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Review of  Introduction to English Linguistics

Reviewer: Dinha Tobiya Gorgis
Book Title: Introduction to English Linguistics
Book Author: Ingo Plag Maria Braun Sabine Lappe Mareile Schramm
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.664

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AUTHORS: Plag, Ingo; Maria Braun; Sabine Lappe; and Mareile Schramm
TITLE: Introduction to English Linguistics
SERIES TITLE: Mouton Textbook
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2009

Dinha T. Gorgis, Jadara University, Irbid, Jordan


Introduction to English Linguistics, 2nd edition, is a book primarily intended
to be used by beginning university students of English. Although this
co-authored work is written within a German setting, it is undoubtedly
accessible world-wide. For while it ''presupposes no prior knowledge of
linguistics'' (p. xi), the book is written in such a lucid and enjoyable style
that the reader barely finds any abrupt cut in the flow of information. And
rather than adopting one particular theoretical framework, the book draws on
insights from various traditions. In addition to being written in user-friendly
English, the book is error-free. It comprises a two-page introduction, seven
chapters, each ending with a section on recommended readings and a few exercises
for both basic and advanced levels, a glossary of terms used throughout the
book, a list of references and a subject index.

Unlike other introductory books on English linguistics, e.g. Meyer (2009) or
Bieswanger and Becker (2008), the first chapter (pp. 1-28) starts right away
with phonetics, rather than telling the newcomer what linguistics as a field of
enquiry might be. However, the authors take British Standard English as the
object of their account with frequent references to General American English
(GAE). For that matter, Received Pronunciation (RP), an accent whose sounds are
described and words transcribed using IPA notations, is occasionally contrasted
with German and GAE. Like many pedagogically-oriented textbooks, the authors
focus on articulatory phonetics owing to its practical purposes in
second/foreign language teaching settings as compared to acoustic and auditory
phonetics. The chapter briefly notes the difference between spelling and
pronunciation and proceeds with the description of consonants as produced by our
speech apparatus and their classification in terms of the labels given to place
and manner of articulation as well as voicing. This is followed by a similar
description and classification of pure vowels and diphthongs. For the purpose of
illustration, some conventional figures are offered, which depict the movements
made by our speech organs. Overall, nothing is really new or unusual about the
chapter; it is simple and straightforward.

The second chapter (pp. 29-69) examines phonology as ''the study of the abstract
categories that organize the sound system of a language'' (p. 29). In order to
establish the phoneme as an abstract category, a number of spectrographic images
for the r-sound occurring in different words are presented. That spectrograms
are introduced in the phonology rather than the usual phonetics chapter is
significant for a number of reasons: (1) misconceptions about the nature of
individual speech sounds are removed; (2) each r-sound occurrence, for example,
is a phone with different physical properties because it is determined by the
phonetic context in which it occurs; and (3) all such physical occurrences are
reduced into an abstract distinctive entity which we have come to call a
phoneme. So unlike phones, which are physical alternant realisations of a speech
sound, we talk about a limited set of phonemes which Edward Sapir claimed to
have psychological reality in the early 20th century. The key word used for
establishing the phonemes of any language is distribution. Phones are said to be
in complementary distribution, i.e. where one phone occurs, a similar one does
not. Even if you try to replace one for another, as is the case with phones that
are in free variation, meaning does not change. But when all the phones
pertaining to one single speech sound are grouped together into a single family,
we get an abstract distinctive unit, i.e. a unit that signals a difference in
meaning, that we call a phoneme whose members in phonology are named allophones.
The technique normally followed in establishing such distinctive units is called
the minimal pair technique. This technique requires the availability of language
data from which a researcher can select pairs of words differing in one sound
only, provided that the two sounds fill a corresponding position. For example,
both [s] and [f] in the pair /si:t/ and /fi:t/ fill a word-initial position. But
this procedure should not be taken as an act of faith; for although we are
familiar with ''once a phoneme, always a phoneme,'' it is possible that two
phonemes can be neutralized as is the case with the voicing contrast in German
/t/ and /d/ (see pp. 41-42).

