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ROMANCE LINGUISTICS: AN EVOLVING DISCIPLINE Joel Rini University ofVirginia From my perspective as a practicing Romance linguist who concentrates primarily on Spanish historical grammar, I would say that, like the languages we study, ours is an evolving, not a dying discipline . I have certainly seen changes in my short life as a Romanist. For example, when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan not all that long ago (1982-1987), the question of the usefulness of comparative reconstruction was a highly debated topic. Some believed it was an absolutely necessary practice, since Classical Latin, representing only one register oflanguage, and a written one at that, could not serve as a starting point for our diachronic linguistic inquiries , and that one must therefore reconstruct Proto-Romance. Others believed that such a practice was absolutely futile because the majority of the reconstructed forms could be found in Classical Latin, and others perhaps in a slightly altered form. For example, no /-m/ on nouns (if, that is, they did indeed descend from the Latin accusative case), regularized first person singulars and infinitives in the case of deponent verbs, such as *morio for morior, *morire for mori, etc. Some even referred to Classical Latin as a "cheat sheet" which could be consulted to check the validity of the reconstructed form. So they asked: "Why do it at all?" Yet others believed that the comparative reconstruction of ProtoRomance should be practiced, not despite the existence of Classical Latin, but precisely because of its existence, and therefore its ability to "validate" the reconstructed forms, serving in turn as a model for the practice of comparative reconstruction of even older languages . The reconstruction of Proto-Romance as supported by the recorded Classical language somehow "proved" that other reconstructed La corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 89-95 90Joel RiniLa corónica 31.2, 2003 proto-languages, such as Proto-Indo-European, and the communities in which such proto-languages would have been spoken, must have also existed. Specialists of general historical linguistics still cite Latin and Romance forms in their quest to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European , Nostratic, and the Mother Tongue.1 But the practice of comparative reconstruction of Proto-Romance has now been totally abandoned by Romance linguists, and, in effect, died out, at least in the United States, with the passing of Robert A. Hall, Frederick B. Agard, and Clifford S. Leonard. But although we no longer work backwards in time to reconstruct Proto-Romance, the formal study begun in the nineteenth century of the unfolding of Latin into modern languages, remains alive, even if only to varying degrees, depending on the Romance language concerned . But even if it is true that there are many more practitioners, at least in North America, ofSpanish historical grammar, than ofFrench or Italian, specialists of the history of Spanish will often benefit from at least a glance at some other Romance data. Paul Lloyd's magnum opus, From Latin to Spanish (1987), for example, despite the limited purpose reflected in its title, is chock full of comparative Romance data. And to cite the most recent example I could find, Thomas D. Cravens has published Comparative Historical Dialectology. Italo-Romance clues to Ibero-Romance sound change (2002), in which he adduces ItaloRomance data to attempt to resolve long-standing problems of IberoRomance . In some of my own work, comparative Romance data has been indispensable. For example, positing the chronology of changes from Latin MEtXM > Sp. conmigo would not have been possible without evidence from Old Portuguese mego and comego, Old Italian meco, Northern Italian mego, con mego, and con meo, Modern Florentine con meho, and Sardinian cum megus. The question of why the contraction oí Ieél > IeI was impeded in Spanish creer, leer,poseer andproveer, but notseer (> ser) and veer (> ver), would not have been answered without asking why Ieél > lèi was not impeded in any of the corresponding Portuguese forms. In the reduction of Latin habeo to Spanish he (as well the parallels in Western Romance, Portuguese hei, French ai, etc.), pan-Romance data confirm an intermediate *ayo, before its reduction to he. The anomalous outcome of Latin ciconia as Spanish cigüe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 89-95
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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