By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
AUTHOR: Roger Berry TITLE: English Grammar SUBTITLE: A Resource Book for Students SERIES TITLE: Routledge English Language Introductions PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2011
Cornelia Tschichold, Department of English Language and Literature, Swansea University, UK
Berry’s book is part of Routledge’s familiar series of resource books, divided into four sections that can be read horizontally, to give increasing depth to a topic, or vertically, to start with an overview of the basic concepts and gradually deepen the topic of each chapter. The textbook is meant as an introduction assuming no prior knowledge of grammar, but readers need at least some knowledge of word classes. On this basis, the twelve texts in section A “Introduction” (A1-A12) are very readable. The texts in section B “Development” (B1-B12) cover the slightly more abstract areas of grammar that one would expect to find in a textbook on this topic. Section C “Exploration” (C1-C12) has a focus on data and the issues that can be discussed when theoretical categories are applied to usages found in corpora. The final section D “Extension” gives a number of extracts of published papers mostly by applied linguists. (D1-D12). I will use this horizontal view for the summary of the individual chapters. Berry approaches the topic of grammar from a student’s angle, starting from the kind of traditional, rather prescriptive ideas his target audience may well have when first encountering linguistics, and using findings from corpus linguistics to question these.
Chapter A1 launches the topic with definitions of grammar and a first set of activities that are designed to stimulate reflection and discussion. B1 introduces word classes and their grouping into open and closed classes, before C1 takes a closer look at word classes by examining concordance lines for a word with multiple word-class membership, and how the word class of an individual word can be determined in such cases. Chapter D1 returns to the question of what grammar is, with an extract from a paper on an imaginary language without grammar, consisting of words only.
Chapter A2 opens the second ‘horizontal’ layer with a look at the largest word class, nouns, their inflectional properties and subclasses, and B2 covers pronouns. Chapters C2 and D2 both have the count and mass distinction as their topic, the first using concordance lines to show meaning differences, and the latter an extract from a paper on the cognitive linguistic point of view on it.
Noun phrases and determiners are the topic of chapter A3, which also introduces terms such as ''head'' and ''pre-/postmodifiers.'' Articles have a separate chapter in B3, which also deals with the issue of reference. Chapters C3 and D3 expand on the issue of determiners, looking at the distinction between determiners and pronouns and related issues.
Chapter A4 presents the three word classes of adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. As previously for nouns, inflection and other formal criteria for the identification of these word class are discussed and contrasted to less scientific criteria. Chapter B4 is a good example of the author’s approach to the presentation of word classes by juxtaposing form and function. Berry points out that the traditional view found in school grammars of adverbs as modifiers of verbs is too narrow and presents instead the formal criteria and the main subtypes, e.g. central adverbs, degree adverbs, and so on. Chapter C4 returns to adjectives and presents corpus examples of adjective forms that do not follow the prescriptive rules for the formation of the comparative and superlative forms. Chapter D4 finally gives another extract from a cognitive linguistics paper on prepositions.
The next chapter starts the section on verbs, where a first distinction is made between full verbs and auxiliaries. A5 introduces the various finite and non-finite forms of full verbs in English and points out that English has no future tense. Chapter B5 goes on to discuss tense and aspect, clearly stating once more that the idea commonly found in teaching grammars that tense (more or less) equals time is a fallacy. Chapter C5 continues the focus on determining the word class of corpus occurrences (of ''-ing'' and ''-ed'' forms in this section) of that strand in the book. The article extract in D5 expands on the ways to express a future meaning in English.
Chapter A6 introduces the ‘verb phrase’ and the auxiliaries. (The term ‘verb phrase’ is used by Berry to mean the verb group consisting of auxiliaries and main verb, and does not include the verb’s objects. B6 takes a closer look at modal auxiliaries, covering modality, the forms of modal auxiliaries and their meanings. Chapter C6 is something like an extension of the chapter on main verbs (A5) as the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is considered here. The text in D6 returns to the issue of auxiliaries with an extract from a reference grammar on hedging and boosting.
Chapter A7 continues the strand on verbs with negatives, interrogatives and contractions, while B7 looks at phrasal and prepositional verbs. C7 deals with ergative verbs (transitive verbs that can be used intransitively in constructions such as The book sold). Chapter D7 returns to phrasal verbs with a text on the difficulties these pose for learners.
Clauses and clause elements (subjects, verbs, objects, predicatives and adverbials) are introduced in chapter A8. B8 deals with five patterns of verb complementation, using the traditional terminology for the various valency patterns of verbs. Chapter C8 shows how to identify and analyse clauses and clause elements by substituting groups of words with a proform. The text in D8 critically examines the semantic roles of subjects, another instance of the juxtaposition of form and function.
