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Review of  Le cours de linguistique contemporaine

Reviewer: Claudine Pagliano
Book Title: Le cours de linguistique contemporaine
Book Author: Edmond Biloa
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.3269

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Date: Mon, 7 Nov 2005 17:58:01 +0100
From: Claudine Pagliano
Subject: Le cours de linguistique contemporaine

AUTHOR: Biloa, Edmond
TITLE: Le cours de linguistique contemporaine
SERIES: LINCOM Coursebooks in Linguistics 09
YEAR: 2004

Claudine Pagliano, UMR 7114 (CNRS & University of Paris X)


This coursebook, written in French, is designed for undergraduate
beginners in linguistics, to introduce them to the fundamentals of the
field. It covers a wide range of subjects from theoretical linguistics to
applied linguistics, but does not include exercises. It is divided into
nine parts, as follows.

The first part, Introduction, is devoted to a delimitation of linguistics
versus grammar, in a descriptive as well as in a psychological
perspective; it also offers a definition for communication and linguistic
system. It especially introduces the reader to linguistic signs and to
double articulation.

The second part, Phonetics and Phonology, focuses on the English
and French phonetic sounds before introducing the phoneme and its
realisations, then distinctive features including prosodic ones,
phonological processes such as assimilation and the dropping of a
sound, and phonological rules and their interaction.

In the third part, Morphology, are presented classical issues, such as
the word and its internal structure, types of morphemes, morphological
categories, and verb morphology.

The next part is Syntax, the sentence level and how a sentence may
be organised as well as the transformations and constraints that may
weigh on it.

Semantics is the topic of the fifth section: Semantic analysis, types of
meanings, connotations, semantic representations in the sentence as
well as in speech, and enunciation markers. It is also deals with
semantic relationships: hierarchy, inclusion, hyperonymy, equivalence,
opposition, polysemy and the mechanism of tropes.

The Pragmatics part deals with acts of language, and focuses on
pragmatics as developed by Grice. It also develops polyphony in
linguistics, in both language and speech, introduces logic and
inference, and explains pertinence theory.

Then follow two sections devoted to linguistics in relation with other
scientific areas. Part seven deals with Psycholinguistics and starts with
a chapter on biology, mentioning the different areas in the brain
playing a role in language and pathologies linked to them. It then
discusses the second major area of Psycholinguistics beside
pathology: acquisition, whether of phonology, of morphology, of
syntax or of meaning.

The following part, Sociolinguistics, defines this discipline in relation
with the status of languages and variations. As the author teaches in
Cameroun, it focuses more specifically on Camfrench, mainly its
phonology and morphology.

Historical Linguistics is the theme developed in the last section, which
deals with linguistic change on every level of the language, as well as
with the comparative method and linguistic reconstruction.


The book has many typos, anglicisms in both vocabulary and syntax,
and problems of organisation (e.g. missing titles to figures and
tableaux, references quoted in the text but not in the bibliographic
section). Also, cross-references between the different parts of the text
as well as to pertinent readings are not given (for example, there is no
reference to Martinet where the author introduces the term 'moneme').
Examples are also missing where a student would crucially need them;
for example, where the textbook deals with language functions of
Jakobson. And, surprisingly for a textbook, there is no index.

It is also notable that the phonetic transcription is not in IPA but in a
personal code that does not appear at the beginning or at the end of
the book. In addition, some elementary mistakes are made, e.g. the
term 'phoneme' is used for 'sound' on p. 10.

Actually, it seems that the author wants to be as complete as possible,
but this is to the detriment of clarity and pedagogical usefulness. For
instance, the author evokes notions and their links and implications
before explaining or illustrating them; which requires readers to come
back to the beginning once they have understood the basics of the
notion they are interested in. Even so, many topics that would have
been welcomed in such an introductory textbook, such as applied
linguistics, computational linguistics, the history of linguistics, and
linguistic geography are not included.

Here are some comments on specific sections of the book.

