This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
AUTHOR: Thomas E. Payne TITLE: Exploring Language Structure SUBTITLE: A Student's Guide PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2006 ISBN: 0-521-67150-7
Reviewer: Michael Moss, PhD, University of Gdansk
When looking for a textbook to use in 'Introduction to Linguistics' or 'Linguistics 101' there are several titles that immediately spring to mind. One of the problems that I have had with the available textbooks, however, is that they do not really give the students an opportunity to get involved in the subject. Payne's 'Exploring Language Structure' is different. It is very comprehensive, but takes a 'hands on' approach which forces the students to work with language and actually 'do' linguistics.
Before moving on to a review of the book's content, here is a brief technical description. The book is 367 pages long, broken down into 10 chapters with a glossary and an index. The chapters move from an introduction to morphology an syntax, showing how to break words and sentences down into their component parts, to fairly detailed chapters on typology, grammatical relations, valance, and multiple clausal structures. The book uses many examples from English to illustrate a basic point, but quickly moves to languages that are much less common. This gives the students an opportunity to use the tools and technics described in the chapter on structures that they have not previously formed judgments about. It does, however, require a confident instructor, and students that are willing to really puzzle things out.
Table of contents: 1. Introduction to morphology and syntax 2. Morphological processes and conceptual categories 3. Morphophonemics 4. Word Classes 5. Exploring subclasses 6. Constituent structure 7. Language typology 8. Grammatical relations 9. Voice and valence 10. Multi-clause constructions.
As mentioned above, introducing students to the field of linguistics is really a difficult task. All of us have our special area of interest be it syntax, semantics, discourse analysis or etymology and we are often forced to become more specialized in these particular fields as time goes on. At the same time, as linguists, all of us are fascinated by how this all works, and the many different aspects involved in the successful analysis of language and linguistic structures.
One solution to this problem is provided by Fromkin and Rodman's ''Introduction to Language'' (F&R); a comprehensive book which touches on all of the major topics in linguistics. F&R put as much information between two covers as they possibly could while trying to retain the 'introductory' nature of their book. One thing that I have found, however, using this book in class-rooms where English is not the native language, is that the chapters are so full, and so comprehensive that the students find them a bit too dense. Fromkin and Rodman is an excellent text, but it can be a bit encyclopedic.
Another popular title is Yule's ''The study of language''. This book has the same goal as F&R, but takes a different approach. Yule breaks the information down into short chapters which are easy to read. My students have found this book more approachable. I have been less enthusiastic, however, because the students are not as well prepared as when they read F&R. Furthermore, both texts share one serious problem; in trying to cover a vast range of material, they must gloss over many topics, providing key words and brief explanations, and little chance for the student to actually 'get their hands dirty' with the linguistic material.
The book that is under review here takes a new approach. As is visible in the table of contents (listed above), this book does not try to cover all aspects of linguistics. It covers a fairly restricted number of topics (essentially morphology and syntax). Interestingly, by using a restricted range of topics, the book is able to give the student a broad range of experience in actually working with linguistic data.
As an introductory text, students are exposed to what I think of as 'language itself'. That is, the book concentrates on topics which look at the workings of language as an system in its own context. Books like R&F's and Yule's make a point of including topics that look at language as an object/system within a larger context such as society, history, and computer science, as well as the brain internal aspects including child acquisition. ''Exploring Language Structure'', however, shows the complex interconnections of the language 'modules' (phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics), through the analysis of morphological and syntactic structures.
The first six chapters (just over half of the book) are dedicated to morphology and syntax. In fact, syntax is really only dealt with directly in one chapter (6). The other five chapters deal with morphology, morphophonemics, word classes and so on. This emphasizes something that is often glossed over in modern linguistics classes and textbooks, namely, the importance of morphological operations. Isolating morphemes, determining which allomorph is actually the underlying morpheme, looking at derivational versus inflectional morphology are all important topics. Especially as they are topics that can be done in English and in other languages with relatively little technical training. But, more importantly, they also give the students a chance to actually do some linguistic analysis.
The discussion on word classes in chapter 4 is well presented. Many times, as linguists, we are eager to get to what we think of as the ''real topics'' and basic grammar gets left out of the picture. This sometimes leads to the situation where we are giving lectures in advanced syntax, and the students are confused about what an adjective really is or why some words can be nouns and adjectives and other similar problems. I teach linguistics to students who are not native English speakers, and this problem becomes more acute when words are defined one way in a practical English class and completely differently in a syntax class. Payne goes to great lengths to stay theory neutral in this chapter, which is quite a difficult task. The information is presented clearly and gives the student a good idea of why such ideas as ''noun'' and ''adjective'' are actually so tricky to deal with. However, I was disappointed to see that Payne did not mention Baker's (2003) Lexical Categories, which presents a very interesting discussion on the topic.
