12.2100, Review: Pountain, History of Spanish thru Texts

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-12-2100. Fri Aug 24 2001. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 12.2100, Review: Pountain, History of Spanish thru Texts

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Date:  Fri, 24 Aug 2001 10:12:36 -0400
From:  D. Eric Holt <DEHolt01 at gwm.sc.edu>
Subject:  Pountain, A History of the Spanish Language Through Texts

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 24 Aug 2001 10:12:36 -0400
From:  D. Eric Holt <DEHolt01 at gwm.sc.edu>
Subject:  Pountain, A History of the Spanish Language Through Texts

Christopher J. Pountain (2001) A History of the Spanish Language
Through Texts. Routledge, hardback ISBN 0-415-18061-9, xviii+341pp.

D. Eric Holt, University of South Carolina, Department of
Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, and Linguistics Program

A History of the Spanish Language through Texts (henceforth
'HSLT') is an exceptional book that deserves an easily
accessible place on the bookshelves of researchers,
instructors and students of the history of the Spanish
language. As stated in ch. 1 Preliminaries, HSLT reverses
the traditional approach to presenting historical changes
and texts; of course, "making the study of individual texts
a starting point for the history of the language does not
lend itself to a comprehensive and systematic account of
phonological and morphological change...and it cannot be
guaranteed, even with careful choice of texts, that all
phonetic changes will be illustrated, and quite unrealistic
that to assume that even a representative selection of
morphological forms will emerge." To address this important
issue, Pountain (henceforth 'P') describes in some detail
many significant formal features of the history of Spanish
in the section on Keypoints (pp. 262-297). The
justification for an approach to Spanish linguistic history
through its texts lies in part with the wealth of textual
records both in the parent language (Latin) and in its
Romance descendants available to the researcher (Malkiel
1974). Accordingly, the interpretation of texts provides a
rich source of data, and allows for the study of the
social, cultural and historical matrix in which the
language is embedded; further, it allows us a fuller view
of vocabulary in context, as well as of syntax; finally, we
may also more adequately address issues of register and
style, often neglected in more formal accounts (p. 2).

A concise and apt description of the book also appears on
the back cover: "[HSLT] examines the evolution of the
Spanish language from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Including chapters on Latin American Spanish, US Spanish,
Judeo-Spanish, and Creoles, the book looks at the spread of
Castilian as well as at linguistically interesting non-
standard developments. Pountain explores a wide range of
texts from poetry, through newspaper articles and political
documents, to a Buñuel film script and a love letter.
[HSLT] presents the formal history of the language and its
texts in a fresh and original way. The book has user-
friendly features such as a series of keypoints and a
careful indexing and cross-referencing system. It can be
used as a freestanding history of the language
independently of the illustrative texts themselves."

This book quite naturally complements works such as the CD-
ROM project of ADMYTE (1992) and Kasten, Nitti and Jonxis-
Henkemans (1997). Other valuable text-based works one might
wish to consult in conjunction with HSLT are Fradejas Rueda
(1998) and Sampson (1980); both of which present texts and
offer philological commentary of them, with the former
dealing in large part with issues of manuscript

This most excellent work comprises the following contents:

List of illustrations (Plate I MS Aemilianensis f.72r (Text
2); Plate 2 Genizah T-S 1115.46 (containing one of the
Hebrew versions of Text 5a); Plate 3 Tragicomedia de
Calixto e Melibea, Burgos: Fadrique de Basilea, 1499, f.4v
(Text 15); Plate 4 Santa Teresa: Letter to Padre García de
Toledo (Text 21))

List of maps (Map 1 The northern Iberian Peninsula, 10th-12th
centuries; Map 2 The progress of the Reconquest; Map 3 Some
linguistic features of Latin America (expansion of a
suggestions by Zamora Munné and Guitart 1982); Map 4 The
location of Spanish contact vernaculars in the Philippines)

Transliteration and other notational conventions (Arabic
transcription; Phonetic symbols [IPA, so not listed or
described; deh]; Latin; Other symbols)

List of abbreviations


The main text itself comprises the following chapters:

I Preliminaries (includes discussion of the selection and
assessment of the texts, and of the somewhat problematical
issue of the 'Spanish language')

II Latin and Romance (includes discussion of texts and the
history of the Romance languages, and a letter from the
Visigothic period (7th c.))

III Early Romance (From the Glosses of San Millán de la
Cogolla (mid-10th c.), The Valpuesta document (1011), From
the Auto de los Reyes Magos, 12th c.)

