LINGUIST List 23.717

Mon Feb 13 2012

Review: Hist. Ling.; Lang. Documentation; Socioling: Clivio et al. (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 13-Feb-2012
From: Chiara Meluzzi <>
Subject: An Introduction to Italian Dialectology
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AUTHOR: Clivio, Gianrenzo P.; Danesi, Marcel and Maida-Nicol, SaraTITLE: An Introduction to Italian DialectologySERIES TITLE: Studies in Romance LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Lincom EuropaYEAR: 2011

Chiara Meluzzi, University of Pavia-Free University of Bozen, Italy

SUMMARYThis book presents an introduction to Italian language and dialectology for non-Italianstudents. For this reason, each Italian example is followed by an Englishtranslation, and also by phonetic or phonological transcription, and by glosses.The book has a preface and five chapters. In the preface, Danesi and Maida-Nicoldedicate the book to Clivio, who passed away in 2006.

Chapter 1 is a general introduction to dialectology and Italian and itsdialects. In the first part, dialectology is defined as "the study of dialects"(p. 11), themselves 'variants' of language since "there is a standard or modelform of a language from which the dialect diverge" (p. 12). The authors presenttwo main techniques of traditional dialectological analysis: the comparison offorms and structures between variants, and possible explanations of thesedifferences. They also treat a major dialectological tool, dialect atlases, andmethod, the historical-comparative approach. The second part is a short historyof Italian, from its origin in Vulgar Latin, to literary (Tuscan) StandardItalian (SI), and Italian dialectology. At the end of this chapter, the authorsintroduce the notion of 'diasystem', i.e. "systems (phonological, morphological,etc.) that reflect variation concretely" (p. 50, see Weinreich 1953).

Chapter 2 deals with the phonetic and phonological description of Italian andits dialects. After a short guide to key notions of phonetic and phonologicalanalysis, the authors analyse the vowel and consonant systems of Italian and itsdialects. The chapter is filled with examples, including phonetic transcriptionand English translation. The authors present the diachronic evolution from Latinto distinctly Italian features. For example, consonant gemination is describedas "a distinguishing feature of Italian phonology generally, with respect toother Romance languages" (p. 89). Double consonants have phonemic status in SI,with minimal pairs like 'rossa' ("red") with /ss/ vs. 'rosa' ("pink") with /s/.The chapter concludes with a short introduction to suprasegmental phenomena,such as syllabic structure of SI and some striking prosodic features of Italiandialects.

Chapter 3 deals with other grammatical diasystems of Italian and its dialects,in particular morphology and lexicon. The morphological analysis focuses onparts of speech (POS), both in diachrony (i.e. from Latin to SI) and insynchrony (i.e. between SI and the dialects). An example of diachronic evolutionis the creation of definite articles in SI. An example of synchronic variationamong dialects is the first person plural ending of present indicative verbs: SI'-iamo' (as in 'cantiamo' "we sing") becomes '-uma' ('cantuma') in Piedmonteseand Lombardian, and '-emo' ('cantemo') in Venetian. The lexical analysis showshow many Italian words come from various diasystems: even if Italian lexemescome especially from Latin, there are ancient loanwords from Arabic (e.g.'albicocca' "apricot"), French (e.g. 'mangiare' "to eat"), German (e.g. 'guerra'"war"), and recent ones from English (e.g. 'computer' or 'email'). Finally, manywords entered SI from the Italian dialects, for example, Sicilian 'intrallazzo'("illicit affair") or Roman 'caciara' ("confusion").

Chapter 4 deals with two main themes of dialectology, diglossia and language ordialect contact. For diglossia the authors deal with differences between SI andits dialects at all levels of analysis, from phonology to vocabulary (seeFerguson 1959). The authors cover some Italian immigrant communities in contactwith other languages, especially in North America. The lexicons of thesecommunities show many words borrowed from the languages of the host societies,and they show how these loanwords are adapted to the phonological andmorphological system of Italian. An example of this adaptation is the form'pusciare' from the English "to push", while in SI the normal form is'spingere'. The chapter ends by introducing the notion of language as "identitycode", an important feature of Italian spoken outside of Italy, but also ofdialects still used in Italy in conversation or in computer-mediatedcommunication (CMC).

Chapter 5 deals with the influence of CMC on language, and recent research onthis topic. The authors also provide a short list of common Italian cyberforms ,as 'c6?' for 'ci sei?' ("Are you there?") or 'xò' for 'però' ("but / however").They also note that "dialect speech in Italy is undergoing a resurgence throughthe digital media" (p. 195). This could provide an opportunity for futureresearch, since "dialects are taking on more and more symbolic value asidentity-preserving codes"(p. 198).

EVALUATIONThe authors present the book as an introduction for non-specialists andnon-Italian scholars. For this reason, some topics are not explored in detailand some problems are simplified. Moreover, maps showing the distribution of themain linguistic phenomena in the Italian peninsula are very helpful, especiallyfor non-Italians. Unfortunately, except for chapter 3, the book lacks a sectionon 'further readings' for those wanting to further investigate on specific topics.

Chapter 1 a very good, though brief, history of Italian with examples of earlyItalian texts, like the famous 'Indovinello Veronese' ("The Veronese Riddle"),accompanied by a good linguistic analysis showing major changes from Latin toItalian. The explanation of relationships between SI and its dialects is veryclear and helpful for non-Italian students, who will be able to easily graspdifferences among Italian varieties in the peninsula.

