Monthly Archives: March 2012

Varieties of English in writing

Varieties of English in writing: The written word as linguistic evidence. Ed. by Raymond Hickey. (Varieties of English around the world G41.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. x, 378. ISBN 9789027249012. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Bloomington, IN

As the back cover of the book accurately explains, this book is a collection of essays ‘concerned with assessing fictional and non-fictional written texts as linguistic evidence for earlier forms of varieties of English’. Historical linguists frequently use literary texts, but the essays in this book look more closely at the important methodological and interpretive issues involved in using literary texts than most books on historical linguistics or the history of English.

The book opens with two essays that focus on Early Modern English. Raymond Hickey examines the question of Standard English in regard to studying earlier English and the representation of dialect in writing. Standard English is a product of the eighteenth century, yet it is often—and misleadingly—used to evaluate forms encountered in earlier English. Claudia Claridge and Merja Kytö examine standard and non-standard forms of English in Early Modern English. They observe that ‘finding evidence of non-standard…is…not an easy undertaking’ (35). This essay is better read, however, as a study of the emerging standard and its relationship to other forms of English.

Philip Durkin’s essay, ‘Assessing non-standard writing,’ looks at ‘the treatment of non-standard and regional varieties of English in historical dictionaries, especially the OED’ (43). His essay is a very useful description of ‘the OED’s policy decision in dealing with written evidence for non-standard varieties [of English]’ (57).

The essays that follow each concentrate on a different regional variety of English, beginning with a group of essays that describe forms of English found in the British Isles. Katie Wales covers Northern English in writing between 1500 and 1900, and Gunnel Melchers describes Southern English in writing during the same period. J. Derrick McClure’s essay addresses attitudes towards early modern and modern Scots. Raymond Hickey then examines Irish English in early modern drama in his second contribution to the book. The final contribution on British Isles English is Kevin McCafferty’s essay, ‘[H]ushed and lulled full chimes for pushed and pulled: Writing Ulster English’.

The book then shifts its focus to forms of English found outside the British Isles. Lisa Cohen Minnick studies dialect literature and English in the United States in her essay. Stefan Dollinger then examines written sources for Canadian English with special reference to “[p]honetic reconstruction and the low-back vowel merger’ (197). Bettina Migge and Susanne Mühleisen offer a survey of ‘research on early written texts in the Anglophone Caribbean and…a critical look at the theories and methods employed to study the texts’ (223) in their essay. Daniel Schreier and Laura Wright describe the sources for the earliest St Helenian English in writing. The following essay, ‘An abundant harvest to the philologer’, by Lucia Siebers, describes the sources, and problems with the sources, for early South African English. Kate Burridge then investigates sources for early Australian English in ‘”A peculiar language”: Linguistic evidence for early Australian English’. In the book’s final essay Elizabeth Gordon examines sources for early New Zealand English.

This book holds an excellent collection of essays on the problems and methods in using literary and other written works as historical evidence of dialect and non-standard forms in English.

Appraising research in second language learning

Appraising research in second language learning: A practical approach to critical analysis of quantitative research. 2nd edn. By Graeme Keith Porte. (Language learning and teaching v. 28.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xxv, 307. ISBN 9789027219954. $49.95.

Reviewed by Ferit Kılıçkaya, Middle East Technical University

For many graduate students, reading and conducting research can be a painstaking process without an understanding of how a research paper is written, from the abstract to the conclusion. With this book, the author aims to provide teachers, students, and novice researchers of applied linguistics and second language acquisition with an efficient method to analyze and evaluate research written by others as well as themselves.

In Ch. 1, the author discusses how an abstract is written, highlighting specific points. In Ch. 2, what a problem statement includes and how it is constructed is discussed. Ch. 3 deals with the relevance and importance of a literature review, with a focus on relating the review to the problem statement. Ch. 4 presents how to devise research questions and hypotheses and how to identify variables and their relationship with research questions and hypotheses, and more specifically with the findings.

