Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction

November 3, 2011

Editors: William O'Grady, John Archibald and Francis Katamba

Edition: Second

Publisher: Pearson Education

Pages: 720

Price: £26.99

ISBN 9781405899307

The standard textbook definition of linguistics as the "scientific study of language" makes it clear that linguists seek to describe and explain a broad range of phenomena, covering territory from acoustic phonetics to zero derivation. What may be less clear to the novice (but often all-too-painfully obvious to the more seasoned practitioner) is that the scientific study of language employs a wide variety of not necessarily compatible, evolving theoretical frameworks. While it may be impossible to pursue a fully theory-neutral approach to the teaching of linguistics, academic responsibility requires any thorough introduction to linguistics to alert students to the existence of, and motivation for, competing theoretical models.

In short, for an introductory textbook to linguistics, it is desirable to provide broad coverage of topics and display theoretical open-mindedness.

Contemporary Linguistics meets these desiderata admirably well. This, the second UK edition, contains 17 chapters written by 13 contributors, and addresses all the topics conventionally taught in a first-year undergraduate course. The material is presented in the traditional order; that is, the chapters on the core topics of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics/pragmatics) proceed from sound to meaning, and core topics precede non-core topics, with chapters on language acquisition, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and typology ordered before those concerned with less frequently taught topics, such as writing systems, animal communication and computational linguistics.

Marking the divide between core and non-core topics is a chapter on cognitive linguistics, which gives the reader a different perspective from the framework of generative grammar that this book adopts.

Contemporary Linguistics is a reader- and instructor-friendly book. It is well paced and clearly written, and each chapter ends with a concise summary of the material, up-to-date recommendations for further reading and an extensive set of exercises. The individual chapters are nicely linked, allowing the reader to integrate information that is presented in different contexts and parts of the book.

The chapters contain ample references to additional online material found on the book's companion website or other unaffiliated sites (including that of the Dnghu Association, devoted to reviving Indo-European). The references, resources and glossary make the book suitable for continued use as a reference work throughout undergraduate study of linguistics, and hence a good investment.

As with any book, different readers will have different quibbles (I was irked by the absence of any mention of circumfixes and the lack of discussion of connectionist approaches in the language acquisition chapter), but the book's broad focus and solid treatment of its subject are undeniable.

It is a workhorse rather than a flashy or methodologically innovative addition to the set of textbooks in linguistics, and that is no small feat.

Who is it for? An excellent primary textbook for beginning linguistics undergraduates; it will also be a useful reference work for more advanced students.

Presentation: Accessible and informative, with tried and tested sequencing of material.

Would you recommend it? More than that - I will be using this book as a coursebook for a first-year undergraduate course in general linguistics.

Recommended

Meaning: A Slim Guide to Semantics

Author: Paul Elbourne

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 192

Price: £12.99

ISBN 9780199696628

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