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Luigia Garrapa, Vowel elision in Florentine Italian.

Luigia Garrapa, Vowel elision in Florentine Italian, Peter Lang: Bern, 2011; 396 pp.: 9783034310741, $100.95

Mary Stevens, A Phonetic Investigation into 'Raddoppiamento sintattico' in Sienese Italian, Peter Lang: Bern, 2012; 346 pp.: 9783034310963, $105.95

The two volumes under review appear quite similar in some respects. A first feature they share is the focus on contemporary varieties of Tuscan Italian, i.e., Florentine and Sienese. These two central varieties of Tuscan, not very different in phonology and prosody, have been considered as the most representative of so-called Standard Italian, although in recent decades the standard language is more associated with the North of Italy. Therefore, Florentine and Sienese appear to be appropriate varieties upon which to test hypotheses of phonological processes such as vowel elision (elisione) and raddoppiamento sintattico.

A second common feature is represented by the qualitative and quantitative analysis of empirical data, mostly collected by the authors. Stevens deals with a small corpus of spontaneous speech (the corpus of the analyzed geminates is about 380 tokens), together with a fine-grained inspection of the data recoverable in the literature. Garrapa takes into account original elicited data as well as a huge amount of spontaneous speech taken from the Italian section of the Romance C-Oral-Rom corpus, edited by Cresti and Moneglia (2005). The quantitative analysis carried out by the authors is well supported by statistical tests. Finally, both books are the revised versions of the Ph.D. theses of these two young scholars.

Some relevant divergences between the two volumes emerge as well, starting with methodology. Stevens presents a detailed acoustic analysis of her data, unlike Garrapa, whose study lacks such an analysis. Moreover, Garrapa's corpus is problematic for two reasons. First, the elicited speech was produced by the nine subjects via visual presentation of non-elided stimuli, thus potentially influencing the retention of more vowel-final forms than in spontaneous speech. Second, Garrapa relies on the orthographic transcriptions of elision occurring in the C-Oral-Rom corpus (cf. pp. 76-77). With many transcribers being involved in the project, a coherent classification of the elision phenomena is unlikely. However, these limitations are amply compensated for by the vastness of the data she considers. This contrasts with Stevens's curtailed corpus, which constitutes a limitation to her work, especially given the fact that she proposes a new interpretation of the data.


Elision is traditionally defined as the deletion of the final unstressed vowel, triggered by a following initial vowel, either stressed or unstressed. Function words are the target of the process, which applies with variable frequency; for example, it is obligatory in l'amica, quite frequent in a phrase like questo attore > quest'attore, or lo amavo > l'amavo, but rare in le amiche > l'amiche. Although it is normally present in descriptive grammars of Italian, the matter has been systematically investigated in very few studies. Garrapa's book is an attempt at an exhaustive analysis of the elision phenomena in the variety of Italian spoken in Florence.

Garrapa deals with a large set of determiners and proclitics, showing that the former present higher elision rates than the latter, in both elicited and spontaneous speech. The qualitative and quantitative analysis carried out by Garrapa shows that the morphological categories of gender and number interact with the occurrence of elision: vowels associated with the feature [masculine] are more prone to deletion, and vowels associated with [plural] are more likely to be retained. The result is that vowels associated with [masculine, singular] are more likely elided than, for example, those associated with [feminine, plural]. Other factors influencing the treatment of final vowels include the quality of the final vowel ([+high] versus [-high]) and speech style (more elision in spontaneous speech than in elicited speech).

The label 'elision' is used by Garrapa as an instance of phrasal allomorphy; she does not consider the phenomenon of final vowel deletion as a phonologically constrained process. Hence, the output l'amico is not derived from lo amico via elision, but depends on the selectional preference of the allomorph/l/, stored as such in the lexicon of Italian speakers. The same holds for /un/, /kwest/ and even /kwel/ in nominal phrases like un amico, quest'amico, quell'amico. Although the proliferation of allomorphs involves a remarkable increase of redundancy in the mental lexicon, Garrapa believes that this price has to be paid because allomorph selection is synchronically phonologically opaque. In a parallel fashion, final elision in proclitic pronouns is regarded as another instance of phrasal allomorphy, exhibiting specific preferences of lexical selection: the output l'avevo is disfavored with regard to la avevo, and even less preferred for le avevo, because [plural] is stronger than [singular].

Garrapa's final chapters (5 and 6) are devoted to a discussion of these hypotheses within a proper typological and theoretical framework, with special reference to Nespor and Vogel's Prosodic Phonology (1986) and Hayes's Precompiled Phrasal Phonology (1990).

