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AUTHORS: Plag, Ingo; Maria Braun; Sabine Lappe; and Mareile Schramm

TITLE: Introduction to English Linguistics

PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2009

Dinha T. Gorgis, Jadara University, Irbid, Jordan

Introduction to English Linguistics, 2nd edition, is a book primarily intended to be used by
beginning university students of English. Although this co-authored work is written within a
German setting, it is undoubtedly accessible world-wide. For while it "presupposes no prior
knowledge of linguistics" (p. xi), it must also be admitted that the book is written in such a lucid
and enjoyable style that the reader barely finds any abrupt cut in the flow of information. And
rather than adopting one particular theoretical framework, the book draws on insights from various
traditions. In addition to being written in user-friendly English, the book is error-free. It comprises
a two-page introduction, seven chapters, each of which ending with a section on recommended
readings and a few exercises for both basic and advanced levels, a glossary of terms used
throughout the book, a list of references and a subject index.

Unlike other introductory books on English linguistics, e.g. Meyer (2009) or Bieswanger and
Becker (2008), the first chapter (pp. 1-28) starts right away with phonetics, considered a sub-
discipline of linguistics, rather than telling the newcomer to a relevant course what linguistics as a
field of enquiry might be. However, the authors take British Standard English as the object of their
account with frequent references to General American English (GAE). For that matter, Received
Pronunciation (RP), an accent whose sounds are described and words transcribed using IPA
notations, is occasionally contrasted with German and GAE. Like many pedagogically-oriented
textbooks, the authors focus on articulatory phonetics owing to its practical purposes in
second/foreign language teaching settings as compared to acoustic and auditory phonetics. The
chapter briefly notes the difference between spelling and pronunciation and proceeds with the
description of consonants as produced by our speech apparatus and their classification in terms of
the fashionable labels given to place and manner of articulation as well as voicing. This is
followed by a similar description and classification of pure vowels and diphthongs. For the
purpose of illustration, some conventional figures are offered, which correctly depict the
movements made by our speech organs. Overall, nothing is really new or unusual about the
chapter; it is simple and straightforward.

The second chapter (pp. 29-69) examines phonology as "the study of the abstract categories that
organize the sound system of a language" (p. 29). In order to establish the phoneme as an abstract
category, a number of spectrographic images for the r-sound occurring in different words are
presented. That spectograms are introduced in the phonology rather than the usual phonetics
chapter is significant for a number of reasons: (1) misconceptions about the nature of individual
speech sounds are removed; (2) each r-sound occurrence, for example, is a phone with different
physical properties because it is determined by the phonetic context in which it occurs; and (3) all
such physical occurrences are reduced into an abstract distinctive entity which we have come to
call a phoneme. So unlike phones, which are physical alternant realsations of a speech sound, we
talk about a limited set of phonemes which Edward Sapir claimed to have psychological reality in
the early 20th century. The key word used for establishing the phonemes of any language is
distribution. Phones are said to be in complementary distribution, i.e. where one phone occurs, a
similar one does not. Even if you try to replace one for another, as is the case with phones that are
in free variation, meaning does not change. But when all the phones pertaining to one single
speech sound are grouped together into a single family, we get an abstract distinctive unit, i.e. a
unit that signals a difference in meaning, that we call a phoneme whose members in phonology are
named allophones. The technique normally followed in establishing such distinctive units is called
the minimal pair technique. This technique requires the availability of language data from which a
researcher can select pairs of words differing in one sound only, provided that the two sounds fill a
corresponding position. For example, both [s] and [f] in the pair /si:t/ and /fi:t/ fill a word-initial
position. But this procedure should no be taken as an act of faith; for although we are familiar with
the once a phoneme, always a phoneme, it is very likely that two phonemes can be neutralized as
is the case with the voicing contrast in German /t/ and /d/ (see pp. 41-42).

