Book Notices

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Review of The syntax of Old Norse: With a survey of the inflectional morphology and a complete bibliography

(posted February 20th, 2008)

The syntax of Old Norse: With a survey of the inflectional morphology and a complete bibliography. By Jan Terje Faarlund. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xvii, 300. ISBN 0199271100. $91.66 (Hb).

Reviewed by Peter Tunstall, Grantham, UK

Intended as a successor to Marius Nygaard’s Norrøn syntax of 1906, this work offers a comprehensive synchronic description of Old Norse syntax, the first in English, based on principles–and-parameters theory (PPT).

Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’ (1–6), presents some technical background and sets the scope of the study. As defined here, ‘Old Norse is another term for Medieval West Nordic’ (1), that is, the language of Norway and its colonies c. 800–1400. All examples are taken from manuscripts written in Iceland or Norway between 1200 and 1400.

Prior knowledge of PPT is not assumed, and ‘theoretical argumentation’ and ‘technical details have been kept to a minimum’ (xii). Thus, Faarlund’s rejection of oblique subjects in Old Norse receives only a brief justificatory note along with references to the debate (194–95), while the innovation of a reference phrase between the noun phrase and determiner phrase is introduced without fuss (56–57). Just over four pages of Ch. 1 are spent on the basics of X-bar theory, movement, and adjunction, with further terms explained later as they come up. This is not to say that the problems inherent in such a study are skirted over; more than once, F supplies competing interpretations, whether for want of native speakers to decide the matter (216), or because no one hypothesis has been found preferable (196–97).

Some 17 percent of the book is devoted explicitly to nonsyntactic features: Ch. 2, ‘Phonology’ (7–15), and Ch. 3, ‘Inflectional morphology’ (16–54). While these areas are covered by existing textbooks, their treatment here is particularly well structured. The main topic is addressed in Ch. 4, ‘The noun phrase’ (55–80); Ch. 5, ‘Determiner phrases’ (81–93); Ch. 6, ‘The adjective phrase’ (94–106); Ch. 7, ‘The prepositional phrase’ (107–20); Ch. 8, ‘The verb phrase’ (121–88); Ch. 9, ‘The finite sentence’ (189–243); Ch. 10, ‘Subordinate clauses’ (244–79); and Ch. 11, ‘Reflexive binding’ (280–84). A ‘Bibliography of Old Norse syntax’ (285–94), subject index (295–98), and selective word index (299–300) complete the volume.

Points are amply illustrated with data from a range of sources, including sagas, homilies, diplomas, and laws. F’s ‘standardized Old Norse orthography’ (xv) is for the most part consistent, though a few irregularities have crept in: byskup (100) : biskup (206); ón (263) : ván (162); man : mun (162); best (228) : bezt (96); dvaldist (101) : lamdisk (104), and so on.  In a few instances, an acute accent has been omitted, for example, hrið (195), or, less often, added on a short vowel: hínum (145). Otherwise, typos are rare: pví for því (157), hjlópu for hljópu (167). None of this mars the quality of the syntactic discussion. Glosses are as a rule accurate and idiomatic; I noticed only one misprint: ‘on Bolli’ (65), example 32a, should read ‘for Bolli’.

The book is clearly written and accessible to nonspecialists, in keeping with the broadness of F’s envisaged audience: ‘students and scholars working on historical Germanic linguistics, diachronic syntax, or Scandinavian languages’, and ‘philologists and others interested in Nordic languages, civilizations and history’ (xi).  It should prove a valuable resource.


Review of Boko, Bokobaru and Busa dictionaries

(posted February 20th, 2008)

Boko dictionary. By Ross Jones. (Languages of the world/dictionaries 24.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. vii, 313. ISBN 389586627X. $97.20.

Bokobaru dictionary. By Ross Jones. (Languages of the world/dictionaries 30.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. vi, 338. ISBN 3895868361. $99.60.

