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Review of  The Handbook of English Linguistics

Reviewer: Andrew McIntyre
Book Title: The Handbook of English Linguistics
Book Author: Bas Aarts April McMahon
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.362

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EDITORS: Aarts, Bas and April McMahon
TITLE: The Handbook of English Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Blackwell
YEAR: 2006

Reviewer: Andrew McIntyre, University of Leipzig and University of Neuchâtel

The chapters of this 800-page handbook introduce readers to thirty-one
different areas of English linguistics. Most, but by no means all, of the
chapters presuppose little familiarity with the subjects they describe. The
book's primary function will thus be as a resource for those teaching
English linguistics, be it as a source of texts which can be assigned to
students as readings, or as a way of informing themselves about areas in
which they do not specialise. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the
focus of the book is mainly synchronic, though of course diachronic aspects
cannot be, and are not, ignored completely.


The introductory chapter by the editors is followed by thirty-one chapters,
each of which is briefly summarized below. The necessity of summarising so
many chapters coupled with space considerations has forced me to keep my
summaries as short as possible.

Part I: Methodology

2. Description and theory: Kersti Börjars
The chapter overviews the notion of a linguistic 'theory'. Some issues
relevant to theory construction are discussed, including notions such as
observational/descriptive/explanatory adequacy, and the tension between
theory and description. The second half of the chapter illustrates some of
the notions by comparing concrete examples of theories of language, those
chosen being Minimalism, Lexical-Functional Grammar and Optimality Theory.

3. English corpus linguistics: Tony McEnery and Costas Gabrielatos
This chapter provides an introduction to corpus linguistics, discussing the
nature of the subject and its contributions to linguistics (e.g. in areas
such as language description, language change and teaching English as a
foreign language). An appendix provides a useful list of English corpora.

4. English grammar writing: Andrew Linn
The chapter is an overview of the history of English grammars, in the sense
of reference works aiming at a more or less complete description of the
English language.

5. Data collection: Charles F. Meyer and Gerald Nelson
The chapter surveys the main methods of data collection for linguistic
theory, including introspection, corpus work, and various types of

Part II: Syntax

6. English word classes and phrases: Bas Aarts and Liliane Haegeman
The chapter introduces readers to (i) problems attending the demarcation of
syntactic categories and (ii) some basic questions of constituency and
phrase structure, some of which include the arguments for not treating
auxiliaries as part of VP and for the analysis of the clause as a binary
branching IP.

7. Verbs and their satellites: D. J. Allerton
The chapter discusses theories of the subcategorisation properties and
modification of verbs.

8. Clause types: Peter Collins
This is a discussion of the distinctions often cast in terms of a fourfold
classification of clauses as declarative, interrogative, imperative and
exclamative. A special concern is the problems the clause types raise for
the interactions between syntax, semantics and pragmatics. For instance,
the author argues that although a sentence like ''It's such a shame!'' is
exclamative in terms of the semantic-pragmatic category of illocutionary
force, it is syntactically not an exclamative clause, witness its ability
to serve as complement to a non-factive verb unlike syntactic exclamatives:

I think it's such a shame.
*I think what a shame it is.

9. Coordination and subordination: Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum
Section 1 is a grammar of coordination in English. Section 2 describes some
properties of subordinate clauses, including relative clauses, comparative
clauses, content clauses, and non-finite clauses involving infinitives and

10. Tense in English: Laura Michaelis
This chapter discusses some aspects of the semantics of tense in English.
Arguments are presented that it is the reference time rather than the
situation described which is located temporally. It is aspect which is
responsible for relating the situation to the reference time. The author
discusses the present tense in detail, arguing that, rather than being
meaningless or semantically underspecified with regard to present
reference, the effects it shows can be explained by its selection of states
(with possible coercion of the aspectual type of the verb).

11. Aspect and aspectuality: Robert I. Binnick
The author introduces various aspectual subcategories (situation aspect,
viewpoint aspect, phasic aspect), and some theories of aspect. A final
section discusses aspect in discourse.

12. Mood and modality in English: Ilse Depraetere and Susan Reed
After a brief discussion of the imperative and subjective, the chapter
discusses the literature on semantics of modal auxiliaries in detail.