The second important issue in this chapter is the syllable whose structure is made up of three
optional and obligatory constituents, viz. onset, nucleus and coda. The onset and coda slots are
optionally filled by consonants, but while the nucleus slot is normally filled by a vowel or
diphthong it can equally be filled by a syllabic consonant, namely /l/, /m/, /n/ or /r/. This should
mean that syllables have a constituent structure and that "every syllable must have a nucleus" (p.
59). Syllabification, on the other hand, is "predictable on the basis of two principles, the Maximal
Onset Principle and Sonority Sequencing Principle" (p. 63). With reference to the category of the
syllable, such principles enable us to formulate phonological rules which govern the distribution of
allophones, e.g. the so-called clear and dark (or velarised) /l/. Unfortunately, there is no mention of
rhyme, of which Plag (2003) is already aware, or syllable weight and its relevance to stress
assignment, which one may find in, e.g. Yavaş (2006).

Chapter 3 (pp. 70-110) takes the reader to a higher level of linguistic analysis: morphology, which
is "the study of the internal structure of words, the rules that govern it, as well as the ways of
creating new words" (p. 70). While the phoneme is designated as a meaningless abstract unit
which can signal a difference in meaning between a pair of words, the morpheme is the smallest,
indivisible, recurrent and meaningful unit which may be free or bound. If it recurs freely, e.g.
book, then it must be a simplex word, i.e. a monomorphemic word, whereas if bound, e.g. {s} in
books, then it is part of complex word. But identifying morphemes is not always straightforward.
For example, while {cran-} in cranberry is a unique morpheme because "it occurs in only one
English word" (p. 73), the plural morphemes in teeth and sheep are traditionally accounted for in
terms of vowel alternation and zero value, respectively. Generally, however, English morphology
is characterized by two systems, viz. closed vs. open. The former represents inflectional
morphology, whereas the latter derivational morphology. Inflectional morphemes, which are said
to be exclusively suffixes, are restricted in number and do not change the grammatical category (or
word-class, or part of speech, if you like) when attached to words and/or involve vowel
alternation, e.g. speak, speaks, speaking, spoken. Derivational morphemes, on the other hand, can
be both suffixes and prefixes and are able to change the grammatical category, e.g. child, childish,
childhood. As such, they constitute an open system which enriches the vocabulary of English.
Like allophones, members of the phoneme, morphemes also have members, called allomorphs. An
allomorph is a variant which the authors claim to be lexically, phonologically and morphologically
conditioned, e.g. the allomorphs of the plural or verb tense morphemes (but see our comment
below). The chapter concludes with other word-formation processes that have become quite
fashionable in English, if not in all languages of the world. These include compounding,
conversion, shortening (subsuming truncation, clipping and blending) and, above all,
abbreviation, which includes both initialism and acronyms.

At the outset of chapter 4, syntax, the authors make it clear that the prescriptive rules one finds in
grammar books are neither necessarily true of language as a system nor complete. Rather, they
serve as "an approximation of the vast knowledge that speakers actually have" (p. 112). Grammar
for them, as for many linguists, is the speaker's tacit knowledge of their language system. So
syntax, the traditional core of grammar, may make reference to any aspect of that knowledge
while exploring the internal structure of sentences. To account for sentential structure, however,
the authors make appeal to the notion of constituent once more. In order for the building blocks,
viz. words and phrases, to count as constituents of well-formed sentences, these blocks must pass
several structural tests, most notable of which are pronominalisation, movement, coordination,
passivisation, omission (cf. ellipsis), gapping and sentence-fragment. For didactic purposes, the
authors seem to have felt that that the classical phrase structure rules and tree diagrams are quite
helpful tools which demonstrably show learners how to test constituency, generate sentences and
resolve structural ambiguity. Equally revealing in this chapter is the authors' successful attempt in
showing how form is related to function. The mappings of form and function that can be found in
English sentences are elegantly schematized on p. 136, but admittedly the schema does not show
all possible mappings. Their conclusion, however, is that "each sentential function can be realised
by a number of different formal categories and that a given formal category may perform different
functions in a sentence" (p. 137).

