LINGUIST List 22.3093|
Tue Aug 02 2011
Review: General Linguistics: Macaulay (2011)
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1. Benjamin Schmeiser ,
Message 1: Surviving Linguistics
From: Benjamin Schmeiser <schmeiserilstu.edu>
Subject: Surviving Linguistics
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AUTHOR: Monica Macaulay
TITLE: Surviving Linguistics
SUBTITLE: A Guide for Graduate Students
PUBLISHER: Cascadilla Press
YEAR: 2011, Second edition
Benjamin Schmeiser, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Illinois
The text under review concerns the most recent edition, the second, which aids
the reader through graduate school (and beyond) in linguistics. Compared to the
previous edition, the basic structure remains intact: there are nine chapters,
followed by an 'Afterword', and a 'References' section. The text commences with
a 'Contents' section, followed by an 'Exercises' section that lists all
seventeen exercises found in the text, and a 'Preface' section that includes the
changes and updates in the second edition. Each chapter contains a short
introduction, followed by sections (marked by a slightly larger font and in
bold) and their subsequent subsections (marked by the same font size as a
section heading, but not in bold), and ends with an 'Exercises' section, which
usually comprises two exercises, with Chapter 3 (contains three), and Chapters 6
and 9 (each contains one), as noted exceptions.
Chapter 1, entitled 'Graduate School: Before, During, and After', walks the
reader through graduate school in linguistics; topics range from choosing the
right program to the process of applying, obtaining funding, and what to do with
a linguistics degree once you finish. In addition, the chapter includes insights
on a more personal level with a section entitled, 'Imposter Syndrome', that
helps the reader deal with insecurities with regard to his/her own knowledge and
intellect. Finally, the chapter also contains a detailed section entitled, 'Book
and Website Recommendations', that contains books and websites under the
subsections of 'Graduate School', 'Research, Writing, and Publication', and
Chapter 2, entitled 'The Field of Linguistics', discusses a wide range of topics
from the type of writing the student will do (e.g. MA thesis, grant proposal,
conference abstract) to learning more about the field as a whole. The author
gives an extensive list of books and electronic resources, which include
websites, as well as email discussion lists, organizations on gender and
orientation, sites that offer phonetic symbol fonts, and sites with software
commonly used in linguistics. The chapter ends with advice on professional
organizations and conferences, along with a few sites to find some humor in the
Chapter 3, entitled 'Writing Basics', offers instruction on the process of
beginning a research paper in linguistics. The author guides the reader along in
the process of research and writing in the social sciences, with sections
ranging from finding a topic and valuable resources to use, to understanding the
general structure of a paper and the proper way of making an argument, along
with examples and explanation of mistakes one should avoid (e.g. 'Don't confuse
the notion of making an argument with the notion of having an argument.'). The
chapter ends by considering notions of respect (e.g. nonsexist writing),
plagiarism (e.g. paraphrasing), and a separate section on human subjects and
Chapter 4, entitled 'Mechanics: How to Write Like a Linguist', describes the
format used for writing in linguistics. Whether it is an explanation on numbered
sections, what to include in each section, how to present (and format) an
example, what to include in tables and figures, or how to incorporate citations
and references, the chapter covers all of the core components of a linguistics
paper. The author concludes with a section entitled, 'My Personal Top Ten Least
Favorite Writing Habits' that includes common mistakes and offers a suggestion
for improvement in each area. To illustrate the format of each entry on the
list, I offer point number two, 'Hedging', as an example. The author first
defines what 'hedging' is: 'Hedges are a way of beating around the bush, and are
usually intended to ward off potential criticism. Although it is very tempting
to use them, they undermine your argument and claims.' (p. 69). The author then
instructs the reader to avoid commonly-used expressions; in the case of
'hedging', she writes 'Instead of: In this paper, I will try to show that X' and
follows with her suggestion, 'Use: In this paper, I show that X'. The author
goes on to offer three more suggestions on how to avoid hedging. Other examples
from the list include 'Describing the Process of Discovery' and 'Excessive
Chapter 5, entitled 'The Process of Writing', offers strategies on the writing
process itself. The author considers where one works while writing, how to get
started, and outlining. She also discusses two methods by which the reader might
work, namely the 'Bird by Bird Method' (i.e. little by little) and the 'Nike
Method' ('Just do it'). Other sections that are particularly relevant to the
writing process are perfectionism and battling writer's block. The chapter ends
with a discussion on a topic that is very difficult for many, namely
interpreting comments and taking criticism.