13. Information structure: Gregory Ward and Betty Birner
This treatment of information structure shows how the notion of 'open
proposition' (roughly a discourse-salient proposition with a variable
replacing the focussed, discourse-new information) is necessary for our
understanding of a number of information-structure-sensitive constructions,
including clefts, gapping, preposing, and inversion, among others. Section
3 introduces the notion of 'information status' (the degree of familiarity
of some element within a proposition) and applies it to various kinds of
non-canonical argument orderings.

14. Current changes in English syntax: Christian Mair and Geoffrey Leech
After some general discussion, the chapter provides a corpus-based
examination of some syntactic innovations in English. These include changes
in the use of the progressive, modals and non-finite complementation, the
colloquialisation of written English and several developments inside the
noun phrase. A general discussion is provided of the causes of these
changes (grammaticalisation, socio-cultural factors).

15. English constructions: Adele E. Goldberg and Devin Casenhiser
The article discusses the controversy over the notion of 'construction' as
a theoretical primitive: does one take the constructionalist approach,
treating constructions as arbitrary form-meaning parings, or does one take
the non-constructionalist approach, common among Chomskyan linguists,
according to which constructions are epiphenomenal of the elements of which
they consist? The article goes on to discuss constructions from the
constructionalist vantage point.

Part III: Phonetics and Phonology

16. English phonetics: Mike MacMahon
The article provides an introduction to articulatory phonetics, followed by
brief introductions to acoustic phonetics, suprasegmentals, voice quality
and the history of the discipline. The article is probably not suitable as
a first introduction for readers with no prior knowledge of phonetics, but
contains information not found in other introductory texts and would thus
be a good as a supplementary reading or revision text for more advanced

17. English phonology and morphology: Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero and April McMahon
This chapter, pitched at a more technical level than most other chapters in
the book, discusses problems of morphophonology, with particular attention
to theories of the division of labour between morphology, phonology and the

18. Prosodic phonology: Michael Hammond
The article discusses two prosodic domains: the syllable and the foot, in
both cases reviewing the linguistic and extralinguistic evidence for the
existence of these units, and then discussing some further aspects of each
type of prosodic unit.

19. Intonation: Francis Nolan
After an introduction to some basic properties of intonation in English,
the author discusses its functions in demarcating grammatical units, making
information-structural distinctions, indicating the discourse function of
the clause (statement vs. question), expressing the speaker's attitude and
regulating the discourse. After this, speaker variation is discussed.

Part IV: Lexis and Morphology
20. English words: Donka Minkova and Bob Stockwell
A more informative title for this chapter might have been 'The English
Vocabulary'. The authors discuss estimates of the size of the English
vocabulary, the notions of 'core' and 'periphery' of the language's
vocabulary and the historical influences on it.

21. Compounds and minor word-formation types: Laurie Bauer
The chapter discusses non-affixal word formation processes in English.
(Backformation and conversion/zero derivation are not treated. The author
says that they are best discussed in conjunction with affixation (p. 483)
-- however, the treatment of affixal derivation in chapter 22 does not
discuss them either.) Compounding is discussed in fair detail in its
phonological, structural, semantic and pragmatic aspects.

22. English inflection and derivation: James Blevins
The chapter presents a discussion of inflectional categories and exponence
in English. Apart from the basic descriptive facts, some interesting issues
are discussed, including (i) the claim that the distinction between 'I' vs.
'me' etc. is an opposition between 'subject' and 'general', and thus does
not parallel the case distinctions found in other languages, (ii) the claim
that 3rd person '-s' on verbs is a marker of non-agreement, appropriate for
the maximally unmarked context and (iii) the status of participles and
gerunds. The treatment of derivational affixation covers matters of affixal
derivation not discussed in ch. 21, but in less detail.

23. Productivity: Ingo Plag
The chapter defines the notion of morphological productivity and indicates
how it can be measured. Next the author provides a discussion of the
workings of lexical access with a view to working out what determines the
degree of productivity of an affix. The notion of productivity is an
epiphenomenon of several different factors including parsability,
phonological and semantic analysability. Other restrictions on productivity
are noted (blocking, pragmatic restrictions, structural restrictions).

