“Analysing English Sentences” – A. Radford

By Susan E. Holt

My love affair (and it really is love) with linguistics began back as a nine year old watching “My Fair Lady” for the first time.  After the initial romance, it was time to make a serious commitment and that came in the form of saying “I do” to a university place at Durham studying English Language and Linguistics.  This marriage was solemnized in the presence of a holy book: “Analysing English Sentences” by Andrew Radford.

So my venture into the book began in the first week of university.  The heaviest of all  the books on our booklist, myself and my new linguistics friends quickly (and correctly) figured it must be important.  During first year syntax, the red book was omnipresent in our tutorials and on our study desks: all those tree diagrams and what is more, we were beginning to understand them!  So many did we have to draw that we came up with the idea of manufacturing tree diagram stencils.  This idea was a bit of a non-starter as every subsequent chapter seemed to add more layers and labels. That’s why this book works: it guides you through at an effective pace.  Anyhow, destined to complete our first year of university rather than enter a design and manufacturing career, we came to be really appreciative of Radford’s explanations.  

At my university, we quickly came to understand that at the heart of every course was Noam Chomsky.  What is more, our Professor, his PhD tutor was Noam Chomsky himself; ergo, we were just one step from the big guy himself!  We were curious as to why no Chomsky books were on our reading list for our linguistics course.  And so one day we marched to our university library in search of Chomsky’s work after all, we were studying him and thus it made perfect sense to us.  So full of first year thirst for betterment, enlightenment and knowledge, we approached the linguistics shelf in the library and to our initial delight we were presented with gleaming spines reading “Chomsky”.  Finally, we could read Chomsky’s work.  So we took one of his books from the shelf and opened it.  We opened the cover and began reading.  Yikes.  We ever so quickly realised our eminent tutors, Doctors and Professor had in fact been shielding us from what we were striving towards, they were packaging up Chomsky’s ideas into piecemeal chunks and knew that seeing the work in the original would have scared us silly – as indeed it had done in that university library that day.

And so it was with renewed love and affection that we turned back to our beloved Radford book “Analysing Sentences”.  Radford’s book was to be our map through the forest of syntactic trees. Overlooking the green lawn, every tutorial was filled with the trees of Radford’s exercises.  Whilst they seemed tricky back then, it was all part of the learning process and actually we all found them fun.

Radford’s textbook didn’t just serve us well in our first year, many of us were still using it through our finals.  Whilst we may have moved on to learning about government and binding theory and the minimalist approach, our first love of the big red book would never wane.  So much so was our love of the book that as undergrads we did in fact send an email of thanks for his helpful book. Now, sending an email at that time was in itself very exciting as email and the internet was just starting, however what was even more thrilling was an email reply from Andrew Radford!  Radford responded so kindly, informatively and not a tree in sight (tricky in an email back in those days I guess).  What a boon to our quest for scholarly enlightenment: forget being one step from Chomsky, we had just received an email from the author of the book which made all linguistics learning possible.

And so my love of linguistics was enhanced by this book and whilst I may not read the book every night, I can never think of syntax without a smile of gratitude for Radford’s book and all of his trees.


Find out more about the new second edition of Analysing English Sentences by Andrew Radford

Andrew Radford Analysing English Sentences

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