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Review of Introducción a la historia de la lengua española

posted May 26th, 2012

Introducción a la historia de la lengua española. 2nd edn. By Melvyn C. Resnick and Robert M. Hammond. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011. Pp. xx, 490. ISBN 9781589017320. $39.95.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

This book is the long-awaited second edition of Melvyn C. Resnick’s original work from 1981 which, along with the newly added collaboration of Robert Hammond, has been considerably expanded to include additional content and new student material. The book is divided into seven chapters, the first three of which are general and introductory in nature and the last four of which deal more specifically with the diachronicity of Spanish.

Ch. 1 places the development of Spanish within an overall global context, discussing where it is currently spoken in the world as well as historical contact situations that have shaped it over the centuries. Ch. 2 continues the language contact discussion with a sketch of both primitive (e.g. Celtiberian, Celt, and Basque), and later foreign (e.g. Germanic and Arabic), influences on the Spanish lexicon as well as the possibility of substrate influence on Spanish phonology. Ch. 3 serves as a final introductory chapter which provides some additional preliminary details to aid in the understanding of the remainder of the book. Its topics include the pronunciation of Latin, the criteria for establishing genetic relationships between words, and the analysis of cognates.

The first two of the final four chapters deal specifically with internal changes of the language, first in terms of phonology and secondly with regard to grammar. Ch. 4 provides the comprehensive analysis of phonological changes from Classical to Vulgar Latin and then to Early and Modern Spanish. Melvyn C. Resnick’s original and unique student exercises have been included in this new edition and serve to further illustrate the sound changes explained in each section. Ch. 5 shifts the discussion from phonological to grammatical change by posing the question of why Spanish speakers cannot understand Latin; from there ensues an explanation from the authors for the evolution of morphological and syntactic structures over time. In addition to structures that have evolved, the chapter also addresses those which were previously nonexistent in Classical Latin but introduced later, such as definite and indefinite articles and the new compound tenses.

The remaining two chapters of the book turn to more external historical phenomena, namely, dialectology and the expansion of the lexicon over time. Ch. 6 comprises a comprehensive treatment of the different dialects of Spanish placed within a historical framework and includes discussions of variation both within and outside the Peninsula. Topics include the purported influence of the dialects of Andalucía and the Canary Islands on Latin American Spanish, the use of voseo (i.e. the use of the second-person singular pronoun vos), and an explanation of the history of distinction (or not) between /s/ and /θ/. Finally, Ch. 7 concludes the book with a comprehensive account of the different areas in which the lexicon of Spanish has been enhanced from both external contact situations and internal processes. The chapter also treats the notion of semantic change over time.

This newly expanded and comprehensive Introducción a la historia de la lengua española promises to be a useful tool in the Spanish historical linguistics classroom for both undergraduate and graduate students alike.