Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 18:23:55 -0500 From: Lynn Pearson Subject: Exploring the Spanish language
AUTHOR: Pountain, Christopher TITLE: Exploring the Spanish Language SERIES: A Hodder Arnold Publication PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Lynn Pearson, Department of Romance Languages, Bowling Green State University
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
This book provides an introduction to the Spanish language with a description of its linguistic structures and geographical and social varieties. The author assumes no previous knowledge of linguistics on the part of the reader and focuses on data from Spanish rather than linguistic theories. The book can function as both a reference work and as a textbook, especially for English-speaking learners of Spanish. The chapters contain exercises for further analysis of various structures and concepts by the readers.
CHAPTER ONE -- Introduction
This chapter presents the concept of description as a way of looking objectively at different varieties of a language. Description is compared with prescription and the author provides examples of prescriptive approaches to language in the Spanish-speaking world. Pedagogical rules are discussed as both useful for learners and limited in their descriptive power. The standard and prestige norms are detailed by citing historical and geographical factors in the evolution of Spanish and the role of the Real Academia Española in providing written norms of usage. Types of variation (e.g., geographic, social, temporal) are described. The chapter also gives an overview of book contents.
CHAPTER TWO -- The sounds of Spanish
This chapter presents topics in Spanish phonology. It begins with an overview of the descriptions and symbols used to represent sounds (e.g., International Phonetic Alphabet and Revista de filología española). Variation of pronunciation, due to context (e.g., neutralization) or dialect (e.g., ceceo and seseo), is discussed. The relationship between orthography and pronunciation is explained using examples from the historical evolution of Spanish and English and text- messaging. Spanish syllable structure is detailed to illustrate concepts such as hiatus and sinalefa. The chapter covers the suprasegmental features of Spanish (word stress, intonation patterns) with reference to English and Spanish dialects.
CHAPTER THREE -- Spanish words and their structure
In this chapter, the morphology of Spanish is outlined. Spanish is a language with numerous inflections on nouns, adjectives and verbs. The author demonstrates the limitations of morphological analysis based on a one-to-one relationship between morphological units and meaning with examples of subjunctive verb forms, adjectives derived from nouns, and prefixes. Other patterns of derivational morphology are illustrated including noun-adjective and noun-verb relations and affective suffixes. Semantic features of words are discussed with reference to strategies used in dictionary definitions (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms) and idioms. The concept of semantic field is explained with words for family relations, "thief" and others in Spanish and English.
CHAPTER FOUR -- Spanish sentences and their structure
In this chapter, the syntactic features of Spanish are described with a focus on few key issues. A definition of a "sentence" is presented along with explanations of the "pro-drop" parameter of Spanish, impersonal verbs, and sentences in spoken language. The possible constituents of sentences are discussed within the context the valency of verbs (e.g., transitivity and intransitivity) and the role of syntactic and semantic features in determining the dependent elements of verbs. Other sentence types are outlined (e.g., interrogative, imperative, complex). The author discusses word order patterns, complementation, adjectival clauses, constructions with infinitives and gerunds.
CHAPTER FIVE -- Themes in form and meaning: the 'genius' of Spanish
This chapter examines several grammatical features of modern Spanish, which demonstrate "the tension ... between form and meaning" (p. 95). These features represent the phenomenon of "genius" of the language, which exploits "particular grammatical processes at the expense of others, tending to always lose sight of any explicit functional value that the process may have had in the first instance" (Sapir 1921: 60). Among the topics covered are gender of nouns, the 'personal a', modality, the multiple functions of reflexives, and copula verbs for "be" and "become" (ser, estar, volverse, hacerse, etc.).
CHAPTER SIX -- Regional and social variation
In this chapter, geographical and sociolinguistic variation in the spoken language is described. The chapter begins with a discussion of the standardization in the history of Spanish (e.g., the alfonsí "castellano drecho") and recent efforts to standardize Catalan, Galician, and Basque. An overview of the field of dialect geography is provided (e.g., linguistic atlases, isoglosses, etc.). The regional features of Spanish dialects (e.g., second person pronouns, seseo vs. ceceo, lleísmo vs. yeísmo, etc.) in Spain and Latin America are presented. The author includes mention of internal and external factors affecting the evolution of phonological, morphological and syntactic features of the dialects. Sociolinguistic variation is covered in relation to social class, age, sex, and formality level.
