Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.58

Johannes Kramer, Vulgärlateinische Alltagsdokumente auf Papyri, Ostraka, Täfelchen und Inschriften. Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete. Beiheft; 23.   Berlin/New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2007.  Pp. 182.  ISBN 9783110202243.  $109.00.  

Reviewed by Kalle Korhonen, University of Helsinki (
Word count: 1333 words

Johannes Kramer's (= K.) work is a new edition of 12 ancient documents in Latin, with Greek elements in a few of them. The documents have been chosen because they all illustrate, on the one hand, everyday life in antiquity, and on the other, Vulgar Latin. They include letters, a list of soldiers, funerary inscriptions and graffiti, the purchase document of a slave, the translation of a Greek fable, and two glossaries. The collection is mainly intended for the purposes of instruction, because, as Kramer puts it, "die meisten Studierenden des Lateinischen oder der Romanistik erfahren am Anfang des 21. Jahrhunderts weit weniger über das Vulgärlateinische, als Romanisten oder Latinisten zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts vermittelt wurde" (p. 14). This is not necessarily an exaggeration. As a collection of teaching materials, the work is useful, and it will most likely be used in courses which cover the history of Latin, Vulgar Latin, or variation and change in Latin, although the relatively high price may prevent students from acquiring it.

But what is Vulgar Latin? K.'s definition of it runs as follows: "die ... schriftsprachenfernen Varianten der lateinischen Umgangssprache, also die Varianten, die nur in geringem Umfang von schulischer Bildung und Anlehnung an literarische Muster geprägt sind" (p. 13). One could obviously point out that these are all written documents, so the language used in them must be a form of written language. K.'s framework is, unfortunately, somewhat primitive: all ancient Latin is divided in two, Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin; the vulgar characteristics of the documents are then pointed out. However, of the documents discussed in the book, some can be labelled as colloquial, whereas others were produced by people who had learned Latin as a second language. Furthermore, they belong to different genres: included are letters, street graffiti (from different genres), lists, even funerary inscriptions. Putting them all in the category of "Vulgar", following the scholarly tradition of the 20th century, is not very useful for intelligent students, but these documents should rather be presented as evidence of the many registers and codes in the history of Latin.1 K. even narrates the history of Vulgar Latin (Einleitung, Ch. 3) divided into phases such as prisca Latinitas, "frührepublikanisches Vulgärlatein", "spätrepublikanisches Vulgärlatein", etc.2 The student is left with one of the following false impressions: either 1) morphology and syntax (and what about pragmatics?) are not important in the study of the phenomena filed under "Vulgar Latin", or 2) morphology and syntax in other registers of Latin differ very little from Classical Latin. Instead of simple dichotomies, 21st-century students need more refined analyses.

This might also have been a good place to teach currently used terms to students, who are now left with terms such as Betazismus, s impurum, etc.3 In all, the introduction cannot be recommended to students; they should rather consult the recent Blackwell History of the Latin Language, by Geoffrey Horrocks and James Clackson (2007), which appeared after the book went to press (see now the review in BMCR.).

As is suitable for a volume appearing in the prestigious series Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, the texts of the documents are not simply reprinted from previous editions. Instead, the author, who is well-known for his editions of bilingual glossaries and other texts which illustrate ancient bilingualism, puts forward some new readings, which are conveniently listed on p. 12. In all, the readings seem very accurate. The volume does not contain photographs, but this is not a problem, because good line drawings are included instead.

The commentaries are thorough and follow the tradition of klassische Philologie. They contain references to recent scholarly works, often with long quotations. The commentaries suffer to some extent from the limitations of K.'s framework: all phenomena are classified either as literary, which makes all the explanations unnecessary, or as "vulgärsprachlich" / "umgangssprachlich" / "volkssprachlich" / "der gesprochenen Sprache".4 Furthermore, in any edition of ancient documents, the commentary should take into consideration the genre of the text, and give the reader an overview of the features which characterize the genre.

The bibliographies are very useful, especially as far as older scholarship is concerned. In order to facilitate access for beginners, few abbreviations are used, which is good. In the discussions on onomastics, one misses references to the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names and to Heikki Solin's Die griechischen Personennamen in Rom (1982, 2003), or to recent scholarship on Latin cognomina. (Solin's Die stadtrömischen Sklavennamen (1996) is occasionally referred to.) Fortunately, K. devotes some space to discussing non-Latin names.5

Now, some detailed comments and corrections.

