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."
Date: Sun, 05 Jan 2003 04:13:14 +0000 From: viatscheslav iatsko Subject: Language Description: Review of Downing and Locke (2002), A university course in English grammar
Author: Downing, Angela, Locke, Philip (2002) A University Course in English Grammar, paperback, ISBN 0-415-28810-X, xx+652 pp., $29.95.
Reviewed by Viatcheslav Iatsko, Department of English, Katanov State University of Khakasia.
Overview It should be noted at once that the title of the textbook under review doesn't fully correspond to its scope. An experienced linguistic reader coming across the title "A University Course in English Grammar" expects the book to deal with morphology and syntax, while this textbook concentrates on syntax and text grammar providing, as it is stated in the Preface, "a clear descriptive account of sentence grammar and "an account that offers a means of analyzing texts" (p.ix). To reduce "grammar" to "syntax" seems to be a common feature of contemporary English linguistics which, as I noticed earlier (Iatsko, 2001), can be accounted for by the fact that English doesn't belong to morphologically rich languages and most of contemporary English grammars make emphasis on the syntax unlike, for example, Russian grammars, in which grammar as a linguistic discipline is proportionally divided into morphemics (the study of morphemes), morphology (the study of morphological categories and parts of speech) and syntax. It would be impossible for a university course in Russian grammar to deal only with syntax without describing other branches of grammar. Those interested in a more detailed description of English morphemics and morphology can use some other book, a perfect example is L. Brinton's (2000) "The Structure of Modern English". The book was written for students of English as a foreign or second language in higher education that is why it is primarily aimed at helping students to acquire a theoretical framework of English. Another specific feature of this book is that it is based on M.Halliday's systemic-functional model of grammar. Consequently, this book differs essentially from numerous grammars of generative stock abounding in notorious tree diagrams representing hierarchical structures of English phrases and sentences.
Review of the chapters The grammatical content of the course is presented in three blocks: 1) a first chapter giving an overview of the whole course and defining the basic concepts and terms used in it; 2) six chapters describing clause structures from semantic, syntactic and functional points of view; 3) six chapters dealing with syntactic groups. The chapters are divided into class-length "modules" (sixty in all) each one beginning with a boxed summary which presents the main matters of interest and ending with practice tasks. The book also comprises "Key of Selected Answers" section, and an extensive index. Chapter 1 "Basic Concepts" comprises 3 modules, which very briefly describe main syntactic concepts and notions that are discussed in detail later in the following chapters. These concepts include: illocutionary structure comprising communicative acts, such as statement, exclamation, promise; experiental structure comprising different semantic roles (process, participant, attribute, etc.); thematic structure (theme and rheme); types of clauses, classes of syntactic groups, and syntactic elements of clauses. The last module of the chapter focuses on different ways of expanding linguistic units. Chapter 1 is followed by six chapters describing clause structures from semantic, syntactic and functional points of view. Because this part of the book seems more interesting I will give a more detailed account of it. Considering syntactic functions in Chapter 2 the authors distinguish between complements and adjuncts and provide a thorough analysis of such syntactic units as subject, predicator, direct object, indirect object, prepositional object, subject complement, object complement, predicator complement, adjunct, disjunct, and conjunct. The analysis includes detailed description of syntactic features, semantic features, and realizations of each of these units. It should be noted that one of the most disputable problems in grammar has been the classification of object types. Many grammarians point out the fact that the classification of the object into direct, indirect and prepositional is inconsistent because it is based on two different criteria: direct and indirect objects are distinguished according to a semantic criterion whereas prepositional object is differentiated according to a formal criterion (use of a preposition) (Ilyish, 1971). To tell the truth, while reading Chapter 2 I had a feeling that the authors would avoid this inconsistency using their classification of semantic roles described in Chapter 4. I was disappointed; having assigned some semantic roles to the direct and indirect objects the authors failed to associate any semantic roles with the prepositional object. Of course such association requires additional research. Chapter 3 focuses on different types of verb complementation. Reading this chapter, students can acquire profound knowledge of a wide range of verbs distinguished according to the types of complementation: intransitive, monotransitive, ditransitive, complex transitive, and copular. What arrests attention is regular correlation of syntactic structures with their meanings. For example discussing "that"-clauses as complements of monotransitive verbs the authors give detailed account of meanings that this clause can take in discourse, such as "facts", "reports", "proposals", and "decisions". The same goes to "WH"-clauses and non finite clauses. Chapter 4 outlines a semantic framework for a situation consisting of 1) process, 2) participants in the situation, 3) attributes ascribed to participants, 4) circumstances associated with the process. Processes are divided into material, mental, relational, and verbal; participants include animate, inanimate or abstract entities; attributes are qualities or circumstances of the participants; circumstances comprise time, place, manner, cause, etc. of the whole situation. The process type determines classification of semantic roles. For example, semantic roles in material processes include agent, force, affected, effected, recipient, beneficiary, and causative agent whereas semantic roles in mental processes include experiencer and phenomenon. These roles are further subdivided into different classes depending on the verb's meaning. On the whole the authors distinguish 15 main roles. It is evident that this conception of semantic roles, well substantiated and logical, differs essentially from existing conceptions