- The History of Spanish: A Student's Introduction by Diana L. Ranson, and Margaret Lubbers Quesada
Diana Ranson and Margaret Lubbers set out to provide an introductory textbook on the history of the Spanish language suitable for use in undergraduate courses on the topic, thereby filling a gap in the existing body of pedagogical materials. Their work compares to David A. Pharies' A Brief History of the Spanish Language. Although not explicitly stated by the authors, the tacit problem that their book addresses is that most textbooks on the history of the Spanish language used in university courses are historical grammars (for example, Lapesa, Lloyd, and Penny), which are more suitable for use by experts in the field than by novices or aspiring experts.
As this textbook is principally envisioned as a pedagogical resource, Ranson and Lubbers keep both students and instructors in mind with their overarching goal of "present[ing] in an accessible and engaging way material that has gained a reputation for being dry and difficult" (xxi). Accessibility and engagement are the defining features of the text, which is written in a conversational style. The book is divided into seventeen easily-digestable chapters with captivating titles, for example, chapter 1 is entitled "Why Do Spanish Speakers Say el arte but las artes? The Value of Studying the History of Spanish." Each chapter begins with a lead-in question that sets the stage for topics to be discussed, thereby activating students' knowledge and priming them for learning. In the chapter on morphological change, students are asked to conjugate irregular English verbs like to shine, to show, to slay, contrasting them with regular verbs like to play and irregular verbs like to begin. This prepares students for the discussion of the role of analogy in the development of Spanish verbs. Tables and figures complement the step-by-step presentation of each chapter in order to appeal to different types of learners. Each chapter ends with a chapter summary presented in bullet-point fashion, follow-up activities, and suggestions for further reading. The latter include a combination of scholarly works and more approachable websites and YouTube videos. By contributing to students' understanding of the evolution of Spanish in this user-friendly way, the authors hope to deepen students' understanding of Modern Spanish and foster their curiosity for further inquiry. [End Page 192]
Ranson and Lubbers likewise hope that the accessibility of their textbook "will make it easier for instructors, even those who are not experts in this field, to offer a course in the history of the Spanish language" (xxi). Instructors are aided in this stated goal by the various pedagogical features of the book described above, as well as by suggestions in the preface (xxi-xxii) regarding chapter coverage and teaching approaches vis-à-vis lead-in questions and follow-up activities. Moreover, each chapter contains indications of activities to be completed at various points in the discussion. Online resources include Word files of all activities in the book, along with an answer key, a sample syllabus, sample exams, and teaching suggestions, but I was unable to access them via the website indicated on the back cover.
The conversational style of the textbook and its intended audience of non-specialists do not diminish its academic rigor nor the breadth of topics included for study. Chapter 1 sets the tone for the volume by describing the importance of studying the history of the Spanish language, while chapter 2 provides a valuable lesson in the difference between prescriptive and descriptive attitudes about language. Chapter 3 rounds out this introductory foundation by tackling the question of language change. The chapter includes an excellent overview of the types of change (orthographic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, and semantic), using passages from the fourteenth-century El conde Lucanor as a source of textual examples (26-30). Chapter 3 also admirably cautions the reader about the limits and challenges of relying on the written record, although the authors' critique that the number of written records is finite and therefore inferior...