Book Notices

Below you will find the most recently published Book Notices. You may also browse the full archive by title, month or keyword.


Review of The SAGE handbook of sociolinguistics

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

The SAGE handbook of sociolinguistics. Ed. by Ruth Wodak, Barbara Johnstone, and Paul Kerswill. London: Sage, 2011. Pp. xvii, 630. ISBN 9781847870957. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth

This handbook is one of a kind in its detailed and multifaceted content and design, covering the founders of the field of sociolinguistics, key sociolinguistic phenomena, and the application of sociolinguistic theories in real life contexts. It offers solid proof that sociolinguistics indeed is the study of language and/in society. The editors must be commended for this heralding effort in putting together this excellent narrative of the beginnings of sociolinguistics in the 1960s alongside thoughtful investigations of its ever-expanding scope in today’s globalized and digitalized world.

The handbook consists of thirty-nine chapters written by fifty authors. The six thematic parts address the aims of the editors which include ‘situating sociolinguistics in its historical and theoretical contexts, introducing the founders of the discipline and focusing on major theoretical themes which have influenced sociolinguistic research at both the macro and micro levels’ (1): history of sociolinguistics, sociolinguistics and social theory, language variation and change, interaction, multilingualism and contact, and applications.

Part 1 offers a succinct glimpse into the beginnings of the field of sociolinguistics narrated in a fluent, personal style. We hear very clearly the voices of the founders of the field, share their fears and insecurities, and thereafter appreciate the sacrifice they put in for the discipline. These founders are Charles Ferguson vs. Joshua Fishman in the sociolinguistics vs. sociology of language debate (Bernard Spolsky), William Labov on language variation and change (Kirk Hazen), Basil Bernstein on codes and social class (Gabrielle Ivinson), Dell Hymes and the ethnography of communication (Barbara Johnstone and William M. Marcellino), and John Gumperz on interactional sociolinguistics (Cynthia Gordon). With this background, the reader develops a fresh focus which guides them through the rest of the handbook.

Parts 2–5 deal with regular topics in sociolinguistics, ranging from social stratification (Christine Mallinson), globalization theory and migration (Stef Slembrouck), courtroom discourse (Susan Ehrlich), to global Englishes (Alastair Pennycook). In Part 6, we are introduced to sociolinguistics at work, including the application of sociolinguistic theories in forensic linguistics (Malcolm Coulthard, Tim Grant, and Krzysztof Kredens), language teaching and assessment (Constant Leung), and literary studies (David Barton and Carmen Lee). This part follows traditions in the subfield of applied sociolinguistics but applies up-to-date analytical frames to recent datasets.

This handbook is certainly the most solid and thorough masterpiece on sociolinguistics in the last half-century. It presents a complete picture of the field from its early years in the 1960s to its contemporary globalized and interdisciplinary scope. Both the young and experienced sociolinguists will develop a refreshed attachment to the field after reading the personalized and interactive accounts of its origins in Part 1. The carefully selected topics and the depth in which they are studied are evidence of the editors’ success in adding ‘new knowledge and new insights’ to extant knowledge on ‘an established field like sociolinguistics’ (1). For any scholar—linguist, anthropologist, sociologist, or cultural or communication theorist—interested in the social functioning of language within different types of societies, this handbook is a natural choice.


Review of The pragmatics of Catalan

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

The pragmatics of Catalan. Ed. by Lluís Payrató and Josep Maria Cots. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2011. Pp. v, 391. ISBN 9783110238686. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Josep Soler-Carbonell, University of Tartu

This is a welcome edition on the subject of the pragmatics of Catalan. As the editors note in their brief introductory section, the book was conceived to circulate among a wider audience at an international level several key aspects of study (descriptive and theoretical) within the field of Catalan pragmatics. The editors state that although there has been investigation in this field, published in both Catalan and English, there is an unbalanced number of studies available in the former relative to the latter. Consequently, and also because of the state of the art research presented in the chapters contained here, this book makes a positive contribution not only to the dissemination of Catalan studies internationally but also to the field of general pragmatics.

