Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
AUTHORS: Akmajian, Adrian; Demers, Richard A.; Farmer, Ann K.; Harnish, Robert M. TITLE: Linguistics SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Language and Communication (Sixth Edition) PUBLISHER: MIT Press YEAR: 2010
Marissa Fond, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University
The goal of this introductory textbook is to review basic concepts in linguistics so that beginning students will become familiar with some of the field's main questions and the research methods used to answer them. The content of the textbook is divided into two parts: the first, ''The Structure of Human Language'', concentrates on the individual components of linguistic systems and demonstrates the ways in which they are all interdependent; the second, ''Communication and Cognitive Science'', explores different aspects of language use from a cognitive perspective. Each chapter within these two parts covers several subthemes and ends with a section called ''Special Topics'', in which subjects that were not introduced in the chapter (or were touched on very briefly) are discussed in more detail. These are followed by study questions and exercises, reading lists for the chapter and the special topics sections, a list of journals pertinent to the subfield, and a bibliography.
Part 1 begins with an introductory chapter (Chapter 1) which defines the scope of the field of linguistics and then describes the goals of the textbook in terms of Chomsky's competence, performance, and language acquisition models. Part 1 discusses linguistic competence, or the nature and structure (grammar) of human language, beginning with the structure of a word.
Chapter 2 (Morphology) launches into an analysis of the unit of the word. The authors acknowledge that opening with a morphology chapter is perhaps not traditional in a linguistics textbook, but they claim that this allows for a more engaging, accessible introduction to the various subfields of theoretical linguistics, particularly for students with little experience reflecting on the structure of language. So with the goal of providing a broad introduction, the chapter begins by outlining the information that we as language users know when we know a word, and then it guides the reader through some questions in phonetics (How do sounds combine to form words?), morphological structure (What are morphemes?), syntax (How do words combine to form phrases?), semantics (How do words have meaning?), and pragmatics (How are words used for different communicative purposes in conversation?). Special topics for this chapter include complex words, compounds, anaphora and derivational morphology. Due to its role as both introduction and morphology chapter, this chapter is one of the longest of the textbook.
Chapter 3 (Phonetics and Phonemic Transcription) covers aspects of sounds, beginning with basic anatomy and physiology and continuing with a review of place and manner of articulation for the sounds of American English. Also covered in this chapter are the differences between orthography and phonemic transcription, as well as a discussion of the formation of the English plural in which three hypotheses are presented and evaluated step by step to allow the reader to follow along. Special topics include vowels before ''r'' in American English, contractions, and consonant clusters.
Chapter 4 (Phonology) outlines the SPE (''The Sound Pattern of English''; Chomsky and Halle 1968) distinctive feature system. The chapter returns to the discussion of the English plural from Chapter 3 in order to reexamine the hypothesis within the framework of SPE. The second half of the chapter provides a very extensive review of syllable structure and how it relates to stress. The special topic for this chapter is word-level tone contours of English.
Chapter 5 (Syntax) introduces the idea of hierarchical sentence structure using the example of question formation in English. In the discussion of an informal and then a formal account of transformational grammar, the chapter guides the reader through the process of forming a hypothesis, testing it, and revising it after the counterexamples provided suggest that doing so is necessary. Some of the other concepts covered include constituents and constituency tests, parts of speech, tree diagrams, structural ambiguity, and movement. WH-movement and dependencies, as well as a brief introduction to Chomsky's Minimalist Program (Chomsky, 1995) are covered in the special topics section.
Chapter 6 (Semantics) opens with a discussion of how semantics and grammar interact. It goes on to review various theories of meaning and meaning relations, with particular emphasis on truth-conditional semantics. The special topics section, which constitutes a larger portion of this chapter compared to some others, includes mood and modality, deixis and proper names, definite descriptions, natural kinds, anaphora and coreference, and character and content.
Chapter 7 (Language Variation) illustrates the concept of dialects through examples of lexical variation in American English, and introduces variationist research with examples from Labov's (1969) work on African American English as well as his well-known study of New York City ''r''-lessness (1972). Because the chapter is included in the part of the textbook covering the structure of language, the topics mostly focus on systematic structural differences across languages or dialects; however, it also touches on register, conversation, slang, code switching, and other varieties of English, and discusses social concerns such as perceptions of ''standard'' and ''nonstandard'' language. There is no special topics section in this chapter.
Finally, Chapter 8 (Language Change) talks about the origins of language and the historical development of language families, with special concentration on Indo-European languages and the history of English. Special topics include an introduction to language families of the world and their connections to each other.
While the structure of language was discussed in Part 1, in Part 2 the focus shifts from competence to Chomsky's other two models: performance and language acquisition. It begins with pragmatics, a subfield that was briefly touched on in many of the preceding chapters.
Chapter 9 (Pragmatics) discusses the strengths and weaknesses of two theories of language use and utterance interpretation: first, a theory that the authors call the Message Model and describe as a model of cognition, and second, the Inferential Model, which includes some elements of Grice's Cooperative Principle (1975). (This is covered explicitly in the special topics section). These two general theories are debated in the text, and the authors describe how research in cognitive science will be critical to determining how inference works. After this discussion, the chapter moves on to briefly cover discourse analysis (or the structure of conversations, including openings/closings and turntaking) before the extensive special topics section, which includes performativity, speech act theory, implicature, and neo-Gricean pragmatics.
Chapter 10 (Psychology of Language: Speech Production and Comprehension) reviews performance models and speech production, illustrated with examples of speech and hearing errors. Then a section on comprehension, which is the largest portion of the chapter, covers modularity, lexical access, garden path sentences, disambiguation, and experimental pragmatics among other topics. The special topics include the McGurk Effect, empty categories, and connectionist models.
