David Deterding

Linguistics : An Introduction. Andrew Radford, Martin Atkinson, David Britain, Harald Clahsen, & Andrew Spencer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 438 pp.

This introductory textbook on linguistics is divided into three parts: phonetics, words (including morphology and semantics), and sentences (syntax). It might seem from this structure that the book ignores the ways that language is actually used, but in fact language variation and language change are covered in the parts on phonetics and words, language acquisition is covered in all three parts, and language disorders are considered in some depth in the parts on words and syntax. And in all of these areas, the findings of much fascinating recent research are presented, with extensive use of figures and tables.

A rather glaring omission is that the book makes almost no mention of discourse analysis or pragmatics. The only consideration of these important fields is in the introduction to the final part (p.279), where it is explained that they are not discussed in detail because they involve broader issues of general cognitive processing, and therefore extend beyond purely linguistic issues. Many linguistics teachers will find this exclusion of discourse analysis and pragmatics surprising, as most introductory textbooks on language, such as Fromkin and Rodman (1993) and Yule (1996), devote considerable space to these two areas.

From the perspective of Singapore, one advantage of this book over the two rivals just mentioned is that the base system for the section on phonetics is British English, which is the model most commonly adopted in Singapore. However, this potential advantage is partly lost because the symbols adopted are not the standard set used in most modern dictionaries, as [a] rather than [&] is used for the vowel in cat, [E] is used instead of [e] for the vowel in pet, and [E:] rather than [e@] for the vowel in hair. While these choices are undoubtedly phonetically accurate in representing the modern pronunciation of Standard Southern British English, as [&] and [e] represent a somewhat old-fashioned pronunciation, and the vowel in 'hair' is no longer a diphthong for the vast majority of speakers, it is unfortunate that the advantage of a standard set of symbols in a wide range of materials has thereby been lost. Students who are just beginning their studies of linguistics need to be able to practise doing transcription with a standard set of symbols and then check their efforts in a dictionary, and this kind of practice would not be facilitated by this book.

An additional, related problem with the presentation of phonetics in this book is that even the set of symbols that has been introduced is not used consistently, and particularly in the chapter on social variation, some examples are presented with little explanation about the selection of phonetic symbols. For example, the pronunciation of 'no' as 'nope' is transcribed as [nVUp] (p.69) with no explanation of the use of [VU] instead of [oU]. While this presumably represents an accurate transcription of London pronunciation, no attempt is made to explain this (or even to state if it is a feature of London accent or not), and students taking an introductory course are likely to be left somewhat bewildered.

The part of the book on words, and particularly that on syntax, aim to present an introduction to the current state of understanding of Universal Grammar (UG) and not just the structure of English, and to this end, examples are given from a variety of languages. However, it is disappointing that so much space is devoted to Indo-European languages and so little to such major world languages as Malay and Chinese. Thus there is detailed consideration of the verb forms in Italian (pp.156-7) and the case system of Russian (pp.158-9), but the only discussion of Malay is one exercise on the formation of compounds such as juru bahasa ("interpreter") (p.271), and the only mention of Chinese in the part on words is to suggest that Chinese is an isolating language with "few, if any, bound morphemes" (p.180). It is unfortunate that the example given to illustrate how an isolating language is different from English is the -er morpheme that can be used in English to convert the verb drive into the noun driver—surely in Mandarin Chinese the -zhe suffix that can be added to ji to create jizhe ("reporter") and to xue to create xuezhe ("intellectual") is almost exactly comparable. Indeed, Mandarin has rather a lot of bound morphemes, such as the nominalising -zi suffix, as in yizi ("chair"), zhuozi ("table") and mingzi ("name"), so it is somewhat doubtful if it can really be classified as an isolating language.

The part on syntax does include one more substantial example from Mandarin Chinese (pp.373-4), discussing the underlying structure of sentence (1).

(1) Guo renwei gou zhui shei?
      Guo think dog chase who
     "Who does Guo thing the dog chased?"