Busa dictionary. By Ross Jones. (Languages of the world/dictionaries 31.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. vi, 201. ISBN 389586837X. $92.40.

Reviewed by Michael Cahill, SIL International

These dictionaries are of a cluster of three related Eastern Mande languages, spoken mainly in Nigeria and spilling into Benin. They are a result of Jones’s decades of experience in Nigeria, and also relate to his Ph.D. dissertation on the grammar of the cluster, also published by LINCOM Europa.

The three dictionaries are almost identical in their layout, with about 6,000 entries each, though no pictures. An introduction gives a brief sketch of the grammar, including a helpful sketch of grammatical tone and the complex pronoun system, in which the form depends on case-like functions and verb aspect. In the main section, J lists a word (given by orthographic representation of the root), its part of speech, phonetic representation (including tone), a one- or two-word definition in English, and usually an illustrative sentence (except for the Busa dictionary) with an English free translation. Subentries, including many phrases using the main entry, are listed in indented separate lines. Homonyms or radically different senses of the stem are listed as separate entries with subscripts, for example, na1, na2, na3. Variant pronunciations or synonyms are sometimes given. He also includes a ‘Finderlist’ in each dictionary, with English words and their respective Boko, Bokobaru, or Busa equivalents.

The Busa dictionary is significantly smaller than the others because it has no illustrative sentences as the others do. The number of entries and subentries, however, is comparable. For example, under the letter ‘f’, Busa has 91 entries while Boko has 99. Busa has 109 subentries, while Boko has 130.

Orthography is mostly phonemic. Digraphs in these languages include <gb> and <kp>, representing the doubly articulated stops. Some dictionaries separate these alphabetically from <g> and <k>, since they are separate phonemes, while others list them in the midst of the <g> and <k> entries. J does the latter. Other digraphs are <kw>, <ky>, <gw>, <gy>, <sw>, and <zw>, which may be single phonemes or sequences, but also are listed in the midst of <k>, <g>, <s>, and <z>. By contrast, nasalized vowels are listed separately from oral vowels, presumably because they are not digraphs.

The back covers of all of the dictionaries tell us that comparison of the dictionaries ‘illustrates consonant weakening, elision, and significant changes in the tone system’. I would also add semantic shift to this list. The dictionaries are a rich source of data for demonstrating historical change of all of these types, and the forms and glosses are close enough so that recognition of cognates is not generally a problem. For example, ‘offence’ in Busa and Bokobaru is [tààrí] but is [tààé] in Boko. ‘Snot’ in Boko is mid-toned [kyã], but the corresponding low-toned [kyã̀] in Busa and [kyã̀ ~ kñã̀] in Bokobaru mean ‘catarrh,’ while ‘snot’ is now expressed by a longer word: [kyã̀kòkŋ́] and [kñã̀kòkŋ́], respectively. Interestingly, to ‘blow nose’ is kyã̀ pε in all three languages (though with mid tone in Boko).

The heart of a dictionary is the definitions. In these works, J mostly supplies one-word glosses, as is common for bilingual dictionaries, quite handy for quick reference and crosslinguistic comparisons, but of less value in understanding the pragmatic uses and semantic shades of a word. For example, he lists four words for ‘courage’ in the ‘English-Boko Finderlist’. When one looks them up in the main Boko section, they are all given the definition ‘courage’. The example sentences give some insight into their uses, but are of little help in telling when to use which term (as if a non-English speaker tried to compliment someone by saying ‘What an abnormal child you have!’ rather than saying ‘remarkable’). Sample sentences are generally the only clue to more in-depth semantics and pragmatics, and they vary in their usefulness.

I suspect the one-word definitions may be culturally misleading as well in some cases, for example, ãbaao ‘reporter’. A native English speaker reading this thinks of either television, some print medium, or a person who makes a living from his reporting. Could ãbaao be rather a ‘town crier’ type of person, who announces news in the community in a strictly oral mode?

