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Review of An introduction to Italian dialectology

posted July 4th, 2012

An introduction to Italian dialectology. By Gianrenzo Clivio, Marcel Danesi, and Sara Maida Nicol. (Studies in Romance linguistics 19.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. 216. ISBN 9783862880416. $100.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

An Introduction to Italian dialectology offers a refreshing and unique treatment of the major dialect groups across the Italian Peninsula by tracing their separate development from their common ancestor of Latin. The book is divided into five chapters, the first of which serves as a comprehensive introduction to the study of dialectology in general and the methodology to be employed in both examining and presenting the dialects studied in the book. This chapter discusses important tools of the enterprise, including dialect atlases and the historical-comparative approach when considering both the Tuscan standard and other dialects of the Peninsula. The chapter closes with a discussion of Uriel Weinreich’s (1954) notion of diasystems corresponding to the structural components of language (such as phonology, grammar, and lexicon) that will serve to both compare dialect varieties and organize the remainder of the book.

Chs. 2 and 3, the most substantive parts of the book, are devoted to the phonological and grammatical/lexical diasystems, respectively. Ch. 2 starts with a brief explanation of phonological theory and then proceeds to discuss the various phonemes and allophones associated with both the Tuscan standard and the other dialects, first vowels and then consonants, tracing in each case the evolution from Latin to the modern pronunciation. The chapter closes with a brief discussion of suprasegmental features, including syllabic structure and prosody. Ch. 3 begins its discussion of grammatical differences among the Italian dialects with André Martinet’s (1955) hypothesis regarding phonological changes which in turn induce other changes. Akin to the previous chapter on phonology, the next order of business is a brief explanation of morphological theory as an introduction to discussion of morphological diasystems, emphasizing articles, nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. Following a brief section on syntax, the chapter concludes with differences in the lexicon.

The final two chapters of the book deal with sociolinguistic and modern-day aspects of the Italian dialects.  Ch. 4 deals with diglossia in the Italian Peninsula and the effects of contact of Standard Italian with other languages, both within and outside the Peninsula, including the results of contact with Italian within immigrant communities. Ch. 5, the last of the book, serves as a brief epilogue that addresses the state of Standard Italian today, with a special section on the effects of media and technology, as well as a discussion on the principle of least effort and its role in both language variation and change. After a short discussion on Italian in cyberspace, the chapter closes with some final remarks about concerns for the future of the Italian dialects because of technology and encroachment of the Tuscan standard.

This book, both introductory in tone and level of difficulty, would serve as an ideal companion text to a beginner’s course on the history of the Italian language as well as an introductory class on Italian dialectology.