Introducing language in use: A coursebook

Introducing language in use: A coursebook. By Aileen Bloomer, Patrick Griffiths, and Andrew John Merrison. New York: Routledge, 2005. Pp. xx, 492. ISBN 0415291798. $31.95.

Reviewed by Olga Thomason, University of Georgia

This book is designed as an introductory coursebook for students beginning to study linguistics. As stated in the title, the authors are primarily interested in language in use, and the material of each unit is organized and presented with a functional approach in mind. The mode of presentation is reader-friendly and engaging. The authors move away from a traditional lecture-type style and often introduce material through focus questions and/or activities. The material is introduced in great detail, and different linguistic theories and views on a subject are accounted for. Readers are frequently encouraged to think about certain propositions and come to their own conclusions, and only then do the authors offer their comments. The presentation is enriched with multiple tables and figures as well as with additional texts that often simplify understanding of the material. There is also a useful concise explanation of standard linguistic symbols and abbreviations in the beginning of the book.

The book includes fifteen chapters describing language subjects (phonetics, syntax, morphology, and semantics) and various fields of linguistic study (language acquisition, conversation analysis, psycholinguistics, and pragmatics). Some important linguistic topics are discussed in separate chapters (‘Language, semiotics and communication’, ‘Powerful language and humour’, ‘Social varieties of language’, ‘Multilingualism’, ‘World Englishes’, ‘History of English’, ‘Language in education’). The final chapter offers additional activities where readers can apply their knowledge of linguistic theory and analytical techniques acquired in previous chapters.

All chapters (with the exception of the final one) have an introductory section and a summary that direct the reader’s attention. Suggestions for further readings and activities as well as a list of references conclude each chapter. Reading lists often include the authors’ remarks on the style, difficulty, or best-addressed topic of selected references. There are also commentaries on activities after each chapter that help in checking students’ learning processes. Sometimes the authors refer readers to the book’s website, which not only contains additional information on the discussed topic but also suggests further readings, web links, and activities (including language games).

The authors’ attempts to make all of the chapters relevantly independent lead to multiple repetitions and some cross-references that do not seem well justified. As a result, there is practically the same description of the relation between semantic and pragmatics on p. 78 and p. 154. The symbol representing stress is explained twice (259, 282). Sometimes, a statement is repeated on the same page (414). The authors often refer readers to the whole chapter instead of the particular part that deals with the problem in question (38, 48). Linkages given solely for the purpose of connecting chapters in a sequence appear redundant and unnecessary since such logical association is often obvious (134, 141, 146).

Many terms that are used in the text are in bold, indicating that one can find their definitions in a very helpful glossary at the end of the book. Unfortunately, there are some inconsistencies in the way the terms are introduced. Some of them are defined in the main body of the book and in the glossary (‘sociolinguistics’, 299, 469), but some are explained only in the text (‘psycholinguistics’, 342). In addition, terms are not consistently put in bold; for example, the term ‘grammar’ is in bold on p. 157, but not on p. 134 even though it is used in the same syntactic and pragmatic circumstances. Sometimes a synonym of a term is given in place of its definition (‘tenor of discourse’, 470).

The index needs some modifications. For example, there is a reference for ‘preposition’ to p. 152 (485), but there is no text on this page. The purpose of markings like language (passim) and language in use (passim) (481) or references to such general constructions as it is assumed (474) in the index is unclear.

In spite of these minor discrepancies, this is a well-written textbook that gives a comprehensive overview of language study in a refreshing manner. It is useful not only for first-timers in linguistics but also for professional linguists looking for a quick update on current linguistic work done outside their area of expertise.