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Review of  Gramática del Castellano Antiguo

Reviewer: John M. Ryan
Book Title: Gramática del Castellano Antiguo
Book Author: Pedro De Mugica
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Spanish, Old
Issue Number: 23.1847

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AUTHOR: de Mugica, Pedro
TITLE: Gramática del Castellano Antiguo
SUBTITLE: Primera Parte: Fonética
YEAR: 2011

John M. Ryan, Department of Hispanic Studies, University of Northern Colorado

The book under review is the republication of a monograph that was originally
produced in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century (1891). De Mugica
explains that it is his goal to awaken an interest in comparative linguistics
which he considers has been all too long ignored in Spain. This monograph,
focusing specifically on the area of phonetics, is just the first installment of
what was intended to be a multi-volume series on the grammar of Old Castilian.
The book begins with a comprehensive introduction consisting of two parts, the
first of which serves to situate Modern Spanish within both diachronic and
synchronic contexts. The introduction concludes with a section which compares
Iberian-specific Vulgar Latin with its written or classical counterpart in terms
of phonetics, morphology, and the lexicon.

Following the introduction, the book is then divided into thirteen chapters, all
of which appear under the general heading, “Phonetics.” The first chapter
provides an overview of the general conditions of sound change and explains some
of the terminology used in the remaining chapters. De Mugica then proceeds to
explain the transformation of Latin sounds into Old Castilian, beginning with
vowels (Chapters 2 and 3) and finishing with consonants (Chapters 4 through 6).
The third part of the book addresses the development of some particular sounds
from Old Castilian (Chapters 7 through 11) and ends with what he considers to be
some of the lexical peculiarities of the Bilbao and Santander dialects (Chapters
12 and 13, respectively).

De Mugica’s overall approach is best exemplified by his coverage of vowels. In
each case, the author starts with the tonic vowels in Vulgar Latin, both long
and short, and for each one starts by simply stating what their classical
origins were and then lists by phonological environment what their Modern
Spanish equivalents are, along with examples for each. So in the case of tonic
long e in Vulgar Latin, de Mugica first states that this corresponds to the
Classical e, ae, e, and i. He then proceeds to describe the evolution of tonic
long e in each of its phonological environments: 1) preservation in open
syllables before nasal and oral consonants; 2) change to i before the vowel a;
and 3) preservation in closed syllables. When finished with the tonic long e, de
Mugica then describes in similar fashion the evolution of Vulgar Latin tonic
short e. In all cases, the author provides numerous examples. A similar,
systematic approach is also used to describe the evolution of consonants,
starting with oral consonants which in turn are organized by place of
articulation, starting with labials and proceeding to posterior consonants.
Within each section, all corresponding consonants are further described in terms
of manner of articulation, with the exception of nasals which are treated in the
subsequent chapter.

This book was written during a time when, as de Mugica points out, the study of
Old Spanish and its comparison to other Romance languages and dialects both
within and outside the Peninsula was essentially nonexistent in Spain. In fact,
de Mugica’s dedication of the book is prominently displayed as “respectful
homage” to the Spanish Royal Academy and he indicates in his prolog that if he
“should expose opinions that are not in accordance with contemporary (Spanish)
philologists,” his only purpose is to recommend that these be studied in Spain.
It is not until more than a decade after de Mugica published his book in Berlin
that other seminal works finally start to appear in Spain, such as Alemany
(1903), Menéndez Pidal (1904), and Padilla (1908). Even after the appearance of
these later works, de Mugica’s work retains great historical value for the study
of Romance phonology and phonetics. It is in recognition of de Mugica’s
pioneering spirit that his book has been republished and it must be read

Outside of Spain the late nineteenth century was marked by a great interest in
describing languages that were on the brink of extinction, particularly by the
German school of linguistics. Living in Berlin at the time, it is not at all
surprising that de Mugica’s work is likewise flavored with this goal in mind,
acknowledging in his prolog the contributions to his work by a German colleague:
“To carry out this modest work I have used “Grammatik des Altfranzösischen”
(Leipzig, R. Reisland, 1888) of Dr. Edward Schwan, … from whom I have taken,
with his permission, his first section on the Latin vowel system …” (my

