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: 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 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH 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], etc.
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.
Morphology 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.
Syntax 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.
Semantics 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.
Pragmatics 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.
Psycholinguistics 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.
Sociolinguistics 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.