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A critical review of Fontelles, Antoni/García, Laura i Lanuza, Joaquim: Gramatica de la llengua valenciana.

València. Del Cenia al Segura. 1987 (ISBN 84-85446-33-X).

By Hans-Ingo Radatz (Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg)

(The original Spanish version was published in the Revista de Filología Románica 9, 1993, pp. 306-9)

The Gramatica de la llengua valenciana [Grammar of the Valencian language] by Fontelles et al., judged by the terminology it uses, its title and its thematic index, pretends to be a scientific publication, addressed to an academic audience. It does not wish to look like a popular and divulgative work. It is surprising, therefore, how many copies of this grammar have been sold --or at least offered-- in bookshops all over the Valencian Autonomous Region . The controversy about the status of the Valencian autochtonous language has always provoked much interest in philological circles and among the general public. This publication must be considered within this context.

However, this Gramatica de la llengua valenciana is not simply yet another contribution to this debate; it represents the latest, and most ambitious attempt to show that the language of Valencia is a language different from Catalan, and to procure for the secessionist position some scientific respectability. For this reason, this book deserves the attention of foreign linguists. Only they can contribute to this excessively emotional debate without prejudice, with detached scientific reasoning.

The first 88 pages of this grammar deal mostly with sounds and their orthographical representation. They also cover the rules for using the apostroph, the hyphen, the accents and the diaeresis. The rest of the book is devoted to the “sentence parts”, which are considered, however, almost exclusively from an orthographical and morphological point of view. We can find very little here about syntax, considered by many linguists almost synonymous with “grammar”; no chapter in this section is devoted explicitly to it, and in the rest of the book syntactical matters are studied only superficially. In this respect, this work follows the model of traditional neogrammarian grammars.

Regarding the terminology it uses, this grammar follows modern linguistics trends, but the same can not be said about the way the book structures its content: it neither argues nor explains problematical points, nor lists and summarizes in a qualified way the various opinions of linguists about each phenomenon studied. Instead of bibliographical details, we are offered only general references such as “many modern linguists” (p. 312), or similar expressions. The reader finds neither a bibliography nor any indication of where all the general linguistic statements he reads in this book come from. Therefore, the affirmations made in this grammar can not be accepted as contributions to the general scientific debate. However, it seems that the authors do not wish to claim to have discovered anything new in the descriptive field. They are satisfied with applying the schematic usage of established descriptive categories to the language spoken in Valencia. Each chapter begins with a definition of the topic it deals with, such as verbs (verps), personal pronouns (pronoms personals) or prepositions (preposicions). In these definitions, the only aspects that are considered regularly are of a semantic nature, even in the section entitled “Function” (Funcio). Afterwards, the category studied is subdivided according to rather heterogenous criteria (morphological, semantical, orthographical, etc.), but the utility of this subdivision for the understanding of the problem as a whole is not always clear. Instead of convincing explanations, the reader is offered examples, lists and paradigms. This grammar is inspired by the traditional school grammars which derive from old school books of Latin. And so, the authors give in the chapter “verbal morphology” the paradigm of the “Conjugation of a verb in the passive voice” (p. 193) as if in Valencian the passive voice can be considered a morphological category. But while in classical languages, or in Gothic or Welsh, the passive voice is a very common semantical function, which takes place in the verbal flexion itself, in Valencian --as in all other Romance languages-- we can only find a syntactical phenomenon (passive by verbal paraphrasis).

The theoretical aspects of grammar, which basicly define and explain the descriptive categories, often lack precision in this book, which does not differentiate enough the various descriptive levels. Strictly orthographical matters are mixed with other ones about semantics or morphology. Sometimes we find statements that are presented as if they were universal linguistic truths. We can find such a fortright affirmation on p. 312: “Morphologically speaking, prepositions do not change, since they do not have various forms by derivation or by flexion”. This statement is applicable to all Romance languages but is not acceptable as an universal definition of the category “preposition” (preposicio).

