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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Date: Sun, 03 Apr 2005 12:48:39 -0400 From: Andrea Pham Subject: Language Change
AUTHOR: Beard, Adrian TITLE: Language Change SERIES: INTERTEXT PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2004
Andrea Pham, Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Florida.
Language Change is one of the 'satellite' texts in Routledge's INTERTEXT series of books, the 'foundation' text of which is Working with Texts: A core introduction to language analysis (Carter et al. 2001). Each of the 19 satellite books so far produced is designed to apply aspects of language to a particular topic area in more detail, complement the main text, and develop skills taught in that text. The INTERTEXT series is designed to help pre-college/university students understand how texts work. Language Change is a slender book of 114 pages, consisting of 6 teaching units, a brief section of answers and commentaries, a list of 17 references, and a glossary of some 60 or so basic terms. As a teaching text, it contains a variety of student-oriented tasks, e.g., questions to answer, topics for discussion and/or research, and suggestions for further study.
Unit one, Context and language change, immediately emphasizes that the focus of the book is external change rather than internal change. The goal is to show how changes in society are reflected in language. Moreover, since change is an ongoing process, the data used are drawn mainly from sources in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The data chosen to illustrate topics are various: a bank advertisement from 1967, an excerpt from a children's story book from 1947, an advice column from a book published in 1901, and a bank recruitment notice from 2003. Students are asked to consider matters having to do with vocabulary choices, formality levels, the actual layout of texts, the assumptions behind the writing, the persuasive techniques used, etc. The main focus of this unit is on how texts reflect changes in social attitudes.
Unit two, Genre and change, further examines social attitudes and practices in larger public and commercial discourses and focuses on how genres change over time. A recent newspaper advertisement by a male seeking a partner is followed by two different Victorian 'advice' columns, and students are asked to try to figure out what they can about the attitudes of those who seek advice or help and those who give such advice or help using the evidence they see before them. Two reports of soccer games, one played in 1882 and the other in 2002, are used to discuss interesting points made about changes in narrative styling, biases, and discourse structure. Finally, some recipes for 'pudding' are used to show how expectations have changed over time about what a 'pudding' is, about what a recipe should include, and exactly what its purpose should be.
Unit three, Interpersonal communication genres and change, uses material from holiday postcards, letters from headmasters, emails, text messages, and chat groups to look at such matters as language choices (What is one expected to say on a holiday postcard?), levels of formality, greetings (or the lack of them), individual vs joint creation of a text, the use of symbols, and the element of 'play' in newer forms of communication.
Unit four, Visual representation and change, briefly introduces ideas from semiotics but confines itself to a discussion of simple signs, e.g., How exactly do the words of a message look on the page? There is reference back to materials used in previous units and some additional examples are introduced from a computer screen, various posters, and a garment label. The emphasis here is on how there can be no single, definitive reading of a text: readings change over time.
Unit five, Attitudes to language change, makes brief reference to such matters as correctness, taboo, pronunciation changes, the split infinitive, apostrophe (ab)use, Plain English, and political correctness in a series of short observations and examples. The approach here is entirely descriptive: how do people actually use the language?
Unit six, Internal aspects of change, is also very brief. It introduces no new material and in less than 10 pages asks students to think about topics such as borrowing, affixation, spelling, pronunciation, denotation, etymology, etc. Little more than a series of hints is offered as to how to proceed any further in dealing with these topics.
Language Change neither introduces historical linguistics nor attempts to explain any of the mechanisms that might be at work in language change. It is very much a non-technical, non-theoretical book designed to be used by a teacher who has an interest in language (and perhaps some knowledge too) with students who want to find out more about language when neither teacher nor students wish to be encumbered with terminology or theory while trying to document that language indeed does change and the evidence for change is everywhere around them. Although the book is slender and its scope is severely limited, the overall approach is sound: it provides textual evidence that language is changing; it describes some ways one can talk about changes that can be observed; and it suggests various ways of furthering one's knowledge about change. The result is a very satisfying textbook for the level of intended use.
Carter, Ronald, Angela Goddard, Danuta Reah, Keith Sanger, and Maggie Bowring (2001) Working with Texts: A core introduction to language analysis, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrea Pham is an assistant professor of Vietnamese language and linguistics in the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Florida. Her research interests include Phonology, Vietnamese tone, Phonology-Phonetics interface and Language change.