Raddoppiamento sintattico

Raddoppiamento sintattico (RS) is probably one of the most studied phonological processes of Italian. Despite the large amount of literature on this topic (see Loporcaro, L'origine del raddoppiamento fonosintattico. Saggio di fonologia diacronica romanza, 1997, Borrelli, Raddoppiamento Sintattico in Italian: A Synchronic and Diachronic Cross-Dialectal Study, 2002, and their references), scholars still disagree on some issues, such as the factors blocking RS. Within this context, Stevens tackles new issues, such as the occurrence of preaspirated consonants in Sienese, glottalization phenomena, and the interaction of the gorgia toscana with RS.

The occurrence of preaspiration in the production of voiceless stops in Tuscan Italian (or in any variety of Italian) has not been reported in the literature, aside from preliminary results presented by Stevens herself (see M Stevens, J Hajek and M Absalom (2002) 'Raddoppiamento sintattico and glottalization phenomena in Italian: a first phonetic excursus' in C. Bow (ed.), Proceedings of the 9th Australian International Conference on Speech Science and Technology, Melbourne, 154-159; and M Stevens (2004), 'Preaspiration in Sienese Italian: Some acoustic evidence,' Melbourne Papers in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics 4: 35-45). According to Stevens, the reason for this lack in previous studies has to do with the use of elicited data rather than spontaneous speech. In the phonetic literature, preaspiration is noted as being typologically rare, and when present, it is usually employed as a cover term for a variety of segmental configurations, including a spirant homorganic to a following oral plosive (e.g. [fp, ct, xk]) which is often influenced by the preceding vowel quality (e.g. [axk], versus [ick]) (D Silverman (2003) 'On the rarity of pre-aspirated stops,' Journal of Linguistics 39: 575-598). The Sienese data do not meet Silverman's criteria for preaspiration, and I am skeptical of the claim that preaspiration is a typical feature of Sienese Italian. However, Stevens's data (p. 144) are consistent with the definition of preaspiration in G Docherty's 2003 work, 'Speaker, community, identity: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on sociophonetic variation,' in MJ Sole, D Recasens and J Romero (eds.), Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS), Barcelona, pp. 11-16, and her phonetic measurements show a difference between plain stops and 'the presence of glottal activity in the transition between vowel and closure' (p. 220).

The phonetic inspection into the glottalization phenomena (pp. 84-88; passim) occurring in Sienese is one of the most original issues dealt with in Stevens's book. Following A Ni Chasaide and C Gobi (2004), 'Voice quality and f0 in prosody: towards a holistic account,' in B Bel and I Marlien (eds.), Second International Conference of Speech Prosody, Nara (Japan), SProSIG, pp. 189-196 she distinguishes between macro- and micro-prosodic glottal stops, with reference to the different levels of linguistic structure. At the macro-prosodic level, glottalization is associated with a phonetic phrase boundary, disrupting the speech continuum and blocking the application of RS. At the micro-prosodic level, glottal stop is a special manifestation of 'preaspirated' voiceless stops, and, as such, it can be associated with the occurrence of RS. According to Stevens, macro-prosodic glottal stops tend to involve creaky voice followed by a pause, whereas micro-prosodic glottal stops normally entail abduction of the vocal folds.

Both volumes are well informed on the relevant literature, but some references are missing: Garrapa could have usefully discussed WU Dressier (1984) 'On the definite Austrian and Italian articles,' in E Gussmann (ed.), Phono-Morphology, Lublin, Catholic University, pp. 35-47; PM Bertinetto (1999) 'Boundary strength and linguistic ecology (Mostly exemplified on intervocalic/s/-voicing in Italian),' Folia Linguistica 33: 267-286; and M Loporcaro (2000) 'Stress stability under cliticization and the prosodic status of Romance clitics,' in L Repetti (ed.), Phonological Theory and the Dialects of Italy, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, Benjamins, pp. 137-168. Stevens could have included the second part of the milestone study by L Giannelli and LM Savoia (1979-1980) 'L'indebolimento consonantico in Toscana,' Rivista Italiana di Dialettologia 2: 38-101. Despite these minor shortcomings, the two books represent a good example of contemporary research on spoken Italian, supported by speech technologies and statistical methods for the analysis of the empirical data. They are strongly recommended to scholars working on Italian phonology as well as to those interested in Italian language tout court.

DOI: 10.1177/0014585814529235

Reviewed by: Giovanna Marotta, University of Pisa, Italia
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Author:Marotta, Giovanna
Publication:Forum Italicum
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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