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  • Comparative historical dialectology: Italo-Romance clues to Ibero-Romance sound change by Thomas D. Cravens
  • Roger Wright
Comparative historical dialectology: Italo-Romance clues to Ibero-Romance sound change. By Thomas D. Cravens. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Pp. xi, 163. ISBN 1588113132. $85 (Hb).

This excellent book will be of interest to historical linguists, sociolinguists, and phonologists in general, as well as being helpful to specialists in Latin, Romance, Ibero-Romance, and Italo-Romance.

Investigators of the history of individual Romance languages or dialects are always uneasily aware that a greater knowledge of Romance-wide developments might be an essential part of their armory. At its most simple, this becomes a suspicion that perhaps the same problems have been encountered and solved in related dialects in other geographical areas, and since the history of both the discipline and the university departments that sustain it has tended to be split on geographical lines, the wider expertise is not always easy to come by. Some scholars, however, have reacted to this unease by becoming experts in Romance, rather than exclusively in the history of Italian or Spanish, and so on, and the benefits are often immediate. In this way they are able to bring wider experience to a phenomenon that can otherwise baffle the investigator confined to just one Romance area, and this book represents such a case. Professor Thomas Cravens has been working on the topics covered in this book for over two decades, and this is the mature and precise result of focused and detailed reflection, well-written in a considered tone. The arguments are all to the point at issue, precise, calmly presented, and persuasive, as the complex data have been assembled and evaluated with care and understanding.

Two different problems of Ibero-Romance historical linguistics are illuminated here by a knowledge of Italo-Romance developments. C considers together the phenomena of the voicing of Latin intervocalic unvoiced consonants, which was commoner in the Iberian Peninsula than it was in Italy, and of the conditioned gemination of word-initial consonants, which is still common in Italy. Such gemination is now unknown in Spain, but it is seen here as having existed in the distant past and thus being the historical precursor to the palatalization of word-initial nasal and lateral consonants in two now separate Northern areas of the Iberian Peninsula. That is, words such as Asturian ñubes (from Latin nubes) saw their initial consonant develop as /n/ [End Page 775] > /nn/ > /ɲ/, rather than merely /n/ > /ɲ/. Detailed arguments based on modern dialect data from Corsica, and when relevant from Sardinia, Venice, and elsewhere in the wider Italian area, show that what is still the case there could well be similar to the intermediate stage that Ibero-Romance went through in the past. In addition to the complex Italian data, the analyses also show an accurate knowledge of the variation found in the Iberian Peninsula, including Portugal and the High Pyrenees, and of the occasional intervocalic voicing now to be heard in the Canaries. Thus C argues that present-day dialects can illuminate the earlier stages that a cognate dialect went through. The conclusion reached is that in their common Early Romance, the two phenomena were aspects of the same wider development, convincingly shown to be early (with allophonic voicing from the second century ad), internally-motivated, and largely unconnected to ‘substratum’ influence. In most of Italy, word-initial allophonic gemination (rafforzamento) and intervocalic unvoiced consonants remain; in most of the Iberian Peninsula, the consonants have subsequently weakened such that normally the original Latin initial unvoiced consonants are still unvoiced but now degeminated, and the original Latin word-internal unvoiced consonants have voiced; but geminate [nn] and [ll] have palatalized word-internally. C suggests that this happened word-initially as well in the relevant areas of Asturias and Catalonia where such forms still survive. This explanation of the palatalized lateral of, for example, lluna is satisfying in itself, but allied to C’s perspective of the intervocalic voicing it becomes doubly so. The comment on p. 115 is fully justified: ‘Sketched in hindsight in consideration of developments in Italo-Romance, the diverse reflexes of initial and word-internal geminate...


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