Steven E. Weisler and Slavko Milekic (2000) Theory of Language. MIT Press,
Cambridge, MA Pages: 344+xv
Price (paperback or CD version): $35
Reviewed by Shravan Vasishth, Ohio State University
This is an introductory textbook for linguistics and language courses and
is designed for beginning- and intermediate-level undergraduate classes in
linguistic theory. There are two versions of the book, a paperback
hard-copy and an audio CD. The text is the same in both the hard-copy and
CD versions, but the latter includes video clips (excerpts from interviews
with various linguists), a Tree Builder tool for construction and
evaluation of phonological, metrical, and syntactic analysis of trees, a
word processor, various annotation mechanisms (hiliters, voice memos),
among other things.
There are six chapters. The book begins by introducing general issues
about language, and the remainder of the book deals with phonetics and
phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and psycholinguistics (brain and
language). All the chapters give a fairly detailed treatment. For
example, in the semantics chapter (Chapter 5, Meaning), we see a
simplified version of Montague grammar, definite descriptions, possible
world semantics, quantifier scope ambiguities. More advanced topics are
mentioned as an aside in boxes, which should allow an instructor using
this text to use adjust the level of discussion depending on the audience.
The chapters generally read well, and relatively difficult concepts are
explained quite clearly. The textbook is aimed at an undergraduate
audience, but it may be a little too detailed for students not intending
to major in linguistics or those taking a language course to satisfy a
course requirement. The more novel aspect of the book lies in the CD
edition, and I will focus on this in the remainder of the review.
The CD does not accompany the book; it is a CD version of the book along
with some extra teaching tools. The CD works only with Macintosh computers
and has the following system requirements: Apple Macintosh with a 68040 or
better processor; Power Macintosh (PPC) recommended 16MB of free RAM
(20MB recommended) approximately 25MB of free hard drive space 256 color,
640x480 pixel monitor or better MacOS System 7.5 or later QuickTime 2.5 or
later. Optional: PlainTalk microphone (for voice recording) Macintosh
text-to-speech (TTS) software (source for system requirements:
The software installation is straightforward and the interface is also
fairly easy to use. The goal of the authors, to create a "digital learning
environment", seems to have been amply achieved. The CD could plausibly be
used in classroom for instruction, or as a teaching aid.
There are some minor improvements possible; for example, the voice quality
of the video clips varies and the occasional background music could be a
bit distracting in a classroom setting. Another possible problem is the
Mac environment that the software is limited to. Windows users and others
are likely to be deterred from using the CD simply because many will not
have Macs available to them.
On the whole, however, the textbook and the CD are a very welcome
addition to existing introductory texts, and should prove useful in
enhancing linguistics instruction.
Short biography of author:
Shravan Vasishth is a PhD student at Ohio State University, with
research interests in human sentence processing.