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Review of  English Words

Reviewer: Michael Haugh
Book Title: English Words
Book Author: Francis Katamba
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Lexicography
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1727

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Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 17:41:07 +1000
From: Michael Haugh
Subject: English Words: Structure, History, Usage

AUTHOR: Katamba, Francis X.
TITLE: English Words
SUBTITLE: Structure, History, Usage
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2005

Michael Haugh, School of Languages and Linguistics, Griffith


English Words is a comprehensive introduction to the nature of words
in the English language. While the study of words traditionally falls into
the domain of morphology, Katamba extends his analysis to other
areas in linguistics so that by the end of the book we not only have an
understanding of the morphology of words (that is, their formation and
internal structure), but also a better grasp of the relationship between
the structure (morphology), sounds (phonology) and meaning
(semantics) of words, in addition to an overview of sociocultural
influences on words (sociolinguistics) and how they are processed in
the brain (psycholinguistics). The book is thus divided into four parts
to reflect the multiple perspectives from which words are analysed.
Part I gives an overview of the morphology of words (Chapters One to
Four), while Part II considers the relationship between morphology
and other linguistic disciplines, including phonology, semantics and
syntax (Chapters Five to Six). The final two parts consider the
sociolinguistics (Chapters Seven to Nine) and psycholinguistics
(Chapters Ten to Eleven) of words respectively. The focus throughout
the book is overwhelmingly on words in English, with examples from
other languages only being used sparingly when they can further
extend our understanding of English words.

The book begins with the traditional morphological approach to words
where the main focus is on defining words and analysing their internal
structure. The foundation for more in-depth discussion of words from
other perspectives is thus laid in this section. After a brief introductory
chapter that gives some arguments as to why it is useful to have a
better understanding of words, and an overview of the architecture of
the book, Chapter Two tackles the issue of how to define words. This
discussion illustrates that words can be approached in a number of
different ways, which is the underlying theme of this volume. Katamba
builds upon the intuitive lay understanding of words as entries we find
in dictionaries, or what are more properly called lexemes, to show
words can be represented in both sounds or writing (what he
terms "word forms"), and that they have certain properties in terms of
the way they combine with other words in sentences (or what he
terms "grammatical words"). In this chapter Katamba thus moves from
Bloomfield's (1926) classic definition of a word as "a minimum free
form" (p.11) through to a more rigorous definition of a word as "the
unit on which purely syntactic operations can be performed" (p.24).

Chapter Three moves into the morphological analysis of English words
proper with an overview of the way in which words can be analysed in
terms of morphemes ("the smallest unit that has meaning or serves a
grammatical function in a language" (p.29). He illustrates through
various examples how morphemes can be distinguished from the
basic sound units of language (phonemes), and thus shows that in
general sounds are arbitrarily linked to meaning, although there are
two exceptions to this generalisation, onomatopoeia and
phonaesethemes (pp.44-46). The way in which our tacit
understanding of morphemes helps us to understand new words in
context is quite clearly demonstrated to the reader as Katamba shows
how words can be decomposed into smaller units of meaning or
grammatical functions.

Chapter Four covers the other main aspect of word morphology,
namely how they are formed from roots and affixes, with formatives
that bridge the gap between the two in some cases. For the sake of
simplicity he divides the formation of words into two main types:
inflection, or the creation of grammatical words, and derivation, or the
creation of lexical items. The derivation of words is further classified
into affixation, conversion, stress placement and compounding. This
purely linguistic analysis of the formation of words forms an interesting
contrast to the later sociolinguistic analysis of the various ways in
which words are created in Chapter Eight. Those phenomena that lie
on the boundary of what can be considered words, such as idioms
and clitics are also discussed in this chapter.

The second part of the book, which encompasses Chapters Five and
Six, analyses words in the wider linguistic context. In Chapter Five, the
relationship between the phonology and morphology of English words
is discussed. The core of this chapter is an exposition of the
relationship between phonological and morphological rules in the
lexicon. Katamba uses an affix-driven stratification model to predict
morpheme sequencing, blocking of certain formations, and the
productivity of different affixes. The essential claim made in this model
is that affixes can be divided into two types: neutral and non-neutral
affixes. The latter form the first stratum, which is characterised by
morphological and phonological change when affixes are appended to
other morphemes. Neutral affixes, on the other hand, form the second
stratum, which is characterised by morphological change only (pp.91-
92). Since the publication of the first edition of this book in 1994 a
number of objections to this particular theory of lexical phonology and
morphology have been made, and so Katamba includes a discussion
of these counter-arguments later in the chapter, although ultimately
remains firmly in support of a multi-layered theory of lexical
morphology (p.110).

Chapter Six gives an overview of how the meaning of words can be
dissected. While acknowledging that meaning also falls into the
domain of pragmatics, Katamba mainly focuses on semantic means of
analysing words. After dividing word meaning into conceptual meaning
and connotations, and also noting the importance of collocations in
determining the meaning of words in their linguistic context, he goes
on to discuss different approaches to analysing relationships between
word meanings. These approaches encompass traditional sense
relations, such as as synonymy, antonymy and so on, as well as
various approaches developed in lexical semantics, including
componential analysis, semantic fields, and prototype theory.

