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Critical Cluster Historical Romance Linguistics: the Death of a Discipline? Edited by Steven N. Dworkin University of Michigan THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF A VENERABLE AND VITAL DISCIPLINE Steven N. Dworkin University of Michigan I should start by explaining this Critical Cluster's pessimistic and deliberately provocative title. All the contributing authors responded to its title question with answers that forcefully reaffirm the vitality and viability ofhistorical Romance linguistics. Several -Jerry Craddock, Johannes Kabatek, Michele Loporcaro, René Pellen, Joel Rini and Roger Wright- from the outset voiced reactions ranging from strong disagreement, close to outrage, to surprise and bewilderment at the premise implied, and Dieter Wanner proclaimed in the title of his own essay that "Romance Linguistics is Alive and Well", a message common to all the position papers assembled here. The title derives from a lecture given by George Greenia on "Science as (Pre)Text and the Death ofa Discipline".1 It was he as Editor ofLa corónica and an appreciative friend and supporter of historical Romance linguistics who invited me to organize a Cluster of position papers drafted by distinguished North American and European practitioners of historical Romance linguistics in its diverse modern manifestations. The notion of the "death of a discipline" should be taken as a metaphor and not as a clinical reality. Two of our contributors (Craddock and Kenneth Wireback) cleverly play in their texts with its medical implications, a languishing which can be viewed from several perspectives : the vitality of ongoing scholarly activity by researchers, the survival of the teaching of the discipline as a university subject and the related issue of training the next generation of historical linguists. The question of "death" also raises the issue of the vigor of current 1 Plenary address given on February 2 1 , 2002 at the Annual Conference of the Department ofSpanish and Portuguese, University ofNew Mexico, Albuquerque. La corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 9-17 10Steven N. DworkinLa corónica 31.2, 2003 research initiatives. Is it just more of the same or does it breed new approaches and fresh insights into the history of the Romance languages and into the nature of language change? Recent work in historical Romance linguistics in North American has sought to apply to traditional problems new methodologies dominant in synchronic linguistics : with respect to phonology, Optimality Theory, and with regard to syntax, Principles and Parameters and The Minimalist Program.2 In his paper here Kabatek voices a degree of skepticism (which I share) with regard to their value for historical (Romance) linguistics. The contributions of Romance linguists and Romance data continue to play a significant role in the controversy surrounding explanations based on the tenets of typology and grammaticalization. The current disappearance of courses in Romance historical linguistics in the curricula of North American universities is the immediate source of the gloom and doom implied in the pessimistic title of Greenia's paper. Several of the contributors to this Critical Cluster, American and European alike, have noted the diminished stature of Romance historical linguistics among American departments ofFrench, Spanish, Italian - and among their counterparts in Germanic languages, for that matter, even for English historical linguistics which is still routinely taught but marginalized amid the buzz of critical theory. The once-flourishing doctoral programs in Romance Philology at the University of California-Berkeley and in Romance Linguistics at the University of Michigan are scant shadows of their former selves. Graduate programs that today require or even encourage coursework in the history of a Romance language, let alone of the Romance family as a whole, are becoming less common. I fear that many students receiving doctorates in medieval literatures on this continent have never taken a course on a medieval language. For the past two decades faculty positions in US universities left vacant by the retirement of practitioners of Romance historical linguistics have been filled by specialists in either synchronic or applied linguistics or, far more frequently, by devotees of various fields of literary and cultural studies, a situation loudly lamented here by Joel Rini. As Craddock rightly notes, there will be no next generation of North American Romance historical linguists simply because there will be no one here to train...


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