Chapter 11 (Language Acquisition in Children) reviews the early stages of language development, and discusses typical phonological, morphological, syntactic, and pragmatic development in children. The chapter also presents evidence for the language acquisition device and the critical period, which is further illustrated by a description of the famous case of Genie. The chapter goes on to ask whether humans are unique in their capacity for acquiring language, and data on Washoe and other primates are discussed. In keeping with the Chomskyan orientation of the textbook, the special topic for this chapter is a discussion of principles and parameters and how they relate to child language.
Chapter 12 (Language and the Brain) reviews basic neuroanatomy and the localization of language in the brain, followed by a discussion of how language is processed and produced. The discussion ends with a brief review of aphasia. Special topics include imaging techniques (PET and fMRI), a brief discussion of Japanese orthography and agraphia, and the FOXP2 gene.
Lastly, there is an appendix which reviews a variety of writing systems, and a glossary.
One of this textbook's clearest strengths is in its organization, which is well suited to both students and instructors. First, the division of the content into ''language'' (structure) and ''communication'' (cognition) sets up the field of linguistics in a way that introduces the reader to concepts in theoretical linguistics that will be important background for more advanced study, and to topics in the intersection between language and cognition that give the reader a sense of how language can be studied in a variety of contexts. Second, on the level of the individual chapter, there are many thoughtful organizational details that make the textbook easy to use in a variety of class formats. The chapters and subsections, while integrated into a coherent whole, are self-contained enough to allow the instructor to tailor the content to the goals and interests of the class; in fact, Part 1 alone could form the backbone of a course, with supplemental units and materials provided by instructors who might want to take a different approach to pragmatics and discourse, or focus on sociolinguistics or second language instruction instead of cognitive science. But even if the instructor chooses to follow the textbook closely, the special topics included after each chapter provide opportunities for the instructor to incorporate additional material into each unit, or perhaps to repurpose these short readings as background for homework assignments or projects. Following the special topics, after the conclusion of each chapter, there are additional resources provided. The ''Further Reading'' section provides general information on the state of each subfield (and the special topics) and briefly explains to the reader how these vast bodies of literature can best be approached. Finally, each chapter ends with a list of journals where research in the field is most commonly published, as well as a bibliography. These extra features are welcome additions, especially for students who might be required to undertake original research projects; having this resource for students to consult independently before approaching the instructor could be very helpful to newcomers to both linguistics and in some cases, research. To this end, the journal lists could be lengthened and diversified even further (''Language'' is listed as a resource in over half of the chapters, and the list for Chapter 6 ''Semantics'' includes only two journals).
The other main conceptual decisions that the authors make are successful. First, beginning the textbook with a chapter on morphology makes sense here and the material is integrated well into the chapters that follow. It can be challenging for students to grasp the details of the sound structure of language and to identify their intuitions when this is their first exposure to linguistics; so introducing them to questions in morphology in an engaging and intuitive way, with many creative examples, sets up a context that makes the chapters that follow seem more grounded in questions that the students have already been exposed to. Second, providing most of the examples in English is, for the most part, practical. The authors note in the introduction that they made a conscious decision to focus on examples in (American) English so that students could draw upon their intuitions as native speakers to evaluate the concepts that are discussed in the text and be equipped to interact with the material right from the start. This decision is largely successful, particularly in the chapters that cover language variation, pragmatics, and language processing; it is slightly less so in the phonetics chapter, and so more examples from other languages are included in order to make comparisons. (For example, there is a discussion of the reasons why English speakers learning Spanish or Italian often pronounce tense vowels as diphthongs.) Since many students are drawn to linguistics as a result of having studied foreign languages, it would be beneficial for instructors to include material from the textbook's supplement, ''A Linguistics Workbook: Companion to Linguistics, Sixth Edition''. This way, instructors could use examples and activities that are most relevant to the interests and experiences of the class. This component is important to include because topics such as language variation, first and second language acquisition, and language change, among others, rely on a solid understanding of the possible sounds of language. That said, the textbook's treatment of English is admirable, as is clear in the section on vowels before ''r''; this is a very welcome description of a phenomenon that can be vexing for students new to phonetics and transcription.
Regarding the overall layout and tone of the textbook, the layout is clear and quite straightforward, though it could benefit from presenting some information graphically rather than in prose; for example, in Chapter 7 where the results of Labov's (1972) department store study are written up over two paragraphs, the figures and their relationships might be clearer if they were shown in a graph. There are a number of opportunities throughout the textbook to include visuals to help explain complex concepts, and the addition of more graphs, tables, and/or figures would not distract from the tone of the textbook, which is already excellent. The tone is very accessible and appealing, with lucid and well-structured prose that is liberally sprinkled with helpful examples. It also, however, clearly respects the reader, and challenges new students of linguistics to not only look upon familiar phenomena from a new perspective (for example, why the sentence ''She visited a little girl's school'' is ambiguous), but to become engaged with the theories of transformational syntax (for example, raising and control verbs) and new ideas in cognitive science, as well as to become well-versed in argumentation and hypothesis testing. Owing to the tone and the content covered, this textbook would be an excellent choice for both introductory undergraduate- and graduate-level courses.
Chomsky, N., and M. Halle. 1968. The Sound Pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row.
Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Grice, H. P. 1975. Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. L. Morgan, eds., Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3: Speech Acts, pp. 41-58. New York: Academic Press.
Labov, W. 1969. Contraction, deletion, and inherent variability of the English copula. Language 45, 715-762.
Labov, W. 1972. The social stratification of (r) in New York City department stores. In Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Marissa Fond received a BA in linguistics and Spanish from Smith College
and an MS in linguistics from Georgetown University. She is currently
pursuing her Ph.D. in linguistics at Georgetown.