Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.21

James Clackson, Geoffrey Horrocks, The Blackwell History of the Latin Language.   Malden/Oxford/Victoria:  Blackwell Publishing, 2007.  Pp. viii, 324.  ISBN 978-1-4051-6209-8.  $99.95.  

Reviewed by Brent Vine, University of California, Los Angeles (
Word count: 1650 words

Table of Contents

The stated goal of this welcome new survey is to overcome some of the shortcomings of L. R. Palmer's classic handbook The Latin Language, unrevised since its publication in 1954 (London; repr. Univ. of Oklahoma Press). The goal is worthy, and the execution is in many ways a success.

The book's eight chapters are as follows: I. Latin and Indo-European, II. The Languages of Italy, III. The Background to Standardization, IV. 'Old' Latin and its Varieties in the Period c.400-150 BC, V. The Road to Standardization: Roman Latin of the Third and Second Centuries BC, VI. Elite Latin in the Late Republic and Early Empire, VII. Sub-Elite Latin in the Empire, VIII. Latin in Late Antiquity and Beyond.1 These are followed by a glossary of linguistic terminology, an International Phonetic Alphabet symbol chart, a short "Bibliography of Reference and Other Works" (supplementing the reference lists that conclude each chapter), and an index of subjects.2 Greek words are provided in transliteration, apart from one word inadvertently left in Greek characters (p. 121).3

As some of the chapter titles themselves already indicate, Clackson and Horrocks were particularly concerned to make use of "modern sociolinguistic theory" so as to "help explain the interactions between the spoken language and the Classical standard" (p. vi) -- much in the manner of Horrocks' excellent survey Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (London, 1997). Toward this end, the authors have made good use of important work by J. N. Adams, including a manuscript version of what is now published as The Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC -- AD 600 (Cambridge, 2007). Indeed, the broader "regional" context is especially well served by the thorough coverage in Chapter II of the non-Latin Italic languages of ancient Italy, especially Oscan, Umbrian, and South Picene (the first two treated only in cursory fashion by Palmer, and the latter missing altogether, for good reason at the time); one can only agree with the authors that for students of Latin and its history, it is "vital to have a good understanding of these languages of Italy, and the nature of the relationship between them and Latin" (p. 38).

Perhaps the most attractive feature of the presentation is the extensive use of sample texts. Each is provided with an interlinear word-by-word gloss and is followed by a translation and detailed commentary, focusing on points most germane to the chapter in question. The texts themselves, moreover, are extremely well chosen. To consider Chapter V as a sample: many of the standard chestnuts are here, such as Scipionic elogia, the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, the Epistula ad Tiburtes, the "prayer to Mars" (among other material from Cato), and selections from Naevius, Ennius, and Plautus. But the discussion of "official Latin" in the first part of the chapter is developed in an interesting way via a Greek text that translates a Latin senatus consultum -- one of a number of useful comparisons with Greek scattered throughout the book -- as well as apposite selections from two additional Latin inscriptions not normally used in treatments of this kind. Particularly noteworthy is the explicit avoidance of material from Petronius to illustrate "sub-elite Latin in the Empire" (p. 237), in favor of primary documents on wax tablets, papyri, ostraca, and stone, for which, once again, the authors naturally rely on recent studies by J. N. Adams.

Other features of the presentation have been carried out less successfully:

(a) The bibliographical coverage is sometimes idiosyncratic, and is in general somewhat skimpy (and rather heavily anglophone). A few examples must suffice:

(i) The Preface suggests (p. vii) that readers new to historical linguistics might find it helpful to consult an "introductory volume" on this subject, citing Schendl 2001 and Hale 2007. But the latter is a distinctly odd and rather unhelpful choice, as this is primarily a theoretical study that Hale himself declines to categorize as an introductory text of the usual sort (see p. ix of his introduction). In addition to Schendl (and as a supplement to its highly basic coverage), many more appropriate choices could have been offered, e.g. the introductory texts by Crowley, Hock and Joseph, Sihler, Trask, or (at a more advanced level) those by Anttila, Campbell, or Hock.4

