Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


The Language Hoax

By John H. McWhorter

The Language Hoax "argues that that all humans process life the same way, regardless of their language."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Language and Development in Africa

By H. Ekkehard Wolff

Language and Development in Africa "discusses the resourcefulness of languages, both local and global, in view of the ongoing transformation of African societies as much as for economic development.. "

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2016 Fund Drive.

Review of  A History of the Spanish Language (2nd edition)

Reviewer: Kathleen Therese O'Connor-Bater
Book Title: A History of the Spanish Language (2nd edition)
Book Author: Ralph Penny
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 14.453

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 19:16:47 -0500
From: Kathleen T. O'Connor
Subject: Review: 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 pp.

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
transition:  (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

   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^Òlamo,
'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 hispanist.

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.ÿ

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521805872
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 418
Prices: U.S. $ 70
U.K. £ 50

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0521011841
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 418
Prices: U.S. $ 26
U.K. £ 18.95