The second important issue in this chapter is the syllable whose structure is
made up of three optional and obligatory constituents, viz. onset, nucleus and
coda. The onset and coda slots are optionally filled by consonants, but while
the nucleus slot is normally filled by a vowel or diphthong it can equally be
filled by a syllabic consonant, namely /l/, /m/, /n/ or /r/. This means that
syllables have a constituent structure and that ''every syllable must have a
nucleus'' (p. 59). Syllabification, on the other hand, is ''predictable on the
basis of two principles, the Maximal Onset Principle and Sonority Sequencing
Principle'' (p. 63). With reference to the category of the syllable, such
principles enable us to formulate phonological rules which govern the
distribution of allophones, e.g. the so-called clear and dark (or velarised)
/l/. Unfortunately, there is no mention of rhyme, as in Plag (2003), or syllable
weight and its relevance to stress assignment, which one may find in, e.g. Yavaş

Chapter 3 (pp. 70-110) takes the reader to a higher level of linguistic
analysis: morphology, which is ''the study of the internal structure of words,
the rules that govern it, as well as the ways of creating new words'' (p. 70).
While the phoneme is designated as a meaningless abstract unit which can signal
a difference in meaning between a pair of words, the morpheme is the smallest,
indivisible, recurrent and meaningful unit which may be free or bound. If it
recurs freely, e.g. 'book', then it must be a simplex word, i.e. a monomorphemic
word, whereas if bound, e.g. {s} in 'books', then it is part of complex word.
But identifying morphemes is not always straightforward. For example, while
{cran-} in cranberry is a unique morpheme because ''it occurs in only one English
word'' (p. 73), the plural morphemes in 'teeth' and 'sheep' are traditionally
accounted for in terms of vowel alternation and zero value, respectively.
Generally, however, English morphology is characterized by two systems, viz.
closed vs. open. The former represents inflectional morphology, whereas the
latter derivational morphology. Inflectional morphemes, which are said to be
exclusively suffixes, are restricted in number and do not change the grammatical
category (or word-class, or part of speech, if you like) when attached to words
and/or involve vowel alternation, e.g. 'speak, speaks, speaking, spoken'.
Derivational morphemes, on the other hand, can be both suffixes and prefixes and
are able to change the grammatical category, e.g. 'child, childish, childhood'.
As such, they constitute an open system which enriches the vocabulary of
English. Like allophones, members of the phoneme, morphemes also have members,
called allomorphs. An allomorph is a variant which the authors claim to be
lexically, phonologically and morphologically conditioned, e.g. the allomorphs
of the plural or verb tense morphemes (but see our comment below). The chapter
concludes with other word-formation processes that have become quite fashionable
in English, if not in all languages of the world. These include compounding,
conversion, shortening (subsuming truncation, clipping and blending) and, above
all, abbreviation, which includes both initialism and acronyms.

At the outset of chapter 4, syntax, the authors make it clear that the
prescriptive rules one finds in grammar books are neither necessarily true of
language as a system nor complete. Rather, they serve as ''an approximation of
the vast knowledge that speakers actually have'' (p. 112). Grammar for them, as
for many linguists, is the speaker's tacit knowledge of their language system.
So syntax, the traditional core of grammar, may make reference to any aspect of
that knowledge while exploring the internal structure of sentences. To account
for sentential structure, however, the authors make appeal to the notion of
constituent once more. In order for the building blocks, viz. words and phrases,
to count as constituents of well-formed sentences, these blocks must pass
several structural tests, most notable of which are pronominalisation, movement,
coordination, passivisation, omission (cf. ellipsis), gapping and
sentence-fragment. For didactic purposes, the authors seem to have felt that
that the classical phrase structure rules and tree diagrams are quite helpful
tools which demonstrably show learners how to test constituency, generate
sentences and resolve structural ambiguity. Equally revealing in this chapter is
the authors' successful attempt in showing how form is related to function. The
mappings of form and function that can be found in English sentences are
elegantly schematized on p. 136, but admittedly the schema does not show all
possible mappings. Their conclusion, however, is that ''each sentential function
can be realized by a number of different formal categories and that a given
formal category may perform different functions in a sentence'' (p. 137).