Chapter 2, an introduction to Italian phonology, is unfortunately veryproblematic and filled with phonetic and phonological inaccuracies. At thephonetic level, in the analysis of SI consonants (p. 84), the authors do notinclude the labiodental nasal [ɱ], though a dental nasal has a labiodentalarticulation before the labiodental fricatives [f] or [v], as in 'anfora'['aɱfora] ("amphora") or 'invano' [iɱ'va:no] ("in vain"). Moreover, the decisionto use non-IPA symbols in their transcriptions is awkward. And the authors usethe same non-IPA symbol for different values: the symbol /λ/ (IPA /ʎ/?) on p. 63is used to indicate the palatal articulation of /l/ before a palatal consonantas in 'falce' ("sickle"), while on p. 68 the same symbol is used for the palatalconsonant itself, transcribed in Italian orthography as as in 'figlio'("son"). This introduces another problematic point: the palatal articulation of/l/ and /n/ before a palatal consonant. The authors assume that both the dentallateral [l] and the dental nasal [n] are palatalized before a palatal consonant.That is correct, but it is innaccurate to transcribe this palatalizedarticulation with the same symbol as the proper palatal consonants /ʎ/ and /ɲ/,that represent different sounds with a dorsopalatal articulation. As with'falce' ("sickle"), a palatalized /l/ with an alveo-palatal articulation isquite different from the dorso-palatal / ʎ/ in 'figlio' ("son"), with a properpalatal lateral /ʎ/. The same can be said for the nasal, which presents apalatalized [n] in the word 'oncia' ("ounce"), but a different sound in 'gnomo',transcribable as ['ɲɔ:mo]. In IPA, the palatalized consonants are usuallytranscribed with a small raised /j/ after the consonant (also Laver 1994: 323).Some Italian scholars prefer special symbols for the palatal articulation of /l/and /n/ with the same value as IPA diacritics (see Canepari 2006: 81). In anycase, it is problematic to use the same symbol for two phonetic values: this isa lack of precision which creates confusion for readers.

Moreover, the authors transcribe stress on the corresponding vowel instead ofmarking the stressed syllable as usually done; the word 'becco' ("beak") istranscribed as [bé-kko] (p. 64), not ['bek.ko]. Note as well that the authorsconsider the geminate consonants uniquely part of the second syllable (p. 107),while most phonological theories split consonants over the two syllables, withthe first consonant closing the first syllable and the second consonant openingthe following syllable as for the second transcription of the word "becco" above(also Nespor 1993). The analysis of "gemination" in Italian is controversial.Without pursuing the issue, I note simply that if the authors are followinganother approach to syllablification, it would be important to offer a shortexplanation of this choice, with references to the usual view. Finally, in theanalysis of prosodic variation among Italian dialects, the authors conclude that"in this area of phonology there is a very little variation across diasystems"(p. 110). However, prosody is a major difference between northern and southernItalian varieties and not only "a matter of degree", as the authors state, but adistinguishing feature among the varieties (e.g., Sorianello 2006).

Chapter 3 is clear and the material well-explained: the main morphologicalfeatures of Italian are presented with tables and maps that clarify thetheoretical discussion. Concerning syntactic variation, the authors also providesome references for further readings. It would have been useful to do the samefor other levels of analysis and in particular for morphology, a rich topic inItalian dialectology (for a short introduction, see Grassi et al. 2005). Thelexical analysis amply illustrates differences between northern, central andsouthern diasystems: for example, the verb "to kill" (SI 'uccidere/ammazzare')corresponds to 'matar' in Venetian, 'ammazzare' in Tuscan, 'accidere/scannari'in Sicilian (p. 145).

Chapter 4 clearly introduces major problems of contact linguistics.Particularly notable is the value given to the relationship between language andidentity, especially among immigrants. The assumption that, in these contexts,dialects become part of an 'identity code' is supported by a wide range ofexamples. Unfortunately, the original copy I received contains a majorproduction problem; pp. 169-172 were omitted, and pp. 69-72 were printed intheir place. A second copy from the publisher did not include this problem.

Chapter 5 presents some recent work on CMC in Italian, opening the way to futureresearch on this topic. The authors' assumption that "in the contemporary world,writing has taken on a Janus-faced nature" (p. 185) is fascinating. They alsoargue that it would represent the evolution of Italian language and its dialectstoday.

In conclusion, this book represents an introduction to Italian dialectology, asintended by the authors. Young scholars and non-specialists, especiallynon-Italians, can find a useful guide to Italian diachronic and synchronicvariation. The examples are clear and well-laid-out, with useful glosses andtranslations to help students without knowledge of Italian. However, theproblems highlighted in chapter 2 represent a weakness of the text, which wouldbenefit from revision.

REFERENCESCanepari, Luciano. 2006. Avviamento alla fonetica. Torino: Einaudi.

Ferguson, Charles. 1959. Diglossia. Word. 15. 325-340.

Grassi, Corrado. Sombrero, Alberto A. Telmon, Tullio. 2005. Fondamenti didialettologia italiana. Roma: Laterza.

Laver, John. 1994. Principles of phonetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marazzini, Claudio. 2009. Storia della lingua attraverso i testi. Bologna: IlMulino.

Nespor, Marina. 1993. Fonologia. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Sorianello, Patrizia. 2006. Prosodia. Modelli e ricerca empirica. Roma: Carocci.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact. New York: Linguistic Circle of NewYork.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERChiara Meluzzi is a doctoral student at the University of Pavia and theFree University of Bozen (Italy). After a Master's thesis on femalelanguage in Ancient Greek comedy at the University of Eastern Piedmont(Vercelli), for her PhD dissertation she is now working on thesociolinguistics of the Italian variety spoken in Bozen (South Tyrol). Herprimary research interests include sociolinguistics, pragmatics,dialectology, language contact and historical linguistics.

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