14.453, Review: Historical Linguistics: Penny (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-453. Fri Feb 14 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.453, Review: Historical Linguistics: Penny (2002)

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Date:  Thu, 13 Feb 2003 12:40:02 +0000
From:  Kathleen T. O'Connor <koconnor at Princeton.EDU>
Subject:  A History of the Spanish Language (2nd edition)

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

Date:  Thu, 13 Feb 2003 12:40:02 +0000
From:  Kathleen T. O'Connor <koconnor at Princeton.EDU>
Subject:  A History of the Spanish Language (2nd edition)

Penny, Ralph, (2002) A History of the Spanish Language, 2nd edition.
Cambridge University Press, paperback ISBN 0 521 01184 1, xx +398

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2393.html

Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater,
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Princeton University.

Description of the book:

A History of the Spanish Language, by Ralph Penny, provides a detailed
and comprehensive survey of the Spanish language, tracking its
development from its Indo-European ancestors to modern usage examining
its phonology, morpho-syntax, verbal dynamics, lexis, and semantics.
The book concludes with a chapter titled 'Past, present and future',
in which the author summarizes the nature of the history of language
and discusses increasing influences from English.

While primarily oriented towards the 'internal' history of Spanish,
meaning the historical evolution of the language, the book makes
reference when appropriate to 'external' history, or the examination
of Spanish within its social context as well.  The introductory
chapter provides a time-line of the development of Spanish as it
evolved from Indo-European languages spoken on the peninsula, which
coincided with the arrival of the Romans in Spain.  The chapter then
gives the lineage of the romance languages through the non-literary
Vulgar Latin versus Classical Latin, indicating that any strict
distinction between the two is not to be taken for granted.

The author carefully handles the discussion of the descendants of
spoken Proto-Romance, reminding readers of the implausibility of
citing as the direct ancestor of standard Spanish, Vulgar Latin, which
is highly dialectalized and without a written grammar. He devotes
considerable attention to the process of the acceptation of the
Castilian dialect as the standard code corresponding to the
publication of the grammar by Antonio de Nebrija in 1492.  He
continues, in this chapter, with discussions of the Latin of Spain,
the linguistic phenomena resultant from the Conquest by the Moors, and
the Reconquest by the Catholic Kings.  He provides some discussion of
several of the dialects spoken at that time, with considerable
attention devoted to Judeo-Spanish, the language spoken by the exiled
Spanish (and later, Portuguese) Jews in the Mediterranean and the
Balkans, which became a self-contained variant.  In his discussion of
Spanish in the present day, Penny cites theories of Andalucian versus
Castilian dialects spoken in the Americas, which may account for
dialectical differences in present day Latin-American Spanish.

Chapter 1 also contains a table in which a breakdown in millions of
Spanish speakers by country is offered.

Chapter 2 provides as detailed a survey of the Spanish phonological
system as can be condensed into 76 pages.  Owing to the density of the
material, the chapter contains considerable phonological information
which will be inaccessible to those unfamiliar with phonological
theory.  The author acknowledges this and offers some bibliographic
suggestions for further study, (vis.Alarcos (1965) Dalbor (1980)
Macpherson (1975) and Quilis and Fernandez (1969)).  Additionally,
many of the terms introduced in this chapter are provided in a
glossary in the back of the book. Phonological change from Latin is
discussed in terms of rules of assimilation and dissimilation,
epenthesis, metathesis, split and merger, citing ample exampled of
forms in Latin and in Spanish where these changes can be observed.
There is a discussion of how words are transmitted into Spanish
whether as 'learned-words', words which came into the language through
written texts, or 'semi-learned' words which were 'orally inherited'
from spoken Latin, and later 'remodeled' when uttered by the literati.