IV Al-Andaluz (A Muwa**ah of Abu Bakr Yahya Baqi (died
1145), and other jarchas, poems and stories)

V Early literature in Castilian: dialect diversity and
mixture (selections from Cantar de mio Cid (late 12th c.),
Los milagros de nuestra señora (Gonzalo de Berceo, 13th c.),
and the Libro de Alexandre (13th c.))

VI The Castilian norm (selections from Primera crónica
general (Alfonso X, el Sabio, late 13th c.) and El Conde
Lucanor (Don Juan Manuel, 1335))

VII Prose documents in Castilian from the fifteenth century
(selection from the Memoirs of Doña Leonor López de Córdoba
(early 15th c.); from the Arcipreste de Talavera o Corbacho
(Alfonso Martínez de Toledo, mid-15th c.); an aljamiado
document (that is, a Spanish text written in Arabic script;
late 14th-early 15th c.); and a selection from La Celestina
(Fernando de Rojas, 1499))

VIII The Golden Age: linguistic self-awareness (selection
from the first grammar of Castilian, the Gramática de la
lengua castellana (Antonio de Nebrija, 1492); on the 'best'
Spanish, in Diálogo de la lengua (Juan de Valdés, 1535); on
the etiquette of address, in Arte de la lengua española
castellana (Gonzalo de Correas, 1625))

IX (typographical error as XI) The Golden Age (a model for
Castilian prose, from El cortesano (Juan de Boscán, 1534);
selection from Eufemia (Lope de Rueda, mid-16th c.); letter
to Padre García de Toledo from Santa Teresa (1562);
selection from El Buscón (Francisco de Quevedo, 1626))

X The Enlightenment (a policy for linguistic
standardization, from the Diccionario de autoridades (Real
Academia Española, 1726))

XI Modern Peninsular Spanish (literary renditions and
authentic samples of spoken and journalistic Spanish:
Escenas matritenses (Ramón de Mesonero Romanos, 1837); the
speech of a Madrid housewife (1979); newspaper report of
visit to Spain of King Hassan of Morroco (1989); selection
of Andalusian maid bemoaning her lot (Gazpacho andaluz,
Carlos Arniches, 1902))

XII Latin America (including a brief general introduction
to Andalusian features in Latin American Spanish. Texts
include a love letter from Mexico (1689); selection on the
guacho from Martín Fierro (José Hernández, Argentina,
1872); Montaña adentro (Marta Brunet, Chile, 1923); on the
streets of Mexico City from Los olvidados (Luis Buñuel,
Mexico, 1951))

XIII US Spanish (a helpful daughter (20th c.); the Spanish
of US teenagers (late 20th c.))

XIV Judeo-Spanish (text from pre-war Macedonia, early 20th
c.); Judeo-Spanish as a worldwide language (Aki
Yerushalayim, late 20th c.))

XV Caló (the Apostles' Creed in The Zincali (George Borrow,
1843; literary rendition from El ruedo ibérico: Viva mi
dueño (Ramón del Valle-Inclán, 1928))

XVI The African connection (rendition of two negros
praising the Virgin (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1676); the
Spanish of Equatorial Guinea (late 20th c.))

XVII Creoles and contact vernaculars (story about going to
market in Papiamento (early 20th c.); a Filipina's dream in
Ermitaño, a Spanish contact vernacular of the Philippines,

Keypoints (262-297; 36 such entries, which when appropriate
refer to related Keypoints: adverbs; the 'b/v' merger; the
case-system of Latin; clitic pronoun position; conditional
sentences; consonant groups; the definite article;
demonstratives; the f>h change; final -e; future and
conditional; future stems; the future subjunctive; gender;
the imperfect endings in Old Castilian; learned and
popular, semilearned and semipopular; lenition; 'mismo';
monosyllabic verb forms; palatalization; the passive; the
perfect; periphrastic verb forms; 'personal' 'a'; personal
pronouns; the pluperfect of Old Castilian; 'por' and
'para'; possessives; preterite stems; the reflexive;
relatives; 'ser' and 'estar'; the sibilants of Old
Castilian; stress; vocabulary - changes in meaning; vowels)

Glossary of linguistic terms (includes references to

Bibliography (with starred entries indicating that the text
is a standard reference and is recommended as a basic
reading list for students of the subject)

Index of topics (excluding Keypoints, but one wonders why)

Index of words (Arabic, Basque, Catalan, Dutch, English,
French, Gascon, Germanic, Greek, Italian, Judeo-Spanish,
Latin, Mozarabic, Nahuatl, Occitan, Portuguese, Romanian,
Spanish (including caló, bozal and creole forms - but one
wonders why these are listed under separate (sub)entries)),
Tagalog, Turkish and Welsh)