Phonetics and Phonology
One regrets the absence of diagrams of the oral tract to situate the
organs implied in the articulation process. There are also problems
with transcriptions: the sound [w] is classified both as a consonant and
as a glide, [f] as [+distributed] and [-distributed], the phonetic symbol
of the vowel is the same in 'boot' and 'should' whereas the description
of the sound is different, diphthongs are not considered in certain
words such as 'boat', the symbol of the vowel in 'brun' is [æ̃], not [œ̃],

It is notable that there are repetitions from one chapter to the other.
Both chapters 4 and 5 explain the articulatory description of
consonant and vowels, and the explanation sometimes leads to
misunderstanding; for instance, an obstruent is defined through a
bilabial occlusion only, which would imply that [t] or [k] are not
obstruents. Another example is a sentence implying that a phoneme
may have allophones in a same phonetic context.

The author does not mention the linguists whose concepts he refers
to, such as Jakobson or Chomsky & Halle (1968). He does not deal
with acoustic nor perspective phonetics. One also regrets the absence
of post-1968 phonology, of neutralisation, of interfaces or relations of
Phonology with the other components of the grammar, although it
constitutes a current 'hot' subject in linguistics. One would expect an
explanation and explication of these choices so that the student does
not believe he has an access to every important concept or modern
theoretical framework.

A first criticism lies in the fact that the author considers the written
form and not the oral one, without explicitly saying so. As in the
phonological part, examples are very few. One also regrets the
absence of such issues as headedness, lexical integrity, distributed
morphology, and the morphology of nouns (gender, cases, etc.),
among the main ones.

The author recognizes only descriptive goals to syntax, and not
explanatory ones. As in the morphology part, he refers to written
rather than spoken forms; for example, the plural in French is said to
be -s. Numerous concepts are explained far after their first evocation
(projection, X-bar, topicalisation, ...). Generally, however, even if very
brief or incomplete, the explanations are clear and one finds examples
in several languages.

This part is clear and well-exemplified; references are recent, varied
and pertinent, except when it comes to the modalities of enonciation,
whose differences with the ones of the utterance are not obvious. As
in the other parts however, actual issues are not explored.

In this part appears the first historical dimension of the book; the
author successively evokes Austin, Searle and contemporary theory.
He develops many notions, perhaps too many, as they are not always
exemplified or the examples developed, especially when it comes to
the section on logic, often difficult for students. It would have been
more useful to develop fewer notions, but in more detail. One also
regrets the absence of a critical perspective given to the different
theories explored.

A diagram of the brain would have been useful in this part, to help with
the identification of its different zones. The main issues in
psycholinguistics are evoked; however very few references are
offered, especially when it comes to acquisition. The author restricts
his approach to the acquisition of a mother tongue and doesn't write
anything about the acquisition of a second language.

This section provides definitions for a number of concepts, even if
some of them may be controversial. For instance, there is no contrast
between creole and pidgin, and the definition for sabir is not complete.
Camfrench is used to illustrate more concretely the different status a
language may have as well as notions such as code switching. One
may note that the author classifies inflection as a syntactic and not
morphological process (whereas this is not the case in the following
section), but in the syntactic part there is nothing said about the order
of words.

Historical linguistics
The issues are clearly presented, however, without many examples or
references. The issue of a unique mother language is not mentioned,
whereas it is a popular one among non-linguists, and the only
language family discussed is Indo-European.

To conclude the critical part of this review, I consider that this
coursebook cannot to substitute for a course in linguistics; but it may
enable students to figure out the broad outline of linguistics, to have a
list of most of the pertinent concepts to know in a given subdiscipline,
even if important ones are missing, such as the Saussurian
dichotomies (language versus speech, synchrony versus diachrony). It
may also enable a teacher, who already knows the subject, to recap
the notions necessary for particular areas.


Chomsky, Noam & Morris Halle, 1968. The Sound Pattern of English.
New York: Harper and Row.


Claudine Pagliano is a post-doctorate student in Phonology at the
CNRS laboratory in University of Paris X. Her PhD thesis focuses on
consonantal epenthesis in French, and she is currently working on
consonant clusters at the initial of words and interfaces between
phonology and the other components of the grammar. She works for
the international project Phonology of Contemporary French (PFC)
and is affiliated to the French association of morphology (GDR 2220).
She has been teaching linguistics for five years: Introduction to
general linguistics, structuralist and generative phonology, lexicology
and lexicography, computers and linguistics, French for foreigners.

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