This sentence is analysed as having covert movement of the operator shei to the front of the sentence, so that its Logical Form (LF) might be represented as:

shei Guo renwei gou zhui t

where t indicates the location of a trace for shei after it has been moved into spec-CP position. While this analysis would presumably make sense if it were developed in full, in the brief space devoted to it in this book it seems somewhat ludicrous to suggest that shei is covertly moved to the front of the sentence. In fact, the suspicion remains that the only motivation for proposing this kind of covert movement is to keep the structure of interrogatives the same as those in Indo-European languages.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that inclusion of this example from Mandarin, instead of extending the scope of the analysis to demonstrate that UG really encompasses all human languages, actually serves to reinforce the impression that the analysis of UG has been influenced rather too much by the structure of Indo-European languages. Would there really be so much emphasis placed on case theory if greater consideration had been given to languages such as Chinese and Malay that do not exhibit cases? Would a Determiner Phrase (DP) play such a central role in UG if languages without obligatory articles were being analysed? Is the distinction between finite and nonfinite clauses really of central importance in most of the languages of the world?

The brief discussion above of some elements of syntactic analysis illustrates some additional concerns about the presentation of syntax. The book aims to present the latest fruits of Chomsky's thinking, with the basic analysis derived from Chomsky (1995). While this attempt to keep up-to-date is admirable, it does present some problems in an introductory text. Firstly, many of the concepts, such as covert movement, traces, and spec-CP are rather abstract, and it is not clear that students on an introductory course in linguistics really need to deal with them. Secondly, many terms from traditional grammar receive a somewhat modified definition, so that 'operator' refers to the question-word (p.325) rather than the first auxiliary (Greenbaum and Quirk, 1990:19), and 'predicate' refers to just the verb (pp.282-284) rather than all of the sentence after the subject (Greenbaum and Quirk, 1990:12). Thirdly, though the analysis gets quite detailed, it never even mentions such basic concepts as indirect objects or adjective phrases. One wonders if students in an introductory course in linguistics really need to grapple with the Head Movement Constraint and whether the INFL parameter is strong or weak when the structural analysis of adjectives within a nominal phrase is never mentioned. Finally, many of the ideas presented are far from fixed, so, for example, Radford (1997:292) analysed interrogatives such as sentences (2) and (3) as requiring no movement of who, because this wh-operator already occupies spec-IP position, but just two years later in this new book, the wh-operator is now analysed as moving into spec-CP position (p.368).

(2) Who helped you?

(3) Who loves his hamster?

One wonders how much of the analysis presented in the syntactic part of this book will still be current in a few years' time, and one further wonders how appropriate it is to build an introductory text around ideas that are still in such a state of flux.

One aim of an introductory linguistics course should surely be to equip students to understand other materials that they will encounter in their subsequent courses, and though it is certainly admirable for people to be familiar with the latest developments in syntactic research, it is surely problematical if students who depend on this book as their introduction to linguistics complete the course without ever hearing of an indirect object or an adjective phrase.

One final comment on this book involves the use of references. When teaching students in tertiary institutes to write research papers, it is a constant concern to ensure that all sources are correctly attributed and all claims are properly substantiated with suitable references. However, textbooks such as this one seem to believe that use of references in the body of the text will interfere with the clear presentation of the material, and they typically relegate such references to notes at the end of each chapter. This book goes one step further, by placing all references in a 'Further reading and references' section at the end of each of the three parts of the book—although a lot of fascinating material from a wide range of researchers is clearly and carefully presented, it seems almost as if the proper references to this research are being hidden away in a maximally inconvenient location! Surely it is time that we wrote our textbooks with appropriate references, as otherwise how can we ever expect our students to get it right?

In conclusion, this book presents an introduction to the state-of-the-art in linguistics research. While the text is both lively and authoritative, one wonders whether it is really the most appropriate introductory text for students of linguistics, partly because some of the material is perhaps too abstract for an introductory text, and also because one can question whether it prepares students adequately to understand other materials they will encounter.


Chomsky, N. (1995). The Minimalist Program. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Fromkin, V. & Rodman, R. (1993). An Introduction to Language (Fifth Edition). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Greenbaum, S. & Quirk, R. (1990). A Student’s Grammar of the English Language. Harlow: Longman.

Radford, A. (1997). Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English: A Minimalist Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yule, G. (1996). The Study of Language (Second Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.