As stated above, this is a wonderful book that collects
many significant documents in Spanish (linguistic) history,
and treats them in a systematic and thorough manner. Each
text is given a general introduction and commentary,
followed by suggestions for further reading. The text
itself comes next, then its English translation, and then
detailed comments on various features of the text (with
references to the line number), divided into sections on
'phonetics and phonology', 'morphology and syntax' and
'vocabulary', all with appropriate references to the book's
Keypoints section and to specific commentaries of other
texts. While it may seem odd to collect the structural
linguistic explanations/observations at the end of the
book, and to list them in alphabetical rather than
chronological or modular ('phonetics', 'syntax', etc.)
order, this is a shrewd move by the author, as P refers to
these points in the discussion of several texts, and
unnecessary repetition is thus avoided. However, there is
no list of these at any point in the book, either as part
of the table of contents, or as a separate list (as of Maps
and Illustrations), or as separate index altogether; this
is an unfortunate omission in my view.

One particular strength that I would like to point out is
the author's robust attention to vocabulary development,
and to the rich variety of terms that often characterize
many lexical/semantic fields in Spanish. For instance, on
p. 90, the author comments on the word 'amparar' (to
shelter), and offers a good discussion of additional words
used in the same semantic field; likewise for equivalents
of 'to find' (on pp. 95-6), 'annoyed' (p. 103), 'language'
(pp. 138-9), and numerous others. Semantic shifts are also
treated at various points. e.g., 'jaw/cheek/mouth' (p. 51),
'swelling/ankle/heel/kick' (p. 108) and 'here/there' (p.
151). These are wonderful and fascinating sections that
I've come to expect and treasure from P. (See also Pountain
and Batchelor 1992, reviewed in Holt and Catalán 1995.)

Another strength is the inclusion of texts of spoken
Spanish, access to which has been greatly increased by the
compilation and availability of literal transcripts (in
addition to literary renditions). Such texts allow for
excellent commentary on what must have happened in other
stages of linguistic divergence (p. 179). Examples of
phenomena evident in the spoken register are the dropping
of prepositions and of the complementizer 'que', and of the
use of 'que' as a causal conjunction. Likewise, inclusion
of journalistic language offers insights into a speech
variety that aims for concision and to catch the reader's
attention (p. 183).

A few comments about chapter XIV (Judeo-Spanish): while P
gives original spelling for other texts that appear in
another script (e.g., the Arabic and Hebrew passages of
chapter IV, which are wonderful elements of the book), for
some reason no such original is given for the Macedonian
source of Text 33. A useful addition here would be a text
in 'solitreo', the use of Hebrew script for the
representation of Judeo-Spanish. P alludes to Internet
resources for Judeo-Spanish, though none are cited. A
websearch of the term pulls up some interesting sites, some
of which are listed in the references to this review.
Likewise, a recent work that treats the issue of the
Spanish spoken by the Jews prior to their final expulsion
in 1492 is Miller (2001).

With regard to the translations of the texts, the reader
receives a synthetic and connected understanding of their
contents, for most texts, an additional interlinear (or
side-by-side) translation would be extremely helpful, and
would allow for easier word-by-word (or at least clause-by-
clause) comparison and study. As laid out, locating certain
points commented on in the discussion is at times quite
difficult. (On the other hand, a side-by-side Standard
Spanish version of Text 37 (Two negros praise the Virgin)
is included, as well as an equivalent of Text 39
(Papiamento), both very much appreciated.)

Another minor omission, in my view, is that the symbol for
long or tall 's' (also known as 's' longa, which looks
somewhat like a rightward-facing tomahawk), though
appearing in Text 2 (p. 22) is not explicitly mentioned
until fn. 5 on p. 60, but is not explained until fn. 9 on
p. 66. A better location for such mention of it would seem
to me to be in pp. xiii-xv, where symbol conventions are
indicated, as well as in the discussion of Text 2. Given
that this is simply an allograph of curved ('plain') 's',
it is also somewhat surprising that P didn't regularize all
cases of 's' in the presentation/transliteration of the
texts, since no special commentary is given them.

Other editorial oversights: p. viii, the chapter on the
Golden Age is listed as XI, though it's actually IX; in
point 10.2.12 (p. 89) reference to the keypoints for
'adverbs' and 'clitic pronoun position' are given as (p.
000); the correct references are to p. 262 and p. 264,
respectively; likewise for point 30.3.1 (p. 208), the
reference to keypoint 'gender' should be to p. 275. Given
that the Keypoints section is presented alphabetically,
however, the reader may easily find the reference. For
point 27.1.9 (p. 189), the reference to the line in the
text where 'mu' (for 'muy') is omitted, and should read
(l.9). p. 11, typographical error: P refers to a
hypothetical Latin source for Spanish 'moler' (to grind),
given as ?MOLERE, with short /E/, rather than attested long
/E:/ (which P cites directly above).