An interesting feature of the dictionaries is the etymologies given for many of the words. Some are obviously from French or English, but the picture is murkier when it comes to words that have their ultimate origin in Arabic. He lists many of them as coming via the neighboring Dendi, and gives the corresponding Dendi form. Hausa, however, is also an influence in the area, and this raises questions—for example, did Boko ãnabi ‘prophet’ (Bokobaru/Busa annabi) come from Dendi annabi or Hausa annabi? J says it is from Dendi, which historically had a huge impact, but Hausa is also currently influential. Languages of northern Ghana such as Dagbani and Konni, two countries away, also use anabi, under Hausa influence. A sketch of the past and current sociolinguistic situation of the area would have been illuminating. It seems likely that many of the etymologies are hypotheses subject to systematic confirmation.

The parts of speech sometimes cannot be justified syntactically, and one wonders if these were written with the linguistically naïve English speaker in mind rather than the linguist. The main culprits are what in English would be adjectives that are expressed as verbs in many African languages. ‘Big’ [gbεnε] is listed as both ‘predicate adjective’ and in another context, ‘attributive adjective’. From the example sentences, it appears to be simply an intransitive verb.

At approximately $100 each, these are quite expensive, especially for paperbacks. This is a pity, because despite a few shortcomings, these are quite good volumes and deserve wider distribution than the price will allow. Besides institutional libraries, I would imagine the potential buyers would be limited to linguists with a very specific interest in the area, and expatriates who are assigned to work among one of those language groups. For these groups, though, the dictionaries are a wonderful source of well-organized information and will be quite valuable.


Review of Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African Republic

(posted February 15th, 2008)

Kabba: A Nilo-Saharan language of the Central African Republic. By Rosmarie Moser. (LINCOM studies in African linguistics 63.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. 504. ISBN 3895868280. $104.40.

Reviewed by Harald Hammarström, Chalmers University

Rosemarie Moser has produced an excellent description of Kabba, a previously undescribed Nilo-Saharan (more precisely, Western Sara) language, spoken mainly in the Central African Republic (CAR). The work represents a major research contribution since, although there are several hard-to-find related French works, modern full-length descriptions of languages of this region are scarce. Language data was gathered through fieldwork from 1995 to1999 sponsored by La Trobe University in Melbourne.

The book starts off by introducing the Kabba speakers, who number some 80,000 in northwest CAR and adjacent Chad and Cameroon. The Kabba subsist by a mixed economy of hunting/gathering, agriculture, and cattle herding, and they integrate with the wider CAR society. Kabba speakers in CAR are bilingual in Sango and many also speak French very well, but (as of today) Kabba is not an endangered language. The introduction contains a useful summary of classification work on the Sara-Bongo-Baguirmi family (also known as Central Sudanic) and especially the Sara subfamily, but the issue of the often skeptically asserted wider affiliation to the Nilo-Saharan phylum is not elaborated.

The bulk of the book, the descriptive data, is very thorough and very comprehensive. Like all Sara-Bongo-Baguirmi languages, Kabba has lexical and grammatical tone, and some 100 pages are devoted to phonology and tonal morphophonology. Likewise, 100 pages cover nouns, pronouns (including 3rd person logophoricity), adjectives, determiners, numerals, conjunctions, prepositions, and a special chapter on case-marking strategies (on the verb or through auxiliaries). The verb-phrase and basic-clause structures are treated on the next 100 pages. There is no distinct passive verb stem and adverbs are frequently used to compensate for the absence of grammatical past-tense marking. A special section on complex predicates is much appreciated, since verb serialization and accompanying semantic bleaching are prominent in the Kabba language. Last, complex clauses, discourse patterns, and a fifteen-page glossed text are provided.

This grammar should be of interest to Africanists and typologists alike. For the typologically minded readership, Kabba, a dependent marking, SVO, N Rel language—although it appears not to exhibit any major typological oddities—will provide a rich source of data for the crosslinguistic study of a range of linguistic phenomena, especially grammaticalization of various categories. M is committed to a functional description style with interlinear examples for just about everything described.