Chapter 6, entitled 'Conferences', is a guide through the process of giving a
conference talk. The chapter includes everything from considering to which
conference one should apply and how to get funding, to the general format and
delivery style of the presentation and hand-out; the author even includes a
section called 'I'm done now', which instructs the reader how to formally end
the talk. The chapter ends with a section on hosting a conference.
Chapter 7, entitled 'Funding and Publishing Your Research', discusses grant
proposals, working papers and conference proceedings, and publishing an article
in a journal. The chapter contains a flowchart (Figure 7.1 Getting Published:
109) that illustrates the publication process. The author offers advice on
manuscript preparation, discusses the submission process from the editor's side,
and breaks down the four possible decisions that one will receive pertaining to
publication. The chapter ends with a section dedicated to writing book reviews,
including discussion on 'fairness and objectivity', 'sympathy', and 'scholarship'.
Chapter 8, entitled 'The Dissertation', considers the challenges of writing a
dissertation. The introduction section contains references and writing center
websites that should not be overlooked. The author then discusses the
dissertation proposal, 'ABD' status, and addresses many of the difficult areas
(e.g. time management, deadlines, and overcoming 'overwhelmedness') of the
writing process. The chapter ends with a section on the defense, mentioning that
it differs greatly across departments.
Chapter 9, entitled 'The Job Hunt', commences with advice on the transition from
the dissertation to a job. The author then offers a section on the curriculum
vitae, noting what to include, as well as what not to include. Another section
considers the application process for academic jobs and presents another
flowchart (Figure 9.2 Applying for Academic Jobs in Linguistics: 134) that
starts from finding job announcements and ends with negotiating the offer and
accepting the job.
Changes in the current edition include updates and new information that improve
an already exceptional and highly practical text; new exercises are found in
many chapters (Chapters 1-4, 8) and give the reader more opportunities to put
into practice what they have learned. I point to Exercise 7, 'Human Subjects',
as one that is particularly beneficial to the reader. In what follows, I discuss
the changes in this edition by chapter.
Chapter 1, 'Graduate School', gains a subtitle ('Before, During, & After'), as
well as a full section entitled, 'Before Graduate School'. This new section is
highly beneficial to the reader, especially for the undergraduate, because it
concentrates on the process of applying to graduate school, from the reader's
previous undergraduate major, to the GRE and choosing a graduate program, and
finally, to the application and visiting prospective programs.
In Chapter 2, 'The Field of Linguistics', the author adds a subsection under
'Learning about the Field', entitled 'Books', in which she includes excellent
resources, such as The Language Instinct (Pinker, 1994), The Cambridge
Encyclopedia of Language (Crystal, 2010, third edition), Language Files
(Bergmann, Hall, & Ross, 2007: tenth edition), and The Linguistics Student's
Handbook (Bauer, 2007). I note two more welcomed additions, namely: i) under
'Electronic Resources', the author has a subsection entitled, 'Personal
Webpages' which provides excellent sources for students to find out more about
the field; and ii) under 'Sites of Great Interest', she has added 'The Linguist
List Student Portal', which is very helpful and merits its own listing, apart
from The Linguist List.
Chapter 3, 'Writing Basics', remains essentially unchanged, with the noted
exception of a section heading change from 'Cultural Norms' to 'International
Students and the Cultural Explanation'. The heading change is beneficial in that
it is more representative of the section; that is, the section explores North
American cultural norms in Academia as they pertain to plagiarism. Plagiarism
is a big issue in graduate school and calling attention to the experience of an
international student only serves to enhance the text.
Chapter 4, 'Mechanics: How to Write Like a Linguist' is arguably the text's
greatest strength; I found the chapter to be exceptionally clear and
instructional. In the chapter, there are minor revisions in the section
entitled, 'Citations and References', which include the added subsections,
'Citing Online Materials' and 'Citations Managers'. Given the more common
practice of using the internet to find sources, the 'Citing Online Materials'
subsection is particularly beneficial to the reader; in this section, the author
discusses how to cite online materials, which includes bookmarking the URL,
including the URL in the citation, and mentioning the date one accessed the
site. I particularly like 'Citations Managers' because many graduate students
have never heard of software that aids the research process. Programs such as
EndNote are highly beneficial in research, yet they are often not discussed in
the classroom. The reader immensely benefits from this new section as it
provides invaluable insight into the research process.