Chapter 6 is about syntax, a very debated area of linguistics. As I mentioned, Payne tries to make this book as theory neutral as possible, which means that he has to do a lot of side-stepping in this chapter. This is a great improvement over both F&R and Yule. The chapter introduces the student to current work in syntax, with the added benefit of a bit of historical background, which helps the reader understand how such conclusions have been formed. Constituency is dealt with in detail as are hierarchical structure and tree diagrams that are used in Generative grammar. Payne also goes into issues of ambiguity, coordination and negation.
Chapter 7 is the least ''language internal'' of all the chapters. Here the author deals with issues of typology. The essential topics are covered to give the reader an understanding of how and why languages are grouped together in various ways. This chapter also gets the reader ready for the more advanced topics that will be dealt with in the three final chapters.
The remaining chapters deal with issues that are more abstract (at least in English) due to the fact that we do not often have visible morphological evidence for their existence. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 deal with some of the issues which are often considered to be central to syntax in general. These topics include passivization, subject raising, Nominative/Accusative and Ergative/Absolutive patterns, relative clauses, and grammatical versus thematic roles and relations. These are challenging topics, which make these chapters the most interesting and the most difficult. What is fascinating and original in Payne's presentation is that these topics are not taken from the perspective of a particular theory of syntax but from the morphosyntactic evidence that comes from a broad range of languages outside of the commonly studied Indo-European family. Payne also does not shy away from discussing the interaction of these phenomena, but duly includes discussion about how they interact and what the effects are.
This book does have a set of technical problems related to transcription that I must address. At the beginning of the book, Payne includes a full table of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols for both consonants and vowels. This leads one to believe that the examples and exercises in the book will be written using this alphabet. He indicates in the preface that IPA transcription will be used more frequently in the first three chapters and when the language in question has no writing system or when significant information would not be present in the standard writing system. I find this disappointing.
The result is that in order to really make use of the book one must look up the phonological information about each language used in the book individually. Normally this would not be a problem. However, one of the attractions of this book is that it includes many examples and exercises from little known languages. Instead of making the book vibrant and intriguing the examples become cloudy and difficult, because we have no guide to their pronunciation. Although I uphold his decision to include these languages, it is discouraging to consider how much time would have to be spent looking up information on how the native writing systems of so many languages is actually pronounced.
To be fair, when other scripts such as Greek, Russian, or Korean are used in a language, Payne does include the IPA transcription. But consistency seems to me to be an important here. The IPA should be used throughout the book. The author also seems to support this idea, as he has included the tables at the beginning of the book and uses the transcription in the first three chapters. I feel that the book would be improved if the IPA transcriptions were included under the original texts. Even a table of symbols that are translated into IPA at the beginning of the book would do.
As a related note, many of the symbols used in the text seem to be adopted from the Americanist Phonetic Alphabet (APA). Indeed some of the Russian examples are given in APA without any further explanation (p. 142 (7); p. 143 table 5.3) However, some letters such as ą, ę and ų are not listed in either standard. Furthermore, it seems that in several places the IPA and the APA have been used in a kind of 'mix'. Some transcriptions (p. 127-28 ex. 4.2) include the IPA ɛ̃ and are then closely followed by the distinctive APA š. What are we to do with such transcriptions? The language being transcribed in the exercise is Apanijé, a small language spoken in Brazil. I looked but was unable to find an alphabet for this language, indicating that we are dealing with IPA, but this leaves us with the mystery of what to do with the š.
I have corresponded directly with Professor Payne, and although these problems are present, they seem to be the result of what makes this book so appealing. That is, the number of languages used and the fact that they are 'small' languages means that they have been gathered from many sources and are often written in idiosyncratic scripts. The result is a 'mixed bag' of symbols and characters. Payne points out that this is also a kind of exposure for the students, as such scripts are reality in the study of little-known languages.
Another exciting aspect of the book is it's extended life on the internet. More and more frequently we find that a published textbook needs to be updated almost immediately. Professor Payne is dealing with this problem by setting up a parallel web site that includes corrections to the book, further exercises in .pdf format and solutions to the exercises. At the moment, much of this page is 'under construction', which is understandable since the book has only been out a few months. Hopefully the page will be fully up and running by the Fall so that teacher's and students can benefit from the extended interface. At the moment, the access to the exercises is granted to people who can present credentials showing that they are in fact teachers. This seems a good idea at the beginning, but I am not sure that heavy restrictions are really necessary.
Baker, Mark. 2003. Lexical Categories; Verbs, Nouns and Adjectives. Cambridge Cambridge University Press
Fromkin, V.A. and Rodman, R. 1997 Introduction to Language 6th edition. Harcourt Brace.
Yule, George. 1996. The Study of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Michael Moss, PhD, Associate Professor, Univeristy of Gdansk My research interests include syntax (in the Minimalist Program) and historical linguistics. My current research is centered on Polish syntax and the historical development of various clitics in that language.