Should you read this book? Or just the review?

Occasionally the review is more informative and entertaining than the book itself.

Consider a review of The 25 Rules of Grammar by Joseph Piercy. In case you’re confused, it’s the book that’s by Joseph Piercy; the review is by Joe McVeigh.

Piercy is an uninformed peever, McVeigh a knowledgeable linguist. It shows. One warning: If you are not yourself a linguist, or at least a grammarian, you may be taken aback by some of the things that McVeigh takes for granted. In that case you should read the review very carefully, pondering what you should learn from his examples about transitive verbs, case, tense, aspect, and other grammatical concepts. For instance, check out these (slightly redacted) excerpts from the review:

It turns out Piercy is confusing aspect with tense. So he calls the present simple (I swim) a tense, and the present continuous (I am swimming) a tense, and etc. etc. That’s kind of strange.

Piercy claims that “the case of a noun or pronoun is determined by what the word does in the sentence” (italics his). Hold up. Syntactic roles determine case? In English? You for real, bro? English only marks case on pronouns anymore… But there is certainly no case marking on nouns when they are in the subject or object positions. This is weird.

McVeigh is correct about all of this, but you may find it a bit opaque. I liked the review; I’m not going to bother reading Piercy’s book.

Categories: Books, Linguistics