The Structure of Language: An introduction to grammatical analysis

by Emma L Pavey (Cambridge University Press, 2010): 420pp, £26.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 0521 736657.

Reviewed by Caroline Petherick

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This is uncompromisingly an academic coursebook intended to be used by linguistics students at second-year undergraduate level. Each of its chapters is followed by exercises to help the reader retain the new information, and it is intended to be read through as a whole, not to be merely dipped into for reference.

Serial verb constructions and relative clauses

It starts with six pages of abbreviations decoded, then after a brief introduction moves into the structure of words, including morphology, derivation, inflection and clitics. The third chapter analyses syntax – i.e. the way words pattern together in sentences – then we move on to the structure of meaning: semantics. This is followed by integration of syntax and semantics. We take a slight step back by analysing phrases, before moving on to an examination of complex structures including serial verb constructions and relative clauses.

Then there's a change of direction, in that we look at the ideational function of language, including the effects of pre-existing knowledge and presupposition. The final chapter mainly covers the way that a culture, and the evolution of a culture, affect language. The comprehensive endmatter includes a (long!) list of languages, a glossary, endnotes, references and an index.

A macrorole argument

To quote part of the blurb: 'Its combination of pragmatics, semantics, syntax and morphology into a single non-English based model of how sentences work communicatively is innovative and successful.'

I reopen the book at random and come across the following: 'Intransitive location predicates have two semantic arguments but only one is a macrorole argument.' Right now, I've got only the haziest idea of what that means – but hey, come the long dark evenings when I reduce my workload and I can curl up in front of roasting chestnuts, I'll find out. Can't wait!

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