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Barbara Strang

Barbara Strang is professor of English Language at the University of Newcastle. Her most recent research has been on the history of the progressive construction and on ideophones in post-medieval English.

Composition

Barbara Strang, 4 June 1981

The vogue for publishing series is baffling, since the ability to sustain quality, and interest for a given readership, is rare. Both, fortunately, are to be found in the Longman English Language Series edited by Randolph Quirk. This has so far produced a dozen good books, at least half of them works of high and lasting importance. The latest is among the best, and will appeal to, and beyond, the readership of the series as a whole.

Language Questions

Barbara Strang, 17 July 1980

Professor Roy Harris’s The Language Makers is the natural starting-point. His book comes oddly naked into the world: we have no statement about the aims or intended audience, no listing or titling (let alone running titles) of chapters, only the sketchiest of indexes to suggest what topics have been covered. It therefore behoves the reviewer to start with an account of what the objectives seem to have been. The book is centrally concerned to demonstrate that the question ‘What is a language?’ – strange and probably wrong-headed favourite of the professional linguist – has been persistently misapprehended as being capable of a culture neutral answer. Bad, however, as the question is, it can at least claim priority over what, if the concept of a language is not culture-neutral, must be a non question: ‘What is language?’ The theme is explored in relation to familiar modes of speculation about language, from the Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian origins of our own traditions to the present day, with glances at more exotic traditions as evidence of how differently the issues might have been identified and tackled. Particular prominence is given to the causal relationship between social needs and the kinds of presupposition built into the linguistic questions any one culture asks, or fails to ask.

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