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The Romance Languages (Cambridge Language Surveys) Hardcover – 5 Sep 1996


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"...this book will undoubtedly take its place among the major works of synthesis on Romance languages." Suzanne Fleischman, Anthropological Linguistics

"...Posner's The Romance Languages is a work of immense erudition and scholarship which will be most appreciated by those who have some prior knowledge of the history and development of this widespread language family." Marc Picard, Canadian Journal of Linguistics

Book Description

This comprehensive survey examines the Romance languages from a wide variety of perspectives. Rebecca Posner's analysis combines philological expertise with insights drawn from modern theoretical linguistics, and relates linguistic features to historical and sociological factors. Her discussion is extensively illustrated with new and original data.

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If we knew about the history and the geographical location of a Romance language, would we able to recognize it as Romance from its linguistic features alone? Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 7 reviews
79 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Disappointed... 24 Feb 2000
By Steven Barbieri - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Overall, Ms. Posner gives a broad but shallow overview of how she believes Latin evolved into the Romance languages during the middle ages. Nonetheless, I found several obvious mistakes, which lead me to believe that she had some basic knowledge of some of the languages she used to illustrate her research efforts but not any substantial knowledge in all of the Romance languages as the title might allude. In my opinion, she spends too much time and effort baffling the reader with highly technical, linguistic jargon in order to explain simple linguistic idiosyncrasies, but most of her explanations are quite shallow and inconclusive. In many of her examples, she jumps from point to point without ever convincingly defending her position on why certain changes happened. She just states some examples and then goes on to something else hoping the reader will figure it out. Then, after she has confused the reader with highly technical linguistic frases just to explain a specific sound or spelling, she makes references to other parts of her book, which is difficult to navigate through, desperately trying to divert the reader's attention away from the obvious - that she did not support her theories with chronological evidence from old texts as is done in other comparative linguistic books.
I noted numerous mistakes in spellings and grammer where she was defending a theory from a change in Latin to a word in Spanish, (i.e. "guadañar," should have been "ganar," rather than converting "guadagnare" from Italian; and "guarnir," also from Italian but not Spanish should be "guarnecer"; and "dormió" is instead "durmió") Galician ("antes de chegarem" rather than "...chegaren"), Portuguese (future subjunctive is not exactly the same as the personal infinitive; "fêz" should be "fez"), and Italian ("Lo si compra" should be "Se lo compra" -"si" changes to "se" before "lo", "la", "li" "le" & "ne"; "Non mi si ascolta" is never said. What is said is "Non mi ascolta nessuno.).
In addition, her comments about the Portuguese understanding Spanish but not reciprocally is obvious in that given the same or a similar word, Portuguese is truncated and/or nasalized (besides the overwhelming "sh" and "zh" sounds of which the continental Portuguese pride themselves) making it difficult for the Spanish (and might I add the Brazilians) to decipher. She states that there is a long-standing history of animosity between the two countries going back to the date of Portugal's last independence from Spain 1580-1643 (which was really 1580-1640).
In addition, Ms Posner stated that "there was little reliable data to support the existence of Philippine Spanish." Well, she obviously doesn't know her Philippino/Spanish history nor any of the languages and dialects of the Philippines. Spain ruled the Philippines for over 350 years, and there are many hundreds of Spanish words incorporated in Tagalog and several of the other Austronesian languages spoken in the Philippines. Furthermore, there does exist a Spanish Creole dialect known as "Chavacano" which was born out of 18th century Spanish. It does not belong to the Austronesian family of languages; however, its lexicon is Spanish but its syntax is similar to that of other Philippine languages. Chavacano is spoken in Zamboanga, Basilan, Cavite, Ternate, and Ermita (Manila).
She was ignorant in her remarks that Philippino was just a "relexified Portuguese Creole" when Portugal had no linguistic influence whatsoever in the Philippines, and there aren't any similarities between Tagalog or any other Philippine dialect/language and Portuguese other than what they have in common with Spanish.
I was hoping she would have explained the nasalization of Portuguese better than saying it was probably due to Celtic influence. Portuguese was born in the late 12th-13th centuries (long after the Celts were Romanized) out of Galician, which is directly linked to Celtic, and there is no nasalization in that language whatsoever. Furthermore, 15-16th century Spanish has evidence of nasalization (the original Don Quixote has lots of examples) which is still prevalent in Andalusian Spanish (Moorish influence?). In all words ending in "n", Andalusian and Caribbean Spanish nasalize the final "n" (though not lexical) much more than any other dialect, which would lead me to believe that the pronunciation of the letter "n" as "ng" (or represented by "~" over vowels in Portuguese) has an influence other than Celtic. What caused the omission of the intervocalic "l" and "n" in Portuguese and Galician?
