LINGUIST List 28.4589

Thu Nov 02 2017

Review: Discourse Analysis; General Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Text/Corpus Linguistics: McCabe, 2017

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 31-Jul-2017
From: Lisa Armstrong <>
Subject: An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Anne McCabe
TITLE: An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies
SUBTITLE: Second Edition
SERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Lisa Armstrong, Carleton University



This book, the second edition of “An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies” by Anne McCabe, aims to survey the fields of both linguistics and language studies. The book is comprised of nine chapters, each covering at least one aspect of either field, and often both. Drawing on the theories of Saussure, Chomsky, and Halliday, McCabe attempts to provide a broad overview of linguistics today. This second edition contains a glossary at the back of the book, a helpful and thorough section that provides definitions for all the bolded words throughout the book. At over 400 pages, it’s an ambitious and well-written overview of linguistics and language studies, evidently aimed at those students who have some pre-existing knowledge of the fields although any language or linguistics scholar would find this book useful as a reference.

Chapter 1, “An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies”, introduces linguistics and its basic precepts (for example, the difference between ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ and why that distinction matters), along with an introduction to - what McCabe calls ‘some broad brushstrokes on their beliefs and insights into’ (p. 5) - the theories of Saussure, Chomsky, and Halliday. This chapter also incorporates several exercises for the reader or student. As is the case throughout the book, the author alternates between theoretical, practical, and ‘real-life’ exercises. For example, this chapter includes an exercise about the theoretical differences between Saussure, Chomsky, and Halliday; an exercise to identify register variation in a variety of texts; and an exercise that asks the student to consider ‘incorrect usage’ of language from their own experiences. Also as in the case throughout, the end of the chapter has further reading suggestions, references, and answers to the exercises.

Chapter 2, “Analyzing the Spoken Language”, covers a wealth of information: speech act theory, politeness theory, phonetics, phonology, and conversation analysis are the main areas McCabe covers in this long section. Logically organized, the chapter moves from concepts such as performative utterances to Grice’s conversational maxims to discourse markers and intonation before explaining the basic notions of phonetics and phonology. Again, there are many practice exercises throughout, and this second chapter contains a new final section called ‘chapter outcomes’ which is included in all subsequent chapters. The ‘chapter outcomes’ is a nearly two-page long list, but is a succinct overview of the very long (approximately 70 pages) chapter. Another new addition here is the list of internet resources after the reference section, including websites about conversation analysis and the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Chapter 3, “Words and Their Meanings: Morphology and Semantics”, which is much briefer than chapter 2, covers morphology and semantics. The author starts with the basics of morphology, incorporating examples from languages than English to explain concepts such as infixation and reduplication. The chapter exercises, as well, draw on examples from languages such as Turkish and Spanish. Most the chapter is devoted to morphology, with just nine pages devoted to semantics; given the complexity of explaining ‘meaning’ in language, it is just as well that this section is shorter. Furthermore, McCabe is careful to explain that semantics is “meaning independent of situational context” (p. 112), leaving deeper discussion of contextual meaning for chapter 5, where she explores Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and its concept of ‘meaning’.

Chapter 4 “Syntax and Lexicogrammar”, attempts to survey the fields of formal and applied linguistics, a formidable undertaking in and of itself, and explains both Chomsky’s and Halliday’s theories of grammar in one chapter, which is especially ambitious. McCabe begins this chapter by defining syntax and follows with a section on the formal study of syntax (i.e., Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar). This section relies heavily on illustrations of tree diagrams and simple exercises to help the student along. Despite this assistance, this section is complex overall, and uses words such as ‘particle’ which are never defined. From Generative Grammar, the author moves on to Functional Grammar (i.e., Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics), covering topics such as the clause (e.g., hypotaxis versus parataxis), grammatical Mood, transitivity, and Theme/Rheme. This chapter is long and rich with information, and McCabe uses simple (but not patronizing) language throughout to aid understanding. Again, the many exercises throughout may assist the student in practicing and grasping the challenging concepts here.

In Chapter 5, “Analyzing Text and Discourse”, McCabe goes “beyond the sentence” to explore the analysis of discourse, defined here as “the totality of interaction between humans within a given sphere or context” (p. 216). Carrying on where the previous chapter ended, she starts out with thematic patterning, moving then to genre (from the point of view of both SFL and John Swales’s rhetorical move analysis). Genre can be a contentious topic, but McCabe acknowledges this, and discusses the notions of discourse community and context in genre research (pp. 228-229). Following genre analysis, this chapter explores the differences between written and spoken texts, drawing primarily on SFL and Appraisal (developed by Jim Martin & Peter White). The final section deals briefly with multimodal texts, examining Kress and van Leeuwen’s concept of visual grammar as one way to analyse multimodality.

