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Review of  Palatal Sound Change in the Romance Languages

Reviewer: Ionuț Geană
Book Title: Palatal Sound Change in the Romance Languages
Book Author: Andre Zampaulo
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 32.1774

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André Zampaulo’s “Palatal sound change in the Romance languages. Diachronic and synchronic perspectives” investigates the evolution of palatal changes in Romance diachronically, while also providing useful data in the synchronic variation of this phenomenon. As suggested from the title, this monograph focuses mainly on phonetics, namely the particular case of palatals, while also bringing various phonological explanations and data. After Acknowledgements, the author provides an extensive and useful List of abbreviations, also including geographical information in the case of languages and dialects, e.g., “Lecc. Leccese (southern Salentino dialect of Lecce, extreme southeast Italy)” (p. xii). Seven chapters of unequal size are followed by Appendices, References and Index.

Chapter 1, “Introduction”, starts with the description of the six major groups of Romance languages that will form the focus of Zampaulo’s research: Eastern Romance (Romanian, Dalmatian – now extinct), Rhaeto-Romance (Friulian, Ladin, Romansh), Italo-Romance (Italian, Tuscan, Corsican, alongside northern, central and southern Italian dialects), Sardinian, Gallo-Romance (French, Occitan, Francoprovençal), and Ibero-Romance (Catalan, Navarro-Aragonese, Astur-Leonese, Galician, Portuguese, Spanish) (p. 1). It is worth mentioning at this point that the author does not exclude the existence of other Romance languages and varieties (while also mentioning a few), but his synchronic and diachronic data analyses will go in the direction of the six major groups identified. The Romance “palatals” are introduced in subsection 1.2 using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) system, alongside a series of conventions and adaptations to best serve the purposes of the monograph. Of the 20 palatals identified in Table 1.1 (p. 2), only the yod (the palatal approximant [j]) had already appeared in Latin. On p. 5, André Zampaulo puts forth four research questions to guide the reader through the book, focusing on: the Latin sources and diachronic evolution of Romance palatals, different diachronic evolution leading to similar synchronic outcomes, the effect of phonetic and phonological information on the evolution of Romance palatals, and the integration of phonetic motivation in phonological analysis. The last subsection of the Introduction presents the book outline.

Chapter 2, “Theoretical considerations”, is self-explanatory. After a brief history of the attention given by scholars to phonetic change (going as back as 4th century BC), the author provides a list of canonical authors in the field of phonetics and phonology, in general, as well as in the specific field of Romance languages. Judging from the list of names and works, at this stage it appears that Zampaulo based most of his research on available literature published primarily in English. However, the theoretical background would have been significantly improved if additional references for Romanian had been in place, other than Maiden (2016), albeit highly valuable and up to date, as prior research is at this introductory point ignored (e.g., Chitoran (2002) or Steriade (2008), among others). Expanding on the concept of sound change, the author sets the framework of his research to Optimality Theory (OT), à la Prince and Smolensky (2004 [1993]) and talks about the role in sound change of the speaker and the listener that becomes the speaker, following Ohala (2003). The speaker and the listener-turned-speaker distinction is formally the representation of the approach to sound change in this monograph: “a sound change may spread through the lexicon and the speech community until it is incorporated into the sound inventory of all language users” (p. 29).

Chapter 3, “The phonetics of palatals”, introduces the articulatory and acoustic characteristics of palatals. Based on all experimental work carried out, the articulation of these sounds is intrinsically complex. In this chapter, Zampaulo describes the palatal vowels [i e ɛ] and the glide [j], alongside the palatal sonorants and palatal obstruents. These phonetic characteristics are used to support the goals of the study, accounting for their realizations in Romance from both synchronic, and diachronic perspectives. The author reiterates in this chapter that it is not phonetics itself that triggers change, as sound production is intrinsically related to phonetic variation. Rather, it is the interplay between the speaker and the listener-turned-speaker that best explains the initiation of sound change (p. 45).

The effects of the palatal glide [j] (yod) and the influence of palatal vowels over Latin sonorant and obstruent consonants are key in understanding the emergence of palatals across Romance and are the subject of Chapter 4, “Palatals in the history of the Romance languages”, with thorough theoretical assumptions and careful analyses of: the emergence of Latin yod, the emergence of the palatal lateral [ʎ], the emergence of the palatal nasal [ɲ], and the emergence of palatal obstruents. Data are brought from an abundance of Romance languages and varieties. On p. 63, Zampaulo provides the different evolutionary results of Latin [pl- kl- fl-] in the Romance-speaking world. Although the author does mention that the list is not exhaustive, the data from Eastern Romance is again scarce, providing only the situation from (standard) Daco-Romanian (the author uses “Romanian”, but I chose to write Daco-Romanian, to oppose it to Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian). Nevertheless, the whole analysis would benefit if the other Eastern Romance varieties, such as Aromanian or Istro-Romanian, had been further researched, where the evolution of Latin [kl-] resulted in an intermediate stage [klj-], for example Lat. “clamare” > Arom. [klje'ma]; in Istro-Rom. [klje'må] alternates with [kle'må] and also [ce'ma] (see more examples and discussion in Saramandu (1984: 428-33) for Aromanian, and Kovačec (1984: 554-8) for Istro-Romanian, both in Rusu (ed.) 1984). In the concluding remarks to this chapter, on p. 97-8 the author reconstructs the main evolutionary patterns of palatals from Latin to Romance.