In the introductory section, the figures on p. 26 are misleading, because both the traditional notation of vowel lengths (a with macron, a with breve, etc.) and the IPA phonetic alphabet ([a:], [a], etc.) are used. The figures give the impression that a with breve became a short back a, and a with macron became a long front a, which both then fused into [a]. The upmost line of arrows should be removed. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the phonetic quality of the short /a/ in Latin was more commonly short back a than [a]. -- K. does not always use a different notation for letters, phonemes and sounds, which makes him list c among the word-final consonants in Latin (p. 34): evidently /k/ is meant, not /c/. -- At times, no proper distinction is made between writing and pronunciation, which leads, e.g., to the following statement: "Zuweilen wurden jedoch auch normale lateinische Wörter hyperkorrekt mit y statt i gesprochen: crysta statt crista" (p. 35). We cannot know with certainty how the writer in this case pronounced the word: crysta could be a hypercorrect written form (cf. K.'s comment on the same spelling on p. 169). -- On p. 32, there are no references to the labiovelar [kw] which probably existed as a phoneme in Latin.6

In document No. 1, no attention is given to the genre of the text (a letter), which leads to the generalization "in augusteischer Zeit der Abstand zwischen die Literatursprache und einer Sprachform, mit der sich einfache Leute wie etwa Freigelassene im Militärdienst identifizieren konnten, nicht allzu gross war". In my view, time is not the only parameter here, but also the familiarity of the writer with contemporary literature. -- On the graphic form conlibertus, K. says: "... die konsonantische Assimilation in der Umgangssprache unbeliebt ist, sobald sie die semantisch wichtige Zusammensetzung eines Wortes verdunkelt". Can we conclude in the case of con/collibertus: "assimilation in Classical - no assimilation in Vulgar"? I think we cannot.

Whoever teaches text No. 2 (Tab. Vindol. II 310) should also consult Geoffrey Horrocks' recent commentary, in his and J. Clackson's work cited above, 244-49. K.'s suggestion on line 18, cumm[odo] seems a plausible solution for a difficult problem. The URL address given on p. 47 does not work. -- In No. 4, "die Zahlen sind umgangssprachlich", according to K. (p. 77). The forms are dua, septe, noue, and naginta". One should mention at least one surviving descendant of the form naginta, if there are any, before claiming that it is a form of spoken language, rather than a non-standard spelling (on p. 81, K. calls the form an "apokopierte Kurzform"). -- Text 5: On line 4, the gentilicium is most likely the common Caerellius, rather than the rare Cerelleus proposed by K. -- Line 31: For LOCE, after Licin(i-), a better explanation should be sought than Loccei(-): it could be a Greek name beginning with Loch-, or another non-Latin name. -- Line 39: K. interprets POMPEIEPANE as Pompeii Epane, with a cognomen derived from ἐπάνω. But such a cognomen seems unlikely; EPANE could in this case even stand for ἐπιφάνης . -- The two glossaries, nos. 11 and 12, are an important and interesting part of the work.

To conclude, it is necessary to point out that more collections of this kind would be needed for instruction purposes, as well as a new handbook on variation and change in ancient Latin.


1.   See, e.g., the lucid discussion of the issue by Paolo Poccetti, in P. Poccetti - D. Poli - C. Santini, Una storia della lingua latina, Roma 1999, 22-27.
2.   There are no references to Hannah Rosén's excellent Latine loqui. Trends and Directions in the Crystallization of Classical Latin, from 1999, or to David Langslow's recent work on technical Latin prose. K.'s discussion of the linguistic characteristics of "Vulgar Latin" is what one might have expected half a century ago: it focuses on phonology (12 of the 14 pages) and the few lines on syntax on p. 36 are unhelpful.
3.   Some terms seem contradictory to the reader: the form pos (for post) is interpreted both as "eine vulgäre Kurzform" (p. 34) and "die geläufige unbetonte Form" (p. 70), both with reference to the same document. In such cases, the explanations should have been made more clear.
4.   These concepts are synonymous. Still, when discussing nos. 5 and 10, K. quotes at length J. N. Adams' plausible analyses of these documents as written by persons who learned Latin as their second language.
5.   Finally, a small detail: why is Veikko Väänänen's Introduction au latin vulgaire cited in the Spanish translation from 1995? The work was written in French, and the last edition updated by Väänänen (who died in 1997) appeared in French in 1981.
6.   P. Baldi, The Foundations of Latin, Berlin - New York 2002, 277-78, 291.

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