Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.12.15

Raija Vainio, Latinitas and Barbarisms according to the Roman Grammarians: Attitudes towards Language in the Light of Grammatical Examples.   Turku:  Painosalama Oy, 1999.  Pp. 180.  

Reviewed by Farouk Grewing, Harvard University (
Word count: 2555 words

Whoever works on ancient linguistics, both Greek and Roman, or who at least keeps an eye on the goings-on in this admittedly still rather esoteric field will have realized that amongst the very limited number of publications the contributions from Finland, especially the University of Turku, are outstanding both in terms of quantity and (more important) quality. Turku articles dealing with the history of ancient grammatical thought and Greek and Latin historical grammar appear in almost regular intervals, with Arctos being a particularly good place to look for them. Undeniably, Toivo Viljamaa, Professor at the Classics Department of the University of Turku, plays the most powerful role in terms of enhancing research in this area, not the least by having produced a tiny secta discipulorum. Raija Vainio (V.) is one of them.1 The book reviewed here is her 1999 doctoral dissertation which, like Jaana Vaahtera's book on Derivation,2 was supervised by Viljamaa. Yet, V.'s book is rather different from Vaahtera's. The most blatant difference is that the latter treats derivation in a systematic way, thus providing a concise monograph on this issue, whereas V.'s book contains a collection of six articles three of which have appeared in print already, the remaining three being about to come out in the near future. As a matter of fact, it does not contain anything written by V. the reader could not find elsewhere.

The volume is divided into two main parts, the second one forming the re-print and pre-print section of the articles respectively (pp.47-148), the first consisting of a short Introduction (pp.9-16) and Discussion (pp.17-37), followed by some Conclusions (pp.38-43).

The overall subject, as the title already promises, is "the correct/incorrect use of language, and Roman grammarians' attitude towards it" (p. 9). How many different aspects of this multi-layered issue V. actually deals with can be illustrated best by listing the titles of each article, i.e. 'chapter':

1. Correct use of language according to Roman grammarians (pp.47ff. = forthcoming in SKY 1999: The 1999 Yearbook of the Linguistic Association of Finland;

2. Use and function of grammatical examples in Roman grammarians (pp.62ff. = forthcoming in Mnemosyne);

3. On the concept of barbarolexis in the Roman grammarians (pp.83ff. = Arctos 28 [1994], 129-140);

4. A reading in Consentius reconsidered: a case of palatalization (pp.97ff. = Arctos 30 [1996], 247-255);

5. Causes of barbarisms and threats to latinitas: the view of the Roman grammarians (pp.108ff. = Vaahtera-Vainio, eds [see n.1], 136-146);

6. Barbarism and metaplasm (pp.123ff. = forthcoming in Patterns of Textuality).

The Discussion which precedes this six-pack basically summarizes the main arguments of these articles and, to some extent, approaches the individual issues from a more general point of view. In so doing, it locates their respective position within the context of the grammatica Latina.

Since the history of Latin grammar and its interrelation with the Greek tradition involves many extremely difficult and to some degree almost intractable problems, any scholar working in this field must state his or her own presuppositions right at the beginning. This V. does by giving an -- albeit very brief -- sketch of the background against which, in her opinion, the Artes grammaticae of late antiquity have to be viewed (pp.9-16). In it, she touches upon many issues, and it is worthwhile to point to some of them in particular in order to bring up some caveats. All of the following are to be found on pp.11-13:

-- V. is more or less right that nowadays experts consider only the introductory chapters of the Τ́εχνη γραμματική attributed to Dionysios Thrax as genuine. However, it still seems reasonable to lend one's ears to those scholars who at least play around with the idea that the Τ́εχνη is authentic.3

-- As to the Roman Ars grammatica, V. argues that the "first Latin grammar is traditionally ascribed to Remmius Palaemon": Who thinks that? Apart from a notorious passage in the Rhetoric ad Herennium (IV 17), which V. refers to frequently (see esp. 86-87), the first Roman Ars we know of is Book I of Varro's De disciplinis of 34/33 B.C., even if only one single fragment can be securely attributed to it (GRF frg. 49 Funaioli).4 However, from a passage in Diomedes (GL I 426,32ff. = GRF frg. 237 Funaioli) we seem to be able to deduce the original structure of Varro's Ars,5 which corresponds to that of Remmius as reconstructed by Barwick and the later tradition of which Donatus can serve as a specimen: litterae -- syllabae -- partes orationis -- virtutes et vitia orationis.6

