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Review of An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies
AUTHOR: Anne McCabe TITLE: An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies SERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd. YEAR: 2011
Robert A. Cote, Sharjah Women's College, United Arab Emirates
''An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies'' by Anne McCabe is a well-written classroom text covering the essential topics of basic linguistics. The chapters adopt a somewhat unconventional format (see “evaluation” below for more discussion), which should make the book more accessible to the non-academic reader. The book explores various fundamental aspects of language study, including pragmatics, syntax, morphology, semantics, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics. In addition, the author provides many practical exercises throughout the textbook to assist in the learning process by allowing the reader to put theory immediately into practice.
Chapter 1 introduces the basic but essential terminology that undergraduate linguistics majors, non-academic readers or novices to the fields of language study, communications or education must possess. This meta-language, which McCabe describes as meeting the need of ''a language to talk about itself'' (p. 2) ranges from simple terms like parts of speech, mood and register to the more challenging concepts of Saussure's 'langue' and 'parole', Noam Chomsky's linguistic performance, competence, I-language and E-language, and M.A.K. Halliday's systemic functional linguistics (SFL). A brief biography of the three including their historical role in the shaping of modern linguistics closes out the chapter.
Pragmatics is the first focus of Chapter 2, entitled ''A focus on spoken interaction'', which contains clear explanations of speech act theory, Grice's conversational maxims, politeness, conversation analysis and the many features necessary ''to achieve our communicative needs in spoken interactive situations such as spoken discourse markers, vague language, ellipses and intonation'' (p. 16). The section on turn-taking offers examples of adjacency pairs, gist and upshot as well as insertion and side sequences. Phonetics and phonology make up the second half of the chapter with most of the emphasis on articulatory and auditory phonetics. There are numerous tables and explanations of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as it relates to English in addition to interactive exercises on place, manner and voicing of consonants. There is no mention, however, of acoustic phonetics.
Chapter 3, ''Analyzing written language'', commences with the different ways of exploring how a text is organized from the macro-level (genre) to the micro-level (lexicogrammar) and how text variations, which follow prescribed patterns, are based on social and cultural contexts. Examples include recipes, directions, job reference letters and academic articles. McCabe continues by describing various patterns of organization in texts including narrative, problem-solution, goal-achievement, opportunity-taking, desire-arousal fulfillment and gap in knowledge-filling, all interactive in nature and with the goal of evoking some response from the reader (p. 92). The majority of the chapter addresses Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) through a somewhat novel approach, beginning with a brief explanation of rank, defined as the different levels of choices available to us ''when we use language to achieve our communicative purposes'' (p. 101). The chapter's emphasis is on phase/group and clause as they occur in English ''in terms of what they consist of and how they function in language to contribute to different kinds of meaning'' (p. 101). McCabe goes on to discuss nominal, verbal and prepositional groups as well as the three metafunctions of language: textual, ideational and interpersonal, the last of which is divided into experiential and logical subfunctions. These are then examined further as clause as message, representation and exchange. The number of different subtopics of SFL presented in the chapter is taxing, so readers interested in this topic may wish to refer to a more conventional text (e.g. Eggins 2005.) Generally speaking, this chapter gives the reader a glimpse into syntax, presented formally and in detail in the next chapter.
In Chapter 4, ''Language and mind'', McCabe examines morphology, syntax and semantics. Free, bound, root, inflectional and derivational morphemes are discussed in detail, tree diagrams are presented and definitions of isolating, agglutinating and fusional or inflecting languages are provided. The chapter's content becomes more challenging with the introduction of formal syntax, which the author states is used ''to explain the rules of language use that we hold in our heads and describe the way natural language works'' (p. 188). McCabe then offers a clear, well-written discussion of the reasons behind Chomsky's theory of transformational generative grammar which began in response to shortcomings he identified in phrase structure theory. These deficiencies include differences in implied meaning between surface and deep structure in sentences, finiteness, active-passive constructions and ambiguity, for which McCabe uses humorous examples to get her point across. There is a brief mention of Government and Binding Theory (see, for example, Haegeman 1994) which leads to explanations of the transformational aspect of Chomsky's theory by exploring passivization and movement via the analysis of numerous tree diagrams. Presenting the concepts visually greatly aids the reader in comprehending the theory. The chapter ends by highlighting some of the major players in the field of semantics, defined as ''the study of meaning independent of situational context'' (p. 203) including ''semiotics (see Chandler, 2007), sense and reference, semantic relations among words, componential analysis and thematic roles'' (p. 203).