She never convincingly explained the conversation of "ç, z, and c" to be pronounced as Þ (theta) in Spain in the 16-17th centuries. Andalusia and Galicia resisted until the 19/20th century, and Catalá, Aragonès, and Asturianu-Lleones never adopted it. The folklore has always been that King Felipe II (1527-1598) had a lisp and forced his subjects to imitate him. However, reality is something different because Portugal never adopted such a lisp when he ruled there, but instead, the Portuguese pronounce the final "s" like "sh", and "z" and "c" have the same sounds as in English.
Her knowledge of Latin, French, and some of the obscure/dead dialects is commendable. However, her research efforts thorough enough and arguments not convincing despite the fact that such material on Romance dialects comparison (especially the ones she picked) is hard to find. It is difficult to find and read credible material in which the author truly has a profound and substantiated knowledge basis to share with his or her readers on all Romance dialects/languages and their evolution from Latin, and Ms. Rebecca Posner did not impress me.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Romance Languages: A Comprehensive Survey 2 Dec 1999
By Joseph Winkler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The broad and deep learning in this volume is fitting for its wide subjects, namely, the background and development of the Romance languages. Some of this learning is specialized, to be grasped easily only by the linguist. "One group of words fairly consistently shows displacement of accent--these are proparoxytones with a penultimate short vowel followed by an obstruent + r cluster." Let the layman translate that! Fortunately, other parts of Ms. Posner's learning can be expressed in a more kindly manner and thus readily absorbed by the nonspecialist.
As a layman with a fair knowledge of Latin, but without training in any of the Romance languages themselves, I came to this volume seeking what had arisen in normal conversation as two seemingly simple questions-- How and why did a relatively small area on the westernmost part of the Iberian peninsula develop its own language, i.e., Portugese? Why more than any other language does written French seem to represent something so different from its spoken sound? And so Amazon.com, which has become an important souce for me, and its review by a customer, led me here.
The answers to both questions were found, I think, (remoteness and standardization in the case of the former; standardization mostly in the latter), but not without effort and a lot of synthesizing small bits of data into what must be hoped are correct conclusions. Hesitation by the author in drawing concise conclusions gives the impression that her learning is at times a weight, inhibiting her from giving unqualified and firm answers, lest every possible nuance not be considered. In fact the general reader like me searches for just such gems of revelation in this sea of learning and clings to them with gratitude, as to a lifesaver.
Although the linguistic metaphor of "the family tree" is used, there are no diagrams. I would have benefited from several "trees" showing the languages at different times and in various stages of development. Nice too would have been photos of what are considered the earliest extant texts in each language, that is, the first instance when each can be called a separate language, with facing translations into the modern language and into English. A brief lexicon of linguistic terms could have made this book less formidable to the nonspecialist. For example, although the meaning eventually can be deduced, my ordinary dictionary, which perforce lay beside me, does not define "jodization."
Ms. Posner's learning shines through as she makes clear to our surprise just how much is not known conclusively. As she explains how important are the processes of deduction and reconstruction by which the Romance linguist must live and die, we warm to the subject and feel this volume, whatever its difficulties, is worth the effort.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Difficult to read if you're not a linguist 15 July 2005
By A. Chung - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is informative to the point where I find myself having to look up words on almost every page! This book is for those who are familiar with linguistic terms and the like (i.e. palatal, velar, fricative, etc.) If you want a simpler rundown of how the Romance languages are similar and/or different, look elsewhere. This book provides this information, but from a linguists point-of-view. Just keep that in mind.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing 14 Jan 2012
By Anonymous - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Posner's first words are "This is an extraordinarily difficult book to fit into the Language Surveys series". I'm afraid the book provides ample evidence of the difficulties experienced by Posner.

Having read and enjoyed Masica's "Indo-Aryan Languages" in the same series, I had high hopes for this volume. However, I was disappointed as soon as the book dropped on my doorstep by its relatively small size (less than 400 pages). Surely there was more to say about the Romance langauges than this?