CHAPTER SEVEN -- Register
Register is another type of linguistic variation "according to the situation in which language is used, or the purpose for which it is used" (p. 168). The chapter covers register variation in spoken and written language. Many examples are presented from literary works, sociolinguistic data, media sources, legal documents, and advertising language to show the features of different registers. Various linguistic features are also discussed in relation to register (e.g., second person pronouns, imperatives, discourse markers, jargon, slang, etc.).
CHAPTER EIGHT -- Style
Style is composed of linguistic features of texts, which are employed for particular effects. The prescriptive notion of "good style" is described as one of a number of possible styles in texts. Rhetorical style is discussed with relation to figures of speech. Each figure of speech is presented with the English and Spanish terminology, a definition, and an example from literary texts or other sources. Literary style is illustrated further with "deviations" such as using present tense in narratives. Concordances (distribution of words in a texts, length of words, number of different words used and the contexts in which they occur) are analyzed in two literary texts (Yerma and El coronel no tiene quien le escriba). The author discusses the problems of preparing electronic texts for computer analysis.
CHAPTER NINE -- Spanish or not?
This chapter describes some varieties of Spanish, which have evolved in contexts removed from the standard varieties in Spain and Latin America. The languages covered in the chapter include Judeo-Spanish, isleño (a vestigial variety spoken in Louisiana, USA), Afro-Hispanic (e.g., bozal, Spanish Creoles (Papiamentu, Palenquero, Chabacano), and varieties with code-switching (US Spanish varieties, Fronteiriço in Uruguay). For each variety, the author provides historical background and a description of its linguistic features.
CHAPTER TEN -- Towards the future
The final chapter examines the future of Spanish through linguistic forecasting about internal and external developments in the language. Internal forecasting is based on observations of the synchronic structure and variation and on the knowledge of linguistic evolution. For example, if the aspiration or elision of syllable final /s/ became a standard feature, it may lead to a restructuring of the phonemic inventory of Spanish and changes in orthography. External forecasting concerns the numbers of speakers of a language and the international status of the language. This information is relevant for language planning for economic and academic purposes. The issue of the linguistic unity of Spanish (e.g., acceptance of a written norm and mutual intelligibility between educated speakers) is discussed. The author addresses the influence of English in Spanish varieties citing internal and external factors for borrowing.
Pountain's book is an excellent introduction to the Spanish language. The text is very accessible to readers with clear explanations and linguistic terminology highlighted in boldface and listed in the index. In addition, there are numerous examples from diverse sources (e.g., literary works, linguistics studies, and the Internet), which illustrate the features of Spanish varieties and types of linguistic variation. The descriptions contain information about the historical development of Spanish as well as the current state of the language. The book also emphasizes the objective of linguistic study to describe language varieties without value judgments or prescriptivism. Spanish is compared to English throughout the book making the text helpful for English-speaking learners of Spanish to understand the areas of contrast between the two languages. The book would be a very appropriate choice as a textbook for an introductory course in Hispanic Linguistics at the undergraduate or graduate level. The exercises at the end of each chapter offer areas of further investigation for readers, who can apply the concepts to do linguistic analysis as part of a class or for independent study. Sample answers to the exercises are provided. Individual chapters may also be useful for courses in literature, sociolinguistics, teacher education, and other fields. The book will be a valuable resource for both students and scholars.
Sapir, Edward (1921) Language: An introduction to the study of speech. Hart-Davis.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Lynn Pearson is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Undergraduate Advisor for Spanish Education majors at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She teaches courses in second language acquisition, history of Spanish, and dialectology. Her research interests include interlanguage pragmatics, teacher education, and using technology in language and linguistics courses.