Other minor points:
In the discussion of the Enlightenment and the dictionaries
and grammars published by the Real Academia Española, P
states that Alarcos Llorach (1994) is its most recent
grammar. However, Bosque and Demonte were the directors of
the 1999 Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española,
issued by the RAE.

I also wonder about some of the words not singled out for
commentary in some of the texts. For instance, while many
foreign borrowings are noted in the discussion of various
texts, French 'somier' (bed frame, l.20, p. 190) has no
point dedicated to it, and is glossed as 'mattress' in the
English translation. Likewise, while in the discussion of
the Ermitaño contact variety of Spanish (p. 261), P states
that the words 'sípit' and 'alimásag' have the 'same form
in Tagalog', but no gloss is given there, and the lack of
word-by-word or interlinear translations makes it quite
difficult for the reader to determine what these words
mean. ('Crab's pincers'.)

I also question some of the choices made regarding the
indexing. For instance, neither 'aljamiado', 'bozal',
'caló', 'germanía' nor 'jerigonza' is listed in the Index
of topics or in the Glossary of linguistic terms. A related
point is that in the Index of words, the entry for Spanish
(p. 329) says "Spanish (including caló, bozal and creole
forms)". Why couldn't these have been separated? The reader
has no immediate way of knowing which of the words comes
from which variety, which is unfortunate. Likewise, though
the creole variety Palenquero is mentioned in passing on p.
249, there is no entry for it in any of the indices, nor
any text or reference to works that treat this interesting
contact variety.  The reader might hope that future
editions of this book would include further references and
even texts from other marginal varieties such as Palenquero
(Colombia), Lunfardo (Argentina) Media Lengua (Ecuador) and
Chabacano (Philippines; however, Ermitaño, another Spanish
contact variety spoken there, is treated, though certain
striking phonetic characteristics, such as frequent use of
open E, O and the pronunciation of fricative [d] after
nasal consonants, is lacking.). (See Lipski 1994 for
discussion and many references to studies of these

Three other minor quibbles: for the keypoint 'future stems'
(pp. 274-5), P could also note more explicitly that the
same explanation of these 'irregular' forms applies equally
to the 'irregular' conditional tense forms as well.
Likewise, the explanation for the starred entries in the
Bibliography (indicating that the text is a standard
reference and is recommended as a basic reading list for
students of the subject, a very helpful note), is given on
p. xviii, in the Acknowledgments section, obscure to say
the least. Finally, while the Illustrations and Maps
included are certainly valuable, one might wish for
additional ones, and in color, of illustrations/facsimiles
of the manuscripts and other supporting materials, where

In sum, this is an excellent book that should prove
invaluable to researchers of Spanish (not withstanding the
points mentioned above), as well as serving as an extremely
useful and comprehensive text for courses in the history of
the Spanish language.

n.a. 1992. ADMYTE: Archivo digital de manuscritos y textos
espaónoles. Madrid: Micronet.

Bosque, Ignacio and Violeta Demonte, eds. 1999. Gramática
descriptiva de la lengua española. Real Academia Española,
Colección Nebrija y Bello. 3 vols. Madrid: Espasa.

Fradejas Rueda, José Manuel. 1998. Prácticas de historia de
la lengua española. Universidad Nacional de Educación a
Distancia. 2nd ed.

Lipski, John M. 1994. Latin American Spanish. London and
New York: Longman Linguistic Library.

Pountain, C.J. and R.E. Batchelor. 1992. Using Spanish: A
Guide to Contemporary Usage. Cambridge and New York:
Cambridge University Press. [Reviewed by D. Eric Holt and
Norma G. Catalán, The Georgetown Journal of Linguistics
3.286-9 (1995).]

Kasten, Lloyd, John Nitti, and Wilhelmina Jonxis-Henkemans.
1997. The Electronic Texts and Concordances of the Prose
Works of Alfonso X, El Sabio. Madison: The Hispanic
Seminary of Medieval Studies.

Miller, Elaine R. 2001. Jewish Multiglossia: Hebrew,
Arabic, and Castilian in Medieval Spain. Newark, Delaware:
Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs.

Sampson, Rodney. 1980. Early Romance texts: an anthology.
Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Instituto Sefardi Europeo: http://www.sefarad.org/

Shalom. The weekly magazine from the Turkish Jewish
Community: http://www.salom.com.tr/. In Turkish and Judeo-

History and Dialectology of Spanish (Judeo-Spanish Links):

D. Eric Holt teaches courses and conducts research in
Hispanic linguistics, phonological theory and historical
linguistics at the University of South Carolina.


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