Review of _Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and
Akmajian, Adrian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, and Robert M.
Harnish (2001) Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and
Communication, 5th ed. MIT Press, paperback ISBN 0-262-51123-1,
Farmer, Ann K., and Richard A. Demers (2001) A Linguistics
Workbook, 4th ed. MIT Press, paperback ISBN 0-262-56143-3,
xi+280pp, $21.95 (1st ed. 1986)
Reviewer: Patricia Donaher, Department of English, Foreign Languages,
and Journalism, Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph, Missouri
This is the Fifth Edition of _Linguistics_, a comprehensive
introduction to the field of linguistics. Designed for
undergraduates, most chapters begin with concepts central to the
chapter's topic, followed by increasingly complex discussions
that expand on these key concepts.
Except for Chapter 12, all chapters conclude with extensive
exercises and suggestions for further readings, including
generous bibliographies that present a variety of standard
references. Chapters 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 have study questions
before the exercises. Linguistic terminology and concepts are
always introduced, defined, and explained with examples, some
quite extensive, as well as tables and charts for many concepts.
There is an Appendix that provides a brief history of writing and
contains many examples of the various writing systems. There is a
Glossary of important terms and a thorough Index.
The accompanying _Workbook_ has additional exercises for Chapters
2-9 of the textbook and Appendixes on phonological rules and
their distinctive features, phrase structure rules, the Message
Model, and the major moods, as well as a transcription key.
Exercises include work in utilizing examples from English and
from several other languages. There is an Index to the Languages
used in the exercises (except English) and a Bibliography.
Part I, The Structure of Human Language comprises Chapters 1-8.
Chapter 1, "What is Linguistics?," presents an overview of the
text and some basic ideas about the nature of language and the
study of linguistics, such as the difference between prescriptive
and descriptive rules, the universal features of language, and
the connections between language and the brain. Chapter 2,
"Morphology: The Study of the Structures of Words," examines what
we know, usually intuitively, about words, including information
about pronunciation, internal structures, and usage and provides
an introduction to concepts in morphology, word formation, and
problems with morphological analysis.
Chapter 3, "Phonetics and Phonemic Transcription," covers both
the physiology of speech production and the representation of
speech sounds, making a case for using both phonetic and phonemic
representations. Chapter 4, "Phonology: The Study of Sound
Structures," discusses the internal and external structure of
speech sounds, with sections on Chomsky and Halle's Sound Pattern
of English (SPE) system (1968), syllable and foot structure, and
Chapter 5, "Syntax: The Study of Sentence Structure,"
investigates structural ambiguity, English question rules,
constituent structures, grammatical relations, discontinuous
dependencies, Wh-Questions within a transformational framework,
with a brief final note on X-bar theory. Chapter 6, "Semantics:
The Study of Linguistic Meaning," looks at linguistic versus
speaker meaning and kinds of meaning, i.e. denotation; mentalist,
sense, and use theories; meaning properties and relations; a
sentence's communicative act potential; truth properties
and relations; and the role of mood, singular and general
propositions, deictics, description theory, and anaphoric
Chapter 7, "Language Variation," provides an introduction to
dialect and the social and regional factors that shape language,
and an examination of standard and nonstandard language, Inner-
City English, formal and informal language styles and informal
language grammar, pidgins, creoles, jargon, slang, taboo
language, and code switching reveals that all human language is
rule-governed and creative. Chapter 8, "Language Change,"
chronicles the functional and biological evolution of language,
the history of English beginning with its Indo-European roots,
the genetic relationships among languages (including Grimm's
Law), and the lexical, semantic, phonological (Great Vowel
Shift), phonemic, morphological, and syntactic changes.
