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AUTHOR: de Klerk, Vivian TITLE: Corpus Linguistics and World Englishes SUBTITLE: An Analysis of Xhosa English SERIES: Research in Corpus and Discourse PUBLISHER: Continuum YEAR: 2006
Xiaofei Lu, Department of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Pennsylvania State University
This book presents research on a variety of English spoken by the Xhosa people in South Africa as a second language. The author takes the stand that Black South African English (BSAE) is not a monolithic variety; rather, the varieties of English spoken by speakers of different indigenous languages of South Africa should be examined individually. She undertakes the enterprise of compiling a spoken corpus of Xhosa English (XE) and closely studies this particular English variety using the corpus. The book consists of thirteen chapters, divided into four sections.
Section one, ''The context'', contains three chapters that provide an overview of the socio-linguistic context of the XE corpus. Chapter one, ''Xhosa English as a World English'', describes the linguistic scene in South Africa from a historical perspective. The author pinpoints the importance of recognizing BSAE as a heterogeneous variety that consists of sub-varieties used by speakers of South Africa's indigenous languages and draws attention to the problems in defining XE as one such sub-variety due to the dramatic differences in competence among the L2 speakers. The chapter concludes with insights into the debate on the status of BSAE and its sub-varieties within the nation's linguistic scene.
Chapter two, ''The need for norms: building a spoken corpus'', opens with an explanation of the notions of endonormative vs. exonormative standards and linguistic gatekeeping and then elaborates how large corpora can be used to obtain empirical evidence for describing emergent norms and language systems. The International Corpus of English approach for South African Englishes is criticized. The choice of building a spoken instead of written corpus of XE is justified, and the applications of such a corpus are discussed.
Chapter three, ''The structure of the Xhosa English corpus'', outlines the design and compilation of the corpus of spoken XE. The author details issues relating to the size and structure of the corpus, criteria for informant selection, methodology for data collection, conventions of data transcription and mark-up, and adjuncts to the corpus. She points out that the analyses of the corpus do not follow any single theoretical framework, but aim to demonstrate how a corpus can be useful to different theoretical perspectives.
Section two, ''Corpus studies and sociolinguistic insights'', comprises five chapters that investigate a range of linguistic phenomena in relation to the social and psychological issues underlying the XE speech community. Chapter four, ''Topic choices and lexical characteristics'', summarizes some of the most prevalent topic selections and recurrent lexical choices in the corpus. The author argues that these choices offer glimpses at the primary preoccupations of the community. The chapter also describes a number of phonological and lexical features that characterizes XE as an L2 variety of English.
Chapter five, ''the role of APPRAISAL resources in discussing AIDS'', reports results of a qualitative analysis of selected conversations with respect to how APPRAISAL (as in Systemic Functional Grammar) resources are used in discussions about AIDS, one of the predominant discussion topics. XE speakers are found to use significantly more evoked than inscribed expressions of affect. The author speculates that this could be due to either the lack of linguistic resources at the speakers' disposal or the nature of the AIDS topic, which calls for consensus negotiation within the community.
Chapter six, ''Formulaic utterances'', compares the frequencies of formulaic expressions in the XE corpus and a benchmark L1 corpus, the Wellington Corpus of Spoken New Zealand English (Holmes 1995). The author reviews the general functions of formulae in speech and puts forth a simple method for extracting formulaic expressions from the corpus. She finds that, with few exceptions, XE speakers use essentially the same formulaic expressions as native speakers. She argues that formulae are especially useful for second language speakers in achieving naturalness in informal speech.
Chapter seven, ''Codeswitching in the corpus'', analyzes the codeswitching behavior in spontaneous speech among the XE speakers to assess their levels of bilingualism. The author notes that the analysis helps one understand issues of linguistic identity in the speech community. Three types of codeswitching are analyzed: switching on content morphemes, switching at a time of uncertainty, and switching that serves a communicative purpose. The author reports reasonably good levels of bilingualism among the speakers.
Chapter eight, ''Informal conversation versus legal discourse'', compares the patterns of lexical choice in highly specialist legal discourse with those in the XE corpus and the New Zealand English corpus. Selected legal vocabulary and nominalizations are scrutinized. The author identifies notable differences between the lexis of legal presentations and informal speech and argues that these differences lead to considerable difficulty for non-specialists to cope with legal language.