The terms used in this grammar are mostly structuralist, but not in the descriptions. Sometimes the reader doubts if the authors keep in mind all the systematic implications of those abstract notions like “morpheme” and “phoneme” they have explained in previous paragraphs. On page 312, for instance, they state about “the preposition”: “In a certain respect we could say that it is considered a morpheme, since it really has this function and because historically many of them (or at least their function in the sentence) have appeared after the weakening of some morphemes (the ones of case), which afterwards they replaced totally”. This is surprising because nobody doubts that prepositions are morphemes. The authors make the same mistake on page 91: “Therefore we consider as morphemes not only the affixes and their different classes (as considered by some), but also the words which have only one morpheme”. From time to time we can find terminology borrowed from generative grammar. Thus, on page 192 we find the notion “deep structure”, which is used more or less according to its general usage: “Although the external structure (...) is not the same, the deep structure (its meaning) is the same” (p. 192). What is surprising is the parenthetical explanation, which seems to put at the same level the deep structure and the meaning, which would be a clear misunderstanding of this key notion of generativism. Equally surprising is the statement on page 143, where we read: “The pronoun nos is written separately when it goes before the verb, as if it were a word”. Do the authors mean that pronouns are not usually considered words?.

Books that are entitled “grammar” can have different purposes. Xavier Casp’s “preamble” to this grammar tries to give a first indication about the authors’ aim when they compiled their Gramatica de la llengua valenciana: “There is no doubt that this grammar is neither traditional, nor comparative, nor historical, nor ─of course─ normative or preceptive, the last point being an activity that can not be carried out by individual authors". It has, however, always been the task of individual authors to formulate proposals for a future prescriptive norm, and indeed, looking at this book's thematic index we observe that a considerable part of this work is effectively devoted to clearly prescriptive matters (for instance: 1.6. Homographs; 1.7. Homophones; 3. B/P orthography; 4. C/Ç/S/SS orthography; 17. Apostrophe; 18. Hyphen; etc.). Even though the preamble denies it implicitly, there is no doubt that the first --and maybe only-- aim of this publication is the orthographical and morphological normativization of the “Valencian Language”, and its descriptive parts are only trying to be an illustration of this norm.

Contrary to what one might think at first sight, this grammar is not addressed to an academic audience but to the general reader, without a philological background. It endeavours to be a normative guide to help the Valencians with a Castilian background to write the local autochtonous language. But in order to achieve this it does not follow the spelling rules which were established in 1932 in the Normes de Castelló for the Catalan language in its Valencian variety, but it proposes its own system as the new norm.

If the official norm in use is to be changed to another one, the persons which desire this change have to prove the necessity of this change by demonstrating the insufficiencies of the established norm, in order to convince people of the need for change, by demonstrating that the proposed new norms are preferable. However, this Gramatica de la llengua valenciana does not address this just and logical demand; it does not even acknowledge the existence of the presently used orthographical norms, with a tradition of seventy years, used not only in all communications of the Valencian Autonomous Governement (Generalitat Valenciana), but accepted also by all Valencian universities, by all the Valencian newspapers that write in Catalan, and by the most important Valencian poets, novelists and essayists, such as Vicent Andrés Estellés, Joan Francesc Mira or Enric Valor. Of course, an orthography is not sacrosaint: it can be changed if this should become necessary, or if an overwhelming majority of speakers desire to do so. But whoever proposes such a change should do the following, in the name of intellectual honesty: First, declare openly that he is making such a proposal (and not present it as a description, if the described object, that is the new norm, does not yet exist), and second, show how the status quo, accepted by the vast majority of languages users, is clearly unsatisfactory and insufficient, demonstrating with explicit arguments the advantages of the new proposal. There is, in fact, another conflictive matter in this book, treated in a similar way, namely whether the Valencian language is linguistically independent from Catalan language or not. The overwhelming majority of the world's linguists think that Valencian belongs to the dialectal continuum of that western Romance language which covers the territory between Salses (in the French Midi) to Guardamar (in the Valencian Autonomous Region), and which is called all over the world “Catalan” or “Catalan language”. Fontelles/García/Lanuza’s book simply ignores the existence of this point of view, defended by the majority of the world's academics, and treats Catalan (referred to in this grammar only three or four times) as if it were a totally foreign language. Any scientist has the right to agree or not to agree with the majority opinion concerning a specific point, but the one who wishes to convert his readers to the opinion of the minority, not generally accepted, can not refuse an argumentative discussion about the position that he is trying to rebut. This kind of objective discussion is not found anywhere in this book.

Therefore, we are dealing here with a publication that is addressed to the general public, not to specialists. Using an apparently scientific terminology, it presents an extremely minoritary scientific position as if it were an indisputable and unquestioned truth. Philology and linguistics must firmly avoid this instrumentalization of science for purposes that can only be qualified as demagogic.

1993 © Hans-Ingo Radatz. It is forbidden any use, copy or distribution of this material. The author has expressly authorized this reproduction.

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