Disappointment continued when I scanned the table of contents. I had expected the following to be clearly and easily accessible within the volume:
* a listing and detailed description of those languages the author regards as "Romance"
* a clear description of how these languages developed (and were differentiated) from Vulgar Latin
* a comparison of the Romance langauges in terms of various aspects (phonology, grammar, syntax, etc.)

However, this book is so poorly organized that it frustrates the reader. It seems to have been arranged more on the basis of the author's internal struggles in writing it than on the convenience of the reader.

Suppose one wanted to know which languages the author regards as Romance. One would read chapter 1: "What is a Romance language? Part 1", and learn something about morphology (person markers) and syntax (noun gender) of some selected lanagues. One would then move on to chapter 2 and learn someting about the shared lexicon of a different selection of languages, but still find no systematic list. Even a much later chapter: "How many Romance languages?" does not answer its own question, ending by saying "It depends what you mean"! This indecisiveness is emblematic of the entire book. I'm not saying that I want cut-and-dried answers to every question. I'm saying that the author seems so reluctant to take a position of her own that one ends up with nothing more than mush.

Meanwhile languages such as Aragonese, Arumanian, and Asturian are mentioned only in passing (and that's just the As). If I wanted the answer to a basic question such as "Where is Arumanian spoken?" I would have to turn to Wikipedia rather than this supposed reference book.

It's the same story for other aspects of language such as phonology and syntax. Spread out over the volume seemingly at random, there is nothing of the systemacity and organization that one would expect of a volume in such a prestigious series.

I would recommend against buying this book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Interesting but has too many mistakes 21 Nov 2011
By Benjamin P. Wing - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Awhile ago I read through this book in detail, and I recently reread parts on Google Books (what was available).

This book covers a number of interesting topics. Some of it feels rather anecdotal, but it is less dry than e.g. "The Romance Languages" by Harris and Vincent.

Unfortunately it has a large number of errors in it. The worst thing is that many of these are not simply typos or other such errors that could be blamed on an editor, or even "thinkos" that could be blamed on a knowledgeable yet sloppy writer, but basic errors indicating that Posner does not seem to have a very good understanding of much of the material she is writing on. This is unfortunate as it means that any and all claims she makes may potentially be wrong or garbled, and hence you simply can't trust the facts in this book.

When I read through the book before, I made a long list of such errors with the intention of sending it to the author, but I don't think I could find a contact (she has been retired for awhile now in any case), and I can't find the list now. But here's an example of something I encountered pretty quickly when going through it again:

On p. 257 she notes that agreement between subject and predicate is obligatory in the standard varieties of most modern languages when the verb "to be" is used, but then claims that this agreement is "frequently ignored" in spoken languages, and asserts further than "non-agreement is attested in medieval texts, especially with coordinated subjects". I would be somewhat skeptical of this claim in any case, since agreement in this context is so consistent in the modern languages and I've never heard of it being optional in the spoken languages, and usually medieval languages are more conservative than modern spoken languages. But on top of this, the single example she quotes to illustrate her claim is completely misunderstood by her:

"... où les hystoires et li fait de touz les rois sont escrit." (Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1270)
"... where the histories and the doings of all the kings are written."

She obviously thinks that "escrit" in this Old French example is singular and hence shows non-agreement with the plural subject. But this is completely wrong. In this case, "escrit" is the NORMAL masculine nominative plural form in Old French, and 100% correct, with perfect agreement with the mixed masculine/feminine plural subject. Now, during this time period, the Old French case system was breaking down, and because final masculine "-s" can mark either nominative singular or accusative plural, and lack of such "-s" can mark either accusative singular or nominative plural, there will be many examples from the time period that APPEAR to have non-agreement but in fact simply have case confusion. If she had quoted one of these examples, she could at least partially be forgiven for her mistake -- but in fact she's quoted an example of 100% correct case usage in Old French, and the fact that this is indeed such an example is made obvious by "li fait", which (as her gloss indicates) means "the doings" despite the lack of "-s" on "fait". (The nominative singular would be "li faiz", and the accusative or caseless plural "les faiz".) I can only conclude the Posner has no understanding of the Old French case system. This is a very bad sign for a supposed expert in the Romance languages, since the case system is the single-most basic characteristic that distinguishes Old French from modern French (and from most other Romance languages), something that every grad student in the field learns early on.
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