- A student's introduction to English grammar
This book is a welcome addition to the pedagogical repertoire of the field of linguistics. Huddleston and Pullum have distilled their Cambridge grammar of the English language (2002) [End Page 643] into a concise yet thorough volume appropriate for use in undergraduate English grammar courses. The book presents a notion of Standard English (in Ch. 1) and then proceeds to describe Standard English as H&P have documented it. H&P are appropriately and resolutely descriptive in their approach, but clearly aware that the book, if it is successful, will succeed by filling a niche previously held by prescriptive grammars. Students studying the text will learn not only about norms of Standard English, but also how to distinguish and describe the parts of a sentence inform and function. As such, the text will be useful to native as well as nonnative speakers of English. When it comes to improving students' ability to write clearly, a basic understanding of grammar and the ability to approach sentences analytically are far more valuable than the memorization of (and indeed the slavish devotion to following) a set of prescriptive rules.
The book is written in an engaging (though not condescending or cute) style, and is structured very clearly. The introduction (Ch. 1) presents the notion of Standard English, discusses formal and informal style, contrasts descriptive and prescriptive approaches to the study of grammar, and motivates the use of technical terms in the study of grammar. Ch. 2 presents a high-level overview of the terrain to be covered by the book. Chs. 3–7 cover verbs, clause structure, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, and prepositions. Chs. 8–16 cover more ambitious topics including negation, clause types, subordination, relative clauses, comparatives, nonfinite and verbless clauses, coordination, information packaging, and morphology.
Each chapter includes exercises at the end, the majority of which are both interesting and sufficiently well structured that it should be clear to both students and instructors how students' responses should be evaluated. For example, in the chapter on nouns and noun phrases (Ch. 5), students are asked to determine whether detail in You needn't have gone into so much detail is being used with a count or noncount interpretation, and then provide an example where it is used with the other interpretation (and similarly for four other examples) (111). A few of the exercises are open-ended enough that I would provide further information when assigning them to students. For example, in Ch. 7 ('Prepositions and preposition phrases'), students are asked to find syntactic differences between the particle construction in We folded up the map and the nonparticle construction We climbed up the mountain, and then use these differences to classify further examples (148). Without further guidance on how many syntactic differences students are expected to find, this kind of problem becomes difficult to grade. Similarly, a few exercises do not ask enough of the students. For example, in Ch. 6 ('Adjectives and adverbs'), students are asked to classify ten adjectives according to whether they are gradable, nongradable, or ambiguous between the two, but they are asked only to supply example sentences for the adjectives they classify as ambiguous (126). In general, the exercises give good coverage of the material addressed in the chapters and should provide incentive for students to go back and look more carefully at details they may have read through quickly.
The selection of topics is appropriate, and includes both must-know basics (e.g. parts of speech, subordinate versus main clauses) and a grounding of those concepts in current linguistic thought (e.g. Ch. 6 on adjectives and adverbs provides a range of tests to distinguish adjectives from nouns, verbs, determiners, and adverbs, as well as discussion of cases that are not clear), and more out-of-the-way linguistic tidbits such as the distinction between reversed polarity and constant polarity tag questions (150) and the across-the-board exceptions to the coordinate structure constraint (229). The...