2.3 discusses the evolution of suprasegmental features, specifically
accent markers and syllabic stress. 2.4 goes into considerable detail
on the vowel system giving numerous examples of Latin ancestry and an
explanation of the dipthongization process.  There is also significant
attention devoted to the system of tonic and atonic vowels.  2.5
discusses the development of consonants in which phonological
processes, such as gemination, lenition, voicing, palatization etc.,
of each Spanish consonant is traced from the Latin system.  In 2.5.5,
an explanation of some of the internal phonetics of Spanish, which
occur in different chronological periods, which Penny calls the
'secondary consonant groups' is offered.  Here he discusses such
occurrences as the disappearance of the sequence /pt/ to become /tt/
during the transitional periods in Spanish and other second
generational incidents of consonant deletion, gemination,
etc. including the evolution of the Latin/Old Spanish /f/ to the
modern /h/.

Chapter 3 provides an account of Spanish morpho-syntaxis, broken down
into sections on general concepts, the noun, the adjective, the
adverb, the pronoun, the numeral, the verb, other word classes, and
conditional sentences. The chapter begins with the definition of terms
related to general concepts such as 'morpheme' and 'lexeme', and
establishes the distinction between 'synthetic' and 'analytic'
languages in terms of the use of bound morphemes or individual words.
In 3.2, the noun is presented beginning with a discussion of case and
number, in which the disappearance of case endings in Spanish from the
Latin is accounted for by the former's creation of prepositional
phrases.  Four phonological convergences are listed referring to this

(1) The merger of the accusative and ablative singular led to the
deletion of the final 'm' (2) the merger of short 'a' and long 'a' led
to 'mensa' (losing the distinction between acc. mensam and abl. mensA
(long 'a'). (3) The merger of 'o' and 'u', losing distinction between
acc. Sing. 'dominum' and dative/abl. sing, 'domino') long 'o'; and (4)
The convergence of 'E' (long e) and 'I' (short 'i'), and other front
vowels caused merger of nom.acc plur with gen. sing. Example: [montes]
(long 'e'), [montis].

This section later discusses many particular examples of occurrences
such as these.  Section 3.2 is devoted to the gender of nouns, with a
discussion of the masculine/feminine/neuter gender of Latin transition
to the largely masculine/feminine of Spanish.  A fair amount of detail
is devoted to the disposition of Latin neuters as they appear in
Spanish.  Also treated in this section is a discussion of gender
markers in Latin, [-us] masculine, and [-a], feminine, and the means
of their occurrence in Spanish as [-o] and [-a], as well as the
occurrence of Spanish nouns ending in [-e] or a consonant.

Change in gender occurs most frequently from feminine to masculine
where there is a shift from Latin to Spanish.  Examples include: 'el
origen', 'el amor', 'el honor' in which the transition is from
feminine to masculine, and 'la piramide' (borrowed in the Middle Ages
as masculine but is now feminine), in which the opposite trend
occurred.  In section 3.3 the adjective is discussed as essentially
unchanged from Latin in terms of its function and syntactic rules.
Aside from a shift in the word order of restrictive adjectives to
following the noun in Spanish, from preceding the noun in Latin, there
is no significant departure from the Latin system of adjectives.  In
3.3.1., a discussion is offered of the convergence of the two classes
of adjectives in Latin and the loss of case distinction. 3.3.2
presents the Latin system of adjectives of comparison as taking two
tracks, one in which the morphemic suffixes [-ior] and [-issimus]
added to the adjective express 'more' and 'most', and the expression
of comparison in which adding the term 'magis' or 'plus' before the
adjective indicates 'more', and 'maxime' indicates 'most'.  Spanish
adopts the latter system, although the former superlative ending is
used as an intensifier [vis. 'fuerte', 'forti'simo'
(fuerti'simo)]. Section 3.4 discusses the adverb.  Section 3.5
provides a detailed examination of the pronoun, with subsections on
personal pronouns, forms of address, the possessive, demonstratives,
articles, relatives and interrogatives, and indefinites.  3.6 is a
discussion of the numeral.  3.7 is an exhaustive analysis of the
Spanish verb.  The verb is discussed in terms of its general
developmental features, analytic and synthetic developments, the
verbal accent, features of pronunciation and orthography, voice,
person and number, aspect, tense, mood, voice, person and number,
aspect, tense, mood, Old Spanish developments, changes of class, and
numerous phonological developments, too numerous to list.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of this section are several
graphic representations of person/number markers, verb compounds from
Classical Latin to Old Spanish to Modern Spanish, verb classes and
others.  The discussion of mood in 3.7.6 gives a survey of the
indicative versus subjunctive moods as they are traced back to the
Latin corresponding forms.  Table 3.22 in this section gives an
algorithm of 'ir root-vowel' development derived from a yes/no
requirement of mid-vowels in the root.  Table 3.23 shows the
development of tonic and atonic vowels in Spanish affected and
unaffected by metaphony exercised by [j] (showing the development of
the palatalized /n~/ to choose one example).  There are also two
tables showing the development of front and back root vowels in [-ir]
verbs which present the system of consonant deletion and other
phonological processes with the Latin and Spanish forms presented
graphically in each of these charts.  Among others, there is a Table
3.42 which shows the development of the preterite of 'ser' and 'ir'.
Section 3.8 examines other word classes, including the preposition,
the conjunction, and conditional sentences.