There are more than a fair number of spelling, typesetting, and reference errors but nothing serious.


Review of English in modern times: 1700–1945

(posted February 15th, 2008)

English in modern times: 1700–1945. By Joan C. Beal. London: Arnold, 2004. Pp. xvi, 264. ISBN 0340761172. $35.

Reviewed by Alexander Onysko, University of Innsbruck

The period when the face of modern English acquired its characteristics constitutes the focus of Beal’s book. This phase, classified as Later Modern English (LME), roughly coincides with the period of the late eighteenth (marked by the date of the British Restoration in 1660) and nineteenth centuries, through the end of World War II. From the very beginning of the book, B emphasizes that changes arising with the constitutional monarchy, enlightenment, industrialization and plutocracy, urbanization, increased travel and communication (e.g. the Penny Post), and imperialism shaped the nature of LME.

The book is divided into eight chapters covering the topics of vocabulary, lexicography, syntactic change, the role of grammars and grammarians, phonological change, the genesis of Received Pronunciation, and, briefly, varieties of English beyond the standard. While the various chapters provide a valid and comprehensive overview of LME, some issues are dealt with in more detail than others. For example, B notes a neglect of investigations into the phonological changes in LME so far, but goes on to fill this gap with a detailed analysis of phonological changes that covers vowel changes in lexical sets, yod-dropping, reduction of unstressed vowels, weakening and loss of /r/, h-dropping, the distribution of the velar nasal, and changes in the pronunciation of individual words. Another detailed view on linguistic features of LME is provided in the chapter on syntactic change, which deals with the usage of second-person pronouns (thou vs. you), the variable functions of do, the regulation of relativizers, the innovations of the be + -ing construction, phrasal verbs, and the decline of the subjunctive.

B’s discussion of the role of grammarians in influencing the usage of English is based on the observation that research so far has argued from the perspective of an undiversified dichotomy of prescriptive vs. descriptive grammars. However, as B appropriately argues, this has often led to unjust and biased criticism of certain grammarians (e.g. Robert Lowth), who, despite following a doctrine of correctness, also show descriptive tendencies in their grammars.

While B’s analysis of the development of the vocabulary of LME remains largely restricted to data from the CED (Corpus of English Dialogues 1560–1760) and generally falls short of portraying lexicological changes, her account of the rise of lexicography in the period of LME is conclusively drawn. The only shortcoming is the mere passing mention of Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, which stands as an impressive compendium of English dialects from 1700 to 1900. This lack of treatment is indicative of B’s generally restricted focus on the development of Standard English.

Despite this limitation, as addressed by B herself in the last chapter, the book succeeds in providing a sound overview of LME by giving essential information about the linguistic characteristics of English during this period and by showing how the English language developed as a consequence of sociopolitical, technological, and ideological changes. Its high readability renders the book a very valuable resource for introductory courses and, in some parts, for higher-level courses on the history of English.


Review of Construction grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions

(posted February 15th, 2008)

Construction grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions. Ed. by Jan-Ola Östman and Mirjam Fried. (Constructional approaches to language 3.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 324. ISBN 9027218234. $138 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sandra Cristina Becker, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Inherently tied to Charles Fillmore’s theorizing, construction grammar (CG) has reached a consistent status grounded in the idea that grammar is an inventory of constructions. Considered here the primary unit of grammar, a construction is a grammatical pattern whose form-meaning pairings have different degrees of productivity and complexity. Devised in part to counteract the reductionist views of syntax and semantics, CG has integrated approaches that characterize much of the current research on language and mind.

Written in a clear and engaging style, this book brings together nine papers that constitute an interesting report on the view that social and linguistic interactions are intrinsically underpinned by cognitive processes. The contributions are grouped in two parts that respond to distinct questions. The first part addresses theoretical issues that were extended from the original assumptions of CG. Conversely, the second part focuses on different versions of the theory, bringing up distinct ‘construction grammars’.

