Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR(S): Harley, Heidi TITLE: English Words SUBTITLE: A Linguistic Introduction SERIES: The Language Library YEAR: 2006 PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Marion Schoner, Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany
_English Words_ is meant to be used by students with a general interest in words (Harley, citing Richard Lederer, calls them ''verbivores''). It should provide them not only with a command of the basic methods and tools in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, language acquisition and historical linguistics, but also give them skills in analyzing and understanding the English lexicon and the basis needed for more advanced studies in English linguistics or lexicology. It focuses on American English, but several British English transcriptions are provided as well (xiv- xvii).
The book is divided into nine chapters, a glossary of important terms, a short bibliography and a detailed index. Each chapter is preceded by an International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription of the headline as well as a short introduction of the chapter's content; it concludes with several study problems the reader is encouraged to work on and suggestions for further reading. Moreover, many exercises are inserted throughout each chapter.
Chapter 1, ''What Is a Word?'' presents an overview of how the question of wordhood can be answered, especially by a layperson. Harley more or less differentiates between a phonological word and a ''minimal meaningful unit'', a so-called ''listeme'', which encodes an arbitrary sound-meaning combination that has to be listed in the speaker's head. Moreover, this first chapter also introduces basic grammatical terms in a short appendix.
After pointing out that spelling is far from being a faithful representation of pronunciation, Chapter 2, entitled ''Sound and Fury: English Phonology'', covers both the physiology of speech production and the representation of speech sounds. Manner and place of articulation and voicing are important for the distinction of consonants, tongue position, lip rounding, muscular tension and duration are relevant for vowels. Diphthongs and reduced vowels are highlighted as well and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is introduced as a precise system for representing actual pronunciation. The categorization into ''families of sounds'' helps to explain sound changes such as Grimm's Law (or the first Germanic consonant shift), the important sound change that started off the separation of the Germanic languages from Latin and other Indo-European languages.
Chapter 3, ''Phonological Words: Calling All Scrabble Players!'' investigates the phonotactic restrictions on English syllables and gives a set of rules that restrict the possible syllable inventory of English. Babies, especially, make innate use of these restrictions in speech perception. Additionally, syllables, rhythm, stress and allophones are useful when parsing the speech stream into discrete phonological words and for avoiding mondegreens, i.e. misheard song lyrics.
In the next chapter, ''Where Do Words Come From?'' Harley covers the three main processes for finding a name for a concept (i.e. word-formation, semantic change and borrowing). She illustrates many examples of back-formation and folk etymology, clipping, acronyms and abbreviations, affixation and compounding, blends as well as widening and narrowing of meaning, amelioration and pejoration, and conversion. The question of why some terms are retained while others fade into obsolescence is discussed using the example of slang terminology.
Chapter 5, ''Pre- and Suf-fix-es: Engl-ish Morph-o-log-y'', uses morphology to analyze several neologisms uttered by George W. Bush. It thus explains the differences between function and content listemes (i.e. organizational and structuring units in contrast to meaning-carrying units), free and bound morphemes, roots and stems, and inflection and derivation. Harley makes clear that affixes have to be compatible with the syntactic and phonological requirements of their stems, and points out that derivational affixes such as -nik, -gate, -(a)holic, -licious, -(a)rama, -meister, -erific, -tacular seem more like open-class than closed-class morphemes.
Chapter 6, ''Morphological Idiosyncrasies'', investigates stem-conditioned requirements on affixation. Plural formations such as the learned Greek or Latin forms (e.g. 'analyses', 'alumni'), the zero-plural (e.g. 'sheep') or the –en plural (e.g. 'oxen') are inflectional alternations of the regular forms, but all of them are ''homosemes'', i.e. listemes with different pronunciations but with the same meaning. This technical term is said to be more precise than, and thus preferable to, ''synonyms'', as the latter are not completely interchangeable most of the time. Many of these irregular examples, which are rather unpredictable forms from a Modern English point of view, can be explained historically and provide information about mental processes involved in the organization and production of words.