The book is divided into two main parts: Part 1 (Pragmatics, grammar, and semantics) and Part 2 (Pragmatics, discourse, sociocultural aspects, and language contact). Each part contains six chapters. Part 1 focuses on the analysis of Catalan pragmatics from a more strictly grammatical point of view (i.e. from the pragmatics–grammar interface). Part 2 takes on a more sociocultural and sociolinguistic approach. The fact that the two perspectives are combined (the more formal one and the more functional one) can be considered yet another merit of the book, something that might be taken as an invitation for linguists from all sub-fields to collaborate in joint ventures more often than they may usually do.

In Ch. 1, Pilar Prieto and Gemma Rigau explore the connection between prosodic patterns (with statements, questions, and requests) and the pragmatic functions that they serve. Ch. 2 (M. Teresa Espinal) analyzes a series of Catalan pragmatic particles at the syntactic–cognitive interface. Ch. 3, by Aina Torrent, focuses on modal particles in Catalan, Ch. 4 (Neus Nogué) on person deixis, and Ch. 5 (Montserrat González) on evidentiality in Catalan. Finally, Ch. 6 (Maria Josep Cuenca) attends to Catalan interjections.

Part 2 begins with a chapter by Marina Lloberes and Lluís Payrató, in which the authors analyze the connection between hand gestures and speech among bilingual speakers in Catalan and Spanish. The following chapter offers an analysis of argumentation in Catalan discourse by Margarida Bassols. In the following chapter, Hortènsia Curell presents an examination of politeness strategies in speech acts such as apologies, requests, and complaints. Metaphor and style are the focus in a chapter by Vicent Salvador. In addition, Luci Nussbaum and Josep Maria Cots provide an analysis of Catalan in the school context, analyzing the interactional resource of code-switching among students. Last but not least, Joan Pujolar rounds out the book with a socio-historical analysis of language contact in Catalonia, against which present-day language use in the area needs to be understood.

Although as a Catalan sociolinguist myself I am biased to evaluate this book in positive terms, I believe there are good reasons to consider it a key contribution to the field of pragmatics, for all the above-mentioned arguments. It is, therefore, recommended reading for scholars and postgraduate students in pragmatics and for anyone interested in Catalan studies and linguistics.


Review of The bearer of this letter: Language ideologies, literacy practices, and the Fort Belknap Indian community

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

The bearer of this letter: Language ideologies, literacy practices, and the Fort Belknap Indian community. By Mindy J. Morgan. (Indigenous education series.) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. Pp. 344. ISBN 9780803267572. $50 (Hb).

Reviewed by David D. Robertson, Spokane, WA

Native communities’ experience as literacy outsiders, then practitioners, Mindy J. Morgan proposes, influences choices they make concerning the revitalization of their tribal languages.  This absorbing ethnohistorical study approximates insider access to the relationship that locals have with reading and writing at Montana’s Fort Belknap Reservation. That relationship is not straightforwardly utilitarian, incorporating streaks of acquired skeptical resistance and increased privileging of indigenous orality.

M narrates Fort Belknap literacy history in phases. She proceeds from prehistory and early history with Ch. 1, ‘Before the reservation’. Nakoda and Atsina migrations from pre-nineteenth century territories are sketched, along with the distinct linguistic repertoires each brought. Missionaries and governments imposed English literacy, largely for new uses like controlling Natives. Indigenous-language writing was rare, often serving contradictory purposes: Christianization efforts by outsiders and documentation of previous lifeways by tribal members.

Ch. 2, ‘Creating boundaries’, examines the ensuing English literacy. At the turn of the century, English evolved a frequent new function: native resistance to imposed authority via targeted petitions. Simultaneously, the community maintained valued older speech practices, privileging spoken agreements, treating documents as mere tokens thereof, and orating with the purpose of shaming and persuading. Emerging from this interplay was routine circulation of petitions by the authorities themselves to gauge community sentiment.

New environments within the tribal communities fostered language shift. Ch. 3, ‘English only’, shows how political and economic realities favored spoken English use, and educational concerns favored written English. Authorities largely condemned tribal languages as unproductive or even destructive, even as anthropologists and linguists were becoming highly interested in documenting them, so at Fort Belknap they took on the role of oral media of resistance, opposed to written, assimilatory English.

With Ch. 4, ‘Shifts in practice’, M shows how the ‘Indian New Deal’ increased tribal autonomy and respect for Native cultures and languages. Yet, for example, employing locals to document Native languages in written English reinforced the decline of oral Atsina and Nakoda.