Chapter 5, ''Language change'', presents the many reasons why, and methods by which, languages evolve over time by analyzing five areas: lexicon, semantics, phonetics, morphology and syntax. The chapter begins with a brief explanation of the comparative method of studying the development of languages throughout history with English as an example (see Hickey 2010). Providing language trees would have been useful to show to what extent the world's languages, past and present, are related. The section on lexis explains the numerous ways new words are added to languages: conversion, derivation, compounding, blending, back-formation, acronyms, eponyms, clippings and loanwords (pp. 240-243). McCabe offers a few paragraphs to explore shifts in meaning by showing various consequences of semantic change including specialization, generalization, pejoration and amelioration (p. 248), and she also briefly introduces metaphor and metonymy (see Dirven & Porings 2002). More explanation could have been provided on the topics of taboo and euphemism. The section on sound change offers details on both the Great Vowel Shift and the more recent Northern Cities Shift occurring in the American Great Lakes region, and attributes ease of articulation as one cause of change. The chapter closes with very brief mentions of morphological and syntactic changes.
Chapter 6, ''Language variation'', is an interesting chapter that focuses primarily on synchronic variation, defined as ''variation in language at a given moment in time'' (p. 271) caused by any number of social factors, including location, socio-economic background, ethnicity, race, gender, age, education and occupation. The chapter draws heavily from sociolinguistics (see Duranti 1997) and explores the concepts of speech and discourse communities, diglossia via past and present examples of standard dialects or high (H) varieties versus vernacular or low (L) varieties (see Ferguson 1959), pidgins, creoles and jargon. Several pages are dedicated to sociolects, covering the major players of the past, including William Labov's famous department store study of rhoticity (p. 281), Robin Lakoff's controversial gender-based claim that ''women's language choices put them forth as lacking power and authority and as seeking approval'' (p. 285) and William O'Barr and Bowman Atkins rebuttal to Lakoff that her assumption is not gender-specific but in fact ''present in females and males who are in a position of powerlessness'' (p. 286). These topics, though dated, can still serve as a solid foundation for debate in the linguistics classroom today. The chapter finishes with short sections on register, speech accommodation, and lexical and sound variation, all of which leave the reader with a basic understanding of the key components of the many variations found in human languages.
In Chapter 7, ''Language, biology and learning'', McCabe introduces the reader to the biology behind language via various schools of thought in both neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics. The brain's hemispheric functions with regards to language production and comprehension are explained in detail as are Broca's and Wernicke's aphasias. The section on stages of first language acquisition leads to a presentation of the major theorists in this arena: Eric Lenneberg's critical theory hypothesis (p. 324) and Noam Chomsky's Language Acquisition Device (LAD), also known as the innateness hypothesis (p. 325). In one of her most successful attempts at simplifying a complex concept for the reader, which she does often and well, McCabe writes, ''Perhaps rather than suggesting the brain has a language organ, the brain has the ability to be a language organ'' (p. 320). The chapter continues with information on bilingual language development in infants as well as second language acquisition in teens and adults. It closes with discussion of some thought-provoking experiments on animal, bird and bee 'language' leaving the reader curious to know more. The only drawback is that this chapter seems somewhat misplaced in the book and perhaps should have been positioned earlier on.
The final chapter, ''Fields of linguistics'', completes the book with short descriptions of the many subfields of linguistics written by experts from around the world. This chapter serves a dual purpose: it presents an accurate and succinct explanation of the varieties of linguistics, and it assists student readers in making a well-informed decision about future study in the areas that interest them most. It is both informative and easy to read.
