Review of A University Course in English Grammar
Date: Sun, 05 Jan 2003 04:13:14 +0000
From: viatscheslav iatsko
Subject: Language Description: Review of Downing and Locke (2002), A university course in English grammar
Author: Downing, Angela, Locke, Philip (2002) A University Course in English
Grammar, paperback, ISBN 0-415-28810-X, xx+652 pp., $29.95.
Reviewed by Viatcheslav Iatsko, Department of English, Katanov State
University of Khakasia.
It should be noted at once that the title of the textbook under review
doesn't fully correspond to its scope. An experienced linguistic reader
coming across the title "A University Course in English Grammar" expects
the book to deal with morphology and syntax, while this textbook
concentrates on syntax and text grammar providing, as it is stated in the
Preface, "a clear descriptive account of sentence grammar and "an
account that offers a means of analyzing texts" (p.ix).
To reduce "grammar" to "syntax" seems to be a common feature of
contemporary English linguistics which, as I noticed earlier (Iatsko,
2001), can be accounted for by the fact that English doesn't belong to
morphologically rich languages and most of contemporary English grammars
make emphasis on the syntax unlike, for example, Russian grammars, in
which grammar as a linguistic discipline is proportionally divided into
morphemics (the study of morphemes), morphology (the study of
morphological categories and parts of speech) and syntax. It would be
impossible for a university course in Russian grammar to deal only with
syntax without describing other branches of grammar. Those interested in
a more detailed description of English morphemics and morphology can use
some other book, a perfect example is L. Brinton's (2000) "The Structure
of Modern English".
The book was written for students of English as a foreign or second
language in higher education that is why it is primarily aimed at helping
students to acquire a theoretical framework of English.
Another specific feature of this book is that it is based on M.Halliday's
systemic-functional model of grammar. Consequently, this book differs
essentially from numerous grammars of generative stock abounding in
notorious tree diagrams representing hierarchical structures of English
phrases and sentences.
Review of the chapters
The grammatical content of the course is presented in three blocks: 1) a
first chapter giving an overview of the whole course and defining the
basic concepts and terms used in it; 2) six chapters describing clause
structures from semantic, syntactic and functional points of view; 3) six
chapters dealing with syntactic groups. The chapters are divided into
class-length "modules" (sixty in all) each one beginning with a boxed
summary which presents the main matters of interest and ending with
practice tasks. The book also comprises "Key of Selected Answers"
section, and an extensive index.
Chapter 1 "Basic Concepts" comprises 3 modules, which very briefly
describe main syntactic concepts and notions that are discussed in detail
later in the following chapters. These concepts include: illocutionary
structure comprising communicative acts, such as statement, exclamation,
promise; experiental structure comprising different semantic roles
(process, participant, attribute, etc.); thematic structure (theme and
rheme); types of clauses, classes of syntactic groups, and syntactic
elements of clauses. The last module of the chapter focuses on different
ways of expanding linguistic units.
Chapter 1 is followed by six chapters describing clause structures from
semantic, syntactic and functional points of view. Because this part of
the book seems more interesting I will give a more detailed account of
Considering syntactic functions in Chapter 2 the authors distinguish
between complements and adjuncts and provide a thorough analysis of such
syntactic units as subject, predicator, direct object, indirect object,
prepositional object, subject complement, object complement, predicator
complement, adjunct, disjunct, and conjunct. The analysis includes
detailed description of syntactic features, semantic features, and
realizations of each of these units.
It should be noted that one of the most disputable problems in grammar
has been the classification of object types. Many grammarians point out
the fact that the classification of the object into direct, indirect and
prepositional is inconsistent because it is based on two different
criteria: direct and indirect objects are distinguished according to a
semantic criterion whereas prepositional object is differentiated
according to a formal criterion (use of a preposition) (Ilyish, 1971). To
tell the truth, while reading Chapter 2 I had a feeling that the authors
would avoid this inconsistency using their classification of semantic
roles described in Chapter 4. I was disappointed; having assigned some
semantic roles to the direct and indirect objects the authors failed to
associate any semantic roles with the prepositional object. Of course
such association requires additional research.
Chapter 3 focuses on different types of verb complementation. Reading
this chapter, students can acquire profound knowledge of a wide range of
verbs distinguished according to the types of complementation:
intransitive, monotransitive, ditransitive, complex transitive, and
copular. What arrests attention is regular correlation of syntactic
structures with their meanings. For example discussing "that"-clauses as
complements of monotransitive verbs the authors give detailed account of
meanings that this clause can take in discourse, such as "facts",
"reports", "proposals", and "decisions". The same goes to "WH"-clauses
and non finite clauses.
Chapter 4 outlines a semantic framework for a situation consisting of 1)
process, 2) participants in the situation, 3) attributes ascribed to
participants, 4) circumstances associated with the process. Processes are
divided into material, mental, relational, and verbal; participants
include animate, inanimate or abstract entities; attributes are qualities
or circumstances of the participants; circumstances comprise time, place,
manner, cause, etc. of the whole situation. The process type determines
classification of semantic roles. For example, semantic roles in material
processes include agent, force, affected, effected, recipient,
beneficiary, and causative agent whereas semantic roles in mental
processes include experiencer and phenomenon. These roles are further
subdivided into different classes depending on the verb's meaning. On the
whole the authors distinguish 15 main roles.
