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Review of  Il vocativo nel processo identitario dell’interazione linguistica

Reviewer: Chiara Meluzzi
Book Title: Il vocativo nel processo identitario dell’interazione linguistica
Book Author: Margherita Donati
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): Greek, Ancient
Issue Number: 25.1173

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This book deals with the classification of vocatives in grammatical and linguistic theory, with a special focus on Ancient Greek and Latin. It consists of a preface, a note on translation, an introduction with a summarizing the book, four chapters, an appendix with references to all the quoted lines, and a huge bibliography.

In the preface, Federica Venier points out how Donati’s book fills a gap in the literature concerning the study of cases in classical languages, and how it contributes to a better understanding of the importance of the grammar-pragmatics interface in the analysis of linguistic phenomena.

In her note on translation, the author specifies how she has decided to translate different terms found in classical texts and variously referred to as vocatives by modern scholars: in particular, she translates the Greek words “pragma” and “deixis” as “expression” and “deictic value” respectively, whereas the Latin words “demonstratio” and “relatio” have been translated as “deixis and “anaphor”.

The first chapter presents a history of the vocative among ancient grammarians and modern linguists, in particular the inclusion of vocative in the number of cases of both Ancient Greek and Latin. As a matter of fact, the vocative presents many peculiarities, first in not marking syntactic reference to other elements of the sentence. Moreover, vocatives are syntactically peripheral in the sentence, thus allowing an interpretation as more pragmatic elements than syntactic or semantic ones. In reviewing the history of the vocative, Donati also points out how it is sometimes difficult to understand if ancient scholars are referring to what we actually understand under the label “vocative”. Despite this, Donati argues that the Stoics included vocative with the other morphological cases, even if they pointed out its peculiarities, in particular on the syntactic level: vocatives are indeed peripheral elements, not involved in the morphosyntactic construction of the sentence. Moreover, Apollonius and Priscian pointed out how the use of vocatives shows many similarities with the deictic function of personal pronouns, and in particular with the second person singular pronoun (Gr. “sù” you); moreover, these scholars also argue that vocatives could be morphologically similar to nominatives. These two issues have been addressed by modern linguistic theories, but were fully discussed in ancient scholars as well. In the Middle Ages, grammarians again addressed the problem of including the vocative among the cases of Greek and Latin. Some scholars also adopted more pragmatic explanations, discussing vocatives as part of the discourse level of analysis more than the syntactic one. During the Renaissance and until the 19th century, the vocative was uncontroversially listed among other cases, because the semantic value of cases was particularly stressed in metalinguistic reflections of this period. With the introduction of the comparative method in historical linguistics, the vocative was seen as perfectly integrated into the Indo-European nominal system. During the 20th century, scholars have alternatively stressed the semantic or the syntactic dimension in their analyses of vocatives: on the one hand, Hjelmslev defined the vocative on a purely semantic level, in particular by stressing the three dimensions of directionality, coherence, and subjectivity (cf. Hjelmslev 1935 [1972]); on the other, authors such as De Groot stressed the importance of an analysis of cases that simultaneously referred both the semantic and syntactic level. This position was reinforced by Kuryłowicz, who argued that originally there was only one case, which then evolved into two distinctive cases, i.e. nominative and vocative, the first with a more syntactic value, and the latter with a more semantic value. Conte’s generative analysis (1972) emphasized the pragmatic value of vocatives, which in this view are superficial projections of the 2nd person singular pronoun. In this approach, the peculiarity of vocatives is again its problematic syntactic status compared to other elements of the sentence. Given this complex state of the art, Donati then emphasizes how the category of vocative can be fully understood only from a pragmatic perspective, and at the level of discourse. The author argues that vocatives are primarily forms of address, since they are used to establish a discursive interaction, and are thus part of deixis (p. 75).

In the second chapter, Donati discusses the label “case”, by specifying that she uses the term “vocative” to refer to the nominal form morphologically marked as vocative, whereas she adopts the label “vocative construction” (“costruzione vocativale”) for the cases in which the form of address is a syntactic construction, involving a particle (e.g. Latin “o”, Greek “hō”) and a name. The label “allocutive forms of the name” (“forme allocutive del nome”) is then used as the main label including the two aforementioned phenomena. Donati also emphasizes how vocatives are at the interface between grammar and pragmatics, following Benveniste’s position, and that vocatives are primarily used to address the hearer and have his attention.

