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HISTORICAL ROMANCE LINGUISTICS: A SOCIOLINGUISTIC PERSPECTIVE Ralph Penny Queen Mary, University of London As a university discipline, at the undergraduate and MA levels, it would seem that Romance Linguistics is indeed in danger of extinction in the United Kingdom, and perhaps elsewhere. Similarly at the Ph.D. level, there have been few UK projects in the last decade that have been genuinely pan-Romance in their scope. Where undergraduate courses exist, they function as options, typically available to students following modern language degree programs. Within the UK university system, there is only a handful of posts whose titles include the term "Romance Linguistics" or "Romance Philology". Despite this gloomy picture, synchronic and diachronic linguistic research into the Romance family continues to flourish, at least for the present. Sometimes this work gives genuinely pan-Romance results (for example, Rodney Sampson's work [1999] on nasalization in Romance), although sometimes the work in question compares one branch of the family with another (Cravens 2002). Most frequently, the target of study is a single language or, at most, a geographicallydetermined segment ofthe Romance continuum (Ibero-Romance, ItaloRomance , etc.). Symptomatic of this state of affairs is the Romance Linguistics Seminar (RLS), held annually at Cambridge, England, and now in its thirty-first year. The papers presented there typically deal with a single Romance language, most frequently from a synchronic viewpoint, but with an important admixture ofdiachronically-oriented studies. The principal academic benefit of these meetings (whose participants , in the majority, are from the UK, but with a substantial minority from other parts of Europe and, sometimes, from the US) is cross-fertilization between descriptive and historical theoretical approaches and among scholars working otherwise separately on individual Romance languages. La COR(JNiCA 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 83-88 84Ralph PennyLa corónica 31.2, 2003 One such aspect of cross-fertilization has been the application of sociolinguistic approaches (pioneered outside the Romance field, most often by UK, US and Scandinavian scholars). The insights provided by variationist studies, most directed at English or at Scandinavian languages (Labov 1966; Milroy & Milroy 1985; Trudgill 1974, 1986) were the first to throw light on the issue of actuation (most authoritatively stated in Weinreich, Labov, & Herzog 1968), and more generally on the issue oflanguage change (particularly in the work of Leslie Milroy 1987, and that of Leslie & James Milroy, especially 1985). These approaches have begun to be applied to the history of individual Romance languages, although not, so far, to the history of the whole family, and it can be claimed that they have breathed new life into our discipline, not least by allowing scholars to seek to answer not only the traditional questions oí when?, where?, and (to some extent) how?, but also to begin to address the most fundamental question, namely why? Crucial in this intellectual development has been the acceptance of the uniformitarian principle (namely, that the characteristics we observe in language today, particularly including both diatopic and diastratic variation, have always belonged to all languages, wherever and whenever spoken). Adoption of this principle in its fullest form is recent in Romance Linguistics, perhaps reflecting the impact on Romance studies ofearly Indoeuropeanist approaches, in which comparison was made between languages viewed as synchronically unvarying entities. However, once the uniformitarian principle came to be accepted , it became possible to construct theories about the past based on synchronic linguistic studies, and to attack the actuation problem as it applies to Romance. Aside from Wenker's postally-conducted study ofvariation in German (1926-), it was in the Romance field that scientifically-based variationist study oflanguage began, with the publication of the great Atlas Linguistique de la France (ALF 1902-1910), followed by such monuments of scholarship as the Sprach- und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz (AIS 1928-1940), the incompletely publishedAtlas lingüístico de la Península Ibérica (ALPI 1962), and many other national and regional linguistic atlases. The discoveries which followed from these publications sometimes led to some contributions, albeit modest ones, to general diachronic linguistic theory. Jules Gilliéron, the compiler of the first Romance atlas, was (as is well known) primordially interested in Romance linguistic history and used the ALF data to support Historical Romance Linguistics...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 83-88
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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