Hitherto lacking was tribal control, so that shifts in federal administration jeopardized support for any Native cultural programs. Ch. 5, ‘Bringing the languages back’, documents how late-twentieth century policies and indigenous activism encouraged revitalization, now under local governance. Funding for bilingual programs mandated written indigenous-language materials; however, Fort Belknap languages tended to be written mainly as crib notes for already-fluent speakers.

The languages continued to dwindle. Ch. 6, ‘The Nakoda alphabet’, reports recent drives to teach more people, using multimedia approaches. Writing is still resisted; it standardizes, erasing nuances like unique prosodies and lectal variation. Yet the scarcity of fluent speakers necessitates teaching interested new users, more feasibly arranged via writing than by the rare immersion class.

The pervasive contrast in M’s history of Fort Belknap speechways is this: literacy : containment, imposition :: orality : freedom, Native autonomy. Her exposition of this dichotomy reflects close acquaintance with the community, considered understanding, and a skillful writing style. Her book is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read for linguistic anthropologists, endangered-language specialists, and ethnohistorians.


Review of The Cambridge handbook of sociolinguistics

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

The Cambridge handbook of sociolinguistics. Ed. by Rajend Mesthrie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xiv, 530. ISBN 9780521897075. $156 (Hb).

Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth

There are a number of sociolinguistic handbooks out there, but what makes this one special? Apart from the impressive list of renowned and experienced contributors, this book expands the scope of sociolinguistics in various ways, for instance, by dedicating a whole section to the ‘re-emerging’ field of applied sociolinguistics. Although the book is primarily ‘aimed at students who have studied some linguistics and sociolinguistics and who need an advanced up-to-date account of the field’ (xi), many chapters will appeal to researchers in the field and its neighboring disciplines like anthropology, sociology, and education.

The book comprises twenty-three chapters grouped into five parts. The five articles in Part 1 (‘Foundations of sociolinguistics’) adopt innovative perspectives to core sociolinguistic concepts and phenomena like power, social diversity, and language (John Baugh), linguistic anthropology and the study of language as a non-neutral medium (Alessandro Duranti), the social psychology of language (W. Peter Robinson and Abigail Locke), orality and literacy (Lowry Hemphill), and sign languages (Robert Bayley and Ceil Lucas).

Part 2 (‘Interaction, style, and discourse’) is concerned with interactional processes, which in recent research are no longer directly placed under sociolinguistics, for example, pragmatics and discourse (Jan Blommaert), conversation and interaction (Cynthia Gordon), and style (Nikolas Coupland). Contrary to what one might have expected, these chapters do not introduce any new data but rather make salient discussions of existing theories, methods, approaches, and studies on these processes.

In Part 3 (‘Social and regional dialectology’), the focus moves to dialectology, a sub-field as old as sociolinguistics itself. The five chapters investigate the relationship between language and social variables such as social class and status (Gregory R. Guy), region (William A. Kretzschmar, Jr.), place (Barbara Johnstone), gender and sexuality (Natalie Schilling), and ethnicity (Carmen Fought). The salience of these variables with respect to the emergence and evolution of social and regional dialects (including pidgins and creoles) is clearly illustrated.

Using predominantly sociolinguistic approaches, Part 4 (‘Multilingualism and language contact’) engages with topics that are also of relevance to other linguistic disciplines, such as contact linguistics and World Englishes. However, the sociolinguistic focus remains dominant in the description of multilingualism (Ana Deumert), pidgins and creoles (Silvia Kouwenberg and John Victor Singler), code-switching (Pieter Muysken), language maintenance, shift and endangerment (Nicholas Ostler), and colonization, globalization, and World Englishes (Edgar W. Schneider).

Part 5 (‘Applied sociolinguistics’) concerns applied sociolinguistics, or the application of sociolinguistic theories and frameworks in real-life situations. The functioning of applied sociolinguistics is illustrated using four situations: language planning and language policy (James W. Tollefson), the law (Diana Eades), the media (Susan McKay), and education (Christopher Stroud and Kathleen Heugh). These studies portray the complementary link between sociolinguistics and applied linguistics.

