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Review of  Word Power: Phrasal Verbs and Compounds

Reviewer: Marcus Callies
Book Title: Word Power: Phrasal Verbs and Compounds
Book Author: Brygida Rudzka-Ostyn Paul Ostyn
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.433

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Date: Mon, 02 Feb 2004 17:54:10 +0100
From: Marcus Callies
Subject: Word Power: Phrasal Verbs and Compounds

Rudzka-Ostyn, Brygida (2003) Word Power: Phrasal Verbs and Compounds,
A Cognitive Approach, Mouton de Gruyter, Planet Communication --
Mouton Textbook, edited by Paul Ostyn.

Marcus Callies, Department of English, Philipps-Universität Marburg,
Germany & University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.


Contrary to what the title may suggest, "Word Power: Phrasal Verbs and
Compounds, A Cognitive Approach" is not a book on cognitive
linguistics, but "a textbook for guided self-learning intended for
post-intermediate and advanced learners of English", containing "some
1,100 phrasal verbs and compounds used with 17 particles and/or
prepositions which combine with some 500 different verbs, nouns and
adjectives" (p. v). The book aims "to help more advanced grown-up
learners to rapidly and significantly expand their lexicon" (p. v) and
is to be used for preliminary individual work by the student outside
the classroom, as well as for teacher-student and student group-work in

The book opens with a short introductory chapter titled "Words and the
World" which describes the syntactic and semantic properties of phrasal
verbs. It also briefly explains the fundamental underlying principles
of language such as categorization and conceptualization, and points
out the metaphorical nature of language in general (conceptual mapping
using conceptual metaphors) and of phrasal verbs in particular:
"English phrasal verbs, especially by the metaphorical use of the
particle, enable us to conceive of several abstract domains in terms of
concrete domains" (p.7). In order to visualize the spatial and extended
metaphorical meanings of phrasal verbs, the book uses abstract drawings
that are supposed to serve as schemata, i.e. mental representations of
the underlying spatial orientation of the respective particle. The
design of the schemata is based on two core notions borrowed from
cognitive semantics to explain the human perception of the world: "we
unconsciously foreground or focus on a (moving) entity and view it
against a background seen as container or surface" (p. 9), subsequently
termed "trajector" and "landmark", respectively.

The phrasal verbs and compounds covered in this book are grouped and
organized around 17 different particles/ prepositions, each
particle/preposition being treated in an individual chapter. The
chapter titles are intended to capture the underlying spatial
orientation of each particle: OUT is leaving a container, IN is
entering or being inside a container, INTO is entering a container, UP
is positive verticality, DOWN is negative verticality, OFF is breaking
contact, AWAY is disappearing, ON is contact, OVER is higher than and
close to, BACK is returning, ABOUT is dispersion, (A)ROUND is vicinity,
ABOUT/(A)ROUND is dispersion vs. circular motion, ACROSS is motion to
opposite side, THROUGH is crossing a container, BY is vicinity or path,
ALONG is parallel path or entity.

Each chapter is introduced by some basic information as to the
frequency of use, the lexical category and the meanings of the
respective particle. The chapters are then divided into smaller
subsections which focus on different aspects of meaning, such as
chapter 1 "OUT is leaving a container", which contains the subsections

1.1 OUT: entities moving out of container
1.2 OUT: eat or inviting to eat away from home
1.3 OUT: sets, groups are containers
1.4 OUT: bodies, minds, mouths are viewed as containers
1.5 OUT: states/situations are containers
1.6 OUT: non-existence, ignorance, invisibility also function as
1.7 OUT: trajectors increasing to maximal boundaries

These subsections are in turn introduced by the abstract drawings
mentioned above and mainly consist of sets of so-called "exetests" (a
blend of "exercise" and "test"), sometimes supplemented by short
explanatory text passages. These exetests are fill-in-the-blank
exercises, comprising a number of individual sentences in which
students have to provide a missing phrasal element. There are three
ways to access the missing phrase: (i) the lexical material to be used
to fill in the blanks is alphabetically arranged on top of each
exetest, (ii) the initial letter of each missing element is indicated
to the right of each exercise sentence, and (iii) there is a solution
key to the exercises at the end of each chapter. Furthermore,
supposedly less frequently used words that occur in the exercise
sentences are glossed at the end of each exetest, allowing the teacher
to use the book in very heterogeneous classes. Most chapters also
include a section called "Expand and test your knowledge of X" and
consist of a variety of exercises in some of which students are asked
to explain or paraphrase the meanings of selected (pairs of) phrasal
verbs in their own words.


Phrasal verbs are notoriously difficult for learners of a foreign
language, since they are widely believed to be arbitrary in that their
meanings usually cannot be identified by combining the meanings of the
constituent parts. However, research in cognitive linguistics has shown
that not only metaphorical expressions 'proper', e.g. phrases such as
"a hot debate" or "to invest time", but also idioms, phrasal verbs and
possibly more varied figurative expressions are in fact metaphorically
motivated (e.g. Gibbs 1990, Gibbs and O'Brien 1990, Kövecses and Szábo
1996), and can be traced back to a common underlying metaphoric theme
or source domain. Additionally, lexical research has uncovered that
there is a systematicity underlying the formation of many phrasal verbs
(see Sansome 2000 for a discussion and practical suggestions how this
insight is relevant for foreign language teaching).

The last decade has seen a number of publications that recognize the
importance of figurative language in foreign language learning and
teaching, and suggest the integration of metaphorically motivated
language in particular into ESL/EFL teaching as a means to expand
students' vocabulary, or to provide an additional channel for
vocabulary acquisition (Lazar 1996; Deignan, Gabrys and Solska 1997;
Boers 2000; Beissner 2002). Studies in applied linguistics have shown
that the lexical organization of vocabulary along metaphoric themes can
raise foreign language learners' metaphor awareness, thus enhancing the
understanding and retention of unfamiliar figurative expressions (e.g.
Boers 2000).

This book successfully combines the findings of cognitive and applied
linguistics and implements them into ESL/EFL teaching material. The
phrasal verbs and compounds are grouped around each particle, thereby
revealing their underlying spatial orientation and metaphorical
motivation. This organizational principle is designed to raise metaphor
awareness on the side of the student, and at the same time uncovers the
figurative network of seemingly unrelated lexical items by using the
underlying metaphoric themes as a type of alternative lexical field
(cf. Boers 2000: 553). Additionally, and despite the very short
introductory chapter, the book manages to capture the basic information
needed to understand the cognitive approach, and it explains well how
the figurative senses of the particles are extended from its spatial
senses through conceptual metaphors(pp. 2-5).

Having said that, I'd like to make some suggestions which may help to
improve the book still further. Given that the book is explicitly
intended for self-study and gives only very little information on the
linguistic background, it seems desirable to include at least some
basic literature and suggestions for further reading, such as the
classic text, but also more recent introductory works on the
contemporary theory of metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson 1980 and e.g.
Kövecses 2002). However, a reference list or further reading section is

The author quite heavily draws on frequency information throughout the
text, e.g. "less frequently used words" (p. v, vii) or "OFF is after UP
and OUT the third most frequently used particle" (p. 121), but nowhere
in the book is there any reference as to where this information is
taken from, be it from recent corpus studies, modern corpus-based
dictionaries such as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, or
the author's own observations and findings. This lack of references
makes it impossible to verify the frequency information given in the
text. Neither is there an index to all the phrasal verbs covered in the

The major point of criticism, however, relates to the make-up of the
exercises. Despite the fact that the preface acknowledges that
"learners fix new words or new meanings in a foreign language best []
if they are embedded in contexts" (p. v), the exetests actually consist
of isolated and unrelated sentences which are not embedded in
surrounding co(n)-text, thus not sufficiently contextualized. Moreover,
as was mentioned above, the majority of exercises (except for the
"Expand and test your knowledge of X" sections which feature different
kinds of vocabulary exercises) are basically fill-in-the? blank
sentences, and students are likely to get bored with them. The use of
more varied vocabulary activities and appropriately contextualized
real-life material such as advertisements, newspaper clippings,
sayings, or even poems (cf. Lazar 2003) would certainly help to make
the exercise sections more lively and increase students' motivation for
self-study. In fact, although the book is designed for post-
intermediate and advanced students of English, the nature of the
exercises, and the fact that the missing elements can be figured out
all too easily, makes it more suitable for intermediate than advanced
learners (for potentially more advanced and challenging exercises see
the suggestions made by Boers 2000 and Beissner 2002).

Nevertheless, the book is a welcome and long-awaited contribution to
the field of EFL/ESL teaching. It successfully applies the findings of
cognitive linguistics to foreign language teaching and is probably one
of the first of its kind in that it explicitly adopts a cognitive
semantic approach in a pedagogical context for the presentation and
teaching of phrasal verbs (see Lindstromberg 1996 and Boers and
Demecheleer 1998 for a similar approach to the teaching of


Beissner, Kirsten (2002), I see what you mean ? Metaphorische Konzepte
in der (fremdsprachlichen) Bedeutungskonstruktion. Frankfurt/Main:
Peter Lang.

Boers, Frank (2000), "Metaphor Awareness and Vocabulary Retention",
Applied Linguistics 21:4, 553-571.

Boers, Frank and Murielle Demecheleer (1998), "A cognitive semantic
approach to teaching prepositions", ELT Journal 52:3, 197-204.

Deignan, Alice, Gabrys, Danuta, and Agnieszka Solska (1997), "Teaching
English metaphors using cross- linguistic awareness-raising
activities", ELT Journal 51:4, 352-360.

Gibbs, Raymond W. (1990), "Psycholinguistic Studies on the Conceptual
Basis of Idiomaticity", Cognitive Linguistics, 1:4, 417-451.

Gibbs, Raymond W. and O'Brien, Jennifer E. (1990), "Idioms and Mental
Imagery: The Metaphorical Motivation for Idiomatic Meaning", Cognition,
36:1, 35-68.

Kövecses, Zoltan (2002), Metaphor. A Practical Introduction. Oxford:

Kövecses, Zoltan and Szabó, Peter (1996), "Idioms: A View from
Cognitive Semantics", Applied Linguistics 17:3, 326- 355.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1980), Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

Lazar, Gilian (1996), "Using figurative language to expand students'
vocabulary", ELT Journal 50:1, 43-51.

Lazar, Gilian (2003), Meanings and Metaphors. Activities to Practise
Figurative Language. Cambridge: CUP.

Lindstromberg, Seth (1996), "Prepositions: meaning and method", ELT
Journal 50:3, 225-236.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. With New Words Supplement
(2001). München: Langenscheidt-Longman.

Sansome, Rosemary (2000), "Applying lexical research to the teaching of
phrasal verbs", IRAL 38:1, 59?69.

Marcus Callies is a doctoral candidate in English Linguistics at
Philipps-University Marburg, Germany and currently a Visiting Research
Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests
include Contrastive Linguistics (German-English), Second Language
Acquisition (with a focus on discourse-functional aspects of learner
language and interlanguage pragmatics) and cross-cultural metaphor.