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Review of  Ejercicios de lexicología del español


Reviewer: Boris Yelin
Book Title: Ejercicios de lexicología del español
Book Author: Florencio del Barrio de la Rosa
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Semantics
Syntax
Lexicography
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 26.3075

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Review:
Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

The proposed audience of Ejercicios de lexicología del español is a beginner Spanish linguistics course. Though not offering original research, the main purpose is to make available a new way of learning and practicing lexicology. This book has six sections. They are General Concepts, Morphology, Word Formation, Grammatical Categories, Semantics and Lexicosemantic Relations. Though distinct, the sections tend to overlap considerably. The General Concepts section seeks to refute prescriptive ideas as well as introduce concepts, such as competence and performance, which drive many of the mechanisms of lexicology. The section also touches on sociolinguistic factors that affect attitudes toward prescriptivism, as well as performance across registers. Lastly, it further defines some general terms, most importantly what certain concepts, such as lexicology, do not entail. In the Morphology section, beyond explaining the types of morphemes in Spanish and their combinations, the author introduces morphological analysis; he uses the analysis as a springboard to effectively describe word formation and why analysis must take a specific order. The Word Formation section explores how words change syntactic categories with affixes as well as looking at the types of combinations. Also, there is a brief, welcome mention of how register and sociolinguistic factors play into word formation. The section on Grammatical Categories explains not only what they are but also what morphosyntactic constraints they exhibit. The section on Semantics is a rich section that dissects semantic function, semantic change, and the often confusing distinction for beginning students between reference, sense, and extension. The concluding section, Lexico-Semantic Relations, is probably the lightest section, touching on homonyms, hyponyms/hypernyms, synonyms and antonyms, which are arguably the most intuitive notions of the book for a beginner, but still a valuable addition.

At the end of every section, there are annotated bibliographies of the subsections. These are useful for immediate reference to research which influenced the author’s arguments or which he refuted. The entire bibliography is also provided at the end of the book. The sources cited are immediately familiar to those in the field of Hispanic linguistics and include seminal works (e.g. Bosque and Gutiérrez-Rexach, 2009). Additionally, the question index is rather helpful because one can easily find related exercises that are spread out among the chapters. However, since many of the questions cannot be answered as an open question without a set of options, the utility of the question index is limited.

EVALUATION

As opposed to other works on aspects of linguistics that only focus on morphosyntax, phonology, or semantics, this book incorporates all three elements in discussing lexicology. As a result of this incorporation, this book is not for the beginning linguistics student, though the author makes the primary claim that it is suitable as an introductory text on Spanish grammar. His secondary claim (that it can be used as a supplementary text) is more accurate. For instance, there are often explanations that use phonological notation that would be unfamiliar to a student without any experience studying phonology. Other syntactic and semantic phraseology, while introduced, are glossed over in such a manner that it would be difficult for the reader to retain the information without other prior or proceeding knowledge to act as reinforcement.

One immediate strength is in the presentation, where the author explains his wish to make grammar more exciting than mere lecture notes as well as tackling the “word” as a commonly misunderstood unit of speech. It is also made clear that the author follows in the footsteps of Ignacio Bosque, a well-known Spanish syntactician. The author also admits a potential margin of error by claiming that the ‘right’ answers are often not the final answers, or rather they may just be the most appropriate answers for a given context. He acknowledges all challenges to analysis and picks one. This admission of his standpoints and the debate inherent in many aspects of linguistics opens the door to discussion with students.

As far as accessibility, students that read this book need a firm concept of phonology, since some of the explanations for prefixation and suffixation require that knowledge. Without phonological knowledge, and more specifically, knowledge of articulatory phonetics, the explanation may not be remembered. One a different note, one can appreciate the crosslinguistic references and explanations for some of the questions, e.g. mentioning that some languages have definiteness attached as a morpheme. However, this textbook is supposed to be targeted toward students of Spanish. Some of these comparisons may be difficult to grasp without more knowledge of languages. The book also seems geared more toward native Spanish speakers since some of its exercises mention words that are obsolete and are probably unknown to a nonnative speaker. One quite positive and necessary aspect of the book is that before launching into the material, there is an explanation of all abbreviations and marks, which serves as an easy reference point while reading.

The novel format of this book, attempting to turn the concept of a workbook on its head, at first seems intriguing, but quickly becomes inconvenient. The questions are presented first with the answers in a following section with explanations. Every question is accompanied by four potential answers. The author conveniently places asterisks next to trickier problems, though the ones that end up being tricky really depend on the reader. Immediately evident is the fact that one cannot answer many of the questions without specifically having studied the material, which comes with the answer. Furthermore, often you have to answer two questions at once, which makes it annoying to go back and forth because the first question actually builds on knowledge that the second one tests. Furthermore, many of the questions involve knowing terms that have not been explained in a previous solution. Though one of the goals of this exercise book is to make students think about ideas, a straight question that asks you to match the definition to any one of four terms you may not know does not stimulate thought, but confusion.

Thus, some of the questions become a guessing game with the solution at the end often admitting that a question was purposefully tricky. Perhaps because of an attempt to make the possible answer sets more varied, a few of the answers make very little sense. Simplicity would have been better. For instance, in 5.3.164:
¿Cuál de los conceptos estudiados previamente determinan la referencia?
[Which of the previously studied concepts determine reference?]
a. El sentido [Sense]
b. La denotación [Denotation]
c. Solo la opción b es la correcta [Only option b is correct]
d. Tanto a como b son correctas [A and b are both correct]
It is simultaneously obvious and confusing that answers b and c have the same outcome.

Moreover, some questions have more than one possible answer, but one theory puts one answer over the other. Without knowing the theoretical framework before the question, these frustrating encounters could make the reader feel as if the questions are trick questions. Finally, at least in a few of the explanations, wrong answers are dismissed without explaining why they are incorrect, as in the case of 3.1.63, where one possible answer is written off as “inválida de ningún punto de vista” [invalid from any point of you], without further explanation.

Overall this book has much to give students in the form of a review text that includes all conceivable aspects of word formation. i.e. phonological, morphosyntactic, historical, and semantic. Though the format of the exercise book may be problematic at times, the questions themselves, and the subjects that they cover, are indispensable to a well-rounded linguistics student. This textbook would be well-suited for a survey course with either a different primary text or texts, or a heavy lecture component where this book could be used to reinforce the material learned in class.

REFERENCES

Bosque, Ignacio and Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach. 2009. Fundamentos de sintaxis formal. Madrid: Akal.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Boris Yelin is currently a doctoral student in Applied Spanish Lingustics at Purdue University. His main interests are SLA and Pedagogy with a focus on L3 acquisition. Past research has included looking at the intersection of language variation and semantics with respect to mood. His current career trajectory is teaching language for the government.