-- It is true that, as V. says, the first extant sketch of Roman grammar we find is in Quintilian's Institutio oratoria, I 4-8, but, here again, two caveats: firstly, I feel slightly irritated by V.'s contention that the later grammarians "seem to follow [Quintilian] fairly closely." Well, it is true that Quintilian uses lots of examples which later recur in the Grammatici Latini, but it is obvious that he took them from the previous grammatical tradition,7 from which these examples eventually were taken over by later generations. We cannot plausibly assume that the scholars of Late Antiquity drew their linguistic material from the Institutio. However, V. seems to take Quintilian (at least to some extent) as an independent source (see also, e.g., p. 64). The same is true for Quintilian's dividing grammar into recte loquendi scientia = methodice and enarratio auctorum = historice (I 4,2 and I 9,1): This, too, Quintilian undoubtedly owes to one of his sources, most likely Remmius Palaemon, from where the later grammarians took this diptychon.8 Secondly, it might be at least misleading to say that Quint. inst. I 4-8 is a "sketch of a typical Roman grammar intended for schools". We should be told how it could be used at school. Moreover, this contention seems to be closely intertwined with the internal structure of the chapters in question. Only I 4-5 can be taken as reflecting the Ars grammatica type V. has in mind, whereas I 6-7 deal with latinitas, consisting of both orthoepeia and orthographia.9 However, V. is aware of the existence of these two different Textsorten; see, e.g., p.47 with n.2.

Back to the individual articles:

No. 1 gives us a neat discussion of the criteria of correct speech, first reported by Varro (GRF frg. 268 Funaioli) and then, at length, by Quintilian (Inst. I 6,1: ratio [= analogia + etymologia], vetustas, auctoritas, consuetudo). Particularly valuable is V.'s attempt to explain the difference between form and meaning within Quintilian's fourfold system (p.19), with auctoritas belonging to form and vetustas, old usage, concerning meaning; see esp. pp.58-59 and the instructive analysis of the examples adduced by Quintilian (pp.54-57). By the way, it is true that later grammarians do not discuss these criteria in full (pp.48, 50) and that errors attracted their attention more than the principles of correctness (p.19, cf.23), but again, this is due to their writing Artes, not De latinitate. For that reason Quintilian comes up with this issue in I 6.

No. 2 deals with the examples the grammarians quote or refer to in order to illustrate their theoretical explanations (see also pp.21-23). Firstly, V. concerns herself with the way the grammarians incorporated examples into the syntactic structure of their arguments (pp.65-69). She mainly contrasts Quintilian (again!) with the later tradition. Correctly, she points to the fact that Quintilian very carefully tries to make the examples conform to the syntax of the sentences in which they appear (p.66). The later tendency of isolating the examples from the syntactic environment she takes to be an indication of "the grammatical language ... becoming technical" (p.67). This assumption sounds somewhat bold to me. One would hardly want to deny that it had already become "technical" (even if still flexible) before late antiquity; we cannot tell much about how examples were dealt with in pre-Quintilian treatises but (and V. does not refer to any, either). What we can tell, however, is that Quintilian shows a masterly ability of making a rather dry topic most readable -- and in doing so, he might (or might not) have significantly deviated from his (more technical sounding) sources. Secondly, V. discusses the authors' statements about the function(s) of examples, especially as to the frequently blurred borderline between error and licensed deviations in poetry (barbarism as opposed to metaplasm). One and the same example can stand as a specimen of either barbarism or metaplasm or even both, e.g. the notorious Virgilian relliquiae (pp.73-74; cf. p.136). Finally, V. investigates potential reasons for introducing new examples or abandoning traditional ones. She not only points to developments like Virgil replacing Ennius, Christian texts being substituted for pagan ones, but also draws attention to Donatus, whose commentators Pompeius and Murethach struggled hard with some examples Donatus had given for the Aeolic digamma (pp.77-79). Here, a reference to the shrewd study by J.-W. Beck seems most desirable.10