With chapter A9 we reach the sentence level of grammar. A distinction is made between major sentences and minor (or incomplete) sentences, and between simple, compound and complex sentences. The latter type also provides the reason to introduce the last remaining word class, conjunctions. Chapter B9 describes the four types of clauses, again pointing out the complex relationship between form and function, as when a formal interrogative is used for a functional request. Chapters C9 to C12 give the reader a chance to apply the various categories to longer texts of various genres. The text in D9 explores the form-function discrepancy further, showing the large range of pairings that are possible in English, e.g. a declarative sentence being used to request information (So you’re finished now?), to give a command (You sit here.), to make an offer (I can go to the post office for you.), or as an exclamation (There’s a spider in the corner!).
The next section continues the topic of clauses, with chapter A10 looking at subordinate and incomplete clauses, and B10 at relative clauses. D10 consists of extracts of two separate papers both taking a critical view of conditionals as they are typically taught in schools.
Chapter A11 basically concludes the sentence level section by describing a number of operations such as inversion, extraposition and clefting along with the reasons for using such reordering devices. B11 touches on cohesion and the tools English uses to create cohesion. An extract on a text on the various meanings of ''subject'' returns to the book’s focus on the form-function discrepancy.
The last section considers a number of situations where variation on the patterns presented so far are likely to occur. Chapter A12 describes the basic differences between speech and writing. B12 continues this theme by contrasting direct and reported speech, pointing out the problems with the rules on ''backshift'' often taught to learners. The final chapter brings the various issues together in a discussion of grammar in computer-mediated communication.
According to the preface, the intended target audience for this textbook are students of English or Applied Linguistics. In my opinion, it is best suited for the latter group. It is not an introduction to syntax for students of linguistics. Many of the activities are clearly aimed at nurturing an interest in grammatical aspects of English, possibly in students who have an interest in a teaching career, but only little exposure to grammar. The book also tries, quite successfully, to lead the reader away from simplistic ideas about grammar and a prescriptive approach to grammar to a more complex and nuanced view of grammar. Despite learning descriptive grammar as part of their training, many teachers later struggle to use this knowledge in the classroom, and to overcome the view that linguistic change must mean degradation, and that their task is to teach ''good English'' and ''correct grammar.'' The transition from the descriptive and sometimes strongly theory-driven grammar taught at university to the pedagogical grammar in the classroom is difficult, so the temptation for young teachers is to fall back on the grammar ideas they held before their studies. As an applied linguist, Berry helps his readers to at least improve their awareness of the differences between these views. He also occasionally points out the varying terminology used by linguists and applied linguists. The terminology used by many linguists will differ from Berry’s, and this is often a headache for those who teach classes on topics such as grammar and syntax. (As an illustration, compare the uses of the term predicate in a number of grammars and textbooks on grammar, sometimes covering only the verb group, sometimes covering the verb and its arguments.) The approach Berry takes is one that will suit those readers who teach trainee teachers or who plan to go on to teach English, including English as a foreign language, rather than those who have an interest in theoretical linguistics.
The four-strand structure works quite well for most of the chapters in this book, with perhaps the sections on verbs being the least successful in this respect. Unlike Mullany & Stockwell (2010), whose volume on the English Language can be divided up quite neatly into 13 relatively independent topics, Berry has to deal with issues that are much less easily divided up into separate areas. The result seems to be the ‘Introduction’ and ‘Development’ texts are used to cover the material that one would normally expect to find in a textbook on grammar, while the ‘Exploration’ texts systematically use corpus examples as study material. The ‘A’ chapters have frequent activities to break up the text and get the reader to think about the topic at hand, thus making the book an excellent teaching tool. The exercises become more challenging towards the end and provide ample material for in-class discussion. In addition, the accompanying website contains a limited amount of extra material. The one quibble I would like to mention here is that the numbering of these activities is independent of the numbering of the chapters and sections they occur in, thus we end up with a confusing mix of referencing systems. The corpus-focussed texts in the ‘C’ chapters could be used for self-study. The answers to these are given in the book, so the best use for classroom teaching would be to use different examples. The extracts of papers found in the ‘Extension’ texts are well chosen and on their own make the book a good addition to the bookshelf of any linguist who teaches introductory classes. On the whole, the book is probably better suited as ‘further reading’ material than for completely independent self-study.
Mullany, Louise & Peter Stockwell, 2010. Introducing English Language: A resource book for students. Routledge English Language Introductions. Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cornelia Tschichold is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University (Wales, UK). She has taught introductions to linguistics and various other courses on linguistic topics at Swansea and previously in Switzerland. Her research focus is on Intelligent Computer-Assisted Language Learning and the acquisition of the L2 lexicon.