"In this book, Richard Kern explores how technology matters to language and the ways in which we use it. Kern reveals how material, social and individual resources interact in the design of textual meaning, and how that interaction plays out across contexts of communication, different situations of technological mediation, and different moments in time."
AUTHORS: Annarita Puglielli and Mara Frascarelli TITLE: Linguistic Analysis SUBTITLE: From data to theory SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 220 PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton YEAR: 2011
Florentina Taylor, Department of Education, University of York, UK
'Linguistic analysis: From data to theory' discusses Generativism with numerous examples from various languages spoken all over the world. Its target audience are advanced university students, researchers and scholars, which is reflected in the rather technical nature of the linguistic phenomena discussed and the vocabulary used to describe them. In order to make the text more accessible, however, the two authors opt for a 'semi-guided presentation', combining the description of each phenomenon with a discussion of relevant literature and linguistic data, as well as structural considerations and general comments. This approach, the authors explain, ensures that language comparisons are clear, especially for students.
The explicit objective of the book is to show that, despite superficial differences, individual grammars are based on a limited number of universal principles that determine the morphological, syntactic, phonological, semantic and pragmatic properties of utterances. The two authors explain that this is the reason why they adopt an integrated 'semi-guided' approach, as linguistic data are not considered to belong exclusively to a certain domain, but to share deep meanings and relationships.
According to the authors, the order of the chapters reflects the progression of their research and the reader is encouraged to approach them in sequence in order to better understand the analyses. The 403-page book consists of an introduction, seven chapters (described briefly below), conclusions, a list of languages, a list of abbreviations, notes, references, a subject index and a language index. The first three chapters provide the conceptual basis for the rest of the book.
Chapter 1 ('Categories and functions') represents an introduction to the theoretical framework on which the book is based; Generative Grammar, developed by Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s (Chomsky 1957), and revised subsequently to give rise to Generative-Transformational Grammar (e.g. Chomsky 1965), the Government and Binding Model (e.g. Chomsky 1982) and the Minimalist Program (e.g. Chomsky 1995). These revisions were meant to reduce formalism, to clarify the principles of Universal Grammar and to improve the explanatory power of the theory, while remaining faithful to the basic underlying aim of Generativism; trying to identify the productive linguistic principles that are genetically inherited and activated through interaction with the environment. This innate mechanism, together with its governing principles, represents Universal Grammar.
Defining the basis of their approach, the authors express the view that linguistic data should be examined and compared from multiple perspectives (e.g. phonological, morphological, lexical) and state that the main axes of linguistic research for the purposes of this book are interlinguistic comparison and the interfaces between different levels of analysis. In doing so, they distance themselves clearly from 'traditional analyses', which, they say, usually rely on a basic inventory of categories and ''a classification exercise, which is nothing more than an uninteresting and not particularly useful labeling exercise'' (p. 5). Consequently, they dismiss parts-of-speech classifications based on semantic or morphological criteria and opt instead for a grammatical/ distributional classification. The same approach is used to identify the syntactic function of a category, which is seen to depend on the structural collocation of the phrase that hosts it. They also redefine the traditional morphological typology of languages (isolating, agglutinative, inflectic and polysynthetic; e.g. Sapir 1921; Croft 1991) according to the way lexical and functional categories combine (or not) within the sentence structure.
Chapter 2 ('The structure of the verb phrase') offers a semantic and syntactic analysis of the concept of argument, with an emphasis on macro-roles (sets of argument roles related to the semantic composition of the verb) and the event structure of predicates (dynamic vs. stative). Numerous argument roles are shown to correspond with a limited number of macro-roles in the verb phrase, and therefore, with a limited number of syntactic functions. The concept of 'predication' is central to the discussion, as it identifies the pivot element in the sentence, whose meaning determines diverse thematic relations with arguments. This is one of the numerous examples in the book where the analysis combines several levels of linguistic representation (syntax, semantics, morphology).
Chapter 3 ('Syntactic functions') examines the relationship between deep roles (universal categories) and surface structures/ functions, starting from the Generativist assumption that deep structure is universal, which leaves surface structure to account for cross-linguistic variation. An important distinction discussed in the chapter is between deep Cases and structural Cases, which are not necessarily correlated (such as in ergative languages), although a tendency does exist for them to occur together. The assignment of deep Cases and syntactic functions is attributed to Lexical Insertion, which distinguishes between lexical heads (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and functional heads (prepositions, determiners, complementizers and inflectional elements).
