Student review: Understanding Language: A Basic Course in Linguistics

November 8, 2012

Author: Elizabeth Winkler

Edition: Second

Publisher: Bloomsbury/Continuum

Pages: 344

Price: £16.99

ISBN: 9781441138965

For an introductory text to be successful it must be clear, captivating and complete. With this second edition of Understanding Language, Elizabeth Winkler manages to incorporate all these key elements while also finding a way to make linguistics fun.

The book comprises three sections - "Defining and acquiring language", "Structures of language" and "Language in use" - and each is further broken down into chapters and units. Within these sections, Winkler, through her conversational and informative style, introduces the reader to the principal areas of linguistics such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics/pragmatics. At the end of each chapter, she encourages the reader to become more involved with the topics by providing sections on "Suggested reading", "Interesting websites" and questions or exercises, which could be indispensable to the independent learner. Unlike some other similar textbooks, Understanding Language employs numerous examples of language use and word play from everyday life, thereby enabling the reader to feel familiar with the subject matter and demonstrating that there is more to linguistics than dry theory.

My favourite aspect of this updated edition is the companion website, which adds a new and exciting dimension to the text. The site is equipped with an extensive range of resources of benefit to both student and teacher, and contains valuable downloads such as exercises on phonetics and morphology, flashcards to assist in learning the International Phonetic Alphabet and useful links to videos and other relevant websites. With these tools, Winkler makes it extremely easy for the reader to cultivate an interest in linguistics. My only criticism (and it is a minor one) is that answers for the downloadable exercises are not available online.

While some introductory textbooks in this field can be overwhelming for students, Winkler never fails to keep the reader's attention. Her sense of humour, along with references to The Simpsons, Monty Python and Facebook Chat, all help to make this book highly appealing to the young student reader. A new chapter on electronic-mediated communication and its effects on language will also interest them as Winkler discusses the language of texting and instant messaging.

For me, this book reaches beyond the expectations of an introductory text. Winkler furnishes the reader with a multifaceted knowledge of linguistics while also providing an enjoyable and engaging read.

Who is it for? It is a useful, comprehensive preparatory text for linguistics students and also a guideline for teachers. Beginners in linguistics and anyone with an interest in the subject will also benefit from this book.

Presentation: Clear, comprehensive and dynamic.

Would you recommend it? Absolutely.

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