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  • Exploring language structure: A student's guide
  • Robert Englebretson
Exploring language structure: A student's guide. By Thomas E. Payne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xxii, 367. ISBN 0521671507. $34.99.

Exploring language structure is an excellent textbook. It provides a thorough, in-depth introduction to the analytical methods of descriptive morphosyntax, filling an often overlooked gap in the curriculum between introductory and advanced linguistics courses. It is particularly well-suited for use in a linguistic analysis course at the undergraduate level, building on the general foundation that students should have received in a broad introductory survey course, and successfully preparing students for more advanced courses in morphology, syntax, and language description and documentation. The book is clear, organized, and well written, and each chapter contains numerous examples and exercises from a wonderfully diverse variety of the world's languages.

From the very first page, Payne makes clear that he is writing to and for the nonspecialist student reader: the book is dedicated '[t]o all beginning students of linguistics who have ever felt they were drowning in a sea of strange terminology and mysterious concepts', and P consistently keeps this audience in focus throughout the text. Terms are clearly defined and exemplified, material is well organized, and the book contains a twenty-nine-page comprehensive glossary. P's style is succinct and interesting, and often amusingly quirky, for example, 'they [major word classes] express complex and multidimensional ideas, such as sincerity, absolutism, and underwear' (119). Throughout the text, P engages his readers in a topic that many students may otherwise find dry and complicated.

The book contains ten main chapters, followed by a glossary, references, and an index. The chapters are roughly divided equally between morphology (Chs. 1–5) and syntax (Chs. 6–10), although as P observes: 'functions that are accomplished in the syntax of one language may be accomplished morphologically in another. So in reality the distinction between morphology and syntax is not always absolutely clear, though it is often very useful' (152).

Ch. 1 introduces the reader to basic concepts of grammar from a broadly typological and functional perspective. P uses the metaphor of language being a complex tool designed to facilitate communication, and argues that a thorough analysis of language depends crucially on both form and function. P then introduces the three major ways in which grammar expresses meaning: lexically, morphologically, and syntactically. The tool metaphor, the interdependence of form and function, and the triune of lexicon, morphology, and syntax are themes that persist throughout the remaining chapters. Ch. 2 introduces key concepts of morphology, including conceptual categories (tense, locative, etc.), discusses the labeling and glossing of those categories, and provides an overview of the major types of morphemes and morphological processes. P concludes the chapter by outlining two formal means of representing morphological structure—position-class diagrams and process rules—and leads the reader through a step-by-step demonstration of how to make use of both of these models. Ch. 3 deals with morphophonemics and introduces students to allomorphy, phonological environments, underlying forms, rule writing, rule ordering, and rule naturalness.

The next two chapters deal with word classes and subclasses respectively. Ch. 4 discusses major and minor word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs vs. pronouns, conjunctions, particles, etc.). P defines word classes structurally, based on syntactic distribution and morphological form, and discusses the range of semantic concepts that each word class tends to express. [End Page 658] Word-class membership is understood as prototype-based and varying from language to language. P gives suggestions for how to approach word classes in languages with which the reader is not familiar. Ch. 5 demonstrates that there are often formally or semantically defined subclasses within the general word classes of a language (e.g. conjugation and declension classes, grammatical gender, etc.). Readers are given careful guidelines for determining subclasses: first based on similarities in phonological and morphological form, and then based on semantic coherence.

The remainder of the text turns to a discussion of syntax—defined as 'the study of how words clump together in phrases and clauses' (152). Ch. 6 provides an overview of linear order, constituency, and hierarchy; discusses the...


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