In the third chapter, Donati analyses the evolution of vocatives in Ancient Greek and Latin, by also focusing on the neutralization of the morphological difference between nominative and vocative. As the author points out (pp. 99-101) the tendency to have the same morphological marker for both nominatives and vocatives is common among Indo-European languages (e.g. Old Irish, Proto-Baltic). A synchronic analysis of the oldest phases of Greek and Latin testifies to how vocatives could be substituted by nominatives. Traditionally, this was justified by metrics, but according to Donati this explanation is not completely valid, at least for Plautus (p. 106). The author introduces instead the notion of markedness: in her view, both nominatives and vocatives have the peculiarity of being non-relational elements (i.e. not having any syntactic-semantic information); however, vocatives are the marked elements since their function is to introduce a deictic variable in the dimension of discourse. Since nominatives are unmarked elements, they can be used instead of vocatives, while the contrary is not allowed or attested. Moreover, in her diachronic analysis, Donati shows that the tendency to replace vocatives with nominatives is also attested in spontaneous writings such as Pompeian inscriptions (p. 115). Another interesting topic addressed by Donati is the grammaticalization of the “hō + vocative” construction in Ancient Greek. The author points out that the presence of the particle “hō” increases during the 5th century B.C. with common names and adjectives, that is to say with words that are not normally used in a vocative form. In Donati’s view, the particle “hō” is thus a marker of deixis, and this function grammaticalizes in 4th century Greek in poetry as well as prose.

In her conclusions, Donati sums up the main points of her work: (1) the vocative is an element at the interface between grammar and pragmatics, with special emphasis on the dimension of discourse; (2) in the nominative-vocative opposition, vocative represents the marked element; (3) the construction “hō + vocative” could be seen as a process of grammaticalization from Homeric Greek to 4th century Greek.

Donati’s work is a complex, well-structured book that aims to put order into the linguistic theory of vocatives. The author’s metalinguistic awareness is apparent from the very beginning of the book, where Donati discusses the different labels used in ancient grammarians, and how and why she has decided to translate those labels in her work.

The first chapter presents a comprehensive and articulate history of the vocative case in grammatical and linguistic theory from Aristotle to the construction grammar. In her survey, Donati is able to point out different paths and issues variously addressed by different scholars over time. Moreover, extensive quotations from both ancient and modern texts add value to the author’s historical reconstruction of theories of the vocatives.

Donati also succeeds in moving from this complex metalinguistic background to a new interpretation of the vocative, by distinguishing a more general label (“forme allocutive del nome”, addressing forms of the name), and two precise labels intended to limit the category of “vocative” to the morphological case used to mark a nominal form of address, whereas constructions involving particles (e.g. “hō + vocative” construction) are considered distinct separate cases (“costruzione vocativali” vocative constructions).

Finally, the diachronic path of grammaticalization of the Ancient Greek “hō + Vocative” construction proposed in the third chapter reinforces Donati’s previous theoretical statements, and emphasizes how vocatives are elements at the grammar-pragmatics interface. The diachronic analysis supplements Donati’s theoretical reflections significantly. Moreover, this part provides an important starting point for a broader reflection on the diastratic and diaphasic variation of vocative use in ancient texts, as the author herself points out (p. 135).

Donati’s book represents a large, detailed and cohesive analysis of the category of vocative in Ancient Greek and Latin, with a particular emphasis of metalinguistic aspect of grammatical reflection on this case and a precise empirical analysis of the grammaticalization path of vocative construction.

Hjelmslev. Louis. 1935 [1972]. La catégorie des cas: étude de grammaire générale. vol. 1. Aarhus: Universitetsfolaget I.

Conte. Maria Elizabeth. 1972. Vocativo e imperative secondo il modello performativo. In G. Lepschy (ed.) Scritti e ricerche di grammatica italiana. Trieste: Lint, 161-179.
Chiara Meluzzi earned her PhD at University of Pavia and Free University of Bozen (Italy) in January 2014. After an MA on sociolinguistics and pragmatics of Ancient Greek at the University of Eastern Piedmont, she moved to sociophonetics for her PhD thesis, analyzing dental affricates produced by Italian speakers in Bozen (South Tyrol, Italy). Her publications include a pragmatic analysis of personal pronoun use in Aristophanes (in GLIEP 3 Proceedings), a survey of Italian spoken in Bozen (Il Cristallo), and an analysis of Italian text messaging (in collaboration with I. Fiorentini, to appear). Her research interests include sociolinguistics, pragmatics, Ancient Greek, Italian, and phonetics.