Spanish through time

Spanish through time. By Flora Klein-Andreu. (LINCOM Coursebooks in linguistics 18). Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Pp. xvii, 187. ISBN 9783895864308. $59.

Reviewed by Jason Doroga, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This book is an introduction to the history of Spanish, providing a coherent and succinct account appropriate for the general reader interested in the development of the language. Even though it is intended as an introduction, there is a considerable range of topics covered with a particular emphasis on the evolution of phonology and morphology from Latin to Spanish.

In a brief introductory chapter, the author presents the underlying theme of the book: language change is the result of changing sociocultural conditions as well as ‘physical and psychological (cognitive) capabilities and limitations of human users’ (1). The author suggests that the developments discussed in the three main sections of the text (‘Romance’, ‘Castilian’, and ‘Spanish’) may be viewed as examples of these basic concepts.

In the ‘Romance’ section, Chs. 2–4 (6–28) deal with the expansion of Latin in the Roman Empire and the influence of other languages (e.g. Celtic and Basque) on Vulgar Latin. In Chs. 5–6 (29–48) the author asserts that speakers (especially adult speakers of other languages) preferred the greater transparency of analytic/synthetic morphology of Vulgar Latin, as evidenced by the development of the –mente adverbs, comparative and superlative forms, the future and conditional tenses, the passive voice, and the perfect tenses in Romance. The evolution of the sound system is presented in Chs. 7–10 (49–89). The author clearly explains the essentials of articulation and syllable division (49–59) before exploring the effects of the readjustment of the stress system and syllabification on the consonant and vowel systems (60–82). Ch.10 (83–89) presents textual evidence of these changes. A discussion of Germanic, Arabic, and French influence on the language concludes this section.

The ‘Castilian’ section also presents major developments in morphology and in the sound system. Chs. 14–16 (105–16) discuss Castilian verbal morphology and link morphological change to phonological change by demonstrating that many verb irregularities (in particular stem-changing paradigms) are simply the result of sound changes that affect only the stem in specific phonetic environments. The rise of Castilian and the standardization of linguistic forms in the Peninsula during the Reconquest is discussed in Chs. 17–18 (119–28). Also included is a discussion of modern changes in the sound inventory, most notably a clear description of the development of the current sibilant inventory. Ch. 20 (142–55) covers morphological and lexical changes, including topics such as terms of address and the grammaticalization of haber.

The ‘Spanish’ section (which is considerably shorter than the previous two) presents the major characteristics of Spanish as a world language. Ch. 21 (156–65) discusses morphological features of American Spanish while the final two chapters (167–76) discuss the influence of the Academy and English on the modern language. 

As the title indicates, this book is meant to be an introduction, and it does not presume any previous linguistic knowledge. The author’s intention is not to provide new analyses but to condense a vast amount of scholarship into a highly readable format. While some topics are discussed minimally (e.g. the standardization of Castilian is only superficially treated) and some readers may miss having a word index/glossary, the author most certainly succeeds in effectively explaining key concepts and cogently introducing many of the processes involved in the history of the Spanish language.