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Review of  Exploring the Spanish Language

Reviewer: Lynn Pearson
Book Title: Exploring the Spanish Language
Book Author: Christopher J. Pountain
Publisher: Hodder Education
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 16.871

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Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 18:23:55 -0500
From: Lynn Pearson
Subject: Exploring the Spanish language

AUTHOR: Pountain, Christopher
TITLE: Exploring the Spanish Language
SERIES: A Hodder Arnold Publication
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Lynn Pearson, Department of Romance Languages, Bowling Green State


This book provides an introduction to the Spanish language with a
description of its linguistic structures and geographical and social
varieties. The author assumes no previous knowledge of linguistics on the
part of the reader and focuses on data from Spanish rather than linguistic
theories. The book can function as both a reference work and as a
textbook, especially for English-speaking learners of Spanish. The
chapters contain exercises for further analysis of various structures and
concepts by the readers.

CHAPTER ONE -- Introduction

This chapter presents the concept of description as a way of looking
objectively at different varieties of a language. Description is compared
with prescription and the author provides examples of prescriptive
approaches to language in the Spanish-speaking world. Pedagogical rules
are discussed as both useful for learners and limited in their descriptive
power. The standard and prestige norms are detailed by citing historical
and geographical factors in the evolution of Spanish and the role of the
Real Academia Española in providing written norms of usage. Types of
variation (e.g., geographic, social, temporal) are described. The chapter
also gives an overview of book contents.

CHAPTER TWO -- The sounds of Spanish

This chapter presents topics in Spanish phonology. It begins with an
overview of the descriptions and symbols used to represent sounds (e.g.,
International Phonetic Alphabet and Revista de filología española).
Variation of pronunciation, due to context (e.g., neutralization) or
dialect (e.g., ceceo and seseo), is discussed. The relationship between
orthography and pronunciation is explained using examples from the
historical evolution of Spanish and English and text- messaging. Spanish
syllable structure is detailed to illustrate concepts such as hiatus and
sinalefa. The chapter covers the suprasegmental features of Spanish (word
stress, intonation patterns) with reference to English and Spanish

CHAPTER THREE -- Spanish words and their structure

In this chapter, the morphology of Spanish is outlined. Spanish is a
language with numerous inflections on nouns, adjectives and verbs. The
author demonstrates the limitations of morphological analysis based on a
one-to-one relationship between morphological units and meaning with
examples of subjunctive verb forms, adjectives derived from nouns, and
prefixes. Other patterns of derivational morphology are illustrated
including noun-adjective and noun-verb relations and affective suffixes.
Semantic features of words are discussed with reference to strategies used
in dictionary definitions (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms) and idioms.
The concept of semantic field is explained with words for family
relations, "thief" and others in Spanish and English.

CHAPTER FOUR -- Spanish sentences and their structure

In this chapter, the syntactic features of Spanish are described with a
focus on few key issues. A definition of a "sentence" is presented along
with explanations of the "pro-drop" parameter of Spanish, impersonal
verbs, and sentences in spoken language. The possible constituents of
sentences are discussed within the context the valency of verbs (e.g.,
transitivity and intransitivity) and the role of syntactic and semantic
features in determining the dependent elements of verbs. Other sentence
types are outlined (e.g., interrogative, imperative, complex). The author
discusses word order patterns, complementation, adjectival clauses,
constructions with infinitives and gerunds.

CHAPTER FIVE -- Themes in form and meaning: the 'genius' of Spanish

This chapter examines several grammatical features of modern Spanish,
which demonstrate "the tension ... between form and meaning" (p. 95).
These features represent the phenomenon of "genius" of the language, which
exploits "particular grammatical processes at the expense of others,
tending to always lose sight of any explicit functional value that the
process may have had in the first instance" (Sapir 1921: 60). Among the
topics covered are gender of nouns, the 'personal a', modality, the
multiple functions of reflexives, and copula verbs for "be" and "become"
(ser, estar, volverse, hacerse, etc.).