Part II, Communication and Cognitive Science, comprises Chapters
9-12. Chapter 9, "Pragmatics: The Study of Language Use and
Communication," scrutinizes the Message Model and the Inferential
Model and examines the nature of discourse, performatives, speech
acts, speaker meaning, pragmatic presupposition, and speaker
reference. Chapter 10, "Psychology of Language: Speech Production
and Comprehension," presents current theories in the field and
discusses the merits of these theories, including speech and
hearing errors in speech production; modularity, perception,
lexical access, syntactic analysis and strategies, and semantic
interpretation in language comprehension; and related topics like
the McGurk Effect, open- and closed-class items, empty
categories, and connectionist models.
Chapter 11, "Language Acquisition in Children," introduces the
concepts of Universal Grammar and a Language Acquisition Device
and outlines the stages of language development from babbling to
the acquisition of syntax and pragmatic competence before
considering the issues of a critical period for language
development, the linguistic capacity of primates, and the nature
of binding principles and head parameters. Chapter 12, "Language
and the Brain," elucidates the importance of the left hemisphere,
central nervous system, cerebral cortex, and complementary
specialization of the cerebral hemispheres in the brain's
processing of language; the ways in which aphasia
syndromes (Broca's, Wernicke's, Conduction, anomia, and graphic)
disrupt particular linguistic functions; and the ways that
positron emission tomography (PET) scans, magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI), and electroencephalograms (EEGs) help
neurolinguists measure brain activity as it processes language.
Sections of Chapter 12 were written by Kathryn Bayles of the
University of Arizona.
Since the book under review is an introductory textbook for
undergraduates, I come to this review more as an experienced
teacher, than as a critic of the text's content. The content is,
generally, exceptional, with clear and insightful examples and
explanations of difficult concepts. In Chapter 2, for example, I
found the extensive example of the bound base morpheme -able
particularly helpful to understanding the complexities of
morphological analysis. Further, the extensive use of English
examples should be as helpful to the teacher as they are to the
student since teachers can concentrate on helping students
understand important concepts rather than explaining the language
of the examples. Short examples from other languages, provided to
show that there are indeed universal language principles, are
really, for the introductory student, sufficient to get the point
I wanted more out of Chapter 1, which resembled the Introduction
and Note to the Teacher too much. The question in the title of
the chapter, "What is Linguistics?," is never adequately
answered. The previews of the coming chapters don't answer the
question and the answer given is both vague and somewhat unclear
(pp. 5-6). The discussions of the definition of linguists as
descriptive, rather than prescriptive, of the explanation of the
universal properties of languages, and of the connections between
language and the brain are helpful, but insufficient. The quote
by Chomsky addresses the issue of what language is, not what
linguistics is (p 9). I expected an overview of the study of
linguistics, its subfields and scope.
I also expected this first chapter to entice students into the
field of linguistics, an area which often elicits the
condemnation of "bor-innng!" from many of our undergraduate
English majors. Chapter 1 fails to engage the student's
imagination and thus is a harbinger of chapters to come. Other
texts, notably Thomas and Tchudi (1999), Clark, Eschholz, and
Rosa (1998), and Fromkin and Rodman (1998), make a more concerted
effort to target their undergraduate audiences.
The book often presents its information more inductively than
deductively by first providing a great deal of data before
providing the point of the data. While this is a good method for
student exercises, where the student examines the data and
arrives at certain conclusions about the data (a method used in
the accompanying _Workbook_ with greater success), the beginning
student usually needs a more direct approach, where the concept
is introduced and then examples and data are given that support
The tentative tone and the large number of rhetorical questions
in the text fosters the impression that the authors are not sure
of themselves or their right to speak on the subject. While, like
any scientific study, there are many ideas still in a state of
flux and new data is generated every day that seems to radically
change our perceptions in the field, the beginning student may
find that this approach isn't forthright enough. In addition, the
book's overly academic tone and elevated languaage testify to its
scientific intentions, but do little to arouse student interest.
