How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Tue, 31 May 2005 17:41:07 +1000 From: Michael Haugh Subject: English Words: Structure, History, Usage
AUTHOR: Katamba, Francis X. TITLE: English Words SUBTITLE: Structure, History, Usage PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2005
Michael Haugh, School of Languages and Linguistics, Griffith University
English Words is a comprehensive introduction to the nature of words in the English language. While the study of words traditionally falls into the domain of morphology, Katamba extends his analysis to other areas in linguistics so that by the end of the book we not only have an understanding of the morphology of words (that is, their formation and internal structure), but also a better grasp of the relationship between the structure (morphology), sounds (phonology) and meaning (semantics) of words, in addition to an overview of sociocultural influences on words (sociolinguistics) and how they are processed in the brain (psycholinguistics). The book is thus divided into four parts to reflect the multiple perspectives from which words are analysed. Part I gives an overview of the morphology of words (Chapters One to Four), while Part II considers the relationship between morphology and other linguistic disciplines, including phonology, semantics and syntax (Chapters Five to Six). The final two parts consider the sociolinguistics (Chapters Seven to Nine) and psycholinguistics (Chapters Ten to Eleven) of words respectively. The focus throughout the book is overwhelmingly on words in English, with examples from other languages only being used sparingly when they can further extend our understanding of English words.
The book begins with the traditional morphological approach to words where the main focus is on defining words and analysing their internal structure. The foundation for more in-depth discussion of words from other perspectives is thus laid in this section. After a brief introductory chapter that gives some arguments as to why it is useful to have a better understanding of words, and an overview of the architecture of the book, Chapter Two tackles the issue of how to define words. This discussion illustrates that words can be approached in a number of different ways, which is the underlying theme of this volume. Katamba builds upon the intuitive lay understanding of words as entries we find in dictionaries, or what are more properly called lexemes, to show words can be represented in both sounds or writing (what he terms "word forms"), and that they have certain properties in terms of the way they combine with other words in sentences (or what he terms "grammatical words"). In this chapter Katamba thus moves from Bloomfield's (1926) classic definition of a word as "a minimum free form" (p.11) through to a more rigorous definition of a word as "the unit on which purely syntactic operations can be performed" (p.24).
Chapter Three moves into the morphological analysis of English words proper with an overview of the way in which words can be analysed in terms of morphemes ("the smallest unit that has meaning or serves a grammatical function in a language" (p.29). He illustrates through various examples how morphemes can be distinguished from the basic sound units of language (phonemes), and thus shows that in general sounds are arbitrarily linked to meaning, although there are two exceptions to this generalisation, onomatopoeia and phonaesethemes (pp.44-46). The way in which our tacit understanding of morphemes helps us to understand new words in context is quite clearly demonstrated to the reader as Katamba shows how words can be decomposed into smaller units of meaning or grammatical functions.
Chapter Four covers the other main aspect of word morphology, namely how they are formed from roots and affixes, with formatives that bridge the gap between the two in some cases. For the sake of simplicity he divides the formation of words into two main types: inflection, or the creation of grammatical words, and derivation, or the creation of lexical items. The derivation of words is further classified into affixation, conversion, stress placement and compounding. This purely linguistic analysis of the formation of words forms an interesting contrast to the later sociolinguistic analysis of the various ways in which words are created in Chapter Eight. Those phenomena that lie on the boundary of what can be considered words, such as idioms and clitics are also discussed in this chapter.
The second part of the book, which encompasses Chapters Five and Six, analyses words in the wider linguistic context. In Chapter Five, the relationship between the phonology and morphology of English words is discussed. The core of this chapter is an exposition of the relationship between phonological and morphological rules in the lexicon. Katamba uses an affix-driven stratification model to predict morpheme sequencing, blocking of certain formations, and the productivity of different affixes. The essential claim made in this model is that affixes can be divided into two types: neutral and non-neutral affixes. The latter form the first stratum, which is characterised by morphological and phonological change when affixes are appended to other morphemes. Neutral affixes, on the other hand, form the second stratum, which is characterised by morphological change only (pp.91- 92). Since the publication of the first edition of this book in 1994 a number of objections to this particular theory of lexical phonology and morphology have been made, and so Katamba includes a discussion of these counter-arguments later in the chapter, although ultimately remains firmly in support of a multi-layered theory of lexical morphology (p.110).
Chapter Six gives an overview of how the meaning of words can be dissected. While acknowledging that meaning also falls into the domain of pragmatics, Katamba mainly focuses on semantic means of analysing words. After dividing word meaning into conceptual meaning and connotations, and also noting the importance of collocations in determining the meaning of words in their linguistic context, he goes on to discuss different approaches to analysing relationships between word meanings. These approaches encompass traditional sense relations, such as as synonymy, antonymy and so on, as well as various approaches developed in lexical semantics, including componential analysis, semantic fields, and prototype theory.
The third part of the book, which runs from Chapters Seven through to Nine, gives sociolinguistic perspectives on the study of words. It shows how various sociocultural factors have led to changes to and expansion of the English lexicon. Chapter Seven explores the various sources of English vocabulary. In essence, it is a study of the kinds of borrowing into English that have occurred, including both loanwords and loanshifts, the reasons for borrowing, which are usually social in nature rather than being purely linguistic, as well as the linguistic effects of borrowing on English. The chapter ends with a discussion of the various sources of borrowings into English, illustrating the enormous range of languages which English has drawn upon for its lexicon, although the importance of French borrowings is clearly emphasised.
