The linguistic structure of Modern English

The linguistic structure of Modern English. By Laurel J. Brinton and Donna M. Brinton. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xx, 426. ISBN 9789027211729. $49.95.

Reviewed by Anish Koshy, The EFL University, Hyderabad, India

This is a revised edition of Laurel J. Brinton’s The structure of Modern English (John Benjamins, 2000). The book is organized in twelve chapters. Being a linguistic grammar intended for students and teachers of English with no background in language or linguistics, its detailed discussions are not limited to sentence structure (syntax) and parts of speech, but extend to phonetics, phonology, morphology, lexical and sentential semantics, pragmatics, and pedagogy. Also included is a useful glossary, and there is an online workbook linked to the book.

Ch. 1, ‘The nature of language and linguistics’ (1–15), is a general introduction to human language and linguistics. Phonetics is dealt with in Ch. 2, ‘Consonants and vowels’ (16–49), through English speech sounds and types of transcription. Ch. 3, ‘Phonology, phonotactics, and suprasegmentals’ (50–78), includes discussions of phonotactic restrictions and syllable structure, stress and intonation patterns, and phonological rules and processes. Ch. 4, ‘The internal structure of words and processes of word formation’ (79–112), deals in depth with word-formation processes in English.

Ch. 5, ‘Grammatical categories and word classes’ (113–42), discusses English word classes and their determination with inflectional and distributional tests. Ch. 6, ‘Lexical semantics’ (143–83), identifies various semantic and structural relationships, explores nouns and verbs by means of a feature matrix, and discusses metaphor. Ch. 7, ‘Phrasal structure and verb complementation’ (184–215), examines phrase-structure rules, subcategorization frames for verbs, and dependency relations, and introduces tree diagrams.

Ch. 8, ‘Adverbials, auxiliaries, and sentence types’ (216–42), introduces adverbials, prepositional phrases, and auxiliary formations to demonstrate the usefulness of the notion of an underlying structure. Ch. 9, ‘Finite and nonfinite clauses’ (243–93), is devoted to complex sentences containing embedded clauses, and uses tree diagrams to show their hierarchical structure. Ch. 10, ‘Sentence semantics’ (293–323), explores propositions in terms of predicates and arguments, focusing on thematic roles and various kinds of predication. Ch. 11, ‘Information structuring and speech acts’ (324–55), explores pragmatics through discussions of information structuring, the theory of speech acts, Gricean maxims, and various politeness strategies. The last chapter, ‘Linguistics in language teaching’ (356–84) by Howard Williams, discusses the role of linguistics in language pedagogy.

The book provides basic and detailed descriptions that are well suited to a non-specialist audience. While most of the materials are discussed in introductory books on linguistics, numerous examples drawn from the Corpus of Contemporary American English are novel and interesting. The presentation is simple and lucid, and relies on an eclectic range of theories in discussing various sub-domains of language.