Chapter 5, 'The Process of Writing', evidences no changes. In Chapter 6,
'Conferences', the author has added two subsections, namely 'PowerPoint' and
'Funding Your Trip'. In addition, she has revised and updated the subsection
entitled, 'Poster Session'. The 'PowerPoint' section discusses what to include
in a PowerPoint presentation. For many of us, presenting with PowerPoint was
never taught; we learned by seeing many presentations at conferences and adapted
accordingly. The reader of this text learns the basic format of a PowerPoint
presentation and could successfully do one after reading this text. In addition,
'Funding Your Trip' offers advice on seeking funding through the department
and/or the conference itself. Finally, I note the addition of very helpful links
on writing a linguistics abstract.
Chapter 7, 'Funding and Publishing Your Research', exhibits three new
subsections that greatly improve the text, namely: i) 'Elements of the Project
Description' (based on Chapin, 2004); ii) 'Writing a Publishable Paper'; and
iii) 'Choosing a Journal'. Moreover, I note the above-mentioned addition of the
flowchart on getting published (Figure 7.1 Getting Published: 109), which I
found to be especially useful. In Chapter 9, 'The Job Hunt', the author has
revised the illustration (Figure 9.2 Applying for Academic Jobs in Linguistics:
134) to be more appealing and increase comprehension.
Overall, this text is highly practical and beneficial to students and professors
alike. It should be a staple text for all graduate students in linguistics and
should be included in the 'Introduction to Graduate Studies' courses that many
departments have. This text indeed fills a void in the field and greatly helps
the reader through the trials and tribulations of graduate work in linguistics.
The second edition, as previously mentioned, improves on an already
much-appreciated text. Whether it is the resources, the guidance, writing
instruction, help on conference-going and publishing, or landing your first job,
this text is truly exceptional.
In terms of criticism, I offer three minor points that should not be seen as
deficiencies of the current edition, but rather things to consider for future
editions. First, I am a bit surprised that the text does not number sections
(e.g. 1. Introduction) or subsections (e.g. 2.1 Books) as is typically done in
linguistics papers and texts. I know the author has tried to use a more informal
tone (e.g. using contractions); however, I do think the text would be improved
by numbering each (sub) section.
Second, considering that writing a dissertation (or an MA thesis) is such an
arduous task, I was a bit surprised to see no additions (besides an exercise) to
Chapter 8, 'The Dissertation'. Though the author states in footnote 58 that many
of the elements for the dissertation apply to the MA thesis, I still think that
adding a section specifically on the MA thesis, and all elements involved in
completing one, would be beneficial. In addition, some discussion on the
timeline after the defense for formatting and officially turning in the
dissertation (including the time the university needs to process the paperwork)
should be included as well.
Third, in future editions of this text, the author might consider adding a
section on appendices (including where to insert them into the paper and what an
appendix typically includes) in Chapter 4, 'Mechanics: How to Write Like a
Linguist'. Moreover, Chapter 5, 'The Process of Writing', might include a
section on procrastination after sections on perfectionism and writer's block,
along with a proposed timeline of writing a paper for a course, to give the
reader an idea of how long writing a linguistics paper for a course actually takes.
To conclude, I first came across this text the year the first edition was
released (2006) and it was about three months after I had finished my
dissertation and started my first job as an assistant professor. As I read the
text, I smiled at the irony, as I could only imagine how valuable this text
would have been for me. When I teach with this text, I find the almost
uncontainable urge to remind students how lucky they are to have it and to tell
them that I did not have this text 'when I was a graduate student'. I do
resist, though, but I will say now that graduate students will immensely benefit
from this text, and yes, I do so dearly wish I had this text 'when I was a
Bauer, Laurie. 2007. The linguistics student's handbook. Oxford: Oxford
Bergmann, Anouschka, Kathleen Currie Hall, & Sharon Miriam Ross (eds.). 2007.
Language files, 10th edn. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.
Chapin, Paul G. 2004. Research projects and research proposals: A guide for
scientists seeking funding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, David. 2010. The Cambridge encyclopedia of language, 3rd edn.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pinker, Steven. 1994. The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New
York: William Morrow and Company.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Benjamin Schmeiser is an assistant professor of Spanish Linguistics at Illinois State University. He earned his PhD in Spanish Linguistics, with a specialization in Phonetics and Phonology, from the University of California, Davis in 2006. His research interests include Phonetics and Phonology, Pedagogy, Second Language Acquisition, Sociolinguistics, Historical Linguistics, and Romance Linguistics. His recent publications have concentrated on consonant clusters in Spanish, Portuguese, and Pali; podcast usage in the classroom; and synonymy in Contemporary United States Spanish.
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