In their introduction to the volume, Jan-Ola Östman and Mirjam Fried present the tenets of CG and delineate its cognitive dimension. Their account of the dawn of CG provides the reader with consistent historical background. Additionally, the authors address interesting issues that highlight CG’s increasing importance in the linguistic research world.

Part 1 begins with a paper by Adele Goldberg, who provides a welcome contribution on argument realization, supporting the importance of the notion of construction in her analysis. In Ch. 3, Laura A. Michaelis brilliantly explores coercion through the lens of the construction-based model. Jaakko Leino brings the connections between syntactic and semantic structures into focus in Ch. 4. He explores the relation between cognitive grammar and CG. Ch. 5 constitutes a ‘prolegomenon’ proposed by Östman. The author argues in favor of taking discourse specificities into consideration to provide a holistic account of CG’s cognitive foundation.

The shift toward the usage-based approach in CG has inspired the development of several corpus-based methodologies of constructional analysis. Some such members of the CG family are described in the second part. Benjamin K. Bergen and Nancy Chang present the embodied construction grammar in Ch. 6, and turn the spotlight toward the notion of embodied schemas. In Ch. 7, Urpo Nikanne discusses constructions within the conceptual semantics approach, exploring the links between conceptual and syntactic levels of representation. In Ch. 8, Jasper W. Holmes and Richard Hudson provide the reader with a brief introduction to word grammar (WG) and examine the similarities and divergences between WG and CG. Particularly interesting is the contrast between the ‘vanilla’ versions of CG and the radical construction grammar proposed by William Croft in Ch. 9.

At the heart of all of the studies in this volume is the need to see constructions as a basic unit of grammar. Altogether, the insights presented provide a useful platform for discussions in the field of the cognitive and constructive nature of grammar. Therefore, it makes available an excellent and well-structured debate recommended for students as well as scholars with an interest in linguistic analysis.


Review of Language, nation and power

(posted February 13th, 2008)

Language, nation and power: An introduction. By Robert McColl Millar. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Pp. ix, 232. ISBN 1403939721. $31.95.

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Simon’s Rock College

In elementary linguistics courses we stress that all varieties of language are equal, and that all humans have the same ability to communicate ideas. Yet we can easily understand why students may not have this perception as they enter the course. A few languages are often considered more important, a perception based on economic and political factors. This book discusses the relationship between language use on the one side and power and nation on the other. Looking back at the last two or three centuries, Millar examines how and why certain varieties of language have achieved a higher status within any given polity, and he discusses the role of human intervention in achieving such prestige.

The first three chapters of this book introduce language planning as something that is present and necessary in all technologically advanced nations. Prior to the eighteenth century, societal multilingualism was the norm in Europe. M looks at the concepts of nationalism and nationality from a historical point of view and argues that they are relatively new, but also variable over time. He then focuses on the language varieties that we learn to read and write and argues that, invariably, one particular regional dialect has been semiconsciously or consciously developed into the standard over time. Finally, he introduces existing models for describing the means by which language varieties interact within a given polity: although Charles Ferguson’s and William Stewart’s models are treated, he prefers and elaborates on Heinz Kloss’s Ausbau model, since it incorporates a developmental and dynamic view of language.

The following four chapters focus on interpreting the nature and processes of language planning and standardization. Here, M discusses the complementary views of Kloss and John Joseph, who both emphasize the role of the written language in the standardization process. For Kloss the importance of Sachprosa (nonliterary, official language) cannot be overestimated, whereas Joseph emphasizes the development of a literary culture as part of the elaboration and acculturation of a synecdochic dialect. Both models are tested against the successful standardizations of English, French, and Greek, and against the failed standardization of Scots. The latter is particularly well chosen since Scots had a lively literary tradition, but very little Sachprosa was written in Scots.