Chapter 4 ('The structure of the noun phrase') discusses internal structure, nominalization, determination and noun head modification (through adjectives and relative clauses). The noun phrase is analyzed by analogy to the verb phrase in order to emphasize their syntactic relationships.
Chapter 5 ('Adverbial modification') categorizes modifiers at the level of predication from the perspectives of their distribution, internal composition and syntactic-pragmatic relationships.
Chapter 6 ('The sentence as utterance') describes the interface between morpho-syntax and pragmatics from two points of view: the communicative function that sentences have in discourse and the information structure (the location of constituents in the sentence governed by specific discourse requirements). The order of sentence constituents is analyzed on the basis of two informational pairs: Focus-Presupposition and Topic-Comment. The Presupposition and Topic represent given information, with the former usually being a verb phrase and the latter a noun phrase, while the Focus and Comment represent new information in the sentence, with the Focus being represented by a noun phrase and the Comment by a verb phrase. The discussion of pragmatic function briefly introduces the three traditional speech acts categories: locutionary (surface form), illocutionary (deep meaning) and perlocutionary (the effect of an utterance, whether intended or not). The following chapter concentrates on the second type of speech acts.
In Chapter 7 ('Illocutionary force'), the close relationship between discourse grammar and illocutionary force is emphasized. The authors argue that illocutionary force should be part of any formal analytical framework and that overt/ covert performatives should be regarded as present in all utterances, whether they are manifest or null. This is because every utterance is regarded as a speech act which is realized overtly as a complex structure, which leads to every independent sentence being regarded as embedded in a covert performative structure.
While accessibility is not necessarily a key attribute of the volume, due the technical nature of the linguistic phenomena described, Puglielli and Frascarelli compensate for this by the very strong link between theory and practice that pervades the entire volume, which is also announced in the title. The theoretically driven analysis is supported by examples from 74 typologically different languages, originating partly in secondary sources and partly in primary informants. Examples of language families represented in the book include the Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Uralic, Amerindian, Niger-Congo and Austronesian families.
The two analytical foci of the book -- the interaction between different levels of linguistic organization and cross-linguistic comparison -- follow the inductive principle of bottom-up, data-driven, identification of universal aspects and parametric differences. This encourages the reader to engage with the analyses actively and identify similarities and differences before reading the authors' conclusions. In this respect, the diagrams and numerous examples from various languages are extremely helpful. Most examples are discussed in parallel, with clear morpho-syntactic labels, allowing the reader to compare and contrast samples of typologically different languages. For instance (p. 52):
Pioveva. (ITALIAN) rain.lMPF.3SG 'It was raining.' Es-ett. (HUNGARIAN) fall-PST.3SG 'It rained/It was raining.' Um-ulan. (TAGALOG) ACT/TH-rain.PST 'It rained.'
Despite the clarity of the explanations and examples, as well as the clear and succinct presentation of the theoretical framework, the book may only be appropriate for readers with a specialist interest in Generative Grammar and advanced knowledge of associated theories. Students of linguistics may use it as complementary material but will have to look elsewhere for an introductory overview with an intuitive, reader-friendly structure.
In line with the Generativist theoretical framework, the book does not cover figurative language and largely overlooks the active role that human creativity plays in producing and decoding meaning. While it is the authors' prerogative to opt for one theoretical model or another, a brief rationale for their focus and delimitations would have given a more balanced impression.
In sum, Puglielli and Frascarelli's 'Linguistic analysis: From data to theory' represents a valuable contribution to the field through its strong emphasis on the practical applicability of Generativism and its discussion of numerous lesser known languages.
Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.
Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chomsky, Noam. 1982. Some concepts and consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations: The cognitive organization of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sapir, Edward. 1921. Language: An introduction to the study of speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dr. Florentina Taylor is a Teaching Fellow in TESOL at the University of
York, UK, where she teaches English Linguistics, Identity and Foreign
Language Learning, English for Academic and Higher Education Purposes and
Computer-Assisted Language Learning to postgraduate students. Her main
research interests focus on the self and identity in foreign language
learning, especially the interface between identity perceptions, linguistic
output and academic achievement.