El español a través de la lingüística

El español a través de la lingüística: Preguntas y respuestas. Ed. by Jennifer D. Ewald and Anne Edstrom. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, 2008. ISBN 9781574730272. Pp. viii, 280.  $38.95.

Reviewed by Keith E. Johnson, California State University

This collection of twenty-four short chapters on Spanish linguistics is a well thought out contribution to the study of introductory Hispanic linguistics. Indeed, the title of the book could easily have been La lingüística a través del español, as the text serves two complementary functions: it addresses concerns and questions language learners often have and simultaneously introduces learners to numerous areas of linguistic analysis.

Each chapter deals with a subfield of applied linguistics in a way that speaks to language learners’ own experiences learning Spanish. This connection is deftly made in the titles of each chapter, which take the form of a question that a student with little or no prior training in linguistics might ask, often reflecting commonly held beliefs and linguistic myths. For example the first chapter, by Anne Edstrom and María José García Vizcaíno (1–13), which defines the field of linguistics, is entitled ‘They tell me I have to take a Linguistics class. That’s about grammar and conversation, isn’t it?’ (Chapter titles are in Spanish; all translations are mine.) Another example is Ana Oskoz’s chapter on pedagogy and learner errors entitled ‘I believe my Spanish professor should correct all the mistakes I make when I speak. It’s her responsibility, isn’t it?’ (242–51). It is through these introductory questions that chapter authors demonstrate that the commonest learner queries can have broad linguistic implications.

Other linguistic subfields treated in the book include phonetics, in Shaw Gynan’s chapter entitled ‘Spanish speakers speak like they’re in a hurry: Why does Spanish sound faster than English?’ (14–25). Dialectology is touched upon in Edwin M. Lamboy’s ‘I have a hard time understanding my Caribbean friends’ Spanish. Why is that?’ (153–65). Pragmatics and politeness are introduced in ‘Spanish speakers interrupt me a lot. Don’t they know that shows a lack of respect?’ by Carmen García (108–20). There are also chapters introducing historical linguistics, language processing, first-langauge acquisition and the critical period hypothesis, language contact, and the difference between native and heritage speakers of Spanish. Each chapter concludes by revisiting its titular question and summarizing the chapter’s efforts to answer it, replete with a bibliography and activities designed to allow students to reflect on the material covered and to put it into practice by analyzing data.

The true innovation of this book is that it can help instructors of Hispanic linguistics bridge two often large gaps in their classes: the gap between abstract academic material and real world experience, and the gap between presentation of linguistic concepts to uninitiated students and the desire to have students read primary literature, which they often find daunting. Individual chapters may be used to complement the course text and lectures, and to prepare students for reading primary sources from the bibliography at the end of each chapter, which in turn can assist students in seeking readings for course projects. No chapter is prerequisite reading for another, so instructors can freely choose the chapters that they wish to use without worrying that the topic of a given chapter might require a great deal of prior introduction.