Next, corpus, status, and acquisition planning are described and exemplified. The corpus planning for German, Norwegian, Turkish, and Israeli Hebrew all demonstrate that we are looking at an ongoing and semiconscious process over a large part of the history of the language. In contrast, status and acquisition planning are highly conscious and happen in the matter of a few years, as the examples of French in Québec, Israeli Hebrew, Irish, and Esperanto demonstrate. M emphasizes that one form of planning is not likely to succeed unless the other two are also present. What determines success is more than just planning: popular endorsement and good timing are equally crucial for success.

To conclude his book, M looks at cases where nation-building had to occur quickly in a linguistically diverse environment without cultural homogeneity, as in east Africa, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Scotland. It appears, he concludes, that monolingual polities and monoculturalism may just be an idea that will never be reached.

M convincingly demonstrates that there is an important linguistic component in the development of nations and national consciousness, but that languages will always be coexisting within different nations.


Review of The development of prosodic structure in early words

(posted February 13th, 2008)

The development of prosodic structure in early words: Continuity, divergence and change. By Mitsuhiko Ota. (Language acquisition and language disorders series 34.) Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003. Pp. 224. ISBN 1588114694. $119 (Hb).

Reviewed by Yvan Rose, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This book, a revised version of Ota’s 1999 Ph.D. dissertation, addresses a series of important theoretical and empirical issues pertaining to the phonological development of prosodic structure. The investigation is based on a comparative, longitudinal study of three first-language learners of Japanese, supplemented with data from seven longitudinal studies conducted by other scholars. The book explores three main issues: the extent to which the prosodic organization of early words parallels that of the adult (target) language; what factors govern the differences in shape and size of early word forms relative to those found in the adult language; and how the analysis of the first two issues should be approached from a theoretical perspective.

The book is organized into eight chapters. The first chapter introduces the main issues addressed in the monograph. The discussion revolves around the question of whether phonological development follows a continuous path from early productions to adult-like forms, and how this important question should be addressed from empirical and theoretical perspectives. Ch. 2 outlines the theoretical framework used in the analyses presented in the subsequent chapters. The framework is based on two main components: phonological representations and constraints on these representations. This discussion is supplemented with crosslinguistic examples taken from the literature, with a special emphasis on the prosodic properties of Japanese. In Ch. 3, O provides a concise description of his methodology, focusing mainly on the data collection, transcription, and coding of his three primary case studies.

Chs. 4 and 5 are both devoted to syllable structure. In Ch. 4, O addresses the long-standing debate as to whether syllables should be formally divided into subsyllabic constituents. He first discusses the process of compensatory lengthening, analyzed as mora conservation within the syllable rhyme. He then provides convincing empirical support for this prediction from the behavior of words that undergo coda deletion in child Japanese. Building on this analysis, O explores other predictions made by moraic theory about adult languages and, again, uncovers supporting evidence in the acquisition data. In Ch. 5, the author investigates the development of syllable structure in Japanese. He formulates an analysis based on constraints referring to the representations discussed in Ch. 4. Using various rankings of these constraints, he provides a stage-based account of the developmental patterns observed in the data. Chs. 6 and 7 follow the same outline as that of the preceding two chapters, in order to address representational (Ch. 6) and developmental (Ch. 7) aspects of word-internal structure. Again here, O establishes strong parallels between the properties of the target language and phonological patterning observed in the developmental data. General conclusions and a brief discussion of further directions are offered in Ch. 8.

In sum, this book provides clear evidence for continuity between developing and adult prosodic structure in Japanese. Through his thorough discussions of theoretical issues and detailed coverage of the relevant empirical facts, O has assembled in this book a solid contribution to both the field of phonological theory and that of research in phonological development.


Review of American English

(posted February 13th, 2008)

American English. 2nd edn. By Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. 452. ISBN 1405112662. $36.95.