24. Lexical semantics: Kate Kearns
This chapter introduces many notions which one would expect to find in an
introduction to semantics in a general linguistics textbook, including e.g.
semantic fields, lexical relations, and decomposition. Rather less standard
is section 5, devoted to sense variation. It discusses homonymy, polysemy
and underspecified meanings, as well as theories dealing with these matters.

25. Lexicography: Julie Coleman
This introduction to lexicography discusses the nature of dictionaries,
areas of research in lexicography (e.g. the history of the discipline, the
impact of computer technology on dictionary compilation) and some of
aspects of dictionary entries.

Part V: Variation, Discourse, Stylistics and Usage

26. Syntactic variation in English: a global perspective: Bernd Kortmann
In sections 2-6, the chapter catalogues a broad range of (morpho)syntactic
phenomena subject to variation between varieties, including phenomena in
the noun phrase, the verb phrase, negation, agreement and subordination.
Section 7 discusses some general factors at work among the specific
phenomena discussed in previous sections, and indicates why syntactic
variation should be taken note of.

27. Phonological variation: a global perspective: Paul Foulkes
This chapter starts with a discussion of the causes of, and constraints on,
phonological variation: physical causes, contextual causes (coarticulatory
and prosodic phenomena), grammatical constraints, geographical and social
constraints. Later sections in the chapter examine the consequences of
phonological variation for theoretical and applied linguistics.

28. Spoken and written English: Jim Miller
The author begins by arguing for the status of spontaneous speech as a
special genre (the boundary between spoken and written being quite blurry
–consider the relative formality of speech based on writing and the
informality of personal e-mails). There follows a discussion of the
differences between writing and unplanned speech, and the theoretical
implications of the subject are noted.

29. The grammar of conversation: Douglas Biber and Paulo Quaglio
Some features of spoken conversation are noted, and explanations are given
for why conversational speech has the features it has. Finally, scripted
television dialogue is noted as a source for the study of conversational

30. Gender and the English language: Deborah Cameron
The chapter is an overview of (i) the influences of the language user's
gender on the language produced (including on its phonological and
discourse properties) and (ii) the way in which gender is represented in
the language itself.

31. Language and literature: stylistics: Peter Stockwell
The article provides an overview of the history of stylistics, discusses
the status of stylistic analysis, gives a few examples of stylistic
analysis and discusses new trends in work on stylistics.

32. English usage: prescription and description, Pam Peters
This chapter introduces readers to the history of and research on
prescriptivism and of the more modern movement in the descriptive
direction. It also discusses the influences that prescriptivism has had on
the language and –to pick out a relatively minor point which I found
particularly disturbing– the negative responses to attempts by serious
linguists at debunking prescriptivism.


I requested to review this book because, as someone who works in a
department of English linguistics, I am constantly on the lookout for texts
which (i) give self-contained introductions to sub-areas of the subject and
discuss interesting questions within those areas, and (ii) can be
approached by students for whom linguistics is only a small part of their
curriculum, with the consequence that they are not able to read much in the
way of primary research. Most of the chapters in the book fulfil these
requirements. In this respect, the book is a success.

As the editors note in their introduction, there is scope for quibbling
about what should have been included and what could have been left out.
However, I do not wish to hold forth on this because such quibbling is
inevitable with any handbook. Ask ten specialists what they would have
included in a handbook on some area and you would receive (at least) ten
different answers.

One annoying defect in the book is the publisher's use of endnotes instead
of footnotes, an exasperatingly reader-unfriendly practice which has no
technical justification and whose aesthetic benefits are paltry recompense
for the drain on the reader's time and concentration. I am sure I am
speaking for the overwhelming majority of readers in asking publishers to
think carefully about whether there is any justification for the use of
endnotes in future publications.

Andrew McIntyre has had a postdoctoral research and teaching position for
English linguistics at the University of Leipzig for several years and will
shortly take up a similar position at the University of Neuchâtel,
Switzerland. His research interests include argument structure, and
syntactic, semantic and morphological aspects of verbal and prepositional
elements. His homepage is

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