Alongside phonological and syntactic restrictions, lexical restrictions are imposed on morphemes as well, a phenomenon which is dealt with in Chapter 7, ''Lexical Semantics: The Structure of Meaning, the Meaning of Structure''. The meaning of function words (e.g. conjunctions, determiners, pronouns, complementizers, i.e. words that introduce a whole complement clause) is relatively formal and inflexible, whereas the meaning of content words or roots (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives) is more likely to flow and change with time. The latter is often explained in terms of entailment relationships with other content words (e.g. in a semantic web or taxonomy). The meaning of such relational concepts is fundamentally characterized by argument structure (e.g. of a verb), whereas the meaning of independent concepts is characterized by substance vs. shape-naming properties (e.g. mass vs. count nouns).
Chapter 8, ''Children Learning Words'', deals with the process of how children learn to associate concepts with a new string of sounds. As far as observable things are concerned, assumptions that words refer to entire objects and different referents, but can be related in taxonomic ways help babies to guess, as do morphological and syntactic clues. In order to learn words for non-present entities and abstract concepts, syntactic frames, semantic roles and event structure are important. Furthermore, some of the most valuable clues about content words' meaning come from the function words they combine with.
Finally, Chapter 9, ''Accidents of History: English in Flux'', gives an overview of English language history, which can be divided into 4 stages (Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English). The change from a truly Germanic language to what is termed a ''mixed language'' is largely a result of lexical enrichment and borrowing from other languages, starting with Latin influence (already on the continent, when Roman traders were in contact with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes before they migrated to Britain), then Scandinavian influence during the time of the Viking invasions, French loans during the Norman rule (first Northern French borrowings, afterwards Parisian French loans), neo-classical loans during the Renaissance, and loans from all over the world during the time of the expansion of the British Empire. Extra-linguistic changes as well (such as the invention of the printing press) help explain the great gap between modern English pronunciation and spelling.
Even though there are plenty of available introductory textbooks on English linguistics, the book under review has a few characteristics that stand out, and deserve to be highlighted. It is written in an engaging, relaxed style that is refreshing and appropriate to the book's purpose of looking at the field of linguistics through the window of English words. It is also very appealing visually, employing boxes or bold print letter to accentuate important terms, which makes the text inviting and exciting for students. Harley also uses up-to-date or 'youth' vocabulary, poems, tongue twisters, cartoons, and children's playing games that students are likely to be familiar with and explains linguistic phenomena by referring to real-world situations or experiences relevant to students, making it much more likely that the readers really see and feel that linguistics can truly be exciting and useful. Linguistic terminology and concepts are always introduced, defined, and explained with examples.
The fact that problem sets are placed within the body of the text, to be done as those concepts are discussed so that the student more clearly understands early principles before going on to more complex ones, is very promising. However, since not all problem sets or study questions found at the end of each chapter are answered, it might sometimes not be clear to beginners of linguistics which answer will be the correct one or what exactly is expected from them. If no solution pages are to be given in the book itself, this problem could perhaps be solved with an internet venue or web site where students and interested readers could look up some of the answers or clues (e.g. as Dirven/Verspoor (2004) do with their book _Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics_).
I also liked the fact that students are encouraged to work with _OED online_ (cf. chapter 4). This very important dictionary can help students learn a great deal about the English language and its history. Furthermore, the history chart given on pages 264 and 265 not only gives important historical dates and processes but also combines them with their effects on language and spelling (here, one could make the criticism that Grimm's Law is not explained in this chapter on historical linguistics, but in an earlier chapter when talking about phonology).
The chapter on phonotactics seems a bit hard for beginners and in the section on lexical semantics, I missed some of the more prototypical relationship terms such as antonym, hypernym, (co)hyponym etc. For interested readers, the further sources section could also be enlarged a bit.
Despite the points just raised _English Words_ is a readable and essential introduction into the world of the English lexicon and the study of linguistics. It therefore is highly recommendable to all students of language, no matter whether they are ''verbivores'' or not.
Dirven, René & Marjolijn Verspoor, eds. (2004) Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marion Schoener, M.A., is assistant professor for English and Comparative Linguistics at the University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany. Her research interests are historical linguistics, variational linguistics, Basic Global English, and especially how linguistics can serve society in a better way. She is currently working on her dissertation on historical onomasiology.