From the breadth and vivacity of the studies collected here, one agrees with the editor that the current handbook ‘provides a practitioner’s overview of the multifaceted field of sociolinguistics that is an integral part of…linguistics’ (2). By integrating topics commonly aligned with other linguistic disciplines into sociolinguistic theory and approaches, this handbook becomes a valuable companion for both students and researchers.


Review of Events of putting and taking: A crosslinguistic perspective

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

Events of putting and taking: A crosslinguistic perspective. Ed. by Anetta Kopecka and Bhuvana Narasimhan. (Typological studies in language 100.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. xv, 371. ISBN 9789027206817. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Engin Arik, Atasehir/Istanbul, Turkey

Semantic typology, as one of the emerging fields of linguistics, explores how languages encode and express basic semantic categories such as color, kinship, space, and time. Researchers affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics are the leading figures in this field, especially with regard to spatial expressions. This book is yet another publication by them on the way languages express simple spatial events of placement and removal.

In the book, studies on nineteen languages from various language families are reported. Similar to previous studies by the same institute, all of the contributors to the current book have used the same set of elicitation materials consisting of sixty-three movies that are between three and four seconds in duration; these are accessible online after registration. The movies depict various events, such as ‘putting a cup on a table’ and ‘taking a cup off a table’, manipulated according to event participants (e.g. figure and ground), their spatial configurations, instruments (e.g. hand and mouth), and manner of motion (e.g. dropping and placing). Participants were asked to describe the movies.

The book begins with a preface by Stephen C. Levinson, which is followed by an introduction by Bhuyana Narasimhan et al. Each of the seventeen articles in the book introduces the target language, provides basic locative structures, and reports descriptive findings.

Part 1 focuses on ‘lexical semantics’, consisting of ten articles: Niclas Burenholt on Jahai, an Austroasiatic language (four consultants); Jidong Chen on Mandarin (ten consultants); Penelope Brown on Tzeltal, a Mayan language (twelve consultants); Christian J. Rapold on ǂAkhoe Haillom, a Khosian language (nine consultants); Nadi Nouaourion on Moroccan Arabic (nine consultants); Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano on Basque (six consultants) and Spanish (ten consultants); Raphael Berthele on Romansh, a Romance language (thirteen Romansh-German bilinguals, six German speakers, six Swiss German speakers); Marianne Gullberg and Burenhult on Swedish (eighteen speakers); Attila Andics on Hungarian (twelve participants); and Narasimhan on Tamil, a Dravidian language, (nine speakers), and Hindi (four speakers).

Part 2 is entitled ‘(A)symmetries in encoding placement vs. removal events’ consisting of six articles: Alice Gaby on Kuuk Thaayorre, a Pama Nyungan language, (six consultants); Miyuki Ishibashi on Japanese (twenty participants); Stephen C. Levinson and Brown on Yélî Dnye, a Papuan language, (ten consultants); Loretta O’Connor on Lowland Chontal, an endangered language from a Chontal of Oaxaca language (five consultants); Anetta Kopecka on Polish (fourteen participants); and Jan Heegård Petersen on Kalasha, an Indo-Iranian language, (three informants). Part 2 is followed by language and subject indices.

Overall, the findings show to what extent languages differ from one another in the way the speakers express placement (‘putting’) and removal (‘taking’) motion events, suggesting some language-specific patterns. The book is well organized, and the structure of the articles is highly engaging. I highly recommend this book to those interested in studying semantic typology.


Review of Beyond pure reason: Ferdinand de Saussure’s philosophy of language and its early Romantic antecedents

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

Beyond pure reason: Ferdinand de Saussure’s philosophy of language and its early Romantic antecedents. By Boris Gasparov. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Pp. 248. ISBN 9780231157803. $50 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas (UNICAMP)

This book is a penetrating study of the evolution of Saussure’s thought and the widely recognized tensions in his scattered musings on language. As the very title announces, it traces the origins of his thought on language to the little explored influence of Romantic thinkers, mainly German. The book results from a series of lectures delivered by the author, Boris Gasparov, at Columbia University in the fall of 2006 and is a long overdue re-assessment of the overall intellectual output of this great founder of modern linguistics, the 100th anniversary of whose death the world commemorates this year.

