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Reviewed by:
  • Advances in Italian dialectology: Sketches of Italo-Romance grammars ed. by Roberta D’Alessandro, Diego Pescarini
  • Lori Repetti*
Advances in Italian dialectology: Sketches of Italo-Romance grammars. Ed. by Roberta D’Alessandro and Diego Pescarini. (Grammars and language sketches of the world’s languages: Romance languages.) Leiden: Brill, 2018. Pp. x, 373. ISBN 9789004354388. $138 (Hb).

Brill has recently launched a new series—‘Grammars and sketches of the world’s languages’— to disseminate information about understudied languages, with subseries on the languages of South East Asia, Africa, and Russia, as well as Papuan and Romance languages. The last subseries is edited by Roberta D’Alessandro, one of the coeditors of the volume under review. Advances in Italian dialectology: Sketches of Italo-Romance grammars, edited by D’Alessandro and Diego Pescarini, is the fifth volume published in this series since its inception in 2014 and the first in the ‘Romance languages’ subseries. It is appropriate that this particular volume opens the subseries on Romance languages, since the indigenous languages of Italy are perhaps the most understudied of the Romance languages, as well as the most endangered (Moseley 2010, Eberhard et al. 2019).

Most Romance varieties spoken in Italy are called ‘dialects’. This is an infelicitous use of the term, since the word dialect is often understood to mean a variety of a language used by a specific group or in a specific area. However, the Italian ‘dialects’ are not varieties of Italian, and therefore are not dialects of Italian. In fact, they do not derive from, nor are they necessarily mutually intelligible with, Italian. Instead, they all derive from Latin, so they are sister languages, although the most prestigious sister, Italian, has certainly exerted a strong influence on the other varieties. The use of the term ‘dialect’ in this review and in this book is intended to mean generically ‘language variety spoken in Italy’. (See Cravens 2014 for the political implications of language classification in Italy.)

The introductory chapter offers a brief history of linguistic research on the Romance varieties spoken in Italy and lays out the goal of the book: to provide descriptive sketches of previously unknown or poorly studied phenomena in these languages, without necessarily drawing theoretical conclusions. The volume features work by well-known scholars in the field, as well as up-and-coming scholars, and is divided into four parts, which group chapters based on the area where the variety under investigation is spoken: ‘Northern varieties’, ‘Central varieties’, ‘Upper southern varieties’, ‘Extreme southern varieties and Sardinian’. The chapters cover the core areas of grammar, divided evenly between (morpho)phonology and (morpho)syntax. This is a particularly welcome aspect of this volume, as the field of Romance linguistics in general and Italian dialect studies in particular has become dominated in recent years by work on syntax. I begin this review with a discussion of the (morpho)phonology chapters.

Edoardo Cavirani provides a data-rich discussion of number and gender in nominal expressions in Lunigiana, a linguistically complex yet severely understudied area at the border of three typologically different dialect groups: Ligurian, Emilian, and Tuscan. The Lunigiana zone displays a significant amount of microvariation, as illustrated in Cavirani’s discussion of the feminine and plural features of nominal expressions. He identifies three suffixes used to mark feminine plural nouns: -e (identical to standard Italian), -a (syncretic with the feminine singular form), and -ja (analyzed as plural /i/ + feminine /a/). The last form is especially surprising since, according to the mirror principle, we expect the opposite order of morphemes—gender (/a/) >> plural (/i/)—as in other Romance languages such as Spanish (e.g. lob-oM-sPL ‘wolves’). However, Cavirani argues that this is only an apparent violation of the mirror principle due to licensing restrictions analyzed within the framework of element theory (Backley 2011). A detailed survey of the distribution of feminine plural markers on different elements in the DP (nouns, articles, adjectives, [End Page 371] demonstratives, etc.) rounds off the discussion. Cavirani generously offers a trove of data to illustrate the rich microvariation attested in this complex zone.

Gender and number agreement is also the topic of Michele...


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pp. 371-373
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