Review of An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies
|AUTHOR: Anne McCabe
TITLE: An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies
SERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Robert A. Cote, Sharjah Women's College, United Arab Emirates
''An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies'' by Anne McCabe is a
well-written classroom text covering the essential topics of basic linguistics.
The chapters adopt a somewhat unconventional format (see “evaluation” below for
more discussion), which should make the book more accessible to the non-academic
reader. The book explores various fundamental aspects of language study,
including pragmatics, syntax, morphology, semantics, sociolinguistics and
psycholinguistics. In addition, the author provides many practical exercises
throughout the textbook to assist in the learning process by allowing the reader
to put theory immediately into practice.
Chapter 1 introduces the basic but essential terminology that undergraduate
linguistics majors, non-academic readers or novices to the fields of language
study, communications or education must possess. This meta-language, which
McCabe describes as meeting the need of ''a language to talk about itself'' (p. 2)
ranges from simple terms like parts of speech, mood and register to the more
challenging concepts of Saussure's 'langue' and 'parole', Noam Chomsky's
linguistic performance, competence, I-language and E-language, and M.A.K.
Halliday's systemic functional linguistics (SFL). A brief biography of the three
including their historical role in the shaping of modern linguistics closes out
Pragmatics is the first focus of Chapter 2, entitled ''A focus on spoken
interaction'', which contains clear explanations of speech act theory, Grice's
conversational maxims, politeness, conversation analysis and the many features
necessary ''to achieve our communicative needs in spoken interactive situations
such as spoken discourse markers, vague language, ellipses and intonation'' (p.
16). The section on turn-taking offers examples of adjacency pairs, gist and
upshot as well as insertion and side sequences. Phonetics and phonology make up
the second half of the chapter with most of the emphasis on articulatory and
auditory phonetics. There are numerous tables and explanations of the
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as it relates to English in addition to
interactive exercises on place, manner and voicing of consonants. There is no
mention, however, of acoustic phonetics.
Chapter 3, ''Analyzing written language'', commences with the different ways of
exploring how a text is organized from the macro-level (genre) to the
micro-level (lexicogrammar) and how text variations, which follow prescribed
patterns, are based on social and cultural contexts. Examples include recipes,
directions, job reference letters and academic articles. McCabe continues by
describing various patterns of organization in texts including narrative,
problem-solution, goal-achievement, opportunity-taking, desire-arousal
fulfillment and gap in knowledge-filling, all interactive in nature and with the
goal of evoking some response from the reader (p. 92). The majority of the
chapter addresses Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) through a somewhat novel
approach, beginning with a brief explanation of rank, defined as the different
levels of choices available to us ''when we use language to achieve our
communicative purposes'' (p. 101). The chapter's emphasis is on phase/group and
clause as they occur in English ''in terms of what they consist of and how they
function in language to contribute to different kinds of meaning'' (p. 101).
McCabe goes on to discuss nominal, verbal and prepositional groups as well as
the three metafunctions of language: textual, ideational and interpersonal, the
last of which is divided into experiential and logical subfunctions. These are
then examined further as clause as message, representation and exchange. The
number of different subtopics of SFL presented in the chapter is taxing, so
readers interested in this topic may wish to refer to a more conventional text
(e.g. Eggins 2005.) Generally speaking, this chapter gives the reader a glimpse
into syntax, presented formally and in detail in the next chapter.
In Chapter 4, ''Language and mind'', McCabe examines morphology, syntax and
semantics. Free, bound, root, inflectional and derivational morphemes are
discussed in detail, tree diagrams are presented and definitions of isolating,
agglutinating and fusional or inflecting languages are provided. The chapter's
content becomes more challenging with the introduction of formal syntax, which
the author states is used ''to explain the rules of language use that we hold in
our heads and describe the way natural language works'' (p. 188). McCabe then
offers a clear, well-written discussion of the reasons behind Chomsky's theory
of transformational generative grammar which began in response to shortcomings
he identified in phrase structure theory. These deficiencies include differences
in implied meaning between surface and deep structure in sentences, finiteness,
active-passive constructions and ambiguity, for which McCabe uses humorous
examples to get her point across. There is a brief mention of Government and
Binding Theory (see, for example, Haegeman 1994) which leads to explanations of
the transformational aspect of Chomsky's theory by exploring passivization and
movement via the analysis of numerous tree diagrams. Presenting the concepts
visually greatly aids the reader in comprehending the theory. The chapter ends
by highlighting some of the major players in the field of semantics, defined as
''the study of meaning independent of situational context'' (p. 203) including
''semiotics (see Chandler, 2007), sense and reference, semantic relations among
words, componential analysis and thematic roles'' (p. 203).
