12 November 2005

Review: Linguistics A Very Short Introduction

I was hoping to find out more about linguistics but this book wasn't much help. Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:

This book starts interestingly with the question of the meaning of words, how we encode sounds with symbols and how languages change over space and time. Unfortunately, from Chapter 4 onwards, the discussion becomes quite hard to follow because it relies on many linguistic terms and complex sentences. For example, I had to re-read this sentence in page 65 several times to understand it:

"This ['distributive' element] distinguishes a set whose members are in some way differentiated; so, for example, forms that might be glossed as 'flower-DIST' could be used of flowers that, as well as being two or more, are not all of the same sort."

The editing and formatting of the book could be better. Some linguistic terms (e.g. "gloss" in page 50 and "genitive" in page 110) are first introduced in an example rather than in the main text. Sometimes examples, captions and quotes are in boxes in a bold font (e.g. in pages 93, 94 and 95) but other times are formatted as a standalone paragraph (e.g. in pages 77, 78 and 79). Poor formatting has resulted in a photograph of Chomsky and some text in page 90, then a description of his ideas in a box starting in page 91 but with the final sentence in a box appearing in page 92.

Many pages in this short (152 page) book are wasted: four pages are allocated to photographs of linguists and eight pages are used to advertise other books in the series! I would have preferred to see some of these pages used for a glossary of terms.