Zampaulo switches from diachrony to synchrony in Chapter 5, “Palatals in the Romance languages today”, with the goal of setting an inventory of palatals in the family of Romance languages. While being aware of this tremendous undertaking, the author looks at synchronic dialectal data (both readily available, as well as unpublished material) from Ibero-Romance, Gallo-Romance, Italo-Romance and Sardinian, as well as Rhaeto-Romance and Eastern Romance, with the largest portion of this chapter dedicated to Ibero-Romance (roughly forty-five pages, against two-three pages for the each of the other varieties), with relevant graphs, spectrograms, tables, maps, and charts. Eastern Romance (Dalmatian and Daco-Romanian) data is unfortunately given a seven-line treatment. Although an equal treatment of all sub-Romance varieties (added by compare and contrast analyses) would have added significant value to this monograph, this may provide the grounds of new topics for further research (either by the author, or by other linguists) and does not diminish the tremendous effort into researching Ibero-Romance. The authors rightfully stresses in the conclusions to this chapter that synchronic data can explain diachronic data and vice versa.

The goal of Chapter 6, “Palatal sound change in the Romance languages: a unified account”, is to propose an evolutionary formal portrait, by formalizing changes as resulting from both documented, and reconstructed pathways. Adopting the speaker-listener interaction and the constraint-based model, Zampaulo proposes an integrated account of how and why these sound changes could emerge, also revealing the mechanisms that may lead to the possible reoccurrence of similar change events: [ʎ]-delateralization, [j]-fortition, [t d]-palatalization, [tʃ dʒ]-deaffrication, [dʒ ʒ]-devoicing, etc. (p. 150). The author dedicates subchapters to sound change as constraint reranking, pathways for the emergence and evolution of palatal sonorants and obstruents, showing how similar palatal change events have taken place in different Romance varieties in the passage from Latin to Romance and/or in the evolution of the same variety. The unified account in the study of palatal variation is achieved by bringing diachrony and synchrony together.

Chapter 7, “Final remarks”, Zampaulo restates the theoretical background that shapes his analysis of Romance palatals, summarizing the chapters of his monograph, while also providing invitations to further research (open questions) on the nature of the constraints used throughout his analysis, among others. The Appendices section includes demographic questions (Appendix 1), sentence-reading task (Appendix 2), and knowledge of potential minimal pairs (Appendix 3), followed by References and Index.


André Zampaulo’s “Palatal sound change in the Romance languages. Diachronic and synchronic perspectives” (part of the series Oxford studies in diachronic and historical linguistics, general editors: Adam Ledgeway and Ian Roberts) is a state-of-the-art, theoretically sound well-written monograph. It treats a topic that has set the grounds for hot debates among linguists of various theoretical orientations. The historical and contemporary treatment of palatals in Romance is an endeavor that André Zampaulo successfully accomplishes, using mostly phonetics and phonology tools. The amount of data that the author uses to build his analysis upon is phenomenal, which is understandable given the number of Romance varieties (languages, dialects, subdialects, idiolects, etc.), all well-represented in the literature. Considering its high degree of detailing and formalization, this monograph is useful for linguists and graduate students with a solid background in generative linguistics, alongside descriptive Romance linguistics, in particular Romance phonetics and phonology.

The graphics used in this monograph are exceptional, being easy to read and follow, as well as move through chapters (despite some minor typos, for example on p. 98, “relying on .the results”, where the full stop is superfluous). The chapter dedicated to Conclusions could have been extended to include, beside the topics and questions for further research, the shortcomings and difficulties of the analysis put forth by the author. For example, as stated in my brief description of each chapter above, the data from Eastern/Balkan/Daco-Romance is heavily underrepresented, and the author does not provide the reader with explanations as to why this is the case; indeed, this drawback could be easily overcome by looking at data available since the end of the 19th century, see, for instance, Weigand (1888/2010), as well as more recent work, as Rusu (ed.) (1984) or Chițoran (2002). Other than this, the bibliography is consistent and up to date, and properly cited throughout the book.

To sum up, André Zampaulo’s “Palatal sound change in the Romance languages. Diachronic and synchronic perspectives” is a state-of-the art monograph on the treatment of the palatals in Romance. Based on all of the above, this book is highly useful to phoneticians and phonologists, in general, and to linguists trained and/or specializing in Romance phonetics and phonology, in particular.


Chitoran, Ioana. 2002. The phonology and morphology of Romanian diphthongization. Probus 14. De Gruyter. 205—46.

Kovačec, August. 1984. Istroromâna. In Valeriu Rusu (ed.). Tratat de dialectologie românească. Craiova: Scrisul Românesc. 550—91.

Rusu, Valeriu (ed.). 1984. Tratat de dialectologie românească. Craiova: Scrisul Românesc.

Saramandu, Nicolae. 1984. Aromâna. In Valeriu Rusu (ed.). Tratat de dialectologie românească. Craiova: Scrisul Românesc. 423—550.

Steriade, Donca. 2008. A pseudo-cyclic effect in Romanian morphophonology. In Asaf Bachrach & Andrew Nevins (eds.). Inflectional Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 313—59.

Weigand, Gustav. 1888/2010. Die Sprache Der Olympo-Walachen: Nebst Einer Einleitung Uber Land Und Leute. Kessinger Publishing, LLC.
Dr. Ionuț Geană is an Associate Professor at the University of Bucharest and also a researcher of the Department of Grammar at the Romanian Academy's Institute of Linguistics in Bucharest. He is currently visiting faculty at Arizona State University (until July 2021). His research interests include the morphosyntax of Eastern Romance (with focus on Istro-Romanian and Daco-Romanian varieties), Romanian phonetics and phonology, and teaching Romanian as a foreign language.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780198807384
Pages: 256
Prices: U.S. $ 80.00