Chapter 5, ''Language change'', presents the many reasons why, and methods by
which, languages evolve over time by analyzing five areas: lexicon, semantics,
phonetics, morphology and syntax. The chapter begins with a brief explanation of
the comparative method of studying the development of languages throughout
history with English as an example (see Hickey 2010). Providing language trees
would have been useful to show to what extent the world's languages, past and
present, are related. The section on lexis explains the numerous ways new words
are added to languages: conversion, derivation, compounding, blending,
back-formation, acronyms, eponyms, clippings and loanwords (pp. 240-243). McCabe
offers a few paragraphs to explore shifts in meaning by showing various
consequences of semantic change including specialization, generalization,
pejoration and amelioration (p. 248), and she also briefly introduces metaphor
and metonymy (see Dirven & Porings 2002). More explanation could have been
provided on the topics of taboo and euphemism. The section on sound change
offers details on both the Great Vowel Shift and the more recent Northern Cities
Shift occurring in the American Great Lakes region, and attributes ease of
articulation as one cause of change. The chapter closes with very brief mentions
of morphological and syntactic changes.
Chapter 6, ''Language variation'', is an interesting chapter that focuses
primarily on synchronic variation, defined as ''variation in language at a given
moment in time'' (p. 271) caused by any number of social factors, including
location, socio-economic background, ethnicity, race, gender, age, education and
occupation. The chapter draws heavily from sociolinguistics (see Duranti 1997)
and explores the concepts of speech and discourse communities, diglossia via
past and present examples of standard dialects or high (H) varieties versus
vernacular or low (L) varieties (see Ferguson 1959), pidgins, creoles and
jargon. Several pages are dedicated to sociolects, covering the major players of
the past, including William Labov's famous department store study of rhoticity
(p. 281), Robin Lakoff's controversial gender-based claim that ''women's language
choices put them forth as lacking power and authority and as seeking approval''
(p. 285) and William O'Barr and Bowman Atkins rebuttal to Lakoff that her
assumption is not gender-specific but in fact ''present in females and males who
are in a position of powerlessness'' (p. 286). These topics, though dated, can
still serve as a solid foundation for debate in the linguistics classroom today.
The chapter finishes with short sections on register, speech accommodation, and
lexical and sound variation, all of which leave the reader with a basic
understanding of the key components of the many variations found in human languages.
In Chapter 7, ''Language, biology and learning'', McCabe introduces the reader to
the biology behind language via various schools of thought in both
neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics. The brain's hemispheric functions with
regards to language production and comprehension are explained in detail as are
Broca's and Wernicke's aphasias. The section on stages of first language
acquisition leads to a presentation of the major theorists in this arena: Eric
Lenneberg's critical theory hypothesis (p. 324) and Noam Chomsky's Language
Acquisition Device (LAD), also known as the innateness hypothesis (p. 325). In
one of her most successful attempts at simplifying a complex concept for the
reader, which she does often and well, McCabe writes, ''Perhaps rather than
suggesting the brain has a language organ, the brain has the ability to be a
language organ'' (p. 320). The chapter continues with information on bilingual
language development in infants as well as second language acquisition in teens
and adults. It closes with discussion of some thought-provoking experiments on
animal, bird and bee 'language' leaving the reader curious to know more. The
only drawback is that this chapter seems somewhat misplaced in the book and
perhaps should have been positioned earlier on.
The final chapter, ''Fields of linguistics'', completes the book with short
descriptions of the many subfields of linguistics written by experts from around
the world. This chapter serves a dual purpose: it presents an accurate and
succinct explanation of the varieties of linguistics, and it assists student
readers in making a well-informed decision about future study in the areas that
interest them most. It is both informative and easy to read.