No. 3 is on barbarolexis as opposed to barbarismos. V. shows that the former refers to errors caused by using a foreign (e.g. Gallic or African) word (Donatus) and, at the same time, by using such a foreign word incorrectly (Pompeius) (pp.91-93). Naturally, with this definition, there is no need for the grammarians to set up a binary opposition like barbarismus vs. metaplasmus. V. argues that the Romans introduced the term barbarolexis around the late second/early third cent. (pp.88 and 96). Obviously, Sacerdos, in whose Ars we first come across this term (pp.88-89) and who applies it to "mistakes in writing" (as opposed to errors in speaking, that is barbarisms), had no impact on the later tradition (from which his work differs to a great extent, anyway [see, e.g., p.132]). Two minor remarks: On p.87 V. refers to Quintilian's tripartite definition of barbarum (I 5,7-10): (a) gente -- that is Donatus's barbarolexis -- (b) animi natura, and (c) barbarismus. I do not think, however, that -- as V. suggests (p.88 with n.26, and p.26) -- (b) coincides with Consentius's discussion of some earlier writers who apparently used the term in a sense which was not confined to errors according to quadripartita ratio (see GL V 395,19-27). Consentius speaks of gestures and similar (gestus, motus, incessus) that deviate inappropriately from the civilized elegance of a homo eruditus, whereas Quintilian's (b) explicitly means cruel or brutal language only. He deals with gestus, motus, etc. in XI 3,65-149 (as part of the actio). Secondly, V. does not indicate here that the transmission of Quintilian's text at I 5,7 is uncertain: the manuscripts give barbarum pluribus modis accipimus and barbarismum pluribus modis accipimus (which she adopts) respectively. This V. mentions only in her discussion (p.25), taking the issue to be unsolvable (see also p.131). However, it seems to me that Winterbottom is absolutely right to print the former reading.

In No. 4, V. takes as a starting-point Consentius's discussion of the palatalization of /ti/ in etiam and optimus (pp. 98-99). Unlike Servius and Pompeius, who consider palatalization a specific instance of iotacism (pp. 105-106), Consentius disconnects these issues from one another. V.'s examination of the text given in the extant editions of the Ars de barbarismis et metaplasmis (fifth century) that is GL V 395,2-7 Keil and 17,1-6 Niedermann, shows once again that the text of the GL needs re-consideration especially where the grammarians talk about phonetic issues which are likely to be transmitted corruptly.11 Following E.O. Winstedt,12 she plausibly suggests that (pace Niedermann) 17,5-6 = 395,6-7 should read: cum dicunt 'optimus', mediam syllabam ita sonent, quasi post t y Graecum admisceant (p.101).

No. 5 explores in a more general way where barbarisms in Latin originated, that is who most frequently tended to commit these errors, and in how far, within a diachronic perspective, these violations of the standard language could be regarded as "threats to latinitas." V. discusses the impact some people and/or social and ethnic groups had on the generally accepted 'correct' Latin and the grammarians' reaction(s) against these different kinds of influence. After dealing with rusticitas, peasants' language, as opposed to urbanitas (pp.109-111), she particularly focuses on the increasingly significant role non-Latin speakers played within the expanding Roman Empire (pp.112ff.), that is how language contact as a result of political and thus cultural change affected the Latin language. In this context, she also pays attention to the well-known tripartite division into Roman (native) -- barbarian (vernacular) -- Greek (pp.113, 115-116, 119).

Finally, No. 6 tackles the historical development of the concepts of barbarism vs. metaplasm from the first century up to Diomedes and Donatus (and his commentators). V. gives the reader a valuable overview of definitions and classifications of this pair of virtue/vice (pp.124-135). Since metaplasms by definition only occur in poetry (pp.135-139), but, at the same time, poets, too, can commit barbarisms, grammarians had to find a way of differentiating between the two. Consequently, V. neatly discusses barbarismus vs. auctoritas (pp.139-142), an issue which also involves the question whether an authoritative(!) poet "committed" a specific "mistake" consciously (metaplasm) or unconsciously (barbarism). She convincingly argues that the Romans' discussion of metaplasms is of Greek origin (pp.144ff.; cf. 36) and pre-dates the treatment of barbarisms. At the end (pp.121-122), Augustine's De doctrina christiana II 13,19 comes in a bit unexpectedly. The Christians' attitude towards the language -- such as mispronunciations in prayers -- and, in particular, to Biblical Latin as being inviolable (cf. p.34) is a different issue which I would separate from the preceding discussion.

At the end of the book, V. conveniently offers some indices: The exhaustive index of Loci grammaticorum (pp.151-158) allows the reader to easily find any passage discussed or just quoted. Particularly useful for any further research on barbarisms is her Index exemplorum de barbarismo (pp.161-180), which lists the examples adduced by the grammarians according to their respective twenty (see p.127) categories; the index also contains other vices, such as iotacism, lambdacism, etc.