Chs. 5–7 discuss the methods section of a research paper, which is largely considered to be the heart of any research. In Ch. 5, the author helps readers to know what constitutes the methods section, such as participants and materials, and then moves forward to validity and reliability issues. In Ch. 6, procedures and research design are discussed in relation to instruments and ethics, with a detailed discussion of classifications of research design and their basic but vital features. Ch. 7 discusses which procedures are applied for data analysis and how data analysis responds to the objectives of the proposed study.  Ch. 8 reports on how results can be presented and touches upon fundamental statistical knowledge, such as descriptive and inferential statistics, providing examples for each. The final chapter handles the discussion and conclusion sections of a research paper, presenting how conclusions can be drawn from the findings gained through data analysis, with a focus on the research questions and/or hypotheses. This chapter also elaborates on limitations, future research, and practical implications, which should be addressed in a research paper.

Overall, the author has succeeded in providing anyone working in the field of applied linguistics and/or second language acquisition with tools for reading and understanding the elements of a research paper. What makes the book especially appealing is that in the discussion of each of the elements are clear examples and questions to help readers engage with the material. The exercises and tasks in the workbook, the key terms in the glossary section, and the charts in the appendices, such as a flowchart to be used before choosing the appropriate measurement test, further enrich the book.

Grammatical realization of temporal expressions in Tsou

The grammatical realization of temporal expressions in Tsou. By Chia-jung Pan. (LINCOM studies in Austronesian linguistics 7.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Pp. xv, 234. ISBN 9783862880119. $100.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

This book provides some background on Tsou, an Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan, and a grammatical sketch before focusing on five temporal markers. Most of the work on Tsou has been published as Ph.D dissertations in English and German whereas Elizabeth Zeitoun’s reference grammar is in Chinese. Chia-jung Pan’s work is, therefore, a welcome addition in making the data more accessible. The examples are also well-glossed and nicely presented.

Ch. 1 starts with a discussion of the various dialects of Northern and Southern Tsou, which comprise the Tsouic family. Tsouic has sometimes been seen as one of the four families of the Austronesian family, though this is controversial. The grammatical sketch in Ch. 2 includes a discussion of the verb-object-subject (VOS) word order and its variants, the Case markers on nominals, the free and bound pronouns, the focus system, negation, and questions. It ends with a brief overview of tense and aspect. If one has never seen a language with agent- and patient-focus, there is a steep learning curve.

In Tsou, as in many Austronesian languages, the focus marker is present in a preverb, as in m-o tmeaphu to oko ta skayu si ino [AF-REA put.AF OBL child OBL cradle NOM mother] ‘Mother put the child into a cradle’. The type of focus marker determines which nominal receives nominative (NOM) Case. If it is an agent-focus marker (AF), the agent is nominative. P (38; 41) shows that the preverb can be omitted in certain sentences and also that Tsou is a mood-prominent language as opposed to Chinese, which is aspect-prominent.

Chs. 3 and 4 address the semantics and syntax of temporal expressions respectively. Words for certain temporal concepts (e.g. the concepts of hour, minute, second, and days of the week) do not occur in Tsou. The markers ne-, ho-, ta, to, and no are used with a noun to distinguish that temporally. With day parts, ne-taseona [NE-morning] is ‘yesterday morning’ and ho-eofna [HO-evening] ‘tomorrow evening’; with seasons, ta, to, and no are used for present, past, and future, respectively. Helpful tables with the various possibilities occur throughout.

Ch. 4 contains a literature review on adverbs and adverbials and a discussion of adverbs in the other Formosan languages, Atayal, Paiwan, and Amis. The temporal markers ta, to, and no are also relevant to spatial and psychological distance when used as Case markers (156–57). They can also be used as complementizers, keeping their tense; for instance, a clause with ho is referring to the future. The categorical status of adverbs is also examined, as is their position in the clause.

In conclusion, there is much of interest in this book. As mentioned, of particular note are the excellent glosses and examples of Tsou.