Chapter 4, titled 'Lexis' accredits several languages aside from Latin
with Spanish vocabulary. Chronologically, the contributions, first of
the pre-Roman languages spoken on the Iberian peninsula are
given. Examples of terms derived from Celtic include: a^'lamo,
'poplar', berro 'watercress', bota 'leather wine bottle' brezo
'heather' brio 'verve', engorar 'to addle' gancho 'hook' gren~a
'greasy lock of hair', and a few other.  Other Celtic words may have
come from the Gaullish variety spoken outside of Spain, and includes
words such as: arpende 'land measurement unit', braga 'breeches',
carpintero 'carpenter', 'carro' cart, and others of which the Romance
languages have derived cognate forms. Basque also provide borrowings
including many personal names: Garcia, Inigo, Javier, Gimeno, Sancho,
and a few nouns such as: aquelarre 'witches' 'Sabbath', boina 'beret',
cachorro 'cub' chaparro 'dwarf' izquierdo 'left' laya 'spade' pizarra
'slate', and a few others.  4.3 gives an account of Latinisms in
Spanish, tracing the evolution of Spanish lexical and morphological
forms as it progressed from Latin to Old Spanish to Modern Spanish.
Additionally, hellenisms, Germanic borrowings and arabisms are
discussed. 4.7 gives an account of the mozarabisms, or the words
imported into Spanish by the vernacular speech of Christian Arabs
(although the language was also spoken by Jews and Muslims).  There is
a section devoted to gallicisms and occitanisms, which resulted from
contact with the peoples of the Pyrennees.  Additional sections are
devoted to amerindianisms, anglicisms, catalanisms, lusisms, and
Italianisms.  4.14 discusses word-formation in terms of prefixation,
derivation, composition-- most of which is discussed according to its
transition from Latin and Romance ancestors.

Chapter 5 treats the semantic system of Spanish, with a particular
view to the causes of language change.  Causes are assigned as
linguistic, historical, social, psychological, and foreign influences.
Types of semantic change are cited as related to metaphor, metonymy,
popular etymology, and ellipsis.  The consequences of semantic change
occur on the level of the modification of the range, or affective

Chapter 6, titled 'Past, Present and Future' discusses the nature of
language history, world Spanish, convergence and divergence and the
influence of English in a section called English and Spanish.
Following the last chapter is a glossary of technical terms used in
the text.  Finally, there is a suggestion of suggestions of topics of
discussion and further reading.