The third part of the book, which runs from Chapters Seven through to
Nine, gives sociolinguistic perspectives on the study of words. It shows
how various sociocultural factors have led to changes to and
expansion of the English lexicon. Chapter Seven explores the various
sources of English vocabulary. In essence, it is a study of the kinds of
borrowing into English that have occurred, including both loanwords
and loanshifts, the reasons for borrowing, which are usually social in
nature rather than being purely linguistic, as well as the linguistic
effects of borrowing on English. The chapter ends with a discussion of
the various sources of borrowings into English, illustrating the
enormous range of languages which English has drawn upon for its
lexicon, although the importance of French borrowings is clearly

Chapter Eight considers internally-driven changes to the lexicon. A
wide range of different sources of innovation and change in the
English lexicon are considered, including the creation of jargon and
slang, rhyming slang, clipping and back-formation, metaphors and
euphemisms, blends, acronyms and abbreviations and so on.
Numerous examples are given to illustrate these different sources and
show how different social groups, as well social and technological
changes, have an influence on the words we use.

The final chapter in Part III considers the relationship between spoken
and written English. The issue of English spelling is first addressed,
with the question of why apparent irregularities or inconsistencies in
the way phonemes are represented in orthographic forms of words
receiving particular attention. While these inconsistencies can create
difficulties in acquiring literacy, Katamba argues that major reform of
English spelling is unlikely due to the number of varieties of English
that now exist, and the relationships between written forms of English
and national identities that have arisen. Chapter Nine concludes by
pointing out that while spoken English is basically primary, written
English has had a profound effect on spoken English, particularly in
terms of standardisation. However, he notes that the rise of electronic
forms of communication, such as email and text-messaging has
started to have an effect on the traditional boundary between spoken
and written words.

The fourth and final part of the book examines how words are
produced and comprehended in speech. The focus is thus on the
mental lexicon and the cognitive operations underlying its use.
Chapter Ten discusses the recognition of words in speech. It gives an
overview of the types of lexical information found in the mental lexicon,
before considering the two main approaches to the way in which the
mental lexicon is organised, the morphological parsing model and the
full listing hypothesis, although Katamba appears to favour the former
model, in contrast to the position of many psycholinguists. The issue
of how modelling how words are understood in speech is then
discussed, with two competing approaches being summarised, the
cohort model and the connectionist model.

The final chapter in the book, Chapter Eleven, gives an overview of
current views on how words are produced in speech. Katamba claims
that the production of words can be separated into two main steps:
grammatical encoding (or formulation) and phonological encoding (or
articulation) (p.265). He then outlines evidence that supports this kind
of model of speech production including slips of the tongue and
studies of language disorders in aphasics. Katamba appears to favour
a connectionist model in his presentation of the spreading activation
model as the means by which words are retrieved in normal speech.


English Words is presented as a stimulating introduction to the world
of words, and there can be no doubt that Katamba is very successful
in terms of first generating and then keeping the reader's interest in
this topic throughout the book. He uses interesting examples that
range from Shakespeare to the Internet, through to children's poetry
and jokes that capture the reader's imagination, and has a style of
writing that is straightforward and clear, yet retains a certain amount
of authority on the topic. In this sense it is indeed a very useful
introduction to the study of words in English.

It is also claimed that it is written in a fairly accessible manner without
undue focus on linguistic theory or jargon. However, there is some
doubt as to whether it really would be suitable for someone to read
who has no background in linguistics at all. Since Katamba touches
upon so many fields within linguistics, he inevitably makes use of a
large number of fairly technical terms. While the glossary at the back
is an excellent resource for those struggling with these terms, it is
questionable whether a student with no background in linguistics
could really cope with not only the terminology of morphology, but also
of phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics
being introduced all at once in the same volume. In addition, Katamba
strays at times into theoretical debates that are not always what might
be considered suitable at an introductory level, for example, in his
discussion of lexical morphology in Chapter Five. It thus appears,
then, that this book would be a useful reader for an undergraduate
course on this topic, but might be overly challenging for someone who
was interested in knowing more about English words to pick up and
read on their own without some kind of additional help. The inclusion
of exercises at the end of each chapter that do not have answer keys,
although very useful for testing one's understanding of the concepts
covered in each chapter, also seems to imply that this is a book that
should be read in conjunction with some kind of course rather than
standing on its own. Perhaps a gentler introduction to linguistic
terminology as it arises in the course of this book, rather than relying
on the glossary or prior knowledge of the reader might help alleviate
this problem to some extent.

This book could also benefit from the inclusion of lists of further
readings for each chapter. Since it is an introduction to English words
it does not give, by necessity, detailed analyses of many issues, for
example, the standardisation of (British) English and its sociocultural
implications. Moreover, it only hints at the problem of how to cope with
the multiple lexicons of English that now exist due to the different
varieties of English that have developed. While one would not expect
this book to cover such details, the reader is left without references to
further reading that they might want in areas that have caught their
interest. In addition, the book ends rather abruptly, as it does not have
a concluding chapter which draws together the quite disparate themes
that have emerged through the course of the book. Perhaps by
revisiting how the study of words can be approached from multiple
perspectives, and discussing the benefits of doing so, the author
could have ended his book on a more satisfying note.

Yet overall English Words is an excellent introduction to a fascinating
topic that goes beyond the traditional focus on morphology and draws
upon work in many different fields within linguistics. It is an outstanding
example of how different fields within linguistics can all contribute to a
fuller understanding of an ultimately quite complex topic such as
words. In doing so it can inspire others to try and emulate this kind of
comprehensive approach to words in other languages.


Michael Haugh is a lecturer in the School of Languages and
Linguistics at Griffith University. He is currently teaching English as an
International Language as well as Linguistics. His main research
interests include pragmatics, sociolinguistics, intercultural
communication, and the relationship between language and identity.

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