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MUHAMMAD, CHARLEMAGNE, AND APOCOPE, OR THE CULTURAL RELEVANCE OF ROMANCE HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS Michele Loporcaro Romanisches Seminar - Universität Zürich The title of this Cluster of essays carries the implication -or at least suggests the possibility- that practitioners of Romance historical linguistics may belong to an endangered species. This is quite an uncomfortable situation: it feels a bit like writing these lines while sitting on a chair with just three legs (if not even fewer). The title also calls for an analysis of why the fourth leg is missing, and how it can be reintegrated. As to the causes, they partly lie outside the discipline, in the decline of historical sciences as such and in the crisis of the cultural role of the public university, a topic on which many publications have appeared lately.1 This part of the question is for sociologists of science to answer, and will not be considered any further here. The external causes, however, could hardly be so effective (concretely, in terms of disappearance not of single legs but of entire chairs for historical linguistics , hinted at in Steve Dworkin's Introduction) if they were not backed up by factors internal to the discipline itself. And this is of course a much more serious problem, for whose analysis the competence lies exclusively with us. I guess everybody in the field has experienced the sad case of the colleague next door, years ago the author of honest -if not brilliantwork in historical linguistics, who nowadays advises doctoral students 1 Publications such as, for the European scene, Maurizio Ferraris's (2001) humorous pamphlet or Morkel's (2000) well-documented study. Zvi corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 57-65 58Michele LoporcaroLa corónica 31.2, 2003 that they should not embark on a discipline without a future, but rather devote their intellectual energies to more promising studies like formal syntax, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, language engineering or the like. The problem is not that these other disciplines enjoy resounding success. The problem is one of self-consciousness. In doing so, these disillusioned colleagues show that they have ceased to believe in their roles as the depository of a part of the treasure of human knowledge, and as replicators of this knowledge for the next generations. They also show a poor understanding of the relationship of historical linguistics with other sub-domains of language studies, a relationship that was recently synthesized most effectively by Brian D. Joseph: [A] good historical linguist must be a good linguist in general, ready to examine any aspect of a language, for (at least) two reasons. First, since all the various components of a language can change, one must be prepared to investigate and try to understand the nature of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and so on. Second, whatever we learn about these areas will give insights into language synchronically, and I believe firmly that to understand how language changes [...] we have to be able to characterize what those synchronic states look like and what features, categories, and constructs they contain. Moreover, since change is embedded in the social history and practices of the speakers/users of a language and is fed in part by aspects of language acquisition, both first and second, and by the contacts speakers/users have with others, sociolinguistics especially but also psycholinguistics must be seen as crucial to a full understanding of historical linguistics. (2002: 1) In a nutshell, linguistics is one discipline, and historical linguistics is linguistics as a whole, plus the historical perspective, which means a lot, especially for the (Latin-)Romance domain. It is commonplace that the linguistic family in which we are specialists displays a richness and continuity in documentation, and was recorded and studied to an extent that hardly finds its equal anywhere else in the humanities. Such a rich and complex field of inquiry puts high demands on scholars working on it. Consider for example any feature occurring in any modern Romance language in any structural component: for instance, Italian raddoppiamento fonosintattico (= RF), the gemination of word-initial Muhammad, Charlemagne, and Apocope59 consonants, when preceded within the speech chain by a word ending in a stressed vowel (e.g., cantò [m:]ale 's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 57-65
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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