Critical evaluation:

This book provides a historical account of Spanish that is as thorough
as it is sweeping.  It is an invaluable resource for both Hispanic
linguists and for students of Spanish from all disciplines. If the
book is slanted towards one aspect of the discipline of linguistics,
or another, I would say that it favors the side of the history of
language, or philology, rather than towards formal linguistics, such
as would require an understanding of generative syntax or semantics.
(I note that the copy I have does not indicate subject headings on the
cover.)  As a comprehensive text, the book documents the
Latin-to-Spanish transition throughout, treating both languages with
equal rigor.  This is extremely helpful to Spanish students who do not
know Latin, who will be able to fact check a range of Latin grammar
and lexicographical points in one volume, without having to dig
through original Latin grammars.  Because of the clear definitions of
linguistic terms given at the beginning of each chapter, the aspects
of linguistics discussed in the book are, in general, accessible to
the undergraduate student or non-linguist.  The definitions are also
useful linguists who may be familiar with other nomenclature in the
fields of phonology, morpho-syntaxis, lexicology, etc, or from the
perspective of rhetoricians.  Each of the books' five main chapters
treats a separate area of linguistics adequately enough to provide
comprehensive knowledge of the Spanish language, whether as spoken
today or at various stages over the course of its development.  To the
instructor of the history of Spanish at the graduate or undergraduate
level, I highly recommend this as a textbook.  I personally plan to
adopt this book as the primary text the next time I teach a course in
Spanish linguistics.  To the hispanist, I also recommend this book as
a resource for reference on virtually any area of Spanish regarding
its relation to Latin.  Each chapter contains in-depth discussions of
Spanish related to various linguistic disciplines which are clear and
well-written.  The glossary, which follows the last chapter, gives
definitions of the technical terms used throughout, enabling easy
accessibility to the material whether read for the first time or for
review.  The section at the end of the book, which provides topics for
discussion, is suitable for an instructor to use as a textbook, or for
research topics.  Questions such as: 'On what basis can it be claimed
that Spanish is Latin?' and, 'Assess the role of Alfonso X in the
standardization of Spanish' give thought provoking ideas which will
facilitate classroom discussion.  Despite my overall highly favorable
opinion of this book, a few points of criticism (I hope constructive
ones) are offered.  First off, conspicuous in its absence is a chapter
devoted to Spanish syntax which addresses word order constraints on
sentence structure. In fact, there is very little attention give to
the topic of sentence structure. Such attention is needed, however, to
explain some of the peculiarities of Spanish, in one sense, as
descended from Latin, (i.e. How did the primary, standardized
'subject-verb-object' phrase structure rules of Spanish descend from a
case-declined language whose word order possibilities are numerous);
and, in another sense, as unlike the other Romance languages, by
showing a far freer word order in presentational sentences.  I note,
in particular, the verb-initial sentence which may result from Arabic
influences.  A second volume might be devoted to this topic.  On
another point, (my pet peeve) I feel that the treatment of metaphor
and metonymy in the chapter on semantics is not really adequate.
While it seems a nice gesture to include mention of metaphor at all
(since, in many texts in linguistics, the term is never mentioned), it
is probably better to leave this section out.  The author cites dated
texts by Ullman (1962) and Roudet (1921) giving only one definition of
metaphor, the 'comparison view', hinting that metaphorical terms
replace basic ones as the term becomes opaque and language undergoes
semantic change.  With such extensive research in metaphor being done
nowadays, it seems to me that the cognitive views ought to be
acknowledged when discussing the topic.  The above notwithstanding, A
History of the Spanish Language, 2nd edition, by Ralph Penny is an
excellent book which belongs in the permanent collection of every


Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater is a Lecturer of Spanish at Princeton
University. Her dissertation (Columbia University, 1995) is in the
area of Spanish semantics, in which she examines the system of Spanish
material metaphors. She has published articles in Hispanic Linguistics
and Metaphor and Symbol; and is an Editor of the Random House Latin
American Spanish English Dictionary, 2000. Currently, she is working
in the area of Judeo-Spanish.


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