CHAPTER SIX -- Regional and social variation

In this chapter, geographical and sociolinguistic variation in the spoken
language is described. The chapter begins with a discussion of the
standardization in the history of Spanish (e.g., the alfonsí "castellano
drecho") and recent efforts to standardize Catalan, Galician, and Basque.
An overview of the field of dialect geography is provided (e.g.,
linguistic atlases, isoglosses, etc.). The regional features of Spanish
dialects (e.g., second person pronouns, seseo vs. ceceo, lleísmo vs.
yeísmo, etc.) in Spain and Latin America are presented. The author
includes mention of internal and external factors affecting the evolution
of phonological, morphological and syntactic features of the dialects.
Sociolinguistic variation is covered in relation to social class, age,
sex, and formality level.


Register is another type of linguistic variation "according to the
situation in which language is used, or the purpose for which it is used"
(p. 168). The chapter covers register variation in spoken and written
language. Many examples are presented from literary works, sociolinguistic
data, media sources, legal documents, and advertising language to show the
features of different registers. Various linguistic features are also
discussed in relation to register (e.g., second person pronouns,
imperatives, discourse markers, jargon, slang, etc.).


Style is composed of linguistic features of texts, which are employed for
particular effects. The prescriptive notion of "good style" is described
as one of a number of possible styles in texts. Rhetorical style is
discussed with relation to figures of speech. Each figure of speech is
presented with the English and Spanish terminology, a definition, and an
example from literary texts or other sources. Literary style is
illustrated further with "deviations" such as using present tense in
narratives. Concordances (distribution of words in a texts, length of
words, number of different words used and the contexts in which they
occur) are analyzed in two literary texts (Yerma and El coronel no tiene
quien le escriba). The author discusses the problems of preparing
electronic texts for computer analysis.

CHAPTER NINE -- Spanish or not?

This chapter describes some varieties of Spanish, which have evolved in
contexts removed from the standard varieties in Spain and Latin America.
The languages covered in the chapter include Judeo-Spanish, isleño (a
vestigial variety spoken in Louisiana, USA), Afro-Hispanic (e.g., bozal,
Spanish Creoles (Papiamentu, Palenquero, Chabacano), and varieties with
code-switching (US Spanish varieties, Fronteiriço in Uruguay). For each
variety, the author provides historical background and a description of
its linguistic features.

CHAPTER TEN -- Towards the future

The final chapter examines the future of Spanish through linguistic
forecasting about internal and external developments in the language.
Internal forecasting is based on observations of the synchronic structure
and variation and on the knowledge of linguistic evolution. For example,
if the aspiration or elision of syllable final /s/ became a standard
feature, it may lead to a restructuring of the phonemic inventory of
Spanish and changes in orthography. External forecasting concerns the
numbers of speakers of a language and the international status of the
language. This information is relevant for language planning for economic
and academic purposes. The issue of the linguistic unity of Spanish (e.g.,
acceptance of a written norm and mutual intelligibility between educated
speakers) is discussed. The author addresses the influence of English in
Spanish varieties citing internal and external factors for borrowing.


Pountain's book is an excellent introduction to the Spanish language. The
text is very accessible to readers with clear explanations and linguistic
terminology highlighted in boldface and listed in the index. In addition,
there are numerous examples from diverse sources (e.g., literary works,
linguistics studies, and the Internet), which illustrate the features of
Spanish varieties and types of linguistic variation. The descriptions
contain information about the historical development of Spanish as well as
the current state of the language. The book also emphasizes the objective
of linguistic study to describe language varieties without value judgments
or prescriptivism. Spanish is compared to English throughout the book
making the text helpful for English-speaking learners of Spanish to
understand the areas of contrast between the two languages. The book would
be a very appropriate choice as a textbook for an introductory course in
Hispanic Linguistics at the undergraduate or graduate level. The exercises
at the end of each chapter offer areas of further investigation for
readers, who can apply the concepts to do linguistic analysis as part of a
class or for independent study. Sample answers to the exercises are
provided. Individual chapters may also be useful for courses in
literature, sociolinguistics, teacher education, and other fields. The
book will be a valuable resource for both students and scholars.


Sapir, Edward (1921) Language: An introduction to the study of speech.


Lynn Pearson is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Undergraduate
Advisor for Spanish Education majors at Bowling Green State University in
Ohio. She teaches courses in second language acquisition, history of
Spanish, and dialectology. Her research interests include interlanguage
pragmatics, teacher education, and using technology in language and
linguistics courses.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 034071946X
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 256
Prices: U.S. $ 24.95