Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.11.05 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.11.05

Concepción​ Cabrillana, Christian Lehmann (ed.), Acta XIV Colloquii Internationalis Linguisticae Latinae. Bibliotheca Linguae Latinae, 5.   Madrid:  Ediciones Clásicas​, 2014.  Pp. 463.  ISBN 9788478827824.  €40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Šime Demo, University of Zagreb (

Table of Contents

The present volume is a part of the series of proceedings resulting from the biennial colloquia on Latin linguistics, the first having been organised in Amsterdam in 1981. Since then, the conference and the accompanying publications have been one of the main fora for presenting the applications of contemporary linguistic findings on Latin. Although Latin was, for an extremely long period, one of the most thoroughly described and most frequently taught languages in the world, the fact that its social heyday had ended before the rise of structuralist linguistics was sufficient to make it less interesting to linguists than modern languages. If one adds the fact that the use of introspection, so precious to generativists, is extremely limited when researching a non-native tongue, it is no wonder that modern approaches to the linguistic structure of Latin have not swept the traditional grammar off the face of the earth. However, recent decades have seen a steady increase in the community of linguists interested in Latin and Latinists interested in linguistics. In addition, periodicals like Papers on grammar and its successor, Journal of Latin Linguistics, along with the rising number of monographs and conferences devoted to Latin linguistics in the same period, prove that the field has been developing at a remarkable pace.

The book contains papers presented at the Erfurt colloquium, held in 2007, and is published following some delay—three colloquia were organised in the meantime. As with previous volumes within the series, it is multilingual: four major European languages (Italian being absent, but with the addition of Latin) are used by the authors, with English abstracts for all the papers. It is divided into three sections: I. Lexicologia (8 papers), II. Phonologia et morphologia (5), III. Syntaxis et pragmatica (19).

As it is impossible for anyone to competently cover the entire broad field of Latin linguistics encompassed in the volume, I will make reference only to the papers containing details that in one way or another attracted my attention.

In the lexicological part Benjamin García-Hernández ("Los desiderativos en -(es)so: deseo, accion, movimiento. Texo: ¿un antiguo desiderativo?", 35-45) identifies the desiderative suffix -(es)so in texo, thus deriving it from tego—because something is woven in order to cover something else—and proposes a convincing etymology of texo, unnoticed by modern scholars such as Ernout and Meillet, Walde and Hoffmann, Chantraine, Meiser, and de Vaan. An interesting fact, not acknowledged in the article, is that the connection between texo and tego had already appeared, in an undeveloped and prescientific form, in the famous 13th century Catholicon of John Balbi of Genoa, from which it was carried over into classical works of early modern philologists such as N. Perotti, J. C. Scaliger, E. Forcellini and G. J. Vossius, and even reached the early 19th century lexicography.1

Another lexicological contribution is Michel Poirier's "Reