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Review of  How to Study Linguistics

Reviewer: Lynn A Burley
Book Title: How to Study Linguistics
Book Author: Geoffrey Finch John Peck Martin Coyle
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.2128

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Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2004 15:49:27 -0500
From: Lynn Burley
Subject: How To Study Linguistics: A Guide to Understanding Language

AUTHOR: Finch, Geoffrey
EDITORS: Peck, John; Coyle, Martin
TITLE: How To Study Linguistics
SUBTITLE: A Guide to Understanding Language
SERIES: Palgrave Study Guides
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2003

Lynn A. Burley, University of Central Arkansas

How to Study Linguistics is meant to be used by beginning linguistics
students, and is written in an engaging, relaxed style appropriate to
the book's purpose of looking at ''linguistics in a clear, sensible way''
(x). Four chapters cover the expected areas, an introduction to
basic concepts, sound, syntax, and meaning, while the other three,
''Beginning Linguistics,'' ''Studying Linguistics Further,'' and ''How to
Write a Linguistics Essay,'' offer some fare not usually found in other
Introduction to Linguistics-type texts.

Chapter One, ''Beginning Linguistics,'' explains two pieces of advice
that any new linguist should consider: to beware of all books on
linguistics and to learn to think linguistically. Linguistics books
often present information in technical terms and are based in one or
another of the theories, which is not necessarily bad, but quite
daunting to the beginner. Hence, the discussion on learning to think
like a linguist, meaning to separate social ideas of language from
linguistic uses of language -- correct/wrong vs. well-formed/ill-

Chapter Two, ''The Linguistic Context,'' further helps students to think
like a linguist by first getting them to defamiliarize language.
Through this process, Finch introduces the basic ideas of competence
and performance. The rest of the chapter is devoted to the functions
of language, which he breaks down into micro and macro functions in
order to build a framework for further study. He discusses seven micro
functions: physiological, phatic, record keeping, identifying,
reasoning, communicating, and pleasure functions. The macro functions
include ideational, interpersonal, poetic and textual. Understanding
these functions gives students a basis for delving further into the
native competences as concerns the next few chapters.

Chapter Three, ''Studying Sound,'' begins a traditional chapter on sound,
but there is more here than the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
and a description of the speech organs. Finch begins by getting
students thinking about sound first -- the differences between spoken
and written representations of sound, what combinations are permissible
in English, how we use sound aesthetically, and the problems our
alphabet has in describing our speech sounds. Then he introduces the
idea of phonemes and allophones followed by minimal pairs and the
description of consonants and vowels. The final section discusses some
of the phonological processes that occur in connected speech.

Chapter Four, ''Studying Syntax,'' is divided into two parts: the
formalist approach and the functional approach. Finch tells students
that the idea here is to just develop the right mental attitude rather
than floundering in the complexities of the subject. He shows
students that they already have knowledge of syntax by having them fill
in the blank slots of various sentences, which gives them a list of
determiners, verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Now students just
need to learn to how these constituents work in syntax. The formalist
approach is presented as the idealization of sentences, a way to get at
our competence in order to better understand the cognitive processes
our brains use in regard to language. Students learn the basics of
phrase structure grammar and building trees. The functional approach
introduces the student to grammatical functions of words and phrases,
functional roles (actor, patient, goal, etc.), textual function,
interpersonal function, and poetic function.

Chapter Five, ''Studying Meaning,'' covers both semantics and pragmatics.
The main division is between what words mean in a sentence and what the
force of the sentence is. The chapter begins with a discussion of
sense and reference, briefly covering semantic features, connotation,
register, and semantic fields. Finch also covers sense relations --
synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, hyponymy and incompatability. Next is a
discussion of diachronic semantics and the processes of semantic
change. Lastly, some time is spent on prototype theory and a
discussion of truth as it pertains to semantics. The pragmatics
section begins with the concepts of communicative intention, thematic
force, inference and implicature. The cooperative principle and the
maxims are introduced, followed by speech acts.

The longest chapter, Chapter Six, ''Studying Linguistics,'' is again
divided into two parts. The first is dedicated to exploring each of
the three main areas of phonology, syntax and semantics in more detail,
and the second examines some applications of these areas in
sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics and stylistics. In phonology,
Finch covers rule notation, complementary distribution, free variation,
and intonation. In-depth syntax begins with some morphology -- bound
and free, word formation processes, and allomorphs. This allows a
closer look at X bar theory and transformational grammar. In
semantics, Finch delves deeper into logical semantics, including truth
conditions and intension and extension.

In the second part of the chapter, Finch gives students an idea of what
each of the three fields of sociolinguistics, stylistics and
psycholinguistics is about. There is a brief discussion on the social
factors affecting language use, dialect and style-shifting. Stylistics
gives students some tools for looking at literary texts -- ways to
discuss textual function, ideational function and interpersonal
function, and the psycholinguistics section is a very brief
introduction to child language acquisition.

The last chapter, ''How to Write Like a Linguist,'' is full of advice
that works for whatever type of assignment students may be writing.
Finch stresses the importance of continuing to think like a linguist,
of studying language as it is used rather than how some entity thinks
it should be used. To start, students need to approach a subject as a
problem to be solved rather than as a report on what some textbook says
about a topic. This means students must ask questions, find the gaps
that are not covered in the readings. He also stresses that students
should use their own examples as this will aid them in thinking
linguistically and engaging them in the subject. Then students are to
organize their data in such a way as the assignment requires.
Basically, most papers will require students to observe, describe and
explain. Finally, students needs to be aware of their use of terms,
that they truly understand them and use them correctly, that they write
clearly, develop an argument, and thoroughly discuss their points.

The blurb on the back of the book states that How to Study Linguistics
is an ideal companion to students' studies at the introductory level,
and I agree that it should be just that -- a companion. This is not an
introductory textbook since it does lack exercises and does not offer
many examples as most introductory textbooks do. It works well as a
companion book for several reasons. First, it is much more readable
than most textbooks -- Finch stays away from technical terms as much as
is possible and clearly gives advice to students on what to think about
when encountering technical terms. He uses analogies and examples to
get students thinking about how they use language, often asking them to
consider their own use and to listen to those around them. For
example, he discusses how one dresses for a business function to
introduce the concepts of right/wrong language use and well-formed/ill-

A second feature that makes this text a student-friendly companion is
how each subject is introduced. Most introductory level textbooks are
quite good at giving lots of information on a particular subject, but
not at explaining why students may be studying it. Finch mentions
throughout why it may be worthwhile to take a look at some particular
aspect of linguistics. In this way, it becomes more meaningful to
students rather than just getting through it. Finch is also quite
candid about some of what students will study. He quotes an extensive
piece of scholarly text on syntax, saying it ''looks like the stuff of
nightmares,'' (p. 84), which is absolutely true even for advanced
students. But he continues by explaining how this piece is both
realistic -- syntax is a very rich and complicated area -- and that it
can be approached one step at a time and need not be so daunting. He
is good at reassuring students there is value in what is to be studied
and that it is actually easily studied when one learns to think
linguistically and pay attention to how language is used.

A third feature that makes this a good companion guide is that last
chapter on how to write like a linguist. Even linguistic papers at the
beginning level require a form students may not yet have encountered in
their studies -- namely, working with real data that they themselves
have collected. And while students may be used to generating their own
topics, doing so in linguistics, I think, is much more difficult since
the subject matter is so new and different. The recurrent advice of
thinking like a linguist does need to be emphasized when writing like a
linguist since students have been taught for so long to trust what they
read in books rather than natural data. Finch goes through an example
of writing a paper on tense to show how students can generate questions
to be answered, how they can avoid just regurgitating what other texts
have to say and how to organize their data most effectively. I believe
such a chapter should be standard in other introductory textbooks.

Other user-friendly features include bold-facing new terminology
together with about a 230 term glossary in the back. There is also an
index and the revised 1993 IPA chart. Chapters are divided into
sections and subsections for easy thumbing through.

As for depth of coverage, there is here about as much as I would expect
from an introductory level book; even more so with the chapter on
studying further. I know most textbooks do not cover X bar theory in
syntax or the symbols used in logical semantics, so having that
available for the more curious student is an advantage. On the other
hand, some subtopics do not get as much coverage as might be expected.
For example, the discussion of antonyms does not cover some types, and
the discussion of synonyms is just a paragraph. In syntax, while Finch
does a good job of showing students that they already know about
grammar by having them fill in blank slots of sentences where
determiners or nouns would go, there is no other help in figuring out
these lexical categories. In my experience, students need more tools
to learn to identify lexical categories in order to do syntax.

My only other caveat here is no fault of anyone's, least of all Finch,
and that's simply he is British and I am not. He classifies some
sounds as diphthongs that are not for many American dialect speakers,
and his discussion of postvocalic r and h dropping will be a little
confusing for most American speakers.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book as a supplement for any
beginning linguistics student. Given how readable it is and the
attitude that anyone can do this with a little thoughtfulness is
invaluable to students who often feel overwhelmed by a subject they
think they know very little about. The last chapter on writing is a
useful tool no matter what level the student is and can be summarized
and supplemented to fit any undergraduate class. This is a fine
addition to the tools available to beginning students.
Dr. Lynn Burley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing
and Speech at the University of Central Arkansas. She teaches courses
in semantics, sociolinguistics, world languages and linguistics for
educators. Her research interests center on Native American
linguistics, and she is currently finishing a paper on the production
of morphological errors.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1403901066
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 272
Prices: U.K. £ 11.99