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ROMANCE LINGUISTICS: FUTURE PERFECT OR FUTURE IN THE PAST? John Charles Smith University ofOxford (St Catherine's College) Is Romance Linguistics on its death-bed as we begin the Third Millennium? At first sight, the evidence would argue not. The triennial international conference organized by the Société de Linguistique Romane goes from strength to strength, as do meetings with a narrower geographical focus, such as the annual Romance Linguistics Seminar held at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (RLS), and the annual North American Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL). Large-scale publishing ventures, such as the ongoing Lexikon der romanistichen Linguistik and the forthcoming Cambridge History of the Romance Languages, also attest to a thriving area of research. The linguistic study of the Romance Languages, then, is in rude health. But is Romance Linguistics dying as a discipline? I shall suggest that, whilst there may be superficial grounds for disquiet, the appropriate mood is in fact one of quiet optimism. First of all, what is Romance Linguistics? This question is not as straightforward as it may sound. Romance Linguistics is, by definition , comparative: it involves, or at least is informed by, the study of more than one variety of Romance. The investigation of a single phenomenon in an individual Romance language or dialect is not a priori "Romance Linguistics", although a Romance scholar may well make use of such work in attempting to gain insights into the Romance languages as a whole. As an essentially comparative study, Romance Linguistics is also, if only by implication, diachronic. A typological or contrastive study of the Romance languages which ignored their common ancestry might be an interesting intellectual exercise, but its refusal to envisage a diachronic dimension to the issues discussed would be wilful, and at a deeper conceptual level it might in any case be impossible to ignore this dimension in any significant sense. La corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 97-102 98John Charles SmithLa corónica 31.2, 2003 Many colleagues in many countries are carrying out worthwhile work within the research paradigm outlined above, but it is not the purpose of this brief note to survey or evaluate their efforts. Rather, I intend to examine two types of factor which influence Romance Linguistics and which may shape its future - those which are contingent (that is, external to linguistics) and those which are essential (internal to linguistics). I begin with some comments on contingent issues. In universities, at least, the discipline is hindered by structures which are seldom propitious - there are few, if any, Departments of Romance Linguistics anywhere in the world, and Romance linguists stand at the intersection of two environments, linguistics and a particular group of languages , which are departmentalized (or compartmentalized) separately. Language departments often lack the right focus. If they are departments ofindividual languages (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.), then they confine the Romance linguist, who, by definition, wishes to do at least some work outside their walls. If, as is increasingly the case in much of the world, they are departments or schools of Modern Languages , then they encompass languages, such as German and Russian, which are not Romance. The framework is either too narrow or too broad. Some academic traditions do achieve an appropriate level of delicacy, those of the United States and the German-speaking countries of Europe, for instance, where we find (although by no means in every institution) departments of "Romance Languages" and "romanische Philologie".1 But, whether or not the mix of languages is right, the mix of subjects will be wrong. The linguist who works in a language department may be forced to devote some time to practical language classes and will spend much of the rest resisting the prédations of literary colleagues, always in a majority, for many of whom linguistics is an incomprehensible irritant which gets in the way of the main business of the department, and which they consequently treat as a householder might treat squatters in the basement. There are distinguished exceptions to this attitude, but it is, alas, widespread. Romanists who work in a Linguistics Department will normally feel more at home, but they will rarely have the luxury of teaching only Romance Linguistics. There...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 97-102
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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