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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AUTHOR: Eduardo Benot TITLE: Arte de Hablar SUBTITLE: Gramática Filosófica de la Lengua Castellana SERIES TITLE: Lincom Classica Vol. 14 PUBLISHER: LINCOM YEAR: 2012
Laura Dubcovsky, School of Education, University of California, Davis
“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” (‘The Art of Speaking. Philosophical Grammar’), consists of the complete version of Benot’s book published in 1910. It has biographic notes written by his disciple, José Torres Reina, and published in the Heraldo de Madrid in December, 1905. Torres Reina complemented Benot’s grammar with notes on his personal life and his working conditions as a teacher, politician, thinker, and orator. He also wrote the prologue that emphasizes the three main linguistic operations proposed in this book: determination, connection, and enunciation. In Benot’s words, “Al hablar, realizamos tres operaciones fundamentales y necesarias; DETERMINAR, CONEXIONAR, ENUNCIAR. El espíritu humano, sin aptitudes para sondar en lo absoluto, percibe únicamente relaciones, y procede siempre por abstracción y generalización al formar sus ideas” (“In speaking, we carry out three fundamental and necessary operations: DETERMINING, CONNECTING, STATING. The human spirit, without aptitudes to probe at all, only perceives relationships and always proceeds by abstraction and generalization in forming its ideas” (prologue, xvii).
“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” presents four parts, each of them divided in sections as follows: Part One includes nine sections and addresses preliminary notions; Part Two focuses on combination forms of complete and independent meaning through five sections; Part Three explores sentence systems in three sections; and Part Four explores the ending systems in five sections, respectively. The first section of Part One elaborates on preliminary notions of oral and written signs, including vowels and consonants, roots and affixes used for word formation, accents, and syllabification procedures in Spanish. Section Two defines independent and dependent clauses and their illocutionary combinations, giving particular attention to the meanings and limitations of word extension and comprehension. The following three sections address verb endings and conjugations: Section Three situates verbs within the clausal combination; Section Four focuses on the relationship between verbs and nouns, with special emphasis on the uses of nominative, accusative and dative cases; and Section Five explores verbs in combination with adverbs and ablatives. While Section Six completes the word level analysis by classifying determiner and determinable words, including some changes in word meanings, Section Seven leads to the clause level analysis, placing content words, conjunctions and determiners in sentence combinations. The section closes with a well-rounded summary of key notions explained throughout Part One that builds Benot’s “language architecture.” The final two sections of Part One focus on the use of special combinations, such as interjections and conjunctions (Section Eight), and abnormalities found in some constructions and idiomatic expressions (Section Nine).
The second part of this book describes the verbal classification and its specific nominative, accusative and dative cases used in independent clauses. In the first section, verbs are classified following meaningful and structural criteria. As a result, distinctions are made between absolute and relative types of impersonal verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs, and verbs that require one or more words to convey complete meaning. This section also discusses grammatical persons and their corresponding endings, in light of verb agreement with nominal, accusative and dative cases. Section Two explains general uses of the reflexive form, while Section Three focuses on the passive voice formation in Spanish, by using either the copulative verb “ser/estar” (‘to be’)” or the reflexive “se” form. Section Four describes reflexive forms, possible meanings, ambiguities and exceptions, and special agreement in the passive voice. The last section explains the dative case in depth, following previous classifications based on meaningful, structural and functional criteria. This section also pinpoints co-occurrences between dative and accusative cases and concludes with a graphic synopsis of the mentioned categories.
Part Three of this grammatical book describes sentence systems; following adjectival, adverbial and nominal characteristics. Section One takes up the adjectival sentence system, explaining gender and number agreements in both the active and passive voice. It also presents a classification based on accusative, dative, genitive and ablative determination, and closes with a thorough chart that shows examples and possibilities of these classes and species. Section Two describes the adverbial complex system, emphasizing relations of time, place, manner, purpose and cause, both in finite (i.e. with a conjugated verb) and non-finite (i.e. non-conjugated verb) clauses. Special attention is given to conditional sentences, emphasizing the appropriate conjunctions and temporal sequences needed in these constructions. Furthermore, the section focuses on comparative and superlative formations in Spanish, including relative, absolute and special constructions. Section Three explains the nominal complex system, including its main characteristics and necessary conjunctions. It emphasizes particular verbs that introduce nominal constructions, such as those of understanding, for example, “conviene que” (‘it is convenient that’) and “es preciso que” (‘it must’), verbs of will, such as “quiero que” (‘I want that’) and “prometo que” (‘I promise that’) and verbs of feelings, such as “me gusta que”(‘I like that’) and “me alegra que” (‘it pleases me that’), and highlights needed temporal verb sequences. It also revisits nominative, accusative, dative, and ablative cases as used in phrases and sentences.
Part Four focuses on Spanish verbs based on the -ar, -er, -ir endings of infinitives, as well as on time, mood, person and number inflections. The first section presents the paradigms of regular verbs, such as “hablar” (‘to speak’), “aprender” (‘to learn’) and “aplaudir” (‘to applaud’), and irregular verbs, such as “haber” (auxiliary) and “ser” (‘to be’). The second section follows a conceptual classification of verbs within independent clauses, reviewing notions of “absolute” and “relative” as used in the present, past, and future tenses and in affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences. The final three sections follow the same verbal classification within dependent clauses of nominal (Section Three), adjectival (Section Four) and adverbial (Section Five) characteristics. Section Three particularly explores sensing and mental verbs, in addition to some uses of the subjunctive mood in clauses with nominal meanings. Finally, Section Four gives special attention to meanings of certainty and uncertainty included in adjectival dependent clauses, while Section Five focuses on specific verbs and conjunctions with adverbial functions, as well as on infinitives, gerunds and participles used in dependent adverbial clauses.