developed by leading representatives of case grammar: W.A.Cook (1998), L.Brinton (2000, pp. 129-163), R.D.Van Valin (2001, pp. 21-85). Since the authors don't give any references it is not quite clear whether they developed this conception themselves or adopted somebody other's conception. In Chapter 5 declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamative clause types are matched with illocutionary acts. The authors point out an isomorphic correlation between these clause types and illocutionary acts, which takes place when, for example, a declarative clause expresses a question and conversely an interrogative clause expresses a statement. Special emphasis is made on assertive and non assertive uses of such words as "any", "some", etc. which is especially important for students studying English as a foreign language. All conclusions and judgments made by the authors are supported by numerous examples taken from natural language discourse. Chapters 6 and 7 make up one unit dealing with message organization. While Chapter 6 concentrates on thematic and information structures of the clause and discusses topicalizing and focusing transformations (ellipsis, deictic elements, clefting, "there"-structures, extraposition, postponement), Chapter 7 focuses on structure of clauses' complexes and identifies some relationships between clauses in discourse. I think that the authors' treatment of these two topics is somewhat superficial because they didn't take into account results achieved in the field of text grammar. While discussing information structures they should have gone beyond the sentence and analyzed different types of structural connections between sentences, such as co-referent terms, pronominal substitution, nominalization, lexical repetition, etc. While discussing types of thematic progressions they should have introduced the notion of super-phrasal unit as a configuration of sentences united by structural connections and the one topic. Rather than concentrating on formal (paratactic and hypotactic) relationships between clauses the authors should have given the notion of types of discourse (reasoning, narrative, description) and logical and grammatical relations underlying them. All these linguistic notions were described in numerous books on text grammar published by European authors (see e.g. Dijk T. Van, 1972). Without studying them it's impossible to offer "a means of analyzing texts" The next 6 chapters (8-13) deal with syntactic groups: verbal group, nominal group, adjectival group, adverbial group, and prepositional group. An advantage of this part of the book is that the authors managed to depart from traditional hierarchical phrase structures and suggested a non derivational approach to studying the structure of these groups. Such approach is sure to be much more useful for foreign students; rather than building tree diagrams they can acquire profound knowledge of different variants of structures of the verbal group, meaning of English tenses, uses of articles, etc. That doesn't mean that notions developed within the scope of phrase structure grammar are rejected and not used at all. While discussing the structure of the nominal group the authors use familiar concepts of head, determiner, modifier, qualifier, but the emphasis is made on the ways of their realization which is more important for foreign students.
Conclusion I would like to point out some advantages and disadvantages of this textbook. - Comprehensive approach to the description of linguistic units. Analyzing syntactic structures the authors regularly associate them with their meanings and communicative structure. Such an approach is in line with integrational analysis of language suggested by several scholars (Steedman, 2002, Iatsko 2002, Iatsko 1998, Apresian 1986). - Attempt to substantiate isomorphic correlation between different levels of syntactic analysis and syntactic structure. Discussing correlation between different types of syntactic structure (pp. 6-7), types of syntactic units and their functions (pp. 16-17) the authors state: "this many-to many relationship is fundamental for the understanding of the relationship of the grammar of English to text" (p.17). One cannot help agreeing with this statement. - Non derivational approach to the description of phrase structures. Non derivational description of English phrases is much better understandable for foreign students than hierarchical tree diagrams adopted in generative grammar. - An essential drawback of the textbook is lack of references to linguistic literature. Since the authors develop an approach dealing with different levels of syntactic analysis it would have been reasonable to give references to works on case grammar, communicative syntax, and generative grammar, to describe correlation between these grammars. Actually, students studying an academic course must be aware of different approaches to the investigation of a given linguistic phenomenon developed by different authors. Apart from that, they are supposed to learn some pieces of material on their own that is why university textbooks provide extensive "References" and "Futher Reading" sections (see, for example, Borjars&Burridge 2001, L.Brinton, 2000). Unfortunately, nothing of the sort can be found in the book under review. In case the authors decide to prepare another edition of the textbook taking into consideration flaws mentioned above the linguistic community has all chances to get a perfect university course in English syntax.
References Apresian Y. D. (1986) Integrational description of language . In: Voprosy yazykoznania. No 2. P.57-70. (In Russian). Borjars K., Burridge K. (2001) Introducing English grammar. New York: Oxford University Press. Brinton L. (2000) The structure of modern English. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Cook W.A. (1998) Case grammar applied. Arlington: The Summer Institute of Linguistics. Dijk T. Van. (1972) Some aspects of text grammars. The Hague, 1972. Iatsko V. (1998). Textual deep structure . In: Text, speech, dialogue. Proceedings of the first workshop. Brno: Masaryk University Press. Iatsko V. (2001) A review of Borjars & Burridge Introducing English Grammar. In: Linguist List 12.1562 Iatsko V. (2002).Integrational discourse analysis. Katanov State University of Kahakasia http://www.khsu.ru/ida Ilyish B.A. (1971) The structure of modern English. Moscow; Leningrad: Vysshaya Shkola Van Valin R.D. (2001) An Introduction to Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
V.Iatsko is professor in the Department of English and Head of Computational Linguistics Laboratory at Katanov State University of Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of English and Russian syntax.