It is evident that this conception of semantic roles, well substantiated
and logical, differs essentially from existing conceptions developed by
leading representatives of case grammar: W.A.Cook (1998), L.Brinton
(2000, pp. 129-163), R.D.Van Valin (2001, pp. 21-85). Since the authors
don't give any references it is not quite clear whether they developed
this conception themselves or adopted somebody other's conception.
In Chapter 5 declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamative
clause types are matched with illocutionary acts. The authors point out
an isomorphic correlation between these clause types and illocutionary
acts, which takes place when, for example, a declarative clause expresses
a question and conversely an interrogative clause expresses a statement.
Special emphasis is made on assertive and non assertive uses of such
words as "any", "some", etc. which is especially important for students
studying English as a foreign language. All conclusions and judgments
made by the authors are supported by numerous examples taken from natural
Chapters 6 and 7 make up one unit dealing with message organization.
While Chapter 6 concentrates on thematic and information structures of
the clause and discusses topicalizing and focusing transformations
(ellipsis, deictic elements, clefting, "there"-structures, extraposition,
postponement), Chapter 7 focuses on structure of clauses' complexes and
identifies some relationships between clauses in discourse.
I think that the authors' treatment of these two topics is somewhat
superficial because they didn't take into account results achieved in the
field of text grammar. While discussing information structures they
should have gone beyond the sentence and analyzed different types of
structural connections between sentences, such as co-referent terms,
pronominal substitution, nominalization, lexical repetition, etc. While
discussing types of thematic progressions they should have introduced the
notion of super-phrasal unit as a configuration of sentences united by
structural connections and the one topic. Rather than concentrating on
formal (paratactic and hypotactic) relationships between clauses the
authors should have given the notion of types of discourse (reasoning,
narrative, description) and logical and grammatical relations underlying
them. All these linguistic notions were described in numerous books on
text grammar published by European authors (see e.g. Dijk T. Van, 1972).
Without studying them it's impossible to offer "a means of analyzing
The next 6 chapters (8-13) deal with syntactic groups: verbal group,
nominal group, adjectival group, adverbial group, and prepositional
group. An advantage of this part of the book is that the authors managed
to depart from traditional hierarchical phrase structures and suggested a
non derivational approach to studying the structure of these groups. Such
approach is sure to be much more useful for foreign students; rather than
building tree diagrams they can acquire profound knowledge of different
variants of structures of the verbal group, meaning of English tenses,
uses of articles, etc. That doesn't mean that notions developed within
the scope of phrase structure grammar are rejected and not used at all.
While discussing the structure of the nominal group the authors use
familiar concepts of head, determiner, modifier, qualifier, but the
emphasis is made on the ways of their realization which is more important
for foreign students.
I would like to point out some advantages and disadvantages of
- Comprehensive approach to the description of linguistic units.
Analyzing syntactic structures the authors regularly associate them with
their meanings and communicative structure. Such an approach is in line
with integrational analysis of language suggested by several scholars
(Steedman, 2002, Iatsko 2002, Iatsko 1998, Apresian 1986).
- Attempt to substantiate isomorphic correlation between different levels
of syntactic analysis and syntactic structure. Discussing correlation
between different types of syntactic structure (pp. 6-7), types of
syntactic units and their functions (pp. 16-17) the authors state: "this
many-to many relationship is fundamental for the understanding of the
relationship of the grammar of English to text" (p.17). One cannot help
agreeing with this statement.
- Non derivational approach to the description of phrase structures. Non
derivational description of English phrases is much better understandable
for foreign students than hierarchical tree diagrams adopted in
- An essential drawback of the textbook is lack of references to
linguistic literature. Since the authors develop an approach dealing with
different levels of syntactic analysis it would have been reasonable to
give references to works on case grammar, communicative syntax, and
generative grammar, to describe correlation between these grammars.
Actually, students studying an academic course must be aware of different
approaches to the investigation of a given linguistic phenomenon
developed by different authors. Apart from that, they are supposed to
learn some pieces of material on their own that is why university
textbooks provide extensive "References" and "Futher Reading" sections
(see, for example, Borjars&Burridge 2001, L.Brinton, 2000).
Unfortunately, nothing of the sort can be found in the book under review.
In case the authors decide to prepare another edition of the textbook
taking into consideration flaws mentioned above the linguistic community
has all chances to get a perfect university course in English syntax.
Apresian Y. D. (1986) Integrational description of language . In: Voprosy
yazykoznania. No 2. P.57-70. (In Russian).
Borjars K., Burridge K. (2001) Introducing English grammar. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Brinton L. (2000) The structure of modern English. Amsterdam;
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Cook W.A. (1998) Case grammar applied. Arlington: The Summer Institute of
Dijk T. Van. (1972) Some aspects of text grammars. The Hague, 1972.
Iatsko V. (1998). Textual deep structure . In: Text, speech, dialogue.
Proceedings of the first workshop. Brno: Masaryk University Press.
Iatsko V. (2001) A review of Borjars & Burridge Introducing English
Grammar. In: Linguist List 12.1562
Iatsko V. (2002).Integrational discourse analysis. Katanov State
University of Kahakasia http://www.khsu.ru/ida
Ilyish B.A. (1971) The structure of modern English. Moscow; Leningrad:
Van Valin R.D. (2001) An Introduction to Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
V.Iatsko is professor in the Department of English and Head of Computational Linguistics Laboratory at Katanov State University of Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of English and Russian syntax.