Section three, ''Corpus studies and linguistic description'', describes selected formal linguistic aspects of the XE corpus. Chapter nine, ''The syntactic features of Xhosa English'', illustrates some of the most characteristic syntactic features of XE, such as extended use of the progressive, overgeneralization in the use of quantifiers, and 'can be able' as a modal verb. However, the author comes to the conclusion that no overwhelming evidence exists for profuse emergent norms in the corpus.
Chapter ten, ''The use of discourse markers: the case of 'actually''', provides an in-depth analysis of the use of the discourse marker 'actually' in the corpus. The author points out that despite the crucial role of discourse markers in conversations, they are unduly neglected in the language classroom. The functions of 'actually' as a discourse or propositional modifier as well as its placement are examined. The author claims that XE speakers use 'actually' in much the same way as English mother-tongue speakers.
Chapter eleven, ''Procedural meanings of 'well' in the corpus'', focuses on the contextualized uses of the discourse marker 'well' in the corpus. The author argues for the existence of a unified context-free 'core' meaning of the marker but also identifies several loose categories of procedural meaning within the core, e.g., 'well' as a marker of discourse coherence and 'well' as a signal of turn change, etc.
Chapter twelve, ''Expressing levels of intensity in Xhosa English'', describes the use of intensifiers in the corpus, focusing in particular on those accompanying gradable adverbs and adjectives that allow comparison and modification. The author finds that intensifiers used by XE speakers are limited in range and that they often serve as place-fillers rather than to strengthen assertions.
Chapter thirteen, ''The future of Xhosa English: social and educational issues'', makes up the fourth and final section, ''Looking ahead''. The author raises the question of the future role of XE, or English in general, as opposed to that of the indigenous languages in South Africa and recommends a series of directions for further research.
This book should be of great interest to students and researchers in world Englishes, language variation, corpus linguistics, and applied linguistics. One of the major assets of the book is the author's consideration of the differences between the indigenous languages in South Africa and her definition of XE, instead of just BSAE, as a world English. This definition gives the author the opportunity to closely examine a coherent linguistic community. Another major asset of the book is undoubtedly the use of a large corpus of authentic spoken data for describing the language system. The corpus itself constitutes an invaluable linguistic resource for descriptive studies of or comparative studies involving XE.
The range of linguistic phenomena examined is fairly broad, covering a host of phonological, lexical, syntactic, and discourse features. It is especially noteworthy that the author makes it a point to interpret the results in relation to the acquisitional context whereby XE is learned by its speakers as well as to the pedagogical challenges posed by such a context. The book also offers inspiring discussions on issues of linguistic identity and language attitude in the speech community.
The author carefully justifies the theoretical, methodological and presentational choices made in the book. Nevertheless, some of the choices are open to discussion. The lack of a coherent theoretical framework is both a merit and a limitation. On the one hand, the analyses presented in the book showcase how a corpus can be of use to different theoretical perspectives in different ways. On the other hand, these analyses may appear fragmented to readers seeking a coherent, systematic description of the language system.
Methodologically, the New Zealand English corpus is used as a primary benchmark L1 corpus for comparative purposes. The author argues that this is the case because of the absence of a spoken corpus of BSAE and the link between the two varieties of English. However, one wonders why other significant larger spoken corpora of L1 English are not used for comparison. If Xhosa English is defined as a World English, it would appear worthwhile to examine the characteristic features of this variety through comparison with a larger and more representative normative corpus than the one that is chosen.
Another methodological issue I wish to raise is the limitation of the computational tool used in the research. The corpus is in its raw form and is analyzed using WordSmith Tools 3.1 alone. As a result, most of the analyses reported involve examining the frequency and distribution of (pre-defined clusters of) individual lexical or phrasal items only. It is felt that the author could have taken advantage of other text processing tools for corpus annotation and analysis at more diversified linguistic levels.
Finally, in terms of presentation, the author's deliberate avoidance of formal statistics in reporting results may appear questionable to a critical eye, especially since a large chunk of the analysis involves comparing various kinds of frequency information across two or more corpora.
All in all, this book is beautifully written, well-structured, and extremely accessible. It is an exemplary work for students interested in pursuing corpus-based language studies and a valuable resource for researchers interested in studying BSAE and XE as world Englishes.
Holmes, J. (1995). The Wellington corpus of spoken New Zealand English: a progress report. New Zealand English Newsletter, 9, 5-8.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Xiaofei Lu is currently Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. His research interests are primarily in computational linguistics, corpus linguistics, and intelligent computer-assisted language learning.