Reviewed by Rachel Stauffer, University of Virginia

American English presents an overview of the contemporary features of US dialects. Written by Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, this second edition offers a more substantial presentation of information pertaining to the study of American English dialectology based on geographic, social, ethnic, and, to some extent, gender differences.

The book is divided into eleven chapters. Chs. 1, 2, and 3 are introductory chapters that serve to inform the reader of basic premises of the field of dialectology and, specifically, the dialects of American English. These chapters discuss concepts such as standard and nonstandard language, phonology, articulatory phonetics, sociohistorical and linguistic influences on language variation, and lexicon and pragmatics. Ch. 4 is a chronological assessment of the development of American English from its beginnings in Jamestown in 1607 to the present.

Chs. 5–8 consider sociolinguistic factors contributing to the dialectal divisions in existence at the present time with attention to both the theoretical and the practical in the field of study. Extensive attention in these chapters is given to various regional, ethnic, and social factors influencing and constructing dialect communities in the US. This includes sections on Cajun English, Lumbee English, and Latino English, as well as a very useful chapter on African-American Vernacular English. The final three chapters offer further investigation into the semantic, educational, and sociological implications of dialectal divisions in the US.

Conveniently designed for classroom use, each of the book’s chapters contains exercises that may be used to facilitate discussion or to exemplify a chapter’s content. The book also contains an extensive glossary as well as an appendix of over twenty pages that describes dialectal features found in the US.

As Peter Trudgill states in the preface: ‘Not only will [the book] be essential for any non-American concerned to learn more about American English; it will also be vital reading for scholars with theoretical interests in historical linguistics, new-dialect formation, variation theory, language and gender, African American Vernacular English, creolization, and many other issues …’ (ix). The second edition maintains the best features of the first edition, namely, the readability, organization, quantity, and quality of its content. The authors have successfully updated and improved the previous edition, having made the second even more user-friendly and informative than the first.


Review of The contest of language: Before and beyond nationalism

(posted February 5th, 2008)

The contest of language: Before and beyond nationalism. Ed. by W. Martin Bloomer. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Pp. 274. ISBN 9780268021917. $30.

Reviewed by Pramod K. Nayar, University of Hyderabad

A collection of essays that deals with the links between language and national–cultural identity, The contest of language is a useful, if disconcertingly eclectic, volume. It is useful to study the political history of a language when nationalism (or the nation, as we know it today) did not exist. The opening essays, dealing with Latin, Syriac, and the Irish lexicon, locate the modes through which certain languages acquired dominance—modes that involve institutional, academic, and textual politics in social, political, and cultural realms. Thus, while Latin humanistic culture was the cornerstone of the debates over Italian in Dante’s time, Syriac’s negotiations with Greek (and emergent Christianity) and the Irish-Gaelic lexicon’s working with contemporary ideas of kingship and sovereignty both point to very complex engagements with structures of political, mercantile, and theological power. Nationalism, these essays demonstrate, was often peripheral in communities, even though strong views of ethnic identities or popular (and vernacular) culture did exist. Language and imperial divisive politics have often gone together.

Studying late antiquity, Dimitri Gutas shows how non-Arabs were initially excluded from the ambit because Islam was rooted in Arabic, and it took the Abbasid dynasty to use Arabic culture, based on the language, to unite the empire. Haun Saussy demonstrates that philosophers who wrote language manuals actually invented social communication by drafting rules of linguistic conduct. Susan Blum’s essay shows how the Chinese rarely worry about linguistic difficulty and how most people acquire multiple varieties of language—her argument ties in with Suzanne Romaine’s idea of discrete languages as a European invention. Thus, Blum shows, linguism and nationalism don’t always go together. Tony Crowley explores both the Irish resistance to and support for the English language in the early modern period, and also the ways in which Gaelic has survived.