(ii) In a discussion of "current models of PIE syntax" that incorporate "verb-fronting or right-detached elements" (p. 31), reference is made, perfectly appropriately, to "Clackson 2007, Ch. 6". Yet there is no reference to the more accessible treatment of Fortson 2004 (Ch. 8, especially pp. 144ff. on movement processes); nor, for that matter, is Fortson's book -- by now the standard introduction to Indo-European linguistics (which Clackson 2007 is not, by the author's own admission: p. xii) -- cited anywhere else, not to mention the other widely-used introductory texts of Meier-Brügger or Tichy.5

(iii) Despite a thorough commentary on Cato's "Pro Rhodiensibus" fragments (pp. 166ff.) and detailed consideration of "the language of Classical Latin prose" (pp. 215ff. and elsewhere), including stylistic analyses of passages by Cicero and Tacitus, no reference is made to relevant sections of von Albrecht 1989 (which covers much of the same ground); and in this connection, one is surprised not to find any mention of Reinhardt et al. 2005, despite liberal citation of Adams and Mayer 1999.6

(b) The glossary of linguistic terms is an excellent feature; yet some discussions in the book are couched in linguistic jargon not to be found in the glossary. E.g.: "anaphoric" vs. "focalized" (p. 215); "coda position", "syllable coda", "homorganic clusters" (p. 275); "head-final" and "right-detached" (p. 31), cf. "head-final" again on p. 276, together with "head-first", both discussed again on p. 281 as if for the first time; "synthetic" vs. "analytic" (p. 276); and within the glossary itself: "lexeme" (s.v. "paradigm").

(c) There is a pervasive inattention to cross-referencing -- a problematic feature for a work that, one imagines, may often be consulted selectively rather than read cover-to-cover. Some such instances seem related to the book's division of labor (cf. n. 1): thus iambic shortening is mentioned on p. 252 and on p. 273, on both occasions as if for the first time (Chapters VII and VIII; Clackson), whereas it had already been introduced on p. 134 (Chapter V; Horrocks). Even within the same chapter, a statement like "[w]e have already mentioned the Strasbourg oaths" (p. 300) is distinctly unhelpful, when the previous mention occurred more than thirty pages earlier (p. 268), and is not even referenced in the index, which cites only p. 300 for this item (cf. n. 2).

(d) The most pernicious practice is the haphazard (in fact almost non-existent) marking of vowel length in Latin words cited as linguistic forms. There can be no justification for this, especially since the book's potential readership includes "those who have little or no Latin" (p. vi, a point also made clear by glossary entries like "ablative", "deponent verb", and the like). Neophyte readers can only be confused when, in a discussion of quantitative and qualitative ablaut and laryngeal reflexes (p. 12), Latin forms like dos (sic, properly do:s) or feci (sic, i.e. fe:ci:)7 appear with laryngealistic reconstructions which, according to the authors' own explanation two pages earlier (p. 10), should call for Latin long vowels; so also for the nonsensical *ple(i)os and its laryngealistic preform (p. 142). Among other egregious instances: occido 'kill' (p. 93), in a discussion of monophthongizations resulting in long vowels, an item especially troublesome for beginners (i.e. occi:do: 'kill' vs. occido: 'fall'); the "'modal' suffix -a-" (sic, i.e. -a:-; p. 99); and, in a discussion of the pre-Romance "merger of short i and long e:" (p. 301), Old French "sauir for sapere", where the latter form actually stands for Late Latin *sape:re (second conjugation, unlike its third-conjugation Classical Latin counterpart). If, as one hopes, the book is reissued in soft cover at a price that students, scholars, and cash-strapped institutional libraries can actually afford, the opportunity to remove the blemishes stemming from this misguided long-mark policy should certainly be seized.

A rich yet condensed treatment such as this, covering centuries of linguistic development, inevitably stimulates the age-old reviewers' caviling instinct, which I have been unable to overmaster. (See the final footnote below.) Yet no such minor criticisms, nor any of the more general points noted above, should detract from Clackson and Horrocks' achievement in providing the most thorough, readable, and up-to-date history of the Latin language, in a form eminently suitable as a supplement to advanced undergraduate and graduate-level course work (including, it should be stressed, graduate survey courses on the history of Latin literature), and with much to offer professional Classicists interested in the subject.

