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Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 11:36:43 +0200 (CEST) From Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka Subject: Language in Theory: A Resource Book for Students
AUTHORS: Stockwell, Peter; Robson, Mark TITLE: Language in Theory SUBTITLE: A Resource Book for Students SERIES: Routledge English Language Introductions PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2005
Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka, Department of English Language, University of Lodz, Poland
"Language in Theory" is a new book in the Routledge English Language Introduction (RELI) series, which aims to be a source of teaching aids for undergraduate and graduate students. On one hundred and seventy six pages this new book offers an introduction into the domain of theoretical linguistics. It focuses on nine areas of linguistic research, which form nine 'strands' through the book. These include linguistic aspects of gender, race, society, performativity, intention, cognition, creativity, figuration, and interpretation. The layout sets the book apart from other handbooks in the field. As in other works in the series, the topics cross-cut four sections of the book, which subsequently extend the precision and depth of the discussion. Section one, 'Introduction: Key concepts in language in theory', introduces the nine topics in general terms. Each of its sub- sections includes basic information such as a brief overview of the historical background and development of the topic as well as definitions of relevant basic terminology and concepts. Section two, 'Development', offers a further elaboration of the background for each theme typically focusing on one aspect or area of research supplemented with 'activities', i.e. tasks for the reader. The third section, 'Exploration', presents texts or fragments of texts, suggests problems and exercises connected with the topic involved through which the reader should be able to gain more independence. Finally, the fourth section, 'Extension', provides a sample of relevant readings. The growing levels of expected expertise, especially at the first three levels, is reflected in the changes in subtitles in the four main parts, e.g. section three is introduced in part A as 'Language and society', in part B - 'Language, society and history', in C - 'Reading the political', and in D - 'Society: Theodor W. Adorno'. Section 5 is introduced in part A as 'Locating intention', then in part B with the title 'Dislocating intention', in C - 'Desiring intention', and finally in D as 'Intention: Michel Foucault'. Thus, the reader is presented with a choice, they can approach the text from cover to cover, by the topic, or may decide to pick up sections of interest. The main body of the book is supplemented with a bibliographical list of suggested further readings for each topic. There is also a 'Glossarial Index', which lists both names and linguistic concepts referred to in the main text of the book.
"Language in Theory" is clearly written, the topics and arguments are illustrated with an extremely rich variety of vivid examples and samples of writings which range from Aristotle and Shakespeare's sonnets through Thomas Babington Macaulay's reports, Sigmund Freud, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, to the prose of Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, James Joyce and Ursula Le Guin (especially strands 9 and 10 are richly illustrated with literary examples). Many students are likely to find the correlation between Soren Kierkegaard and Woody Allen fairly attractive (cf. comment on the absent God, p.14), as well as appreciate the authors' acknowledgement of the fact that 'ideology' was a very unfashionable term, being associated with "an unsubtle form of classical Marxism" (p.8) (although 'was' may still not be right for readers from East and central Europe). The diversity present in the examples may be seen as a vice, but more probably the eclecticism is a virtue in a book which is addressed to such a wide audience (primarily students of linguistics, sociology and critical theory as indicated in the preface). The variety allows the reader to choose not only the thematic area of interest, but also the manner in which they are going to pursue their aims, and the texture they choose to analyse. Furthermore, the readings chosen by the authors make this publication different from other books on the theories of language. Much of the reading material is quite new either in time or focus. For example, performativity is discussed and illustrated with reference to Judith Butler's works (e.g. 1997) and is focused on gender. While discussing ideology and language the authors evoke Slavoy Zizek. It is clearly visible throughout the book that the content is social science oriented.
Naturally, language, being a social phenomenon, cannot be perceived in isolation from society. There is no linguistic communication and communication in general without the intervention of social issues. However, in the reviewed book most of the chapters are presented in a manner which instantly directs the reader towards sociology, politics and literary studies. This seems to be reflective not only of the authors' personal interests (Peter Stockwell is the author of 'Cognitive Poetics' (2002), 'Sociolinguistics' (2002), and 'The Poetics of Science Fiction'(2000) and Mark Robson has an interest in politics and literary criticism), but also of present tendencies in linguistics. The 'gender' section contains references to social power, 'Race' to language and identity, but also colonialism and Wittgensteinian 'private language'. All of strand eight is devoted to stylistics and figures of speech. Tropes are discussed with reference to Shakespeare and Aristotle, as well as modern linguistic theories, especially those cognitive in approach. Metaphors discussed are connected to the problem of ideology and power and the rhetoric used with regard to e.g. the Cold War and Iraq. The examples quoted by the authors recall "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980) even though the book is not cited. Nonetheless, both Lakoff and Johnson are richly represented in the bibliography and further readings sections with other publications.
