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FROM ROMANCE TO LINGUISTICS? SHOULD IT MATTER? Kenneth J. Wireback Miami University-Oxford, Ohio The expression "death of a discipline" is, in the context of historical Romance linguistics, a rather contradictory expression. "Death" implies that the whole organism, regardless of its level of complexity, has indeed expired as a whole - the corpus that once was alive has given up the ghost and become a corpse. Historical Romance linguistics (and by definition the more general category of Romance linguistics ) is the academic, humanistic equivalent of a multicelled organism, one that is very difficult to kill off, above all if the pathogen in question takes out only a few cells at a time. So although we might be able to pinpoint a few wounds about the body of historical Romance linguistics , the injuries do not appear fatal. The lifeblood of the discipline is precisely in the manifold (sub)disciplines that comprise Romance linguistics, and as a consequence we should not mistake doldrums -la grippe- for a terminal state. Otherwise stated, it is important to distinguish real threats from innocuous ones. So as a first step toward an answer to the question, "Death of a Discipline?", we might sift through the mix of perceived troublemakers in order to ascertain which ones are responsible for the current malaise within historical Romance linguistics , and which ones are not. Several linguists have observed with regard to Romance linguistics that in the last twenty or thirty years or so, there has been a shift in emphasis from romance to linguistics (Dworkin 2000: xiii; Posner 1998: 352; Kahane and Kahane 1983: 418). I would argue that pinning the blame for the alleged demise of historical Romance linguistics on this apparently recent shift in focus, at least without viewing it in context, is a mistake. First, the ebb and flow between romance and linguistics is nothing new. Over thirty years ago, Rebecca Posner outlined a "malady" La corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 115-25 116Kenneth. J. WirebackLa corónica 31.2, 2003 whose symptoms are surprisingly similar to the present situation (Iordan and Orr, with Posner 1970). If we were not privy to the date of publication of Posner's supplement, many of her remarks (1970: 409-13, 431-33, 438) would seem to preface the present discussion as well. The same major players receive top billing in her essay as well: European vs. American centers of research, a more scientific, less humanistic perspective, the continued passing of many 'grand masters' of the discipline, a shift away from the forefront of linguistic progress, the neglect of comparative perspectives concomitant with the shift away from historical ones. Ifwe follow Posner's tracing of these trends, from the publication of Iordan and Orr in 1937, through her assessment circa 1969-1970, and continue on to the present crisis, it becomes clear that the concept of disciplinary death is inaccurate. The tension between "scientific linguists" and "swots" (British slang for one who works or studies hard), as Posner (1970: 412) put it, is chronic, not acute, and does not entail now the imminent death of Romance linguistics as a discipline any more than it did thirty odd years ago.1 It would be more accurate to say that historical Romance linguistics still has a steady pulse, itjust doesn't command the linguistic center stage like it once did. Second, the broad stretch of territory covered by Romance linguistics makes it difficult to believe that impending death is an accurate analogy with which to approach the present dilemma. One may view Romance linguistics as an interlocked series of at least five continua : • one language * many languages • etymology (each word its own history) * sound "laws" • diachronic * synchronic • one theory or framework * many frameworks or perspectives • subfields: phonetics-phonology-morphology-syntax-semantics I would argue that each Romance linguist stakes out a position along each of the five continua, as he or she practices Romance linguistics. For example, one might focus on the etymology of a given word in 1 Funnily enough, much ofthe "medical" terminology employed in Posner's account is mirrored in the present discussion, e.g., "symptoms", "doldrums", "diagnosis", "patient ", "malady" (411-14,425). From Romance, to Linguistics? Should Il Matter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 115-125
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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