The book's primary audience is undergraduate students majoring in linguistics,
general language studies, communications and education. Due to the wide variety
of topics covered, it could serve as a handy reference book as well as a general
text for the non-academic reader who is simply interested in the field for
personal enjoyment. There are numerous aspects of the book that make it
user-friendly, including bolding of all important terminology, which is both
defined and explained in context as well as listed in a glossary at the back of
the book. In addition, there are many interesting, interactive and often
challenging exercises embedded within or at the end of each chapter, with
answers provided. Although these are useful for the academic reader, they can be
distracting to the casual reader. For example, nearly one third of chapter three
consists of exercises that are helpful for students but disrupt the flow of the
chapter for the general reader. The author provides extensive reference lists
for additional reading. Although the chapters are quite long and densely packed
with information, they are divided into sections, which make them easier for the
reader to digest. However, due to the plethora of topics, many of which will be
new to the reader, further explanation of some key concepts by a classroom
instructor or someone with a deeper understanding of linguistics would likely be
required. Chapter 3 could be particularly challenging for new students due to
the quantity of complex topics covered. McCabe's explanation of transformational
generative grammar in chapter 4 is easy to understand and one of the best this
reviewer has come across in terms of clarity and accessibility.
One very helpful component of the text is the extensive checklist of outcomes
located at the end of chapters two through seven, which McCabe provides for the
reader as learning outcomes. It would have been better for these lists to be
placed at the beginning of each chapter to alert the reader to the upcoming
content; thus, it would be prudent for the reader to view the lists before each
chapter to ensure s/he is getting the most from the text. From a teaching
standpoint, it would take more than one semester to cover all the material
Another aspect of the text worth noting is the somewhat unconventional format in
terms of the way the chapters are organized. Some of the chapters seem to be
ordered illogically. For example, chapters 7 and 4 should have been placed
earlier in the book since they address the biology behind language, while
chapter 3, which focuses on writing, a product of human language, should have
been moved towards the end. This re-ordering would make the concepts more
accessible. Also, the themes within chapters seemed to be random at times. For
example, chapter four was particularly challenging because it included
morphology, syntax and semantics all under the heading of “language and mind”.
It may have been better to label the chapters thematically, such as language
defined, biology of language, psycholinguistics, phonology, morphology, syntax
and semantics, etc. and then present various aspects of each subject within the
In closing, McCabe provides novices to the linguistics community with a
well-written and highly interactive text that allows readers with various
levels of pre-existing knowledge to explore both the theoretical and practical
applications of linguistics and language studies across many topics, and she
provides a contemporary alternative to similar introductory publications in the
field of linguistics such as 'An Introduction to Language', 'Linguistics: An
Introduction to Linguistic Theory' and 'The Ohio State University’s Language
Files.' The text is one that clearly serves numerous purposes for both novices
and experts in the fields of linguistics and language studies.
Chandler, Daniel. 2007. 'Semiotics: The Basics'. London, UK: Routledge.
Department of Linguistics. 2011. 'Language Files: Materials for an Introduction
to Language and Linguistics - Eleventh Edition'. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State
Dirven, Rene & Ralf Porings (eds.). 2002. 'Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison
and Contrast'. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Duranti, Alessandro. 1997. 'Linguistic Anthropology'. Cambridge: Cambridge
Eggins, Suzanne. 2005. 'An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics'. New
York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Ferguson, Charles A. 1959. 'Diglossia'. Word 15: 325-340.
Fromkin, Victoria A., Bruce Hayes, Susan Curtiss, Anna Szabolcsi, Tim Stowell,
Edward Stabler, Dominique Sportiche, Hilda Koopman, Patricia Keating, Pamela
Munro, Nina Hyams & Donca Steriade. 2001. 'Linguistics: An Introduction to
Linguistic Theory'. Malden: Blackwell.
Fromkin, Victoria A., Robert Rodman & Nina Hyams. 2011. 'An Introduction to
Language'. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Haegeman, Liliane M. V. 1994. 'Introduction to government and binding theory'.
Hickey, Raymond. 2010. 'Varieties of English in writing: The written word as
linguistic evidence'. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Robert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from Florida
International University in Miami and is currently writing his dissertation
in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona.
He has taught in public high schools and community colleges in the US and
is currently the Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technology in
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage language
learning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiate
identity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.