English linguistics

English linguistics: A coursebook for students of English. By Thomas Herbst. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010. Pp. xv, 368. ISBN 9783110203677. $35.

Reviewed by Sabina Halupka-Rešetar, University of Novi Sad

Is there such a thing as English linguistics? While the field may not even exist, as Herbst notes in his preface, this textbook is meant to acquaint the reader with the basic concepts, ideas, and approaches relevant to the study of English.

Part 1, ‘The English language and linguistics’ (1–42), presents some important typological facts about English, and gives an overview of the principles of structuralist linguistics and the methods used in studying language (e.g. introspection, elicitation, corpora).

Part 2, ‘Sounds’ (43–82), comprises four sections on phonetics (phones, syllables, suprasegmental elements), phonology (phonemes, allophones, phonotactics), phonetic reality (problems of the phoneme concept, pronunuciation in connected speech), and contrastive aspects of phonetics and phonology. The goal is to introduce the smallest linguistic units of English while pointing out phonological aspects that might prove problematic for Germanspeaking learners of English.

Part 3, ‘Meaning-carrying units’ (83–140), is concerned with (i) analysing words into smaller units (e.g. types of morphemes, problems of morphological analysis), (ii) forming new words (e.g. word versus lexeme, word formation processes, productivity, and nonce-formations), and (iii) expressing meaning  in multi-word units (primarily collocations and idioms).

In Part 4, ‘Sentences—models of grammar’ (141–219), H explores the treatment of syntax in traditional grammars, touching on such topics as sentence and clause, subject and predicate, phrases, and word classes. Next, the concept of hierarchy is introduced (constituency, dependency), followed by a brief outline of case grammar and the basic principles of valency theory applied to English syntax. This part  ends with an overview of theories of grammar and language acquisition, notably Noam Chomsky’s approach and three usage-based approaches within the framework of construction grammar.

Part 5, ‘Meaning’ (220–64), is devoted to explaining the concepts of meaning, reference, and denotation. After introducing polysemy and homonymy, H addresses the problem of identifying distinct meanings and touches upon hyponymy, synonymy, and (the two main types of) antonymy. This part ends with an introduction to componential analysis and prototype theory.

In ‘Utterances’ (265–301), H examines the pragmatic concepts of word, sentence, and utterance meaning, Grice’s co-operative principle, types of speech acts, and issues relating to the text: cohesion and coherence, thematic structure and information structure, and spoken versus written texts.

The last part of the book, ‘Variation’ (302–29), focuses on register and dialectal variation in English with respect to pronunciation, the lexicon, and grammar. The textbook ends with a survey of types of linguistic change illustrated with some of the important changes in English.

The wide range of topics, the various perspectives taken, and the fact that each chapter begins with an accessible outline of basic terminology make this book a perfect introductory textbook. Additionally, as H demonstrates that there are no easy answers or straightforward solutions in linguistics and that linguistic phenomena can be viewed in many very different ways, the further reading sections will be appreciated by all advanced readers.