Sonidos en contexto

Sonidos en contexto: Una introducción a la fonética del español con especial referencia a la vida real. By Terrell A. Morgan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. Pp. x, 434. ISBN 9780300149593. $98 (with DVD).

Reviewed by Jason Doroga, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This textbook is an introduction to the sounds of Spanish and provides a comprehensive account appropriate for students with little background in linguistics and phonetics. Several recently published textbooks provide an overview of the sounds of Spanish, but the author states that the main objectives of this book are to provide clear definitions of the main concepts of articulatory phonetics in Spanish with an emphasis on real-world examples and culturally relevant activities.

In Chs. 1–4 (1–78), the author presents the basic concepts of orthography, syllabification, and accentuation. Ch. 5 (79–88) introduces the differences between phonemes and allophones and highlights key contrasts between phonemic and phonetic transcriptions. Chs. 6–12 (89–141) describe the five-vowel system, diphthongs, vowel reduction, and syllabic modifications arising from vowels in contact. Ch. 13 (143–54) offers an overview of the articulatory description of consonants, and the individual consonantal phonemes are described in Chs. 14–25 (155–385). The final chapter (387–94) is an introduction to dialectology and summarizes a number of distinguishing features found in different dialects of Spanish.

A strength of this textbook is the clear presentation of the main concepts as well as the comparisons drawn between the sounds of Spanish and those of English from a theory-independent perspective. Compared to many other phonology textbooks, the explanations are quite brief and straightforward, and are always accessible to the student. Each chapter builds on previous ones, allowing key ideas such as syllabification to be refined with more precision in later chapters. The author defines important phonological processes (e.g. lenition) when appropriate and occasionally considers historical development in order to explain the modern inventory of sounds.

What most distinguishes this book from other recently published textbooks is the considerable breadth and range of activities that accompany each chapter. In most chapters there are more pages dedicated to transcription practice, aural comprehension activities, and phonological problems than are dedicated to the actual exposition of the material. The author strives to provide engaging, culturally driven activities taken from real-life modern Spanish sources. The full-color photographs of Spanish billboards, newspaper headlines, and product packaging provide examples of phonological processes (e.g. assimilation, lenition) that complement the prose of the chapter.

While it is not possible for an introductory phonetics textbook to adequately cover all relevant topics in sufficient detail, a few important topics such as intonation and prosody are covered only superficially. Moreover, the contrasts between English and Spanish vowel production could be developed more in Chs. 6–12. For example, the important distinction between tense and lax vowels in standard American English, a feature that is often transferred to the Spanish vocalic system by English learners, is not adequately described in the text. Additionally, a small number of activities do not complement the content of the chapter.

These quibbles are not meant to detract from the overall quality of this textbook. Learners will gain a solid understanding of the sound system and improve their pronunciation of Spanish from the clarity of the explanations, from the extensive written and oral practice exercises, and from the high-quality audio program that features speakers from across the Spanish-speaking world. This book showcases the author’s unique ability to provide fresh, relevant examples to explain the fundamental concepts of Spanish phonetics.


Text, time, and context

Text, time, and context: Selected papers of Carlota S. Smith. Ed. by Richard P. Meier, Helen Aristar-Dry, and Emilie Destruel. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Pp. lxiv, 404. ISBN 9789048126163. $189 (Hb).

Reviewed by Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal, University of Durham

Dallas TACA (The Arts and Community Alliance) Centennial Professor in the Humanities, Professor Carla S. Smith, died from cancer in 2007 at the age of seventy-three. She taught at the University of Texas at Austin for about thirty-eight years and has been well known as a pioneer scholar in generative linguistics. This book collects her papers, which she herself selected along with some of her colleagues, with a focus on temporal expression in language, starting with her earlier works from the 1970s onward, though her first publication appeared in 1961.