Chapter 5 (pp. 140-175) introduces the beginning student of linguistics to semantics, a sub-
discipline that deals with the meaning of words and sentences. Rather than accepting the definition
of meaning as "the relation between a linguistic expression and the entity for which it can be used"
(p. 142), the authors correctly define it as "the relation between a linguistic expression (i.e. an
arbitrary form, e.g. word) and a mental category that is used to classify objects, i.e. a concept" (p.
145). Such conception of meaning derives its strength from research evidence concluded on the
basis of speakers' categorization of the objects around. Semanticists "call the object for which a
speaker uses a particular linguistic expression the referent of that linguistic expression. The
relation between linguistic expressions and objects in the in the outside world is termed reference"
(p. 146). So instead of approaching meaning by simply relating words to objects directly, we
should account for it as exhibiting a conceptual structure that manifests "a triangular relationship
between word, concept, and referent" (p. 148), e.g. the schema one finds on p. 149. Although
sentence meaning is not given due attention, the authors could draw a distinction between
semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning by providing a couple of sentences. The main body of
the chapter, however, is devoted to the mental lexicon and conventional areas of lexical semantics,
particularly the organization of lexemes into lexical fields "whose members are linked through
sense relations such as hyponymy and oppositeness" (p. 171).

Pragmatic meaning is the subject matter of chapter 6 (pp. 176-209). As opposed to semantic (or
grammatical) meaning, pragmatics is interested in exploring communicative intentions through
language in use. Speech Act Theory, first expounded by John L. Austin (1962) and developed later
by John Searle (1969; 1979), in particular, is perhaps the earliest "fully fledged theory" (p. 178)
that takes care of our communicative intentions. A speech act has traditionally been characterized
as having three sub-acts: a locutionary act (the act of speaking or writing), an illocutionary act (the
act of imparting meaning), and a perlocutionary act (the effect of the illocutionary force on the
hearer). In our daily-life encounters, we produce a great deal of speech acts which may be reduced
into some five classes for theoretical purposes. These categories include what have come to be
called: declaratives, representatives, directives, commissives, and expressives. Because these
categories may overlap, they have been further classified into directives and non-directives.
Indirect speech acts are often associated with a higher degree of politeness than the direct ones. In
order for speakers to perform speech acts successfully, and for hearers to go about discovering
inferences without much ado, certain conditions must be met. These include Searle's felicity
conditions, background knowledge and, above all, observing Grice's (1975) Cooperative Principle
which subsumes several maxims.

In addition to answering a host of questions pertinent to the six areas of linguistic investigation so
far introduced in the previous chapters, the authors in their final chapter, chapter 7 (pp. 210-230),
feel that beginning students of linguistics may still wish to raise further questions, most important
of which are those related to language genesis and change, acquisition and social significance. To
satisfy their curiosity, answers within three more linguistic fields are provided. These fields, which
include historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, are briefly introduced.

Let me start first with a very minor remark. Although each of the four authors is said to have been
"chiefly responsible for one or two chapters" (p. v), single authors, particularly Sabine Lappe in
chapter two, are advised not to use I and we interchangeably. And rather than appealing to "my
intuitions" (p. 59), reference to the co-authors' intuitions could have strengthened the argument
therein as long as the book is the fruit of joint effort. What looks to me a serious methodological
problem relates to stress, tone and syllable. Since stress is undoubtedly an important aspect of
English phonology, which is referred to in a few pages (pp. 46; 47; 82; 83; 88; 98; 100; 106), I
find it unacceptable to invite the newcomers to a linguistics course "to consider the account in
Spencer's (1996: 206-210) phonology textbook" (p. 46), to pay "particular attention to the stress
patterns of the base words" (p. 98), or to "[c]onsider the difference in the stress pattern" (p. 100)
between compounds. Would a statement such as "a specific stress configuration" (p. 47) or "most
truncated names retain either the first or the main stressed syllable" (p. 106) mean anything to
beginning students in English phonology without telling them what stress is in the first place?
Similarly, "a rising tone on the vowel" (p. 48) would mean very little unless tone languages are
introduced in a few lines at least. Strangely enough, stress and tone are absent from the glossary.
A third methodological problem relates to consistency. Despite the fact that the authors make it
clear right from the beginning that they are not committed to any specific theoretical model, terms
must be kept in harmony. A mismatch between terms is in place as they choose to identify some
diphthongs as centring, simply because they end with a schwa, a central vowel, whereas some
others as closing because they end with a high short vowel. There is nothing wrong with the values
assigned, but it would be preferable to follow a British standard, e.g. Roach (2000), in calling the
high vowels close to maintain conformity. Endnotes could have been provided throughout the
whole book for cases that require further notes such as the high=close or the differences between
the vowels [ɒ], [ɔ] and [ɑ] that are left unexplained, for example.