Saussure is known mostly for the posthumous publication of his Course in general linguistics, assembled from his sketchy class notes by some of his students. However, as G shows, this is but a tip of a large iceberg, most of which has received scant scholarly attention and which, if explored with diligence, will reveal an altogether different Saussure than the one the world has known.

The book is presented in three parts containing seven chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion. Part 2 contains three chapters, while the four others are evenly distributed between the first and the third parts. In the introduction to the book, the author lays down the basic thrust of what follows, explaining its premises. Under its tell-tale title ‘Saussure, “Saussurism”, and “Saussurology”’, the author teases out the historical figure of Saussure ipse from ‘Saussurology’—‘the “archeological” research into Saussure’s heritage, together with the interpretation that ensued’—and ‘Saussurism’—moved by a ‘desire to exculpate Saussure from all the sins of structuralism’ (6). Saussure’s trademark concepts, such as the arbitrariness of language and the foundational binary oppositions synchronic vs. diachronic and the signifier vs. the signified, are also brought under scrutiny.

Part 1 is titled ‘Voluble silence: Saussure and his legacy’. It is biographical in its thrust and aims to tease out the person of Saussure from his persona. Part 2, titled ‘Postulates about language and their demise’, takes a critical look at the received opinion on Saussure and makes a case for a more nuanced reading of some of the hasty claims made on his behalf. This part brings out the utmost significance of the theme of negativity and a host of related themes in Saussure’s mode of thinking. Finally, Part 3, under the title ‘Language in discourse’, takes up for scrutiny Saussure’s favorite ‘hobby-horse’ toward the last years of his life: the enigma posed by the phenomenon of the anagram—which, as many scholars have been quick to observe, seems to go against the very grain of all that he publically claimed.

This book is a living testimony to years of painstaking scholarly research and a remarkable capacity to make connections between facts spread over disparate spaces and time-frames.


Review of The Anglicization of European lexis

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

The Anglicization of European lexis. Ed. by Cristiano Furiassi, Virginia Pulcini, and Félix Rodríguez González. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. ix, 356. ISBN 9789027211958. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Isabel Álvarez, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

This book contains a selection of fifteen articles organized into three sections and preceded by an introduction. These articles were presented at the seminar The Anglicization of European lexis, which was held in Turin (Italy) in the summer of 2010. The purpose of this collection is to assess the Anglicization of European lexis from a crosslinguistic perspective. A total of nine European languages—Armenian, Danish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Serbian, and Spanish—are represented. One of the most innovative aspects of this collection is that most studies are corpus-based. As stated by the editors, the intended audience is ‘scholars interested in the spread of English, contact and comparative linguistics, lexicology and lexicography, and computer corpus lexicography’ (21).

In the introduction, the editors discuss the role of English as a lingua franca in Europe and, as a consequence, the influence it has on European languages, particularly at the lexical level. They also discuss the advantages of using a corpus-based approach.

Section 1 addresses issues related to the analysis and collection of Anglicisms. Two of its articles discuss theoretical and practical issues: Ian MacKenzie predicts that increasing bilingualism will change borrowing patterns, while Esme Winter-Froemel and Alexander Onysko distinguish between catachrestic and non-catachrestic lexical innovations as a way to reframe the distinction between necessary and luxury loans. The remaining five chapters focus on Anglicisms in several languages. Both Anne-Line Graedler and Gisle Andersen, who study Norwegian, discuss corpus-based research methods. Marcus Callies, Onysko, and Eva Ogiermann investigate gender variation of English loan words in German, using both electronic corpora and questionnaires, and conclude that the extent of gender variation is closely related to the type of data used. Anahit Galstyan analyzes the phonetic and graphemic integration of Anglicisms in Armenian, and Tvrtko Prćić describes the process of compiling a dictionary of Anglicisms in Serbian.

Section 2, which includes five chapters, deals with the influence of English on multi-word units and phraseology, an area that has not received much attention. Henrik Gottlieb conducts a diachronic study of Anglicisms in Danish. Both José Oncins-Martínez, who studies newly coined Anglicisms in Spanish, and Sabine Fiedler, who looks at the influence of English on German phraseology, use a corpus-based approach and discuss some of the advantages that this approach offers. Ramón Martí Solano, who studies journalist discourse in France, and Agata Rozumko, who examines the English influence on Polish proverbial language, emphasize the impact that this type of borrowing has on the culture of the receiving language.

