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Doris Borrelli. Raddoppiamento sintattico in Italian. A Synchronic and Diachronic Cross-Dialectal Study.

New York and London: Routledge. 2002.

Part of the "Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics" series under the general editorship of Laurence Horn, the present dissertation directed by Carol D. Rosen, was presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. at Cornell University in 2000. This volume contains six succinct and lucid chapters on the phenomenon of raddoppiamento sintattico (henceforth RS) in Standard Italian and the dialects of Italy, the process by which a word-initial consonant is geminated in the following phonosyntactic environments (3): (1) after word-final stress (citta bella); (2) and following certain words without final stress (come me, a casa).

Chapter 1 ("Introduction" 3-14) provides an excellent overview of the prosodics of Italian necessary to understand the process of RS. As the author aptly observes "[v]owel and consonant length distribution, syllable structure, and stress play critical roles in the workings of RS. An analysis of RS should thus accommodate--and perhaps help explain--prosodic facts and generalizations in Italian" (6). Borrelli also notes that there is a basic difference between Standard Italian and the dialects of Italy, i.e., they are not daughters but rather sisters (4), and, hence, separate languages.

The phonological facts pertinent to RS include the following (6): (1) the Italian syllable consists of a nucleus, optional onset, and optional coda; (2) an onset cluster may be two or three consonants; (3) a two-consonant cluster consists of an obstruent followed by a liquid or a sibilant followed by a stop (sdegno); (4) a sibilant preceding an obstruent and a liquid forms a triple cluster (stretto); (5) gemination occurs only intervocalically (dramma) or following a vowel and preceding a liquid (dottrina); (6) a coda can have a maximal cluster of two consonants with first being a liquid or a nasal; and (7) a CV structure is favored. In general, the dialects of Italy follow these principles, albeit with some variation.

The author further observes that "[t]he central and southern Italian dialects (including Standard Italian) have both geminates and long vowels. The northern dialects, on the other hand, do not have distinctive consonant length" (6). Stress patterns also contribute to RS in Italian. After a careful scrutiny of the extant research on vowel length in Italian and the question "is the long stressed vowel in an open syllable long because it is stressed or stressed because it is long?" (9), the author ultimately "... follows the traditional approach of taking vowel length to be derivable by stress and assuming that stress is basically penultimate and the other stress patterns assigned by lexical marking, making long vowels a reflex of stress" (14). Borrelli notes that although her analysis of RS is based on this assumption about stress, it does not hinge upon it.

The second chapter ("Historical Gemination" 15-23) provides a brief excursus into the history of gemination. Among the sources are assimilation, compensatory lengthening, stress, sonority, the optimization of syllable contacts, and spontaneous gemination in proparoxytones. Noteworthy in this history, however, is the absence of gemination in the northern dialects.

The next chapter ("Raddoppiamento Sintattico: Data" 25-36) provides data from three sources: Standard Italian and the central dialects, the northern dialects, and the southern dialects. The linguistic data for RS, however, are complex, though three basic patterns emerge (35-36): (1) certain northern dialects lengthen the final vowel of an RS word trigger; (2) central Italy (Standard Italian, most dialects of Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzi, the Marches as well as Corsican and northern Sardinian--Sassarese-Gallurese) have stress-induced RS and limited lexically-induced RS; and (3) the southern dialects (Puglia, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata together with central and southern Sardinian--Logudurese, Campidanese) have more examples of lexically-induced RS but no stress-induced RS. Finally some northern provinces (Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Liguria) have no RS.

In chapter 4 ("Previous Analyses" 37-56), the author deftly manages to synthesize the previous analyses into four groups (1) those that consider stress and syllable weight as motivating factors; (2) those that consider stress clash avoidance as a cause; (3) those that examine syntactic factors; and (4) those that examine historical factors. In this chapter, Borrelli synthesizes previous complex theoretical analyses in a clear and comprehensible fashion.

The penultimate chapter ("Lenition" 57-69) addresses lenition which is "... a form of weakening involving a relaxation of muscle tension during articulation of a consonant, usually between two vowels or sometimes between two sonorants, e.g. a vowel and a liquid or nasal" (57). Lenition and RS are in complementary distribution in the dialects of Italy that leads the author to speculate about a possible cause that she addresses in the last chapter.

In the final chapter ("Analysis" 71-119), the author employs Optimality Theory to explain the complexities of RS and its relationship with lenition (98-107). This ultimate chapter offers an extraordinarily detailed and insightful examination of RS within this now dominant theoretical model of phonology.

A reference section (121-28) and an index (128-30) complement this well-written and excellent study of Italian RS. This superb volume belongs in the personal library of scholars of Italian and Romance phonology as well as phonologists in general because it shows how to apply Optimality Theory to the enigmatic and challenging phonological issue of RS in a systematic way.


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Date:Dec 22, 2003
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