Confusion of terms extends to aspiration vs. release. In their own words, "English voiceless stops
as they appear in RP have three major types of allophones: an unreleased, an aspirated (released)
and a non-aspirated (released) allophone" (p. 50). What I am aware of is that we have two distinct
pairs, viz. aspirated vs. non-aspirated and released vs. unreleased, where the presence or absence
of aspiration is obligatory, i.e. phonologically conditioned and is captured by redundancy rules,
whereas release is entirely optional. To say that "word-finally we have free variation between
aspirated, non-aspirated, and unreleased variants" (p. 50) would rather be misleading. Therefore,
instructors need to make it clear to their students that voiceless stops occurring in word-final
position are either released or unreleased and hence the common use of a different diacritic. A
similar argument is true of voicing, which earlier is correctly said to be contrastive (distinctive)
feature, i.e. the sound is either voiced or voiceless. While admitting that English is characterized
by "final devoicing" (p. 69), there is no need to identify /r/ and /l/ as having "voiceless allophones"
(p. 50). Rather, it would be more convenient to call them devoiced; for the prefix {de-} implies
that /r/ and /l/ lose a considerable amount of their voicing as a result of co-articulation, but are not
in a binary opposition, i.e. voiced vs. voiceless.

Simplification is necessary in a textbook like this, but an instructor, like me, might be embarrassed
if some smart student raises questions such as the following:
1. Since the book teaches us that /r/ is realized "as [ə] word-finally after [ɪ], [e], and [ʊ] (i.e. in
centring diphthongs" (p. 54), why don't we simply transcribe hearing, for example, as [hɪrɪŋ] (cf.
[hɪə] ) rather than [hi:rɪŋ]?

2. Does the linking [r] have anything to do with lengthening [ɪ], or is it only an attempt to
approximate GAE pronunciation, viz. [hirɪŋ]?

3. Isn't the diphthong just a single complex sound that involves "a change in auditory quality
within a single syllable" (p. 234)?

4. Don't you think that the authors are trying to tell us that the verb hear in RP has basically a CV
structure, but a CVC when suffixed by {-ing}?

5. Wouldn't you agree that the authors are segmenting the diphthong as if it were a cluster of two
pure (simple) vowels?

6. After all, why suggesting that RP speakers simplify, rather than maintain, their centring
diphthongs in words such as enduring? Would they really pronounce caring as [kerɪŋ] in a similar
fashion to, e.g. erring?