The final section presents research on the influence of English terms on specialized discourse. Gunnar Bergh and Sölve Ohlander study football lexis and how European languages are similar or dissimilar in their adoption of football loans. The remaining two chapters, one by Paola Gaudio and the other by Sabrina Fusari, focus on Italian. The former analyzes the stages of incorporation of economics-related terms, while the latter looks at some Anglicisms that were widely used by the press during Alitalia’s bailout, and concludes that these terms often contributed to covering up, rather than clarifying, certain aspects of the crisis.


Review of Translators through history

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

Translators through history. Ed. by Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth. (Benjamins translation library 101.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. xxv, 337. ISBN 9789027224514. $49.95.

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Excellent, informative, and highly readable are the first words that come to mind to describe this book. Indeed, it was highly acclaimed when it appeared as a groundbreaking book back in 1995, and the work has established itself as a must-read for anyone active in the field of translation and other related disciplines. Even though a reprinted version contained some adjustments, the work had never been revised until a new French version of the book by Jean Delisle was produced in 2007. This edition made it obvious that the English original, too, was in need of an update.

In the foreword to the second edition, Judith Woodsworth indicates that the revised edition is motivated primarily by the fact that approaches to history have continued to evolve and also by the fact that the field of translation studies has evolved, benefiting from new theoretical perspectives through contact with other disciplines. This revised edition reflects these changes. Nevertheless, a good part of the original 1995 publication has been retained, and the focus remains on the translators rather than on the process of translation. Some material, however, is new. For example, there is an addition that reflects contemporary developments in machine translation. One chapter, on the influence of translators in the production of dictionaries, was rewritten for the French version and appears here in English for the first time. Newer, updated references are used and the work also draws attention to new directions in translation scholarships. For example, recent research on the significance of the Toledo School has been taken into account and has necessitated some important changes in this revised edition.

This work is divided into nine chapters, each one dealing with a specific area in which translators have played a key role: the invention of alphabets, the development of national languages, the emergence of national literatures, the dissemination of knowledge, the reins of power, the spread of religions, the transmission of cultural values, the production of dictionaries, and the making of history. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction to its theme and illustrates the theme by focusing on six to eight examples from around the globe. As an example, the chapter on the spread of religions includes sections on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and a final section on the translation of sacred texts of the East.

Overall, this work presents a wealth of information in a highly readable and lively style. The authors kept this reader interested and impressed with the vast amount of material covered in the work. They convincingly illustrate, with many of examples, that translators have carried important roles throughout the centuries and that research in translation history is alive, exciting, and actively pursuing new insights.


Review of Linguistic anthropology: A brief introduction

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

Linguistic anthropology: A brief introduction. By Marcel Danesi. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2012. Pp. 250. ISBN 9781551304892. $44.95.

Reviewed by Josep Soler-Carbonell, University of Tartu

Written in a clear and straightforward style, this book makes for a useful and usable manual for introductory courses to the discipline of linguistic anthropology and related areas of the more broadly conceived language-in-society field. It is the third revised edition by the author and is recommendable for courses at the undergraduate level in particular. The book is well organized and structured, starting with the more essential description of the linguistic component of the discipline, building up to broader and more general layers of social phenomena and language use.

Ch. 1, ‘Linguistic anthropology’, provides a general introduction to the field, touching upon essential aspects of what a language is, its origins, and linguistics as the science that studies it. Ch. 2, ‘Language levels’, adds another general introduction to the more basic elements that form a language: phonology, grammar, semantics, and pragmatics. It thus presents the more formal aspects of the study of language. In Ch. 3, ‘Language and social phenomena’, the level of analysis is raised to the broader layers of society and language use. This chapter underscores the importance of such study, illustrating it with two different phenomena: naming people and the relationship between language and myth.

