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  • A Brief History of the Spanish Language
  • Diana L. Ranson
Pharies, David A. A Brief History of the Spanish Language. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Pp. xiv + 298. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-66683-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-226-66682-2

In this book, David A. Pharies takes up the gauntlet of whether one can produce an introductory textbook on the history of the Spanish language with the goal of ensuring the survival of historical Romance linguistics as a discipline, a topic recently [End Page 208] discussed in a critical cluster of La corónica under the foreboding title "Historical Romance Linguistics: The Death of a Discipline?" (vol. 31.2) and two subsequent forums in response to that question (vols. 32.2 and 34.1). This is a serious challenge, but fortunately Pharies, a leading expert on the history of the Spanish language, is equal to the task. Having diagnosed the greatest danger to the discipline as students' perceptions that historical Spanish linguistics is boring and impenetrable, Pharies offers his own brief and self-contained volume as an antidote to existing materials that overwhelm the reader with details and assume too much background knowledge, in keeping with the proposal he outlined in "A Strategy for Reinvigorating Romance Historical Linguistics in the United States" (222-225).

Brevity and self-containment, achieved without sacrificing academic rigor, are the defining features of this new work. Pharies hopes that, by selecting only the most interesting and important topics and by giving readers the tools they need to understand them, he can "appeal to the many people who, although sincerely interested in Spanish and its history, have been intimidated by traditional histories" and "produce a work that is appropriate to the conditions and needs of a one-semester college course on the history of Spanish" (xii). By doing this, he hopes to awaken his readers' interest in these topics and motivate and prepare them to engage in further study.

The desired brevity and self-containment are achieved by limiting the number of details rather than the number of topics, which go well beyond those found in a typical historical grammar. The introduction and first four chapters of the book provide the background essential to understanding the nucleus of the book, namely the phonological, morphological, and syntactic changes presented in chapters 5-7. The introduction presents information on language history and reasons to study the history of Spanish, while chapter 1 acquaints readers with language change, its inexorability, categories, causes and mechanism. Chapter 2 traces the genealogy of Spanish back to the Italic branch of Indo-European, and chapter 3 traces the external history of the Iberian Peninsula forward from pre-Roman times to the thirteenth century. Chapter 4 is a primer on Latin phonology, morphology and syntax, an essential starting point for subsequent developments in these areas in Spanish, the subject of chapters 5-7. These are organized so that the phonological changes from Latin to Medieval Castilian are presented in chapter 5 while the morphological and syntactic changes during this same period appear in chapter 6. The phonological, morphological and syntactic changes from Medieval Castilian to Modern Spanish are the focus of Chapter 7.

The final two chapters of the book, chapter 8 on the history of the Spanish lexicon, [End Page 209] which also includes an excellent section on etymology, and chapter 9 on Spanish dialectology complete the presentation of the most interesting topics in the history of Spanish. The goal of self-containment is also addressed by supplemental materials at the end of the book: a section on the "rudiments of Spanish phonetics and phonology", a glossary of linguistic terms (whose mention in the text is set in boldface), nine maps (to which it would be useful to add rivers) and, finally, an index of Spanish words cited and a subject index.

Pharies mentions several omissions made intentionally for the sake of brevity. The most notable of these occurs in his treatment of phonological changes. Rather than offering a complete set of vocalic and consonantal changes, Pharies presents in chronological order twenty-two numbered changes from Latin to Medieval Castilian in chapter 5 and then seven more changes...


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