Introducing English linguistics

Introducing English linguistics. By Charles F. Meyer. (Cambridge introductions to language and linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. x, 259. ISBN 9780521541220. $36.99.

Reviewed by Dustin De Felice, University of South Florida

Charles F. Meyer has written this text for English language educators with the goal of understanding the English language in structure and usage. In contrast to many linguistics texts, this book is written from a top-down perspective. It is divided into two main sections: the first deals with general characteristics of the English language (e.g. historical developments and pragmatic considerations) while the second describes its grammatical characteristics (e.g. English language structure, meaning, and sounds). The introductory page of each chapter provides a list of key terms and a paragraph-length preview. Within each chapter, there is an introduction that includes the main ideas or concepts of the following subsections. M uses linguistic descriptions based on examples of spoken and written English taken from either a linguistic corpus (both spoken and written) or newspaper articles.

Each chapter concludes with a summary, a set of self-study activities (an answer key is provided at the end of the text), and suggestions for further reading. The appendix describes the linguistic corpora consulted and provides instructions for locating examples used in the text. The glossary contains more than 225 terms.

In the first main section (Chs. 1–4), M covers the historical development of the English language and general pragmatic considerations. In Ch. 1, ‘The study of language’ (1–18), M surveys linguists and their perspectives on language, including a critique of their ideological perspectives. In Ch. 2, ‘The development of English’ (19–46), M discusses how languages develop and how linguists classify them. He also discusses the historical development of English and compares its typological features to other world languages. Ch. 3, ‘The social context of English’ (47–78), and Ch. 4, ‘The structure of English texts’ (79–109), discuss pragmatics, exploring speech act theory, Grice’s four maxims, and politeness.

In the second section, M delves into the linguistic structures of English. In Ch. 5, ‘English syntax’ (111–47), M discusses how words are grouped and ordered. In Ch. 6, ‘English words: Structure and meaning’ (149–93), M focuses on word structure and formation as well as the study of meaning. In Ch. 7, ‘The sounds of English’ (195–218), M looks at speech sounds, both segments and suprasegments.

Educators, students, and scholars will appreciate M’s top-down approach and find his real-life examples illuminating and useful. Students will enjoy the self-study activities and the accompanying answer key. Overall each chapter is text-heavy, with short examples following thorough descriptions of the linguistic features in action.