THE SOCIAL ART: Language and Its Uses by Ronald Macaulay

THE SOCIAL ART: Language and Its Uses

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A modest survey of recent linguistic theory and practice in which Macaulay (Linguistics/Pitzer College; Generally Speaking, 1980 -- not reviewed) draws on 25 years of teaching to present what he admits is derivative, technical, and pedagogically oriented. Unlike the luminous and artful version of contemporary linguistics by Anthony Burgess (A Mouthful of Air, 1993), or the vivid and original contributions by Ray Jackendoff, Steven Pinker, and Joel Davis, this study is tidy, conservative, distinguished by the 30 short and methodical chapters, the teacher's voice, and the wide array of examples. Mostly, Macaulay describes familiar facets of language by using linguistics terminology: language acquisition, phonemics, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, and ""deictic"" elements -- the implied gestures of spoken language. He divides dialects into region, social class, written and spoken language; and he ""registers"" the technical vocabularies of different fields, stylistic devices, and also sexual differences, which he believes are unimportant despite the ""nonsense"" the topic has produced. The power of language; ""magic"" words; rhetoric as both an abuse that obscures meaning (or lack of it) and as a power of persuasion; conversation; narratives; foreign languages; the history of English; of Indo-European; and the literary uses of language -- all these expand the topics beyond the typical linguistic preoccupation of describing how language is used. Except for Macaulay's disarming ""Envoi,"" revealing his personal experience with linguistics and with gathering authentic examples, especially from his native Scottish dialect, the scope and approach are familiar, indeed self-evident. Competent, noncontroversial, and instructive: it's difficult to determine why a reader would prefer this volume to all the brilliant competition.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0195187962
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press