Reviewed by Adam C. McCollum, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
The book under review is the third incarnation, now in English, of a series of chapters in Dutch, introducing basic concepts of linguistics going back to 1992 and revised a decade later. Authors of various chapters changed between 1992 and 2002, and in this version are listed only in a table in the preface. The editors have in mind as their readers ‘first of all students of language, but it is also suitable for others who want to know more about modern linguistics’ (xvii). The chapters comprise six distinct parts, shifting in focus from the general to sentence-level to smaller-level topics, ending with chapters covering questions of language change, variation, and interaction: Part 1, ‘Language and language faculty’ (Chs. 1–3), Part 2, ‘Language and interaction’ (Chs. 4–5), Part 3, ‘Sentences and their meaning’ (Chs. 6–10), Part 4, ‘Words and their meaning’ (Chs. 11–13), Part 5, ‘Speech sounds’ (Chs. 14–16), and Part 6, ‘Languages and communities’ (Chs. 17–20). Each chapter consists of an introduction, including examples that highlight the linguistic topic under discussion, a number of sections covering the aspects of the topic, and a summary concluding the chapter. Each summary is followed by two additional sections: ‘Assignments’ and ‘Test yourself’. References and suggestions for further reading appear at the end of each chapter. Throughout the book, key terms are in bold-faced type. The book is written entirely from the point of view of British English.
This textbook will provide students with a broad initiation into most of the categories of modern linguistics, although a section solely devoted to writing systems, presently discussed only incidentally, would have been welcome. It is doubtful that any first-time linguistics student will finish reading this book without a greater appreciation for the wonder and complexity of the world’s languages present and past, though the latter might have been exemplified more. Some deficiencies deserve mention, including several typos found in the book. Additionally, in the transliterations of examples from various languages, ‘j’ is [j] (i.e. English ‘y’); for example, Samoyedic is spelled with a ‘j’ (348). This fact ought to have been clearly stated, or the practice to have been avoided, especially for English speakers. A glaring error of fact occurs in reference to Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (1755) as ‘one of the first dictionaries’ (227), which ignores the centuries older lexicographical traditions of, for example, the classical and some Near Eastern languages, as well as European vernacular lexicography from the sixteenth century onward. Additionally, there is mention of the Swadesh list (237) but with no indication of some linguists’ criticism of methods associated with it. On page 292, ‘many web sites [sic]’ are referred to for the sounds of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but none are suggested at the end of the chapter. Finally, an almost naïve Western-centric point of view is palpable in some remarks (e.g. once each on pages 352, 353). Despite these caveats, I expect the book to succeed reasonably well as a first-level meeting between beginning students and linguistics.