The book ends with a synthesis of Benot’s main ideas of determination, connection, and enunciation, as he writes the following:
“Al hablar exteriorizamos nuestro ser íntimo: el pensamiento, el sentimiento, la voluntad, buscan en el lenguaje su expresión más adecuada. Afirmar, negar, interrogar, exponer ó narrar, evidenciar o demostrar, manifestar deseo, admiración, extrañeza, repugnancia, etc., etc. son siempre EL FIN DE TODA ENUNCIACIÓN. Pero toda enunciación ha de referirse necesariamente á algo. De otro modo nuestras afirmaciones, negaciones, etc. recaen siempre sobre una ó más individualidades. Y para que no quepa duda acerca de cuál puede ser el objeto de nuestra enunciación, esas individualidades están necesitadas de una DETERMINACIÓN” (415).
('When we speak we externalize our inner being: thoughts, feelings, and will seek their more appropriate expression in language. Affirm, deny, question, expose or narrate, evidence or demonstrate, manifest desire, admiration, surprise, disgust, etc., etc. are always THE END OF ALL UTTERANCES. But every statement must necessarily refer to something. Otherwise our affirmations, denials, etc. always fall on one or more individuals. And make no mistake about what may be the object of our utterances; these individual units are in need of a DETERMINATION.')
“Arte de Hablar. Gramática Filosófica” is an essential grammar book written in and commenting on Spanish. The re-edition of Benot’s original grammar will be very well received by language historians and philologists interested in studies on Spanish language development from a historical perspective. Scholars will have access to an old text book which holds valid and substantial grammatical concepts. Moreover, Torres Reina offers a clear introduction that highlights the main points of this work, thus facilitating its reading, especially for young scholars. Although the grammar book presents some dense concepts written in an old-fashioned style of Spanish, explanations are clear and straightforward. Benot shows his pedagogical skills by offering numerous examples for each of the notions, as well as comprehensive summaries and charts at the end of each part, making the manual more accessible. Even less specialized audiences will be pleasantly surprised by the completeness of explanations, which link grammar to philosophy, as stated in the title of the book. Moreover, both the erudite and lay public will enjoy the applicability of some of Benot’s concepts to today’s Spanish grammar.
Among the preliminary notions of Part One, Benot explains with eloquence and wisdom the concepts of ‘word extension’ and ‘comprehension.’ He details two ways to increase comprehension, both by adding demonstrative, possessive or quality words or by expressive endings of qualities. For example, given the word “caballo” (‘horse’), we can increase its comprehension by adding one more word, such as the determiner, “este caballo” (‘this horse’) or with a complete expression that may contain demonstratives, possessives and qualities, as in “tu caballo inglés de cinco años es negro” (‘your 5 year old English horse is black’). Within the expressive endings are diminutives, such as “caballito” (‘little horse’), and superlatives, such as “caballo grandísimo” (‘a very large horse’). Likewise, Benot explains two ways to limit word extension, both through isolated words and word endings. The former are represented by articles and cardinal and ordinal numbers, such as “el caballo” (‘the horse”), “dos caballos” (‘two horses’), and “el tercer caballo”(‘the third horse’), respectively. Word endings refer to number (i.e. singular and plural), as in “caballo, caballos” (‘horse, horses’), where changes only affect the extension of the word.
Benot never limits his presentations to structural explanations only; rather, he always considers meaningful implications. For example, Section Six of Part One exposes word order based on determining and determiner words. Benot includes examples that illustrate clear changes of meanings as a result of word order alternations, such as “El Rey Profeta” (‘the prophet king’),where “prophet” is a modifier of “king”, as opposed to “El Profeta Rey” (‘The king prophet’) where “prophet” is the substance. Another strong contribution is given in Part Two, where Benot lays out a comprehensive verb classification scheme following both structure and meaning, as well as nominative and accusative cases. Within his thorough classification, Benot discusses topics of agency and position, which hold validity for current grammatical discussions. Within the nominative case, for example, Benot makes a distinction between impersonal verbs of the following types: those without agency, such as “llueve” (‘It rains’); those with pseudo- agency, as in “Juan se afeita en casa de un barbero sevillano” (‘Juan shaves in a Sevillian barber’s house’); and those with real agents, as in “El hombre trabajaba” (‘The man used to work’)
In spite of the mentioned strengths, this historical book also has limitations. First of all, since it is written in an old-fashioned style, it restricts the range of interested audiences. Sometimes Benot offers examples which are richer and more vivacious than the wordy and, at times, difficult explanations. This is the case for some uses of the verb “caer” (‘to fall’), where Benot brings interesting and clear sentences to the table, such as “Esa calle cae hacia los barrios bajos” (‘That street falls toward the slums’), “Yo caigo en ello” (‘I realize this’) (p. 115), which are buried under more arid explanation. Moreover, the present edition remains a little short in providing information about the author. For example, a chronological chart that situates Benot’s work within a socio-cultural framework would have been appreciated by all readers. Likewise, more information about his disciple, Torres Reina, would also have helped, in order to better appreciate the biographical notes and the prologue. As a final suggestion, this new publication could have presented some paragraphs translated into English, which would also allow for appeal to an audience interested in Spanish linguistics that does not yet have solid control of certain historical forms of Spanish.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Laura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education
program at UC Davis. She has a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish
linguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition. Her areas
of interest combine the field of language and education. She is dedicated
to the preparation of prospective Spanish/English teachers, and has
presented her preparation course in different forums. She analyzes
linguistic features of both bilingual teachers and children, drawing from a
Systemic Functional Language approach, e.g., in her 2008 article,
‘Functions of the verb decir ('to say') in the incipient academic Spanish
writing of bilingual children,’ which appears in Functions of Language,