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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The title speaks for itself - you really will understand!
This book is without a doubt the most comprehensive introduction to the complex yet rewarding field of linguistic study known as Syntax.
The core aim of this publication is to take the uninitiated reader, as I was myself when entering a degree in Linguistics, and develop a full and comprehensive understanding of the fundamental principles that guide the...
Published on 21 Nov. 2000 by richard.harvey@durham.ac.uk

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars All round terrible
I've reviewed this book once before. In retrospect, three stars was way too generous. This is the only book I have ever actually thrown at the wall in disgust.

I've had to deal with a number of different textbooks in a range of subjects (my background is in physical sciences). I can honestly say that this is the worst university level textbook I've ever come...
Published on 31 Mar. 2010 by ear9pg


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The title speaks for itself - you really will understand!, 21 Nov. 2000
This book is without a doubt the most comprehensive introduction to the complex yet rewarding field of linguistic study known as Syntax.
The core aim of this publication is to take the uninitiated reader, as I was myself when entering a degree in Linguistics, and develop a full and comprehensive understanding of the fundamental principles that guide the discipline.
The first chapter is a concise introduction that explains exactly what Syntax is. The difference between Syntax and the more general term Grammar is illuminated, Typology of language is presented, and popular myths about the prescriptive use of grammar are dispelled. The use of linguistic examples is highlighted, with particular attention paid to explaining why we should not restrict these to just English. Evidence from a variety of languages is crucial if linguists are to successfully posit universal theories that apply cross-linguistically. And don't worry if you can't read any other languages, a full explanation of how to use and read them is given.
Next comes a detailed discussion about the different classes of words. It is here that the important practice of syntactic tests is introduced to show how to identify exactly what class (or classes) a word really is. The concept that verbs can be divided into a variety of sub-classes is raised, (e.g. transitive and intransitive), and complicated ideas that have troubled schoolkids for generations, such as predicates and arguments, are explained with a skillful simplicity.
From here we delve deeper and explore just how phrasal units actually fit together to form sentences. The discussion explains the difference between finite, non-finite and auxiliary verbs, and shows how and when these various forms apply to simple sentences and more complex structures like relative or infinitival clauses. Throughout topics and sections are introduced in a logical fashion, and clear examples are used to make understanding easy.
The next chapter is a detailed examination of head words and phrases, and their relationship with dependent structure. Anyone who goes on further with linguistic study will soon find out the importance of heads, especially when they reach the X-Bar theory of Syntax as pioneered by Chomsky (1986; Cambridge; MIT Press), which they undoubtedly will.
We are then introduced to constituent structure, another fundamental tenet of Generative Linguistics. Tallerman also takes this opportunity to introduce Tree Diagrams, as well as Bracketed syntactic representations, two alternative ways to express the categories and functions contained within a clause. At the end of the chapter, the bar notation associated with X-Bar theory is unraveled, reducing a pedagogic monster with big teeth to a small furry beast that nips occasionally!
Following this comes the exposition of relationships within the clause. Here the author focuses on phrasal order, case systems, agreement and grammatical relations, with extensive examples from a wide variety of languages, including Warlpiri, Icelandic and German. New concepts are introduced, including the dichotomy between the two major systems used to distinguish grammatical relations, namely the nominative/accusative and the ergative/absolutive.
The penultimate chapter deals with syntactic processes, and re-words on a human level such 'Spockian' knowledge as passives, antipassives, applicatives and causatives. You really will amaze yourself with how well you understood this part, and you will certainly impress friends and family at parties with your extended linguistic capabilities.
This is where the book concludes, but your understanding of Syntax has just begun. Maggie Tallerman provides you with all the tools needed to consciously analyze sentential structure and manipulate principles that underpin the discipline. Throughout clear examples and well set out tables enable the reader to grasp the complicated issues at stake. Also, at the end of each section, relevant questions are posed to test and improve understanding.
All in all, I would say that this is an excellent publication, with all the ingredients for successful learning. As an undergraduate studying linguistics, indeed any subject for that matter, it is a must. For a teacher looking for a textbook to base a series of lectures on, this is what you've been looking for. And for the non-academic, who is interested in the human phenomena of communication, this book will prove an enjoyable and rewarding read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction, 27 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Understanding Syntax (Understanding Language) (Paperback)
This is a fine introduction to syntax for undergraduates, covering just about everything a beginner in linguistics needs to make a start in studying this subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but needs trimming!, 12 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Understanding Syntax (Understanding Language) (Paperback)
This could be an AMAZING book if someone went through and deleted whole unnecessary sections. Don't get me wrong - it is a brilliant book in that it describes in a refreshingly non-theoretical and jargon-free way a lot of different syntactic phenomena across an amazing range of the world's languages (unlike a lot of so-called theoretical syntax works which stick to English and add an acronym here and there to sound "scientific"). It's suitable for beginners and uses plain language throughout. The only problem is the explanations and re-explanations of the same concepts - you read a section, understand for example what the "antipassive" construction is, but then dive headlong into three heavily deconstructed examples. This would be good, but it happens every other page and the descriptions are so lengthy that by the time you've got back to what the "antipassive" is for example, you've lost your train of thought. Sometimes, the book does come across as a little patronising - we don't need to hear about the author's carefully thought-out rationale as to why she is going to do such and such or include this and that, just get to the description already!!! Finally, organisation - there needs to be more headings, and features should be discussed in relevant sections. It just needs someone to go through and say "Right, this section is about X, the features of X are point 1,2,3, and 4" and then describe them in that same section. Nevertheless, an excellent book that does what others don't: introduces you to what syntax should be - exploring the wonderful and diverse features of a huge range of languages without jargon and without quibbling over which tree-digram or which acronym to use. A classic text. I LOVED the new chapter to this edition, about directions your study could take - either describing languages (with the useful field linguistic syntactic checklist) or theory. Hopefully students will realise there is an alternative to armchair theorising!
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars All round terrible, 31 Mar. 2010
I've reviewed this book once before. In retrospect, three stars was way too generous. This is the only book I have ever actually thrown at the wall in disgust.

I've had to deal with a number of different textbooks in a range of subjects (my background is in physical sciences). I can honestly say that this is the worst university level textbook I've ever come across. Everything about it bugs me. It is badly laid out, wordy, poorly illustrated... It dwells needlessly on easy stuff, skims over the difficult stuff, fails to explain terms as they appear, deviates from commonly accepted definitions (remember this is supposed to be an introductory text)... It's true, this book is filled to the brim with examples in every language under the Sun. This feels like an attempt to disguise a burnt roast with extra fancy gravy. I'm afraid, this does not compensate for the poor quality of the actual meat. If examples are all you are after, then buy it. Otherwise, don't.
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Understanding Syntax (Understanding Language)
Understanding Syntax (Understanding Language) by Maggie Tallerman (Paperback - 30 Sept. 2011)
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