Chapter 5 (pp. 140-175) introduces the beginning student of linguistics to
semantics, a sub-discipline that deals with the meaning of words and sentences.
Rather than accepting the definition of meaning as ''the relation between a
linguistic expression and the entity for which it can be used'' (p. 142), the
authors correctly define it as ''the relation between a linguistic expression
(i.e. an arbitrary form, e.g. word) and a mental category that is used to
classify objects, i.e. a concept'' (p. 145). Such conception of meaning derives
its strength from research evidence on the basis of speakers' categorization of
the objects around. Semanticists ''call the object for which a speaker uses a
particular linguistic expression the referent of that linguistic expression. The
relation between linguistic expressions and objects in the in the outside world
is termed reference'' (p. 146). So instead of approaching meaning by simply
relating words to objects directly, we should account for it as exhibiting a
conceptual structure that manifests ''a triangular relationship between word,
concept, and referent'' (p. 148), e.g. the schema one finds on p. 149. Although
sentence meaning is not given attention, the authors could draw a distinction
between semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning by providing a couple of
sentences. The main body of the chapter, however, is devoted to the mental
lexicon and conventional areas of lexical semantics, particularly the
organization of lexemes into lexical fields ''whose members are linked through
sense relations such as hyponymy and oppositeness'' (p. 171).

Pragmatic meaning is the subject matter of chapter 6 (pp. 176-209). As opposed
to semantic (or grammatical) meaning, pragmatics explores communicative
intentions through language in use. Speech Act Theory, first expounded by John
L. Austin (1962) and developed later by John Searle (1969; 1979), in particular,
is perhaps the earliest ''fully fledged theory'' (p. 178) that takes care of our
communicative intentions. A speech act has traditionally been characterized as
having three sub-acts: a locutionary act (the act of speaking or writing), an
illocutionary act (the act of imparting meaning), and a perlocutionary act (the
effect of the illocutionary force on the hearer). In our daily-life encounters,
we produce a great many speech acts which may be reduced into some five classes
for theoretical purposes. These categories include what have come to be called:
declaratives, representatives, directives, commissives, and expressives. Because
these categories may overlap, they have been further classified into directives
and non-directives. Indirect speech acts are often associated with a higher
degree of politeness than the direct ones. In order for speakers to perform
speech acts successfully, and for hearers to go about discovering inferences,
certain conditions must be met. These include Searle's felicity conditions,
background knowledge and, above all, observing Grice's (1975) Cooperative
Principle which subsumes several maxims.

In addition to answering a host of questions pertinent to the six areas of
linguistic investigation so far introduced in the previous chapters, the authors
in their final chapter, chapter 7 (pp. 210-230), feel that beginning students of
linguistics may still wish to raise further questions, most important of which
are those related to language genesis and change, acquisition and social
significance. To satisfy their curiosity, answers within three more linguistic
fields are provided. These fields, which include historical linguistics,
sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, are briefly introduced.


Let me start first with a very minor remark. Although each of the four authors
is said to have been ''chiefly responsible for one or two chapters'' (p. v),
single authors, particularly Sabine Lappe in chapter two, are advised not to use
'I' and 'we' interchangeably. And rather than appealing to ''my intuitions'' (p.
59), reference to the co-authors' intuitions could have strengthened the
argument therein as long as the book is the fruit of joint effort.