Beginning students will find that some important terms are buried
within the text and are often given only minimal (and sometimes
confusing) definitions and examples, while other less important
terms rate pages of explanation and example. In Chapter 2, for
example, scant attention is paid to helping the student
understand the varieties of morphemes, and this information is
interrupted by some paragraphs on the concept of reanalysis with
a confusing, obscure example of the Swahili word for traffic
circle (pp. 17-19). Worse, in Chapter 3, and similarly in the
_Workbook's_ Transcription Key (Appendix 3), there is no quick
guide for the beginner as to what words contain the charted
sounds; instead, students must sift through pages of explanation
for examples containing the charted sounds. Most introductory
texts provides helpful keys that include sample words. See for
example Clark, Eschholz, and Rosa (1998), Fromkin and Rodman
(1998), and O'Grady, Archibald, Aronoff, and Rees-Miller (2001).
O'Grady et al. include such comprehensive keys on the inside
covers of both is textbook _Study Guide_ (Rees-Miller and
There are many fine exercises at the end of chapters and in the
_Workbook_. Chapter 11, "Language Acquisition in Children,"
however, needs more exercises that can convince students that
parents don't "teach" their children language. Further, one of
the difficulties I had with the _Workbook_ was that students
wrote down answers in response to certain kinds of data without
being asked to make important connections between the answers and
what the answers suggest about language. Other exercises presume
knowledge the student has not yet acquired, if working through
the textbook from Chapter 1 to the end. For example, students are
asked to transcribe words for work on the -ity affixation before
they've done the phonology chapter and learned about
transcription (pp. 29-30).
While the content of the book is generally excellent, the text
is, unfortunately, not very appealing visually. Visual appeal is
important because we want our students to find the text inviting
and exciting. Moreover, certain kinds of visual elements also
make a text more accessible, particularly to introductory
students. This book, like so many textbooks in linguistics, is
page after page of longish paragraphs, broken occasionally by a
bold face heading in the same font as the text or by a small
chart or table. Such a layout is acceptable for senior or
graduate students in the field, but for an introductory text that
should also aim to attract students into the fold, perhaps to
even major in linguistics, rather than other branches of English,
it is a failure. _Contemporary Linguistics_ (O'Grady et al.,
2001) or _An Introduction to Language_ (Fromkin and Rodman, 1998)
are both more visually interesting texts that still manage to
cover a great deal of information. Fromkin and Rodman also offer
the introductory student a wealth of engaging cartoons that
highlight important points.
Because the content is so dense, both technically and visually,
it might be more helpful to place some of the exercises 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. For example, Jeffries
(1998) sprinkles activities throughout his compact book, which
does much to illuminate difficult concepts for students. Although
a less substantial book, Thomas and Tchudi (1999) offer the
student numerous opportunities to test their growing knowledge
within real world situations.
My conclusion is that this text, however excellent in terms of
content, is not accessible enough for most freshman/sophomore
English majors or even those intent on majoring in linguistics.
The density of the information, coupled with its difficult
informational architecture, is more suited to a senior- or
beginning graduate- student population, rather like Fromkin's
Clark, Virginia P., Paul A. Eschholz, & Alfred F. Rosa. (Eds.)
(1998). _Language: readings in language and culture_. (6th
ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Chomsky, N. & M. Halle. (1968). _The sound pattern of English_.
New York: Harper and Row.
Fromkin, Victoria & Robert Rodman. (1998). _An introduction to
language_. (6th ed.). Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace
Fromkin, Victoria. (Ed.) (2000). _Linguistics: an introduction to
linguistic theory_. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell
Jeffries, Lesley. (1998). _Meaning in English: an introduction to
language study_. New York: St. Martin's Press.
O'Grady, William, John Archibald, Mark Aronoff, & Janie Rees-
Miller. (2001). _Contemporary linguistics: an introduction_.
(4th ed.) Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Rees-Miller, Janie & Mark Aronoff. (2002). _Study guide:
contemporary linguistics: an introduction_. (4th ed. - U.S.
ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Thomas, Lee & Stephen Tchudi. (1999). _The English language: an
owner's manual_. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Patricia Donaher is an Assistant Professor of English at Missouri
Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her scholarly
interests include methods of teaching linguistics,
exolinguistics, and animal communication.