Richard Hunter returns to classical Greece to explore, in great detail, the link of language evolution with literary genres. Looking at Greek poetry, Hunter explores debates over authenticity and purity with the appropriation of genres into the classical scheme. Martin Bloomer’s fascinating essay shows how literary figures as diverse as Robert Browning and Seamus Heaney have retained Latin as a source of memory, pointing to the fact that Latin is not really a dead language because it is the stuff of memory itself. The battle against English and the compulsory enshrinement of Gaelic, Seamus Deane argues, has caused its own slow demise. Vittorio Hösle argues that a process of inversion is taking place, where English is essaying the role of Latin as the new academic lingua franca.

The volume’s focus on national and cultural identity as they are shaped by language is very welcome. The book’s organization, which returns to antiquity and classical times, shows how debates about languages have often excluded the nation from their focus. In other cases, nationalism has directly affected the ‘shape’ of language. The collection’s range, both temporal and geopolitical, provides an overarching view of these debates. This is a useful historical study of languages and the many ways they interact with politics.


Review of Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think.

(posted February 5th, 2008)

Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. By Susan Goldin-Meadow. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. Pp. 304. ISBN 0674018370. $16.95.

Reviewed by Sandra Cristina Becker, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Susan Goldin-Meadow has established a remarkable track record of expressive publishing, investigating language development, language structure, and, above all, the relationship between language and gesture. Her work invariably stands out due to its exploratory character. As with every book produced by Goldin-Meadow, the reader of Hearing gesture will definitely profit from its didactic, step-by-step, and user-friendly style. She provides ample supporting material for her claims; illustrative and carefully explanatory vignettes, graphs, and schemas that a book on gesture ought to have; examples of numerous studies carried out on gestures; a well-designed methodological approach; and even better theorizing.

The volume is divided into four parts. The first part introduces the notion of gesture and the language it conveys. The author does not neglect building a picture of how integrated these two systems are. She also delineates distinct categories of gestures and offers some glimpses of semantic and pragmatic characteristics of nonverbal communication. Especially revealing are the studies on mismatching described in Ch. 4. As pointed out, mismatch may signal the readiness to learn and profit from new input. Understanding the path to learning seems to depend on investigating the relation between speech and gesture.

Do gestures communicate? Is substantive information conveyed by gestures? Can toddlers and slightly older children make pragmatic inferences from nonverbal interactions? These and more intriguing questions are addressed in the second part of this volume. Particularly welcome are Chs. 7 and 8 covering in clear language how much everyone learns through gestures. The influence and impact on how students interpret their teacher’s explanations and, conversely, on how teachers understand their student’s ideas are explored deeply. A number of studies on the influence of gestures on communication in different areas, namely therapy sessions and forensic interviews, illustrate the assumptions raised and highlight the importance of tracking gestures and speech in those domains.

Gestures have communicative and cognitive functions. In G’s own words, ‘The mechanism by which we produce gestures, however, need not involve communication and the listener’ (136). Based on this assumption, Part 3 explores the force that drives us to gesture. G describes experiments with congenitally blind individuals, and mentions various studies that have manipulated the presence of a listener. To support the fact that gesturing reduces demands on a speaker’s cognitive effort, a considerable number of investigations are depicted in detail.

The last chapters focus mainly on interactions that rely purely on nonverbal language, when gestures assume all the burden of communication. A broad view of how deaf communities explore the iconic function of hand gestures is offered, together with interesting remarks on mouth movements produced by signers. Particularly absorbing are the reports on language development and specific language impairment (SLI), not to mention the accounts of situations when talk is restricted by the social world, as for religious observance, mourning, or in the case of indigenous communities that did not share a spoken language.

I see the detailed description of experiments and studies as a plus, revealing the thoughtfulness that has gone into this volume. I appraise this book as a welcome step-up to the investigations of human cognition, language, and thought. This is without doubt an invaluable addition to the reference library of everyone, expert or lay, interested in exploring human cognition. I recommend it without any reservations to those engaged in the study of gestural connection to language and thought.