What looks to me a methodological problem relates to stress, tone and syllable.
Since stress is undoubtedly an important aspect of English phonology, which is
referred to in a few pages (pp. 46; 47; 82; 83; 88; 98; 100; 106), I find it
undesirable to invite the newcomers to a linguistics course ''to consider the
account in Spencer's (1996: 206-210) phonology textbook'' (p. 46), to pay
''particular attention to the stress patterns of the base words'' (p. 98), or to
''[c]onsider the difference in the stress pattern'' (p. 100) between compounds.
Would a statement such as ''a specific stress configuration'' (p. 47) or ''most
truncated names retain either the first or the main stressed syllable'' (p. 106)
mean anything to beginning students in English phonology without telling them
what stress is in the first place? Similarly, ''a rising tone on the vowel'' (p.
48) would mean very little unless tone languages are introduced in a few lines
at least. Stress and tone are absent from the glossary. A third methodological
problem relates to consistency. Despite the fact that the authors make it clear
from the beginning that they are not committed to any specific theoretical
model, terms must be kept in harmony. A mismatch between terms is in place as
they choose to identify some diphthongs as centring, simply because they end
with a schwa, a central vowel, whereas some others as closing because they end
with a high short vowel. There is nothing wrong with the values assigned, but it
would be preferable to follow a British standard, e.g. Roach (2000), in calling
the high vowels close to maintain conformity. Endnotes could have been provided
throughout the whole book for cases that require further notes such as the
high=close or the differences between the vowels [ɒ], [ɔ] and [ɑ] that are left
unexplained, for example.

Confusion of terms extends to aspiration vs. release. In their own words,
''English voiceless stops as they appear in RP have three major types of
allophones: an unreleased, an aspirated (released) and a non-aspirated
(released) allophone'' (p. 50). What I am aware of is that we have two distinct
pairs, viz. aspirated vs. non-aspirated and released vs. unreleased, where the
presence or absence of aspiration is obligatory, i.e. phonologically conditioned
and is captured by redundancy rules, whereas release is entirely optional. To
say that ''word-finally we have free variation between aspirated, non-aspirated,
and unreleased variants'' (p. 50) is misleading. Therefore, instructors need to
make it clear to their students that voiceless stops occurring in word-final
position are either released or unreleased and hence the common use of a
different diacritic. A similar argument is true of voicing, which earlier is
correctly said to be a contrastive (distinctive) feature, i.e. the sound is
either voiced or voiceless. While admitting that English is characterized by
''final devoicing'' (p. 69), there is no need to identify /r/ and /l/ as having
''voiceless allophones'' (p. 50). Rather, it would be more convenient to call them
devoiced; for the prefix {de-} implies that /r/ and /l/ lose a considerable
amount of their voicing as a result of co-articulation, but are not in a binary
opposition, i.e. voiced vs. voiceless.

Simplification is necessary in a textbook like this, but an instructor, like me,
might be embarrassed if some smart student raises questions such as the following:

1. Since the book teaches us that /r/ is realized ''as [ə] word-finally after
[ɪ], [e], and [ʊ] (i.e. in centring diphthongs)'' (p. 54), why don't we simply
transcribe hearing, for example, as [hɪrɪŋ] (cf. [hɪə] ) rather than [hi:rɪŋ]?

2. Does the linking [r] have anything to do with lengthening [ɪ], or is it only
an attempt to approximate GAE pronunciation, viz. [hirɪŋ]?

3. Isn't the diphthong just a single complex sound that involves ''a change in
auditory quality within a single syllable'' (p. 234)?

4. Don't you think that the authors are trying to tell us that the verb hear in
RP has basically a CV structure, but a CVC when suffixed by {-ing}?

5. Wouldn't you agree that the authors are segmenting the diphthong as if it
were a cluster of two pure (simple) vowels?

6. After all, why suggest that RP speakers simplify, rather than maintain, their
centring diphthongs in words such as 'enduring'? Would they really pronounce
'caring' as [kerɪŋ] in a similar fashion to, e.g. 'erring'?