In the beginning of the book, an introduction of, an interview with, and a list of publications by Smith are helpful, especially for new readers of her work. The book is then divided into five sections. Each section includes an introduction by either one of the editors or an established linguist. Two papers included in this book are coauthored, one with Jeanne T. Whitaker and one with Mary S. Erbaugh. The first section focuses on aspect and includes three of Smith’s papers on a speaker-based approach to aspect, aspectual categories in Navajo, and a dialogue over activities as states versus events. Smith’s major focus in these papers is on situational choices by speakers.

The second section addresses tense, an explicit temporal category and expression in language. This section includes four papers on the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of tense, dealing with the interpretation of temporal expressions focusing on the English futurate construction, and with tense and context in French. The third section addresses acquisition of tense and includes two papers deal with the first language acquisition and learning of temporalities through grammar by children.

The fourth section deals with discourse structure or discourse modes. The papers within any section of this book are collected according to theme and not according to chronology of their publication.  Although this might be confusing since a scholar passes through personal and intellectual transformations over time, it is helpful for understanding the arguments of a single scholar on particular issue. All four papers in this section provide a bridge between Smith’s earlier works on transformational syntax and later analysis on aspect, tense, and discourse structure and modes. The final section includes two essays on context and interpretation, in which Smith discusses drawing inferences and issues of subjectivity.

This book would be useful in semantics and linguistics while studying the temporal expressions in language and analyzing it in a cultural context. Since different papers not only deal with one language but also draw on different languages, such as English, French, Navajo, Mandarin, and Russian, the book will be a useful reader in linguistic anthropology and cross-cultural studies of language. There are still many issues that can be drawn from Smith’s work, for someone researching temporality in language. For instance, this book includes papers on first-language acquisition in children, which is indeed Smith’s expertise; however, analyzing gender disparities or intercultural temporal expressions of language can also be drawn from her work.

Introducing morphology

Introducing morphology. By Rochelle Lieber. (Cambridge introductions to language and linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. x, 215. ISBN 9780521719797. $36.

Reviewed by Julie M. Winter, Gonzaga University

The most striking feature of this book is the author’s tone. Lieber sounds as though she is directly addressing her students in a classroom. Explanations of topics are easy to understand and accessible without being oversimplified. The tone of the text assumes that students are interested in the topic and are intelligent, careful readers exploring an area that is new to them.

In keeping with the author’s tone are some additions useful in an introductory morphology text. Each chapter includes one or more ‘challenge’ boxes, or exercises, addressing a point just explained in the text. These exercises give students the opportunity to ‘take a breather from reading or class lecture and try something out for themselves’ (x) and can be used in class discussion, group work, or as homework assignments.

Other valuable features are the chapter outlines at the beginning of each chapter and the summaries at the end. Clear drawings and diagrams illustrate main points throughout the text. Each chapter also contains a good selection of exercises at the end (in addition to the ‘challenge’ boxes) to allow students to practice morphology on their own. This is in keeping with the author’s goal of making morphology accessible and hands-on for students. The nature of the exercises could allow for lively discussions in class after students have individually completed them. For example, in the chapter ‘Words, dictionaries, and the mental lexicon’, students are asked to carry out searches in the online Oxford English dictionary, and to visit the Word Spy website to look at new words to see whether they use these words themselves and whether they agree with the definitions.

The chapter on dictionaries nicely illustrates how the author’s experience teaching morphology influences the text. She finds that students generally experience some interference when thinking about word formation and the mental lexicon; it is therefore advantageous to devote time to dictionaries to help students distinguish the formal record-keeping function of dictionaries from the human ability to organize and formulate words in the mind and understand that there are morphological rules underlying them.

Several chapters include ‘How to’ sections that take students through the process of analyzing morphological data step by step, and an excellent glossary of linguistic terms rounds out the book. Furthermore, data from languages other than English is included to aid students in understanding the universality of morphological rules.

Finally, the author saves morphological theory until the last chapter so that students first gain a firm footing in morphological rules before embarking on theoretical concerns, a reasonable approach in an introduction to morphology. All in all, this is a comprehensive, informative, and well-written introductory level text with a great deal of hands-on material to make morphology come alive.