The book's primary audience is undergraduate students majoring in linguistics, general language studies, communications and education. Due to the wide variety of topics covered, it could serve as a handy reference book as well as a general text for the non-academic reader who is simply interested in the field for personal enjoyment. There are numerous aspects of the book that make it user-friendly, including bolding of all important terminology, which is both defined and explained in context as well as listed in a glossary at the back of the book. In addition, there are many interesting, interactive and often challenging exercises embedded within or at the end of each chapter, with answers provided. Although these are useful for the academic reader, they can be distracting to the casual reader. For example, nearly one third of chapter three consists of exercises that are helpful for students but disrupt the flow of the chapter for the general reader. The author provides extensive reference lists for additional reading. Although the chapters are quite long and densely packed with information, they are divided into sections, which make them easier for the reader to digest. However, due to the plethora of topics, many of which will be new to the reader, further explanation of some key concepts by a classroom instructor or someone with a deeper understanding of linguistics would likely be required. Chapter 3 could be particularly challenging for new students due to the quantity of complex topics covered. McCabe's explanation of transformational generative grammar in chapter 4 is easy to understand and one of the best this reviewer has come across in terms of clarity and accessibility.
One very helpful component of the text is the extensive checklist of outcomes located at the end of chapters two through seven, which McCabe provides for the reader as learning outcomes. It would have been better for these lists to be placed at the beginning of each chapter to alert the reader to the upcoming content; thus, it would be prudent for the reader to view the lists before each chapter to ensure s/he is getting the most from the text. From a teaching standpoint, it would take more than one semester to cover all the material thoroughly.
Another aspect of the text worth noting is the somewhat unconventional format in terms of the way the chapters are organized. Some of the chapters seem to be ordered illogically. For example, chapters 7 and 4 should have been placed earlier in the book since they address the biology behind language, while chapter 3, which focuses on writing, a product of human language, should have been moved towards the end. This re-ordering would make the concepts more accessible. Also, the themes within chapters seemed to be random at times. For example, chapter four was particularly challenging because it included morphology, syntax and semantics all under the heading of “language and mind”. It may have been better to label the chapters thematically, such as language defined, biology of language, psycholinguistics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics, etc. and then present various aspects of each subject within the chapter.
In closing, McCabe provides novices to the linguistics community with a well-written and highly interactive text that allows readers with various levels of pre-existing knowledge to explore both the theoretical and practical applications of linguistics and language studies across many topics, and she provides a contemporary alternative to similar introductory publications in the field of linguistics such as 'An Introduction to Language', 'Linguistics: An Introduction to Linguistic Theory' and 'The Ohio State University’s Language Files.' The text is one that clearly serves numerous purposes for both novices and experts in the fields of linguistics and language studies.
Chandler, Daniel. 2007. 'Semiotics: The Basics'. London, UK: Routledge.
Department of Linguistics. 2011. 'Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Language and Linguistics - Eleventh Edition'. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University Press.
Dirven, Rene & Ralf Porings (eds.). 2002. 'Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast'. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Duranti, Alessandro. 1997. 'Linguistic Anthropology'. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eggins, Suzanne. 2005. 'An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics'. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Ferguson, Charles A. 1959. 'Diglossia'. Word 15: 325-340.
Fromkin, Victoria A., Bruce Hayes, Susan Curtiss, Anna Szabolcsi, Tim Stowell, Edward Stabler, Dominique Sportiche, Hilda Koopman, Patricia Keating, Pamela Munro, Nina Hyams & Donca Steriade. 2001. 'Linguistics: An Introduction to Linguistic Theory'. Malden: Blackwell.
Fromkin, Victoria A., Robert Rodman & Nina Hyams. 2011. 'An Introduction to Language'. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Haegeman, Liliane M. V. 1994. 'Introduction to government and binding theory'. Geneva: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hickey, Raymond. 2010. 'Varieties of English in writing: The written word as linguistic evidence'. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Robert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from Florida
International University in Miami and is currently writing his dissertation
in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona.
He has taught in public high schools and community colleges in the US and
is currently the Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technology in
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage language
learning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiate
identity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.