Starting with the development of human language, Chapter 6 “Language Change”, then moves on to discuss language change and how linguists study it. McCabe touches on the comparative method, and briefly traces the history of the English language. Following logically from concepts in earlier chapters, this section traces semantic, phonetic, morphological, and syntactic change in English, and the chapter ends with a discussion of why language changes. This final section, although short, aims to explain various possible reasons for language change, such as new technology, contact with other languages, and changing social practices.

A discussion of synchronic variation, sociolinguistics and speech communities opens Chapter 7, “Language Variation”. This is followed by sections on dialect and vernacular, pidgins and creoles, and diglossia (i.e., ‘high’, or standard, varieties of a language versus ‘low’, or more informal, varieties). Following this section, McCabe delves into sociolects, devoting several pages to socio-cultural and economic language variation (drawing on work by scholars such as Labov, Trudgill, and Bernstein), gendered language variation (drawing mainly on Lakoff’s work and the subsequent challenges of that work by, for example, O’Barr and Atkins). Also discussed in this section are language variation based on age and by occupation. The next part of the chapter revisits the notion of register, with an example of how computational and corpus linguistics work can be used for register analysis. The chapter closes with brief sections on sound and morphosyntactic variation.

Chapter 8, “Language, Biology and Learning”, chapter begins with a section on the brain and language, covering concepts such as where language might be located in the brain, with a focus on Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. Also covered in this section are discussions of brain imaging techniques and genetic research. From there, McCabe explores first language acquisition, and the controversy surrounding the existence or nonexistence of a Language Acquisition Device (the innateness hypothesis, or the idea that “we are born with an underlying faculty which allows for the acquisition of basic grammatical relations and categories” [p. 382]). This is followed by a brief section on second language development, and then animal language. This final section of the chapter also deals with the question as to whether human language is a unique skill, or whether some animals (e.g., apes) may have more complex and human-like language than was previously thought.

Chapter 9, “Fields of Linguistics”, covers various linguistic theories and methods, as explained by various scholars in their respective fields. Here we find writings on numerous linguistic theories: cognitive and formal, functional and descriptive, computational and contrastive, corpus and historical. From applied linguistics, the fields included are: clinical linguistics, critical discourse analysis, educational linguistics, forensic linguistics, psycho- and sociolinguistics. Some of the scholars included in this chapter are David Crystal, Dirk Geeraerts, Thomas Bloor, and Amanda Miller. Following each writing, McCabe provides a list of readings and seminal works in the relevant area.


This book is very ambitious, and it is also very well-written. It covers just about any introductory topic one could imagine in the study of language, and it is an excellent survey of the field(s). McCabe has a gift of writing in an accessible way, even in areas (such as generative grammar or SFL) that are typically hard to grasp. The exercises throughout the book are genius—any teacher in these fields could benefit from the practice and discussion opportunities they provide students. Furthermore, she peppers the chapters liberally with these exercises, so the reader (or student) has a chance to apply their knowledge during and after each new topic is presented. The suggested readings at the end of each chapter (and at the end of each section in Chapter 9) are a gift, and the glossary is comprehensive, with clearly written definitions linked back to the bolded terms throughout the book.

A highlight of this book for me is McCabe’s treatment of Chomsky’s and Halliday’s theories; it often seems to me that scholars are divided as to whose camp they are in, but McCabe doesn’t take sides here. Rather, she presents each theory without apparent bias, and her reference list in this chapter is rich and balanced.

One problem that plagued me throughout my reading was whether this book would be useful in a beginner’s classroom (e.g., undergraduate students). As a graduate student in linguistics and language studies myself, the concepts and explanations seemed sufficient and clear to me, but would it be so to someone new to the field? To test this, I provided a colleague (a non-linguist) with some excerpts from the book, and she found them extremely challenging. As well, as mentioned earlier in this review, there are some issues with basic terminology that need to be addressed (e.g., the use of the word ‘particle’ with no explanation, and the use of the term ‘parataxis’ some pages before it is defined). That is to say, this book presupposes some previous knowledge of linguistics and language studies. For that reason, it is not a textbook I would use for beginning post-secondary students. Furthermore, while McCabe organized this book logically (e.g., putting morphology and semantics into one chapter), some chapters are so dense that it would take a great deal of planning by an instructor to sort out which sections to assign when. Chapter 2, for instance, contains so much information that it would need to be broken down carefully in order not to overwhelm students (again, I refer here to students at the undergraduate level).

However, I can envision this text as being useful in a graduate survey class (or fourth-year undergraduate class, perhaps). Furthermore, it is an excellent reference book and one I can imagine myself returning to often. Not only does McCabe incorporate both language studies and linguistics in one book, but she also goes back and forth between theory and method seamlessly and in an orderly manner. This book is a pleasure to read.


Lisa Armstrong is a PhD student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her work focuses on the role of language in normalizing sexual harassment in the hospitality industry.

Page Updated: 02-Nov-2017