actions of both verbs ''[mata]'' (''kills'') and ''[muere]'' (''dies'') on an equivalent syntactic rank. The two constituent groups ''[a hierro]'' (''[by the sword]''), with the preposition ''a'' (''by'') and the protonoun nucleus ''hierro'' (''sword''), complete the pragmatic meaning of the following verbs' actions: ''mata'' (''kills'') and ''muere'' (''dies''). The module concludes by furnishing readers with a sample in-class activity that requires students to identify how prepositions and protonoun nuclei function in different constituent groups.
Module 7 examines different grammatical concepts which often challenge students' learning of Spanish morphosyntax: the use of pronouns, the use of verbals (gerunds, past participles, and infinitive forms of verbs), and the employment of the prepositions ''por'' (''for'') and ''para'' (''for''), which often have different meanings and morphosyntactic representation and functions in English. The author argues that these concepts should be learned based on how they relate to the actions expressed by Spanish verbs. For example, Corrales-Martín analyzes the intransitive Spanish linguistic structure ''yo te gusto'' (''You like me,'' p.83) to demonstrate that the indirect object pronoun ''te'' (''you'') is the experiencer of the action, the subject pronoun ''yo'' (''me'') redundantly expresses the agent of the action, and the verb ''gusto'' (''like'') expresses the agent of the action and the verb. She further substantiates this argument through an analysis of the phrase ''mi razón para vivir'' (''My reason for living,'' p. 66) when discussing cases of ''para'' (''for'') and ''por'' (''for''). Cases of ''para'' (''for'') indicate the finality of the verb's action and cases of ''por'' (''for'') express the reason of the verb's action. In the example above, the preposition ''para'' (''for'') expresses finality by relating the noun ''razón'' (''reason'') to the action of the verb ''vivir'' (''living''), which also functions as a verbal in the infinitive form. However, in the case of ''mi razón por vivir'' (''My reason for living''), which the author does not mention, ''por'' (''for'') expresses reason by relating the noun ''razón'' (''reason'') to the action of the verb ''vivir'' (''living'') (Delbeque 1996, Lam 2003). The last part of this module expands on the use of these grammatical concepts by examining language structures in the present and past subjunctive mood. Throughout this module, the author provides examples of student-centered activities, such as fill-in-the-blank and underlining key words, to show how students develop the ability to identify the uses of the aforementioned grammatical concepts when dealing with present and past actions.
The author made an excellent decision to structure the book using 7 modules instead of 7 chapters because the main content in these modules is not interdependent. For example, the detailed identification of grammatical categories in Module 4 is not essential for understanding the constituent structure analyses in Module 6. Module 4 focuses on how single words morphosyntactically function in relation to verbs, whereas Module 6 focuses on how groups of words morphosyntactically and semantically function in relation to verbs. Due to the fact that there is not content interdependence in these modules, they can be read separately, in any order, and still be accurately comprehended.
Although Module 1 furnishes clear objectives for developing students' Spanish language skills by exposing them to Hispanic songs and well-known literary texts, it can be enhanced by providing brief examples of common song lyrics, sayings, and literary prose which have been highly successful for developing students' knowledge of grammar and communicative competence. Presenting these types of examples in the first module is important for facilitating instructors' ability to employ the author's teaching methodology.
The semantic categories of the analysis guide questionnaire used in Module 2 are very well structured through small concepts that develop into larger concepts. This structure, which starts with a personal analysis (students' general opinions) and concludes with a cultural analysis of Hispanic songs, allows students to effectively build their writing and listening comprehension skills. However, providing definitions for these semantic categories at the beginning of this module would facilitate the understanding of the questionnaire with regard to the author's semantic interpretation of personal, form, content, linguistic, communicative, and cultural analysis.
Module 3 uses the same structural pattern of all of the other modules, except Module 2, by first providing definitions of important general concepts and then furnishing examples which apply these concepts to Spanish grammar instruction. The consistency of this structural pattern in six of the seven modules enhances the author’s teaching methodology; Corrales-Martín mirrors the authenticity of her teaching methodology in the structure of this book. She also mirrors this authenticity in morphosyntactic analyses of Spanish grammar. For example, the author employs the phrase ''ley y gobierno'' (''law and government,'' p. 9) to demonstrate that the coordinating conjunction ''y'' (''and'') relates the sociocultural reality between legislation, ''ley'' (''law''), and people, ''gobierno'' (''government''), on an equal structural rank. Overall, this module is very useful for developing students' linguistic and communicative competence in different contextual situations.
Modules 4-7 provide very clear and meticulous definitions for grammatical categories, such as noun-adverbs, regular adverbs, noun-adjectives, regular adjectives, and pronouns, in order to facilitate the understanding of analyses dealing with the identification of agent, patient, and experiencer. Corrales Martín furnishes the following definition for noun-adverbs:
El nombre adverbio se refiere exclusivamente al cómo, cuánto, cuándo y dónde del verbo. Los adverbios son de modo, [']bien, mal['], cantidad, [']mucho, poco['], tiempo, [']ahora, nunca['], lugar, [']aquí, allá,['], etc. El nombre adverbio no cambia de género o número y su único determinante es un adverbio, [Todo] está [muy bien] (p. 16).
The noun-adverb refers exclusively to the how, how much, when, and where of the verb. Adverbs are of the manner, [']good, bad['], quantity, [']a lot, a few['], time, [']now, never['], place, [']here, there,['], etc. The noun-adverb does not change in gender or number and its only determiner is an adverb, [Everything] is [very well] (p. 16).
All of these modules emphasize that noun-adverbs function different from regular adverbs because noun-adverbs provide necessary content information in response to a question. For example, in the above citation, ''[Todo] está [muy bien]'' (''[Everything is very well]''), the noun-adverb of manner, ''bien'' (''well''), furnishes imperative content information in response to the question, ''¿Cómo está todo?'' (''How is everything?''). The author's explicated definitions, as well as context appropriate examples in Modules 4-7, clearly demonstrate how to enhance students' acquisition of Spanish grammar by employing authentic syntactic structures.
This book targets readers who are interested in applying linguistic concepts of Spanish morphosyntax and semantics to different contextual situations of Hispanic songs and literary texts in order to facilitate native English-speaking students' Spanish grammatical acquisition. It is very useful for instructors and advanced-level second or foreign language learners. The book furnishes three different appendices which include a glossary of common terminology, a list of Hispanic songs used for teaching Spanish language structures, and an answer key for some of the in-class activities presented in Modules 3-7.
Delbecque, Nicole. (1996). Towards a cognitive account of the use of the prepositions por and para in Spanish. In Eugene H. Casad (ed.). Cognitive Linguistics in the Redwoods: The Expansion of a New Paradigm in Linguistics. Berlin, DE: Mouton de Gruyter. 249-318.
de Saussure, Ferdinand, Simon Boquet & Rudolf Engler (eds.). (2006). Writing in General Linguistics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Fillmore, Charles. (1968). The case for case. In Emmon Bach & Robert Harms. Universals in Linguistic Theory. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1-90.
Lam, Yvonne. (2003). Challenging Prepositions: The Effectiveness of Interrelating Rules for Teaching por and para in Spanish in a Second Language. Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Zahir Mumin teaches Spanish courses at the University at Albany, State
University of New York and conducts research in the field of linguistics.
His primary research interests include sociolinguistics, phonology,
phonetics, translation, language acquisition, language contact,
bilingualism, multilingualism, language change, and historical linguistics.