The monograph provides an exhaustive description and documentation of the
various sound changes that occurred between Latin, Vulgar Latin, and Old
Castilian, and although not originally intended as a textbook on the subject,
would serve as a suitable complementary manual of copious examples for students
who are studying these changes. As would be expected for a book written during
this period, this volume does not provide explanations for changes, or
categorizations of these changes, as representations of phonological processes,
a de facto endeavor that more modern books on the subject of sound changes
undertake. An example of this is de Mugica’s treatment of the evolution of each
of the long and short vowels in Vulgar Latin, a case in which no attempts are
made to identify patterns or symmetries among different vowels, a method that
would provide the basis for more general assessments of sound change. Today it
is widely known that both front and back, Vulgar Latin, short mid vowels have
evolve into diphthongs, while their long counterparts have been retained as
these same vowels in Modern Spanish. Both in the spirit of pure description and
characteristic of the times in which he wrote his book, although de Mugica
presents the same information separately in the entries for both middle vowels,
he never draws the correlation or attributes this information as one and the
same evolutionary process.

In terms of organization, an effective strategy the author employs is the use of
footnotes, as opposed to end notes or simple incorporation of information within
the text, when comparing the sound changes of Latin to Castilian to those
between Latin to other languages or dialects of the Peninsula. The already dense
nature of the text, along with the multiple categorizations of examples, would
not lend itself to incorporation of these comments within the text itself for it
would be too distracting to reading the remainder of the book. Also helpful to
the overall organization of the book is the sequential numbering of paragraphs,
not uncommon for books of this nature at the time, cross-referenced with the
book’s index/table of contents. A shortcoming in terms of organization is the
inclusion of Chapters 12 and 13 which provide lists of words used in the
dialects of Spanish spoken in Bilbao and Santander, respectively. This section
does not fit the book’s overall purpose with its overall focus on the phonetics
of Spanish, and it seems to have been added as an afterthought. Also, the author
indicates that the section on the Bilbao dialect has been taken directly from
then-recent notes of Unamuno, also a Bilbao native. Likewise, Chapter 11, which
compares the orthographic differences between several old texts such as El Poema
del Cid (anonymous, 12th century) and Berceo (13th century), is also somewhat
removed from the overall purpose of the book, however, one might argue that the
author includes this chapter to illustrate the manifestation of pronunciation
through writing conventions in practice at the time of the respective writings.
If this indeed was the intention of the author, then it could have been made
more explicit at the beginning of the chapter. In any event, the last three
chapters, if made more relevant to the remainder of the book, would make better
material for appendices rather than individual book chapters.

Generally, this book has both historical and documentary relevance in that it
helps place the study of Spanish historical phonology on par with other European
languages of the time. However, as expected for work from this era, the book
provides little explanation of larger-scale phonological processes necessary for
an overall understanding of how sounds evolved from Classical to Vulgar Latin
and from Vulgar Latin to Early Castilian.

Alemany, José. 1903. Estudio elemental de gramática histórica de la lengua
castellana. Madrid: Tipografía de la Revista de Archivos.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. 1904. Manual elemental de gramática histórica española.
Madrid: Librería General de Victoriano Suárez.

Padilla, Salvador. 1908. Gramática histórica de la lengua castellana. Madrid:
Jubera Hermanos

Schwan, Eduard. 1888. Grammatik des Altfranzösischen. Leipzig: R. Reisland.

Unamuno, Miguel de. 1891. “Apuntaciones sobre el modo de hablar bilbaíno.”
Unpublished manuscript.

John Michael Ryan is Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics in the University of Northern Colorado’s Department of Hispanic Studies. He conducts research on the acquisition of intransitive verbs by children, the evolution of relexified diminutives in Modern Spanish, and teaching introductory linguistics through first language acquisition. He publishes in journals, including “Hispania”, and presents at conferences worldwide. His first book, “The Genesis of Argument Structure: Observations from a Child's Early Speech Production in Spanish” traces the emergence of the verb phase in the developing language of a monolingual child learning Peninsular Spanish.

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