Is this, then, a replacement for Palmer? In most respects, yes. Even where Clackson and Horrocks defer to Palmer's rather more extensive coverage of lexical matters (p. vii), they sell themselves short, as the book serves up many good discussions of vocabulary (e.g. pp. 45ff. on religious and other cultural terms shared by Latin/Italic, Greek, and Etruscan; p. 223 on lexical features of Latin poetic diction; pp. 283f. on late Latin lexical replacements; etc.).8 Yet in one important respect, the book is not a stand-alone history of the Latin language, as it does not provide -- and was not intended to provide -- "a systematic overview of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of the language" (p. vii). Palmer's presentation of these matters is hopelessly out of date, but for this material other resources are now (or will soon be) available, such as (especially for the phonology and morphology) Baldi 2002, Meiser 1998, Sihler 1995, and (the best of the lot) Weiss (forthcoming); and for syntax, Baldi and Cuzzolin (forthcoming).9

My own practice is clear: at a cover price of $100, the book will be a trusted item for my course reserve shelf. Perhaps some day, under other circumstances, I will be able to justify asking students to purchase it.10


1.   Primary responsibility is assigned (p. vii) to Clackson for chapters I, II, VII, VIII, and to Horrocks for chapters III, IV, V, VI.
2.   An index that catalogues "Bu Njem" (the location in the Libyan desert, mentioned on p. 256, where certain late Latin texts were unearthed) has evident pretensions to inclusiveness; yet there are regrettable omissions, e.g. the important stylistic terms concinnitas, inconcinnitas (pp. 218-19), or the linguistic term "mora" (discussed pp. 133ff.); the reader interested in "South Picene" is directed only to pp. 49-53, yet South Picene material is treated far more extensively (important mentions occur on pp. 39f., 57, 67); etc.
3.   It must be added that proofreading was indifferently performed: I have collected a little more than three dozen typographical errors and similar small problems -- not a good score for a book of this length (or one priced so high). Of these, the most serious are "first millennium BC" (sic, for "first millennium AD", p. 4) and "infectum stem" (sic, for "perfectum stem", p. 56); and, while high standards of accuracy are generally on display with the primary textual material, Pre-Samnite fufuod (cited on p. 61) does not exist -- the text in question has both fufuwod and fufwod (a highly interesting bit of linguistic variation), but not fufuod. (A detailed list of errata is available from the reviewer, on request.)
4.   H. Schendl, Historical Linguistics (Oxford, 2001); M. Hale, Historical Linguistics: Theory and Method (Oxford, 2007); H. H. Hock and B. D. Joseph, Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics (Berlin/New York, 1996); A. L. Sihler, Language History: An Introduction (Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 2000); T. Crowley, Introduction to Historical Linguistics, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1997); R. L. Trask, Historical Linguistics (London/New York, 1996); R. Anttila, Historical and Comparative Linguistics (Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 1989); L. Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Cambridge [MA], 2004); H. H. Hock, Principles of Historical Linguistics, 2nd ed. (Berlin/New York, 1991).
5.   J. Clackson, Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2007); B. W. Fortson IV, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (Oxford, 2004; a revised second edition is in press); M. Meier-Brügger, Indo-European Linguistics (Berlin, 2003, and earlier German editions); E. Tichy, A Survey of Proto-Indo-European (Bremen, 2006, and the original German edition, 2000).
6.   M. von Albrecht, Masters of Roman Prose from Cato to Apuleius: Interpretative Studies (Leeds, 1989); T. Reinhardt, M. Lapidge, and J. N. Adams (eds.), Aspects of the Language of Latin Prose (Oxford, 2005); J. N. Adams and R. G. Mayer (eds.), Aspects of the Language of Latin Poetry (Oxford, 1999).
7.   Instead of macron, for typographical convenience I here mark Latin long vowels with a following colon, according to the standard linguistic practice also used on occasion by Clackson and Horrocks.
8.   In view of this coverage, a word index would have been easy to justify, and seems a desirable enhancement for subsequent re-editions.
