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Martin Kramer. The Phonology of Italian.

Martin Kramer. The Phonology of Italian. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

The present volume is part of a series published by Oxford University Press entitled "The Phonology of the World's Languages" under the general editorship of Jacques Durand, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail, France. Written by Martin Kramer, Associate Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Tromso, Norway, this book offers a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of contemporary theoretical issues in Italian phonology in a clear and concise fashion.

In his introductory chapter (pp. 1-10), Kramer outlines his two aims in writing this volume when he states that "[This book] offers an overview of the main characteristics of Italian sound patterns under consideration of regional variation and an analysis couched in the framework of Optimality Theory." (p. 1) With respect to his two principal goals, the author poses two questions (1) What is Italian?; and (2) Why is there a need for such a book? (p. 1) In response to the first question, and for the general linguist unfamiliar with all aspects of Italian phonology, Kramer discusses its geographic distribution, the distinction between dialetto and italiano, bilingualism, and regionally influenced Italian. In reply to the second query, the author reviews the copious and sometimes scattered published research on Italian phonology from Pietro Bembo's (1470-1547) Prose della volgar lingua (1525) to Mario Saltarelli's groundbreaking theoretical work (A Phonology of Italian in a Generative Grammar, 1970, The Hague: Mouton) as well as the most recent scholarship on Italian phonology through 2007. After his overview of the content of the chapters in this volume, Kramer provides an informative summary of the contemporary orthographic system of Italian (pp. 8-10). The explanation of the sign-sound correspondences is useful, especially for the theoretical linguist, because many of the examples in subsequent chapters appear in their standard orthographic forms.

The remaining six chapters address the following topics: (1) Theoretical background; (2) a very brief history of Italian phonology; (3) segmental phonology; (4) syllable structure; (5) word stress; and (6) prosodic phonology. It is worth commenting briefly on each of these in the order of their appearance, though the author notes in his overview (pp. 5-6) that the reader who is already familiar with Optimality Theory and the Parallel Structures Model may elect to skip over chapter 2. Furthermore, the reader may read any of the succeeding ones in any order. It should be noted that chapters 4-7 reflect phonological levels of organization: Segments, syllabic structure, foot structure and the organization of the phonological word, and the phrasal level (p. 6).

The discussion of the two theories employed in chapter 2 (pp. 11-21) is especially clear, well exemplified, and succinct. Optimality Theory has been in existence since 1993 when Alan Prince and Paul Smolensky's research on this theoretical approach became available as a technical report through Rutgers University and the University of Colorado, Boulder prior to its availability in 2004 from Wiley-Blackwell (Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar) as a print-on-demand volume. In that same year, John J. McCarthy and Alan Prince authored a frequently cited manuscript on this same topic available through the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Studies (Prosodic Morphology: Constraint Interaction and Satisfaction, 1993, The analysis of segmental features employed in this monograph utilizes recent versions (2003, 2006) of the Parallel Structures Model of Bruce Moren, a colleague of Kramer at the University of Tromso.

The author's overview of Italian phonology in chapter 3 (pp. 22-43) outlines the major phonological changes from Latin to modern Italian, which includes transformations in the consonantal and vocalic systems, processes that alter syllable structure, and changes to the stress system. Because of the delicate balance between these systems, changes in one often affect other parts of the linguistic organization of the language.

The fourth chapter (pp. 44-126) addresses specific issues related to the segmental component of Italian phonology. These include specific processes that produce surface-level alternations, for example, palatalization, the status of glides, and vowel neutralization. The author provides a useful functional feature set for Italian segmental phonology (pp. 124-126).

The next chapter (pp. 127-155) takes up the issue of syllable structure. As the author notes (p. 127), the restrictive nature of Kalian syllable structure poses a number of problems for a description of syllable size and its constituent parts. Nevertheless, he provides an enlightening presentation of the onset, rhyme, and coda of the Italian syllable.

The sixth chapter (pp. 156-202) considers word stress and its characteristic unpredictability in Italian, which Kramer labels the "conundrum of Italian word stress placement" because "... the stress system is obscured by lexical stress both in roots and

in affixes." (p. 156) To test stress assignment predictability, the author reports the results of a nonce-word test he conducted to determine if native speakers can predict it reliably (pp. 167-186). He demonstrates that with nouns, it is not possible to show a default algorithm. The subsequent analysis of stress assignment with clitics is also revealing. He also talks about the problematic issue of secondary stress.

In the last chapter (pp. 203-264), Kramer discusses patterns beyond the word level. This section considers intervocalic s-voicing, raddoppiamento sintattico, vowel deletion, phrase-final lengthening, and phrasal stress placement. Based on more recent research, the author argues that syntactic structure has less influence on prosodic structure than previously thought. Kramer notes that "... at least some syntactic constraints are ranked in a hierarchy together with and in relation to prosodic constraints," (p. 8) a claim that is not a novel necessarily. A comprehensive set of references (pp. 265-277) and a useful subject index (pp. 279-284) and name index (pp. 285-286) complement this excellent text.

To be sure, this is an expensive book ($120.00). Nevertheless, its comprehensive discussion of Italian phonology, its thorough literature review, and its up-to-date discussion of contemporary linguistic theory in relation to the Italian language, in particular, Optimality Theory and the Parallel Structures Model make this volume well worth its cost. I recommend this book for two types of readers: Linguists in Departments of Italian Studies, and linguists in Departments of Linguistics. This book is an indispensable reference for both. Finally, it belongs in the libraries of all research universities.


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Author:Nuessel, Frank
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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