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Review of  A Survey of Linguistic Theories: Third Edition

Reviewer: Emmanuelle Labeau
Book Title: A Survey of Linguistic Theories: Third Edition
Book Author: Jerold A. Edmondson Donald A. Burquest
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 10.990

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Edmondson, J.A. & Burquest, D.A. (1998) A Survey of Linguistic Theories
(3rd edition). Summer Institute of Linguistics, Dallas, 259p.

Reviewed by Emmanuelle Labeau

"A Survey of Linguistic Theories" aims at students in linguistics and is
intended as a complement to the course the authors have been teaching at
the University of Texas in Arlington. It provides an introduction to
various linguistic theories and has no claim of exhaustivity. The volume is
made of nine chapters: one introductory chapter and eight descriptions of
(groups of) linguistic models.
In their initial " Linguistic Theorizing", the authors first fix the
limits of their work by defining the concept of "survey" and underlining
its limitations. They use the work "survey" as in land measurement which
implies giving the boundaries, the area and the elevation (in other words
the prominent aspects) of each studied theory. Their aim is to offer a
comparative approach. They go on with a general reflection on the
development of empirical scientific research and "A brief history of the
axiomatization of mathematics" that they see as very influential on system
linguistics. They then focus more directly on linguistics by sketching
Chomsky's definition of a grammar before asking the questions of the nature
of linguistics (is it a verbal, a social or a human science?) and of the
unity of verbal and non verbal behaviour. The chapter closes on a brief
exposition of what formal and functional models are, the previous being
concerned with strings correct formation, the latest emphasising the
communicative functions of language.
The rest of the book presents the following linguistic theories or
trends: (1) Chomsky's Aspects Model, (2) Tagmenics as illustrated in the
Pikes and Longacre's works, (3) Stratificational Linguistics mostly based
on Lamb's approach. Then (4) The Great G(enerative) T(ransformational)
G(rammar) Schism presents alterations from Aspects Model in two main trends:
development of Chomsky's ideas as in the Extended Standard Theory, the
Revised Extended Standard Theory and finally Government and Binding on one
hand and Generative Semantics on the other hand. The remaining chapters
include: (5) Lexical-Functional Grammar based on Bresnan's studies, (6)
Montague Grammar and Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, (7) Relational
Grammar and (8) Functional Models of Grammar separated in three trends:
the first being illustrated by Givon's Functional Typological Grammar and
Hopper's notion of Emergent Grammar, the second by Brown and Gilman and the
third by an overview of iconicity in linguistics discussion. The order is
not purely chronological and is partly articulated on Chomsky's inputs and
influences on other linguists. The chapters share some features: a short
introduction where the main representative linguist(s) is/are quoted, a
general presentation of the theory including ontology, methodology and
worldview and a section on the problem-solving capacity of the theory. In
some cases, a specific aspect of the theory is further developed (eg. The
Affix-Hopping transformation in chapter 2); in other cases, different
trends of the general theory are further discussed (like Lamb's Outline
Model or Fleming's Communication Analysis for Stratificational Linguistics.
Each chapter (except 5 where specific distinct developments are listed)
closes on a "theorizing" note where the main characteristics like levels
or primitive symbols are recapitulated.
The book also contains useful appendices: (1) an Abbreviations and
Symbols List that explains the most common abbreviations used in the book,
(2) an index of the most important linguistic concepts and (3) 10 pages of
selected references.
Edmondon and Burquest have managed to make the book accessible in
different way. First of all, the language used is relatively simple and
avoids recourse to undefined notions. The book is generally easily readable
despite the many abbreviations imposed by the theories.
As far as the book organisation is concerned, the section are
fairly short and manageable. There is an obvious attempt at homogeneity:
the chapters present the same basic sections, illustrations of the same
examples are used in several chapters (eg. the treatment of the auxiliaries
in English) and there are frequent cross-references to treatments and
concepts of previously presented theories. There are however a few
structural weaknesses. First, a certain inconsistency appears among the
chapters as some develop an individual's theory (eg. Aspects Model), other
present several individual's theories (eg. Pike and Longacre for Tagmenics)
and still other present several theories sharing some common features (eg.
Theta Theory, X-Bar Theory, Case Theory, Binding Theory,\202 in "the Great
GTG Schism"). It is therefore not clear what the authors call a
"linguistic theory".
A second structural problem concerns the 'theorizing' section
concluding each chapter. When the chapter has presented several models, the
'theorizing' sometimes summarizes only one (eg. Pike's for Tagmenics,
Lamb's for Stratificational Linguistics, Principle and Parameters Theory
for the Great GTG Schism) which could lead to confusions. A summary of
general features would probably be expected. Finally, one can regret that
the references are given in a block at the end of the book: it would be
extremely useful to add a list of references at the end of each chapter
listing the reference works (they are sometimes given in the introduction
of the chapter but not systematically) as well as other presentations or
analyses. This would facilitate the use for students and scholars wishing
to deepen their knowledge of a given point.
The authors carefully set the limits of their work in their
introductory chapter and there is no claim of comprehensiveness. In their
Preface, they state: \171It is not intended to be a comprehensive account of
everything that is happening in linguistics today but rather a sample of
the more popular approaches to linguistic theorizing" (p.xi). The choice
could be questioned: is "popularity" meant as international diffusion,
scholars' preferences, adoption in applied linguistics? Also what are
the grounds on which the "sample" has been chosen? These questions find
no answer in the book. Another feature of the book is the clearly
Anglo-Saxon focus although it must be said that there is an effort to use
examples from other languages than English (Italian, German, Amis,
Choctaw); this is also reflected in the choice of discussed linguistic
phenomena. As for the choice of theories and linguists, Chomsky comes first
as he is mentioned in 3 chapters (1, 2 and 5) -- understandable given
his influence on the discipline.
To conclude "A Survey of Linguistic Theories" is a clearly
written book that manages to make accessible various theories in a very
limited number of pages. Its input could however be more valuable if the
choice of models was better justified and if references to other more
specialized studies were readily made available to the reader.

Emmanuelle Labeau teaches French Language in the School of
Languages and European Studies of Aston University (Birmingham, Great
Britain). Her research interests include French past tenses, evolution of
French and French in Belgium.

Emmanuelle Labeau
Teaching Fellow
School of Languages and European Studies
Aston University
Aston Triangle
Birmingham B4 7ET
Tel. 0121/359.36.11 Ext.4221
Fax. 0121/359.61.53


Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1556710682
ISBN-13: 9781556710681
Pages: 254
Prices: U.S. $ 30.50