Ch. 4, ‘Conversation and discourse’, builds upon the previous chapter and centers its focus on the conversational and discourse layers. It briefly presents the notions of conversation (and conversation analysis) and of discourse, and then goes on to illustrate how language use in the media is deeply influential into shaping discourse and forms of talk. Ch. 5, ‘Variation’, inspects and introduces the concept of language vs. dialect, diglossia, slang and jargon, and borrowing. It touches base on other important linguistic aspects and processes that are informative of language evolution and change. Ch. 6, ‘Language and cognition’, is grounded on the work by Boas, Sapir, and Whorf, and on the decade-long debate concerning how language influences and shapes human thought and cognition. It provides useful and illustrative examples for debate (particularly for undergraduate students), such as kinship terms and color vocabulary.

Ch. 7, ‘Conceptual metaphors’, departs from and extends the questions presented in the previous chapter, providing an essential introduction to the linguistic and conceptual analyses of metaphor. Ch. 8, ‘Miscellaneous topics’, concludes the book, rounding out some of the topics covered throughout (like language change). At the same time, it briefly touches upon other points that the author was not able to present in preceding chapters (such as sound symbolism and artificial languages).

All in all, this book can be recommended for students of linguistic anthropology at an undergraduate level, as well as students of other related subjects within the broader field of language-in-society. If I were to suggest one feature that would improve the book for future editions, it would be to include a few questions for debate and discussion at the end of each chapter. Apart from that, this is a suitable book for courses such as those noted.


Review of Making sense of language

(posted October 22nd, 2013)

Making sense of language: Reading in culture and communication. 2nd edn. By Susan D. Blum. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. iii, 608. ISBN 9780199840922. $49.95.

Reviewed by Josep Soler-Carbonell, University of Tartu

This is an excellent collection of key articles in language-in-society, language anthropology, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication, and related areas. It is an enhanced version of the first edition, featuring three new units (‘Language origins’, ‘Language socialization’, and ‘(New) media’), a subunit (‘Generation’), twenty-nine new chapters, and a map illustrating the different areas of the world whose languages are presented for discussion in the book.

In addition to its chapters, which are easily accessible to the reader, the book includes a range of complementary features that are helpful for both teacher and students. Each of the chapters is preceded by a brief introduction and a series of reading questions. Each chapter ends with a few additional questions for classroom debate or applicable uses of the concepts introduced in the chapter, followed by a list of key vocabulary and suggested further reading. The result is a comprehensive study unit that is useful for the professor in guiding the discussion and also for the student, making the topics digestible and accessible for future study.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 (‘The nature of language’) contains five units, divided into a total of eighteen chapters. Part 2 (‘Language and society’) is the most extensive, consisting of two units (‘Multilingualism’ and ‘Language and identity’), each divided into several subunits, for a total of twenty-two chapters. Finally, Part 3 (‘Language as social action’) contains two units, with eight chapters in total: Unit 8 (‘Discourse, performance and ritual’) and Unit 9 (‘Language ideology’).

The readings have been carefully selected and encompass a fruitful mixture of seminal articles and book chapters (e.g. by Ferdinand de Saussure, Mikhail Bakhtin, Benjamin Lee Whorf, Elinor Ochs and Bambi B. Schieffelin, William Labov, Deborah Tannen, and John L. Austin) together with more recent state-of-the-art research on current topics in language in society (e.g. H. Samy Alim, Scott Fabius Kiesling, Alexandra D’Arcy). Moreover, the reader can connect topics of chapters from different units, which makes the book coherent. For example, Ch. 30, Deborah Tannen’s ‘New York Jewish conversational style’ can later on be fruitfully related to Ch. 46, Benjamin Bailey’s ‘Communication of respect in interethnic service encounters’. Ch. 37 (Kira Hall’s ‘“Unnatural” gender in Hindi’) resonates when reading Ch. 47 (Chaise LaDousa’s ‘On mother and other tongues: Sociolinguistics, schools and language ideology in Northern India’).

All in all, this is an excellent collection of readings, appropriate for courses on any aspect of language-in-society at the undergraduate level. To point out only one aspect for further thought in future editions, I would suggest that in the questions for the ‘Critical thinking and application’ section an effort be made to consider applicable questions outside the United States. Such a focus is understandable when a given feature characteristic of American English is being discussed (such as ‘dude’, in Ch. 36), but when the general topic shifts to outside the United States, discussing questions framed in a United States setting may seem out of context. This objection aside, the book is highly recommendable for classroom use and application.