I think such questions might equally be asked by some experienced instructors who would,
additionally, wonder why some relevant topics, e.g. assimilation and intonation, are not covered.
Readers, however, might also be curious to ask questions relevant to allomorphy and conditioning.
The indefinite article is a case in point. The authors claim that the indefinite article is a morpheme
with three phonologically conditioned allomorphs (cf. pp. 82-84), viz. [ə], [ən] and [eɪ]
(unexpectedly excluding [æn]), the selection of which is determined by the sound that follows
each of them (see p. 85). Suppose we accept their phonological conditioning. Such a statement
would be valid in the selection of all realisations but the third; for what is phonologically peculiar
about the following consonant in, e.g. a cup, to trigger a stressed [eɪ]? Its selection is simply
determined by discourse as their contextualised example shows. In addition to phonological and
morphological conditioning, related queries may extend to their third so-called lexical
conditioning as regard the plural allomorph of sheep (p. 87). This should mean that we need to
admit that there are two separate entries for sheep, one for the singular and another for the plural.
As such, we need to posit two entries for any morph associated with a zero allomorph, e.g. the
verbs cut, put, etc. in the mental lexicon. In my view, there can be five types of conditioning: (1)
phonological; (2) morphological; (3) morphophonological (or morphophonemic);
morphosyntactical; and (5) discoursal. Representative examples for each type can respectively be:
(1) polite vs. impolite, where assimilation is clearly noticed; (2) interested vs. uninterested or
disinterested, where only the addition of prefixes is involved without any phonological change in
the base; (3) include vs. inclusive or inclusion, where a suffix brings about a phonological change
in the base; (4) sheep (sg) vs. sheep (pl), as determined by the syntax of English; and (5) all weak
vs. strong forms, such as the indefinite articles a and an, as determined by discourse. Overall, the
chapter on morphology is undoubtedly rich, but as long as the purpose of the book is didactic one
still wants to find out why the letter e in word-final position, for example, gets deleted in many
word but is maintained in some others when an adjective-forming suffix is attached, e.g. move and
movable vs. change and changeable, or why some words attract {-able} but some others {-ible},
not to mention the nominalising suffixes {-ance} and {-ence}.

There is not really much to be said about the remaining chapters except for the following remarks
to which I would like to draw the attention of the authors:
1. In chapter 4, syntax, which is not as rich as other chapters, I noticed there is a violation of
binarity principle (see, especially p. 127).
2. One would have liked to see a contrast between finite and non-finite clauses (p. 136).
3. I think the suffix {-er} in chapter 5, semantics, requires more attention.
4. Since "presupposes" (p. 189) is mentioned in chapter 6, pragmatics, it would have been fruitful
to draw a distinction between presupposition and entailment in chapter 5.
5. Adding "propositional content" (p. 190) as an additional condition to the already obtained
general condition for the interpretation of any speech act is redundant, simply because the general
condition is taken to enable the interlocutor to understand a locution linguistically unless the
authors show their readers the difference between semantic and pragmatic proposition.

Last, but not least, one would have liked to see a section or so about some of the pioneering
linguists and outstanding figures who contributed to the development of the field. That said, and
despite the rather lengthy comments I have made above, the book is indeed enjoyable. University
students all over the globe will, undoubtedly, find it stimulating and inspiring.

Austin, John L. 1962. How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bieswanger, Markus and Annette Becker. 2008. Introduction to English linguistics. 2nd edn.
Tϋbingen: Narr.
Grice, Herbert Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In: Cole, Peter and Jerry Morgan. Syntax and
semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts, pp. 41- 58. New York: Academic Press.
Meyer, Charles F. 2009. Introducing English linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Plag, Ingo. 2003. Word-formation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roach, Peter. 2000. English phonetics and phonology: A practical course, 3rd edn. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John. 1979. Expression and meaning. Studies in the theory of speech acts. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Searle, John. 1969. Speech acts. An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Spencer, Andrew.1996. Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Yavaş, Mehmet. 2006. Applied English phonology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Dinha T. Gorgis has been teaching several linguistic modules, including English grammar,
discourse, pragmatics and translation, at a number of Arab universities since 1975, and is currently
professor of linguistics at Jadara University in Jordan. He is chief editor of STJ, member on the
editorial boards of Linguistik, TLJ, and has recently been nominated as a peer-reviewer on the
editorial board of Glossa. His latest publications include: "The translation of Arabic collocations
into English: Dictionary-based vs. dictionary-free measured knowledge" (Linguistik, 2009, Vol.
37) and a review of Mira Ariel (2008). Pragmatics and Grammar. Cambridge: CUP, which
appeared on The LINGUIST List (24 June 2009), Vol. 20.2280.
Published on LINGUIST List, Vol. 21-664, 9 Feb. 2010