I think such questions might equally be asked by some experienced instructors
who would, additionally, wonder why some relevant topics, e.g. assimilation and
intonation, are not covered. Readers, however, might also be curious to ask
questions relevant to allomorphy and conditioning. The indefinite article is a
case in point. The authors claim that the indefinite article is a morpheme with
three phonologically conditioned allomorphs (cf. pp. 82-84), viz. [ə], [ən] and
[eɪ] (unexpectedly excluding [æn]), the selection of which is determined by the
sound that follows each of them (see p. 85). Suppose we accept their
phonological conditioning. Such a statement would be valid in the selection of
all realizations but the third; for what is phonologically peculiar about the
following consonant in, e.g. 'a cup', to trigger a stressed [eɪ]? Its selection
is simply determined by discourse as their contextualized example shows. In
addition to phonological and morphological conditioning, related queries may
extend to their third so-called lexical conditioning as regard the plural
allomorph of 'sheep' (p. 87). This should mean that we need to admit that there
are two separate entries for 'sheep', one for the singular and another for the
plural. As such, we need to posit two entries for any morph associated with a
zero allomorph, e.g. the verbs 'cut', 'put', etc. in the mental lexicon. In my
view, there can be five types of conditioning: (1) phonological; (2)
morphological; (3) morphophonological (or morphophonemic); morphosyntactical;
and (5) discoursal. Representative examples for each type can respectively be:
(1) polite vs. impolite, where assimilation is clearly noticed; (2) interested
vs. uninterested or disinterested, where only the addition of prefixes is
involved without any phonological change in the base; (3) 'include' vs.
'inclusive' or 'inclusion', where a suffix brings about a phonological change in
the base; (4) 'sheep' (sg) vs. 'sheep' (pl), as determined by the syntax of
English; and (5) all weak vs. strong forms, such as the indefinite articles 'a'
and 'an', as determined by discourse. Overall, the chapter on morphology is
undoubtedly rich, but as long as the purpose of the book is didactic one still
wants to find out why some words attract {-able} but some others {-ible}, not to
mention the nominalising suffixes {-ance} and {-ence}.

There is not really much to be said about the remaining chapters except for the
following remarks to which I would like to draw the attention of the authors:

1. In chapter 4, syntax, which is not as rich as other chapters, I noticed there
is a violation of binarity principle (see, especially p. 127).

2. One would have liked to see a contrast between finite and non-finite clauses
(p. 136).

3. I think the suffix {-er} in chapter 5, semantics, requires more attention.

4. Since ''presupposes'' (p. 189) is mentioned in chapter 6, pragmatics, it would
have been fruitful to draw a distinction between presupposition and entailment
in chapter 5.

5. Adding ''propositional content'' (p. 190) as an additional condition to the
already obtained general condition for the interpretation of any speech act is
redundant, simply because the general condition is taken to enable the
interlocutor to understand a locution linguistically unless the authors show
their readers the difference between semantic and pragmatic proposition.

Last, but not least, one would have liked to see a section or so about some of
the pioneering linguists and outstanding figures who contributed to the
development of the field. That said, and despite the rather lengthy comments I
have made above, the book is indeed enjoyable. University students all over the
globe will, undoubtedly, find it stimulating and inspiring.


Austin, John L. 1962. How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bieswanger, Markus and Annette Becker. 2008. Introduction to English
linguistics. 2nd edn. Tübingen: Narr.
Grice, Herbert Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In: Cole, Peter and Jerry
Morgan. Syntax and semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts, pp. 41- 58. New York:
Academic Press.
Meyer, Charles F. 2009. Introducing English linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Plag, Ingo. 2003. Word-formation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roach, Peter. 2000. English phonetics and phonology: A practical course, 3rd
edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John. 1979. Expression and meaning. Studies in the theory of speech
acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John. 1969. Speech acts. An essay in the philosophy of language.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spencer, Andrew.1996. Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Yavaş, Mehmet. 2006. Applied English phonology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Dinha T. Gorgis has been teaching several linguistic modules, including English grammar, discourse, pragmatics and translation, at a number of Arab universities since 1975, and is currently professor of linguistics at Jadara University in Jordan. He is chief editor of STJ, member on the editorial boards of Linguistik, TLJ, and has recently been nominated as a peer-reviewer on the editorial board of Glossa. His latest publications include: 'The translation of Arabic collocations into English: Dictionary-based vs. dictionary-free measured knowledge' (Linguistik, 2009, Vol. 37) and a review of Mira Ariel (2008). Pragmatics and Grammar. Cambridge: CUP, which appeared on The LINGUIST List (24 June 2009), Vol. 20.2280.

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