Chapter Eight considers internally-driven changes to the lexicon. A wide range of different sources of innovation and change in the English lexicon are considered, including the creation of jargon and slang, rhyming slang, clipping and back-formation, metaphors and euphemisms, blends, acronyms and abbreviations and so on. Numerous examples are given to illustrate these different sources and show how different social groups, as well social and technological changes, have an influence on the words we use.
The final chapter in Part III considers the relationship between spoken and written English. The issue of English spelling is first addressed, with the question of why apparent irregularities or inconsistencies in the way phonemes are represented in orthographic forms of words receiving particular attention. While these inconsistencies can create difficulties in acquiring literacy, Katamba argues that major reform of English spelling is unlikely due to the number of varieties of English that now exist, and the relationships between written forms of English and national identities that have arisen. Chapter Nine concludes by pointing out that while spoken English is basically primary, written English has had a profound effect on spoken English, particularly in terms of standardisation. However, he notes that the rise of electronic forms of communication, such as email and text-messaging has started to have an effect on the traditional boundary between spoken and written words.
The fourth and final part of the book examines how words are produced and comprehended in speech. The focus is thus on the mental lexicon and the cognitive operations underlying its use. Chapter Ten discusses the recognition of words in speech. It gives an overview of the types of lexical information found in the mental lexicon, before considering the two main approaches to the way in which the mental lexicon is organised, the morphological parsing model and the full listing hypothesis, although Katamba appears to favour the former model, in contrast to the position of many psycholinguists. The issue of how modelling how words are understood in speech is then discussed, with two competing approaches being summarised, the cohort model and the connectionist model.
The final chapter in the book, Chapter Eleven, gives an overview of current views on how words are produced in speech. Katamba claims that the production of words can be separated into two main steps: grammatical encoding (or formulation) and phonological encoding (or articulation) (p.265). He then outlines evidence that supports this kind of model of speech production including slips of the tongue and studies of language disorders in aphasics. Katamba appears to favour a connectionist model in his presentation of the spreading activation model as the means by which words are retrieved in normal speech.
English Words is presented as a stimulating introduction to the world of words, and there can be no doubt that Katamba is very successful in terms of first generating and then keeping the reader's interest in this topic throughout the book. He uses interesting examples that range from Shakespeare to the Internet, through to children's poetry and jokes that capture the reader's imagination, and has a style of writing that is straightforward and clear, yet retains a certain amount of authority on the topic. In this sense it is indeed a very useful introduction to the study of words in English.
It is also claimed that it is written in a fairly accessible manner without undue focus on linguistic theory or jargon. However, there is some doubt as to whether it really would be suitable for someone to read who has no background in linguistics at all. Since Katamba touches upon so many fields within linguistics, he inevitably makes use of a large number of fairly technical terms. While the glossary at the back is an excellent resource for those struggling with these terms, it is questionable whether a student with no background in linguistics could really cope with not only the terminology of morphology, but also of phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics being introduced all at once in the same volume. In addition, Katamba strays at times into theoretical debates that are not always what might be considered suitable at an introductory level, for example, in his discussion of lexical morphology in Chapter Five. It thus appears, then, that this book would be a useful reader for an undergraduate course on this topic, but might be overly challenging for someone who was interested in knowing more about English words to pick up and read on their own without some kind of additional help. The inclusion of exercises at the end of each chapter that do not have answer keys, although very useful for testing one's understanding of the concepts covered in each chapter, also seems to imply that this is a book that should be read in conjunction with some kind of course rather than standing on its own. Perhaps a gentler introduction to linguistic terminology as it arises in the course of this book, rather than relying on the glossary or prior knowledge of the reader might help alleviate this problem to some extent.
This book could also benefit from the inclusion of lists of further readings for each chapter. Since it is an introduction to English words it does not give, by necessity, detailed analyses of many issues, for example, the standardisation of (British) English and its sociocultural implications. Moreover, it only hints at the problem of how to cope with the multiple lexicons of English that now exist due to the different varieties of English that have developed. While one would not expect this book to cover such details, the reader is left without references to further reading that they might want in areas that have caught their interest. In addition, the book ends rather abruptly, as it does not have a concluding chapter which draws together the quite disparate themes that have emerged through the course of the book. Perhaps by revisiting how the study of words can be approached from multiple perspectives, and discussing the benefits of doing so, the author could have ended his book on a more satisfying note.
Yet overall English Words is an excellent introduction to a fascinating topic that goes beyond the traditional focus on morphology and draws upon work in many different fields within linguistics. It is an outstanding example of how different fields within linguistics can all contribute to a fuller understanding of an ultimately quite complex topic such as words. In doing so it can inspire others to try and emulate this kind of comprehensive approach to words in other languages.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Michael Haugh is a lecturer in the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University. He is currently teaching English as an International Language as well as Linguistics. His main research interests include pragmatics, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication, and the relationship between language and identity.