A Primer of Romance Philology:
A beginner's guide to the Romance languages of medieval France and Spain

J. Keith Atkinson

Boombana 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002 http://dannyreviews.com/
A Primer of Romance Philology attempts a coordinated survey of the origins and grammar of Old French, Old Provencal, Old Spanish, and Old Catalan. It is aimed at students of the modern languages, assuming no knowledge of Latin or medieval history and just a smattering of linguistics, but I found it usable with my decent if rusty Latin and smattering of French.

The Primer opens with a brief history of the four Romance languages and an introduction to Vulgar Latin. The next sixty pages are a comparative survey of the phonetics (briefly) and grammar of the five languages. Much of this consists of indigestible tables, especially of verbal forms, and is not particularly engaging, though there are insights from comparing morphology across the five languages. More descriptive passages explain such things as the origin of the compound past. Following the comparative grammar, a chapter covers more specialised grammatical features and the historical background of the four languages. A sample paragraph:

"Our concern here is with Old French (1100-1300). Apart from the Latin base, there was a strong Celtic substratum (about 50 words of Celtic origin in mod. Fr.) and a very strong Frankish superstratum (about 400 words in mod. Fr.) in the formation of the language, both of which would go a long way to explain some of the divergent phonetic features of French compared with the other Romance languages."
I kept wishing there had been more of this, and that it had gone into more detail — the passage above, for example, could have been extended with examples of words in modern French with Frankish and Celtic origins.

The final thirty pages offer some short texts in the four languages. The supporting material for these varies: some are accompanied by full translations, some by fairly extensive commentary and glosses, and some by little at all. I found some were almost readable, or could at least be puzzled through, while others were intractable, at least without other resources.

A Primer of Romance Philology is too slender in itself to give the reader any kind of competence in approaching texts in the languages covered. It does give a broad feel for early medieval language change in South-Western Europe, however, and it has a select bibliography with pointers for further study. It must also be pointed out that the Primer is not quite a proper book: it is spiral bound and its origins as a set of lecture notes show through in places. Apart from typos and abbreviations and a few other minor things, however, it is as well edited as most books are these days.

May 2002

Related reviews:
- Orrin W. Robinson - Old English and its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages
- more French literature
- more Spanish literature
- books about linguistics
- more medieval literature
- books published by Boombana
%T A Primer of Romance Philology
%S A beginner's guide to the Romance languages of medieval France and Spain
%A Atkinson, J. Keith
%I Boombana
%D 2001
%O 2nd edition, spiral bound
%G ISBN 187654208X
%P vi,122pp