9.   P. Baldi, Foundations of Latin (Berlin/New York, 2002); G. Meiser, Historische Laut- und Formenlehre der lateinischen Sprache (Darmstadt, 1998; I have reviewed this work in Kratylos 46 [2001] 118-26); A. Sihler, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (Oxford, 1995; see the review by M. Weiss, AJP 117 [1996] 671-5); M. Weiss, Outline of the Comparative Grammar of Latin (forthcoming from Beech Stave Press, Ann Arbor); P. Baldi and P. Cuzzolin (eds.), New Perspectives on Historical Latin Syntax, Vol. 1: Syntax of the Sentence (forthcoming from Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York).
10.   A garland of selected cavils, by chapter and page number: (I.24, 27, 98-9) it is unfortunate that the authors repeatedly purvey (even with the qualification on p. 24) the flawed (and at best highly controversial) Rixian theory that the Italic a:-subjunctive goes back to the PIE thematic optative; (I.27) among various problems with the chart here, the preform supplied for the Latin imperfect is impossible as such, or (if meant as a formulaic shorthand) highly confusing at best (*bhuh2- cannot yield Lat. -ba:-), as well as anachronistic (i.e. with "late IE" *e: beside PIE palatal *g' and *h2); (I.29-30) it is misleading and inaccurate, both in terms of semantics and etymology, to gloss OLat. MITAT 'gives' (in the Duenos inscription and the Tibur Pedestal Inscription) with Class. Lat. mittit; (II.65-6) the question of the Proto-Italic status of the "pius-Gesetz" is more complex, given the likelihood that "Sab. *pi:o-" (p. 65) is contradicted by South Picene pui'h, in the attractive interpretation of this form as equivalent to Lat. (adv.) pie: (I.-J. Adiego Lajara, Proto-Sabelio, osco-umbro, sudpiceno [Barcelona, 1992] 90ff.); (II.68) Lat. via and its Italic cognates probably have nothing to do with Eng. way and its cognates (see M. de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages [Leiden, 2008] 673f.); (III.85) Lusitanian is clearly IE, even if its Celtic affiliation remains unsupported; (III.86) Sidetic is for some reason kept separate from languages "related to ancient Hittite"; (IV.100) the historical explanation offered for the OLat. passive infinitive suffix -ier is entirely unsatisfactory (see rather Meiser 1998 [n. 9 above] p. 225, following García Ramón); (IV.102) Mello-Voza 139 should now be cited as CIL I(2) 3152; (IV.112ff.) the presentation of the 4th-century BC Marsian-Latin text CIL I(2) 5 is based on unpublished work by Michael Crawford (non vidi), which evidently includes a series of fascinating new readings -- but in that case, it is unfortunate that so little detail about these is provided (e.g.: is the Clackson-Horrocks transcription EN VRBID, vs. traditional ENVRBID, significant? an oversight? cf. their discussion of INALTOD, pp. 109-10); (IV.119) the argumentation about the alleged "topic-comment structure" of the sentence beginning MENERVA SACRV in CIL I(2) 365 is specious, given the purely formulaic status of such text structures (as evidenced, in part, by their characteristic layout, as I discuss elsewhere: Studies in Archaic Latin Inscriptions [Innsbruck, 1993] 106ff., 108 for this text); (IV.127) LVBS in this text (CIL I(2) 62) should not be referred to as "simply an abbreviation for lubens", since for such words, "abbreviations" (in the usual sense of the term) are not found in 3rd/2nd c. BC texts (somewhat better p. 118 on LVBS and DEDRO/DEDROT in terms of "abbreviated spelling", though this is still unclear parlance for what is normally referred to as "syllabic notation"); (IV.127) the discussion of CIL I(2) 60 includes a rare example of attention to lettering (the details of which, including the development of the Latin and native Italic alphabets, are largely ignored throughout the book, cf. above on syllabic notation), but everything that is said here about the notation of velars in this text is incorrect (see Studies ... 291f., 295); (V.132ff., 137-8) the lengthy presentation of J. Parsons' account of the Saturnian meter serves little purpose in such a book (despite what the authors imply ["With this background, we are ready to examine ...", p. 138], it is not actually made use of in the subsequent treatment of Scipionic elogia), and Parsons' theory has in any case been superseded by the much more sophisticated treatment of A. Mercado (The Latin Saturnian and Italic Verse, UCLA Ph.D. dissertation, 2006; in preparation as a book); (V.178) the eyebrow-raising assertion that Lat. secta 'path' is unrelated to sequor 'follow' should have been provided with a reference, or at least some minimal explanation.

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