Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.02.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.02.16

Response: Willms on Reisdoerfer on Willms, 'Klassische Philologie'.   Response to 2015.01.03

Response by Lothar Willms, Universität Heidelberg (

Despite his valuable overview of the contents of my book Klassische Philologie und Sprachwissenschaft and its background within the history of classical philology and historical linguistics (mainly the neogrammarians in Leipzig), Dr. Joseph Reisdoerfer makes in his review some comments which need to be addressed.

My book was intended as an introduction to linguistics for classicists1 but not as a handbook, as Dr. Reisdoerfer refers to it. He mentions several topics missing from my book (a) and materials he considers superfluous or too extensive (b).

On (a) I agree with Dr. Reisdoerfer that a chapter on syntax is a desideratum. As he rightly notes, this area had not been in the focus of historical linguistics, and for the sake of coherence I included only the most recent of the books he adduces for the description of Latin syntax according to theories of modern linguistics as bibliographical reference (p. 78).2 On (b) One of the main aims of my introduction is to render transparent the genetic links between the ancient and modern languages which German-speaking pupils, students, and teachers are acquainted with. For this purpose I try to familiarize them with the basic phonetic changes that have obfuscated these languages’ affinity (cf. p. 19 of my preface). By mastering these basic rules the readers will discover many intriguing ties not only between Greek and Latin but also between the ancient and the Germanic and Romance languages, and will enrich their vocabulary in the latter. The linguistic unity of (Western) Europe and its cultural coherence come thus to the fore. For this purpose I included a brief subchapter on Grimm’s law and the High German consonant shift (p. 287-293) and a more extensive one on the phonetic rules according to which the Romance languages evolved from Latin (p. 443-456), as does Michael Weiss, author of the most up-to-date and comprehensive history of Latin.3 Nowadays it is English that spreads vocabulary derived from Latin into the world, and Latin helps a lot in English spelling. Therefore I included a chapter on the influence that Latin and French exerted on English vocabulary and syntax (p. 467-491). It has been my hope that these chapters could also benefit high school teachers since they support a cognitive approach in language learning and provide some answers to the often-asked questions “Why Latin?” or “Why Greek?”.

I should also point out that most of Dr. Reisdoerfer’s points of criticism are not correct. I did not take over without critical review older or outdated observations as Dr. Reisdoerfer suggests in the case of Vulgar Latin, colloquial Latin and the periodization of Latin. Vulgar Latin and colloquial Latin are established and accepted terms in contemporary research,4 and I discuss them critically in the introduction to the respective chapters (p. 230 f. and 239 f.). As to the periodization of Latin I present the views of Gerhard Meiser,5 Michiel de Vaan,6 and Michael Weiss7 (p. 223 f.), who are considered among today’s leading scholars of the history of Latin. Michel Banniard, whose scholarly proposal (“wissenschaftlich fundierte”) Dr. Reisdoerfer recommends, examines something completely different, viz. the chronology of the early stages and prehistory of the French language beginning with the Romanization in the 2nd century BCE and ending with Old French (9th to 11th century CE).8 Dr. Reisdoerfer wonders (“unverständlicherweise”) why I included Medieval Latin, Humanistic Latin and Neo-Latin in the chronology of Latin phonetic changes. Yet I put these terms in brackets and gave some explanations of my decision to include them on p. 251 f.


1.   Cf. the beginning of the first sentence of the publisher’s online presentation: “Die Einführung in die Sprachwissenschaft für Studierende der klassischen Philologie, etc.”.
2.   A similar point is made also in Roland Hoffmann’s review of my book (Gymnasium 121 (2014) 418-420); he also regrets this gap but gives a far more balanced albeit not uncritical appraisal of this book.
3.   Michael Weiss, Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin. Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press 2009, 503-534.
4.   Cf. Eleanor Dickey, Anna Chahoud, (eds.): Colloquial and Literary Latin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010; “Vulgar Latin and Proto-Romance”, Weiss (above n. 3) 503–534.
5.   Historische Laut- und Formenlehre der lateinischen Sprache. Darmstadt: WBG 1998, 2.
6.   Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages. Leiden: Brill 2008, 14.
7.   Weiss (above n. 3) 23.
8.   “Le français et la latinité: de l’émergence à l’illustration. Genèse de la langue française (IIIe-Xe siècles)”, in: Histoire de la France littéraire I. Naissance, Renaissances, Moyen Âge- XVIe siècle, volume dirigé par Frank Lestringant et Michel Zink. Paris: Quadrige / PUF 2006, 32f.

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