The authors of the textbook exhibit a dynamic approach to meaning (cf. strand 9) with a place for under- and indeterminacy, and inference. The last theme, 'The reception of meaning', directly touches upon the question of linguistic underdeterminacy, which has been a subject of a warm ongoing debate in theoretical linguistics for the last few years, cf. discussions within relevance-theoretic framework (e.g. Carston 2002). Discussing interpretation, next to relevance theory the authors evoke the distinction between 'segregationist' and 'integrationist' linguistics (p.62), which further emphasises their focus on social aspects. In general, "Language in Theory" is more about the relation between language and social reality than anything else. The problem of linguistic determinism is omnipresent throughout the book and in fact constitutes a linking thread through all nine topics. Thus, the title may lead the reader astray. One needs to be familiar with the RELI series orientation to know what to expect and that what they confront is a broad sociolinguistic perspective of language in theory rather than formal theoretical account and discussion of linguistic forms. There are precious few English introductory handbooks on linguistic issues. Most of the ones that are available focus on one theory or approach. Those which adopt a broader perspective are usually addressed to advanced students or professionals, cf. a rich collection of articles edited by Aronoff and Rees-Miller (2000). Other handbooks which cite 'linguistics' or 'introduction to language' in their titles, such as widely known Yule's (1985/1996) "The Study of Language" or Fromkin and Rodman's (1983/ & Hyams 2003) "An Introduction to Language", follow the traditional strata of linguistic analysis, i.e. start from what is often recognized as core linguistics: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics to proceed towards social issues more readily associated with applied linguistics.
As mentioned above, "Language in Theory" is much different from such publications. The authors, by their own admission in the 'Introduction' (p.vi), follow the fields of interest addressed by the RELI series, of which Peter Stockwell is the general editor, and explicitly state: "Throughout this book we have taken a view of language as interactive discourse and as social practice" (p.21). There is little mention of theories such as generative grammar (apart from brief comments on 'innateness hypothesis' and competence/performance distinction in sections B6 - 'Mind reading' and C6 - 'Language and Mind', pp.50-1), functional grammar or logic and language. Focusing on social aspects, the book shows language as inherent in theory or theories and inseparable from them, but all these theories pertain into social studies. Apparently, this feature can both discourage and be welcomed by many prospective readers. Not only the choice, but also the order of topics presented in "Language in Theory" may be seen as controversial. The authors start from gender, race and society, pause at a more traditional linguistic topic of performativity (where however they fail to recognize the fact that John L. Austin (1962) eventually modified his distinction into constatives and performatives by including the former as a sub-group of the latter (p.10-13)), only to concentrate on cognitive and stylistic approaches.
While offering a wide variety of readings, "Language in Theory" can be economical with terminology, names and references (cf. initial paragraphs of 'Consciousness and cognition', pp.16-18). This seems to be done on purpose, apparently not to bore the reader. Despite the simplification which is created, such practice may be seen as an advantage in an introductory work and can make it more accessible to truly interdisciplinary audience.
One of the strengths of "Language in Theory" lies in offering an opportunity for discussion, a virtual discussion with the handbook (its authors) itself and group discussion based on the material offered. Bearing in mind that the book is primarily addressed to beginners or false beginners in the field, it could be profitable if the publishers supplemented it with an accompanying website as they have done for most of other textbooks in the series (and in fact promised for this volume on p. vi). It would also be convenient for such readers if the volume included a section providing definitions of basic terminology, not just an index of terms and names put together.
Undoubtedly, a textbook of the type cannot satisfy all the readers. The material included in it must be narrowed down due to limitation of space and the necessity to select. Most of the topics, virtually each chapter, deserves not just a monograph but a book-length bibliography. However, the ambition of such a book cannot be to cover everything, but to introduce an uninitiated reader into linguistically oriented topics of interest. "Language in Theory" presents a succinct account of relevant issues. It presents the reader with a dense information network, which is not simplistic even on the most elementary 'A' level. It is clearly written and accessible to even undergraduate students in a variety of disciplines from linguistics to philosophy, sociology, gender studies and many other areas of social science, in overall a timely publication with up-to-date content being a valuable teaching aid both for class use (its content can be successfully used to supplement classes on both undergraduate and graduate levels) and self-study. There is also a lot of common sense and humour in the text (cf. e.g. forms of creativity, p. 93f.). The volume is recommended for anybody with an interest in linguistics with the caveat that readers new to the field may not escape its sociolinguistic bias. From the theoretical linguistic point of view, it is apparent that even those who cannot agree with all the ideas advocated in the book can find in it much to discuss, oppose to, or develop.
In summary, the 'flexi-text' design, where topics are interwoven with levels of expertise, applied to all textbooks in the series, proves to be a relevant framework for introductory books on sophisticated topics. "Language in Theory" is a RELI-able (sic!) textbook and apparently complementary to other books in the Routledge series.
Aronoff, Mark, and Janie Rees-Miller (eds.) (2000) The Handbook of Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers
Austin, John Langshaw (1962) How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Carston, Robyn (2002) Thoughts and Utterances. The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.
Fromkin Victoria & Robert Rodman (1983) An Introduction to Language. CBS College Publishing.
Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman, & Nina Hyams (2003) An Introduction to Language, Seventh Edition. Boston, MA: Heinle).
Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stockwell, Peter (2000) The Poetics of Science Fiction. London: Longman.
Stockwell, Peter (2002) Cognitive Poetics. An Introduction. London: Routledge.
Stockwell, Peter (2002) Sociolinguistics. A resource book for students. London: Routledge.
Yule, George (1985/1996) The Study of Language. Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT ATHE REVIEWER
Iwona Witczak-Plisiecka received her MPhil in Linguistics from Trinity College, Dublin, Eire and her MA and PhD in English Studies from the University of Lodz, Poland. Her research interests are primarily in semantics, pragmatics and philosophy of language. Her other academic interests include: language attitudes and varieties of English, corpus linguistics, LSP: legal texts, and translation.