Regrettably, there is no comprehensive bibliography apart from the one which is appended to the first part of the book (pp.44-46); articles 1 and 2 have their own bibliographies; in numbers 3-6, secondary reading is scattered in the notes only. Of course, this is due to the specific nature of this collection. Moreover, V. constantly makes cross-references between her articles, but, alas, by referring to the original publications (see, e.g., pp.52 n. 17, 59, 61, 82, 113 n. 20, 117 n. 31, 123 n. 2, 132 nn. 25 and 27). Since every article deals with various facetes of (in)correct speech closely related to each other, the reader encounters a great many repetitions. For instance, I shall never be able to forget the difference between barbarism and solecism (pp.9, 24, 86, 89 n. 30, 97, 108, 123 et, puto, saepius), nor that metaplasm concerns poetry, nor that Quintilian is an important source for first century Roman grammar. I refrain from repeating more repetitions here.

This book has no ISBN, so it might cause some trouble to order it through a book-seller. The best (and only?) way would probably be to contact the University of Turku directly.

Despite all these monenda, let me stress that V.'s articles contribute greatly to the research on Roman grammar, especially concepts of latinitas. Still, whoever will refer to V.'s pieces (and I shall definitely do so frequently in my own work on Quintilian) should quote from the articles as published in the individual journals or series.


1.   For T. Viljamaa's excellent scholarly efforts, see J. Vaahtera, R. Vainio (eds): Utriusque linguae peritus: Studia in honorem Toivo Viljamaa (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, ser. B, tom. 219), Turku 1997, 180ff.
2.   Derivation: Greek and Roman Views on Word Formation (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, ser. B, tom. 229), Turku 1998.
3.   See esp. P. Swiggers, A. Wouters: De τέχνη γραμματική van Dionysius Thrax: De oudste spraakkunst in het westen. Studie en vertaling (Duitse vertaling door W. Kürschner), Leuven/Paris 1998, xv-xxxi. St. Matthaios, in his excellent study on Aristarchos's μ́ερη λ́ογου, could again and again show that, apart from the introductory bits, there is plenty of evidence that the Τ́εχνη at least contains a good deal of material which is most likely to date from Dionysios's times (Untersuchungen zur Grammatik Aristarchs: Texte und Interpretation zur Wortartenlehre, Göttingen 1999, 17-23 and 623). It is essential to bear in mind the methodological monenda set out by J. Lallot: Grammatici certant: vers uns typologie de l'argumentation pro et contra dans la question de l'authenticité de la Technê, in: V. Law, I. Sluiter (eds), Dionysius Thrax and the Technê grammatikê, Münster 1995, 27-39.
4.   It is most likely that many of the fragments Funaioli put under incertae sedis originally belonged to the first book of De disciplinis.
5.   This observation goes back at least to H. Usener, Ein altes Lehrgebäude der Philologie, SBAW 1892, 642 n. 3.
6.   For Varro's Ars see K. Barwick, Remmius Palaemon und die römische Ars Grammatica, Leipzig 1922, 230-237.
7.   Earlier scholarship paid particular attention to Quintilian's sources, starting with H. Nettleship (The Study of Latin Grammar among the Romans in the First Century A.D., JPh 15 [1886], 189-214), to name but the first.
8.   A convenient overview of the sources is given by M. Glück, Priscians Partitiones und ihre Stellung in der spätantiken Schule, Hildesheim 1967, 22 with n.5.
9.   On the special nature of treatises De latinitate = [De sermone Latino], see E. Siebenborn, Die Lehre von der Sprachrichtigkeit und ihren Kriterien: Studien zur antiken normativen Grammatik, Amsterdam 1976, passim, esp. ch. 2. Despite the fact that, as V. puts it, Siebenborn "mentions barbarism, but only sporadically" (p.16) this study should be regarded as essential to the topics V. deals with.
10.   J.-W. Beck, Zur Zuverlässigkeit der bedeutendsten lateinischen Grammatik: Die 'Ars' des Aelius Donatus, Stuttgart 1996; see esp. pp.28-30.
11.   For this reason, certain grammatical texts cry out for new editions. M. Niedermann's ed. of Consentius (Neuchâtel 1937) in many aspects surpasses Keil's. The same is true for I. Mariotti's ed. of Marius Victorinus's Ars (Florence 1967), esp. as to its chapter on orthography (cf. section 4, pp. 70-90 Mariotti vs. GL VI 7-26 Keil).
12.   E.O. Winstedt, A Bâle MS of Consentius, AJPh 26 (1905), 22ff.

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