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Review of  The Language of Language

Reviewer: Sorry, No Reviewer Data Available!
Book Title: The Language of Language
Book Author: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Publisher: Pearson Linguistics
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 14.2217

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Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2003 09:27:52 +0700
From: Viatcheslav Iatsko
Subject: The Language of Language: Core Concepts in Linguistic Analysis

Cruz-Ferreira, Madalena (2003) The Language of Language: Core Concepts
in Linguistic Analysis, Prentice-Hall (Division of Pearson Education).

Viatcheslav Iatsko, Department of English, Katanov State University of

This book, intended as an introduction to linguistics, doesn't assume
any previous experience of language analysis and can be most
appropriately used by undergraduate or high school students taking
their first course in linguistics. Since the book lacks any exercises,
assignments or activities it can be characterized as a collection of
lectures rather than a textbook.

As the author claims in the Preface the purpose of the book is twofold:
to acquaint the reader with the way linguists talk about the language
and to stir reader's curiosity about language matters.

The book comprises 12 chapters outlining main branches of linguistics:
morphology, phonetics and phonology, syntax, and lexical semantics
Issues pertaining to the interdisciplinary and applied study of, such
as language and the brain, bilingualism, language contact, child
language acquisition second language learning, language variation and
change are also overviewed. Data are taken principally from English.
Each chapter ends with "Some food for thought" and "Readings" sections.
The book has a subject index.

The first chapter "Language" outlines some characteristics of natural
language, such as arbitrariness, displacement, duality, rule governing,
and creativeness. The second chapter "Linguistics: the language of
language" consists of two sections. The first one entitled "Science"
can be safely skipped by the reader because it has nothing to do with
language analysis describing some characteristics of science and
pseudoscience. The second section "Linguistics, language and languages"
touches upon the object, method, purpose of linguistics, role of the
English language, areas of linguistic study.

It should be noted that this chapter contains some doubtful, vague and
somewhat misleading statements. 1) "Prescriptivism is an ideology, it
is not science" (p. 11). If the author means prescriptive grammar she is
wrong. Prescriptive grammar is aimed at formulating rules of literary
language to be used in language teaching (Borjars & Burridge, 2001,
pp. 3-7). Prescriptive statements are the result of careful observation
of differences between different varieties of a given language. 2)
"Being the science of language, linguistics has:: a method: empirical,
that is based on observation" (p. 15). This statement is an
oversimplification because linguistics employs empirical as well as
theoretical methods. For example analysis of constituents is sure a
theoretical method because resulting trees represent internal
hierarchical structures of sentences that can in no way be directly
observed. 3) In section 2.3 entitled "Areas of linguistic study" the
author missed a good opportunity to introduce the reader to the
structure of linguistics enumerating practical applications of
linguistic knowledge (speech therapy, language teaching, literary
studies, etc.) instead of describing branches of linguistics outlined
in the next chapters: morphology, phonetics, phonology, syntax, lexical
semantics, text grammar.

Chapter 3 "Language and languages" touches upon language diversity,
classification of language families, language variation features of
spoken and written language, language contact, language change,
standard language, universal grammar. Chapter 4 "The grammar of words:
words and word-parts deals with morphology, word classes, morphemes.
Chapter 5 "The grammar of words: word-building" concentrates on word
formation and word types. Chapter 6 "Human speech sounds" focuses on
phonetics and classification of speech sounds. Chapter 7 "The grammar
of sounds" tells about phonology and phonemes. Chapter 8 "The grammar
of sentences: slots and phrases" deals with syntax, constituent
analysis, phrase structure.

This chapter has some disputable points. 1) The sentence "boy that ate
the durian" marked as ungrammatical (p. 85) seems grammatical. 2) tree
diagram of the noun phrase "the cheap durian" (p. 91) seems incorrect
because the determiner is shown as a sister of Adjective and Noun. In
fact the determiner relates to the rest of the noun phrase as a whole.
The same goes to the noun phrase "a patched eye". Such cases are
discussed in L. Brinton's (2000) "The Structure of Modern English" (p.
171). It should be noted that Brinton's book is referred to and
extensively used by the author. Chapter 9 "The grammar of sentences:
slots and functions" deals with verb types and functions within the
sentence, such as adjunct, subject, object, complement. Chapter 10 "The
grammar of meanings" focuses on lexical semantics, problems of lexical
and structural ambiguity, semantic relations. Chapter 11 "Meanings in
action" deals with text analysis, problem of cohesion and discusses
such notions as displacement, presupposition, narrative, accommodation,
convergence, divergence, taboo and euphemism. Chapter 12 "Language and
speakers" discusses problems of language acquisition, language loss and
language death, bilingualism, language learning, language acquisition,
language change.

The book has he following advantages. 1) Plain and clear language,
simple comparisons with facts from everyday life that help students to
better understand described linguistic phenomena; 2) logical structure.
The book starts with characterizing general features of science and
linguistics and proceeds to linguistic subfields.

To better assess the book under review it would be good to compare it
with a similar introduction to linguistics, for example with "Working
with Texts: A Core Introduction to Language Analysis" by R. Carter et
al (2001), which also doesn't assume any previous knowledge of language
analysis. I personally would prefer "Working with Texts" because of the
following advantages. 1) "Working with Texts" is much better
illustrated. To stir readers' curiosity Carter et al use
advertisements, cartoons, Web pages, etc. In Cruz-Ferreira's book the
reader can find only diagrams and tables, the first of them appearing
in the 5th chapter, previous chapters not being illustrated at all. 2)
"Working with Texts" has extensive activities, answers and commentaries
on activities that can successfully be used in classroom. Cruz-
Fereira's book has "Some food for thought" sections that contain
citations from different authors and it is often difficult to
understand how to use them in the classroom. For example, "Some food
for thought" section in chapter 1 contains the following citation from
O. Wilde: "Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught". What is the
message of this citation? That linguistics can't be taught, or that it
isn't worth knowing?


Brinton, L. J.(2000) The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic
Introduction. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Carter, R. et al (2001) Working with Texts: A Core Introduction to
Language Analysis. London & New York: Routledge.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER V. Iatsko is a professor in the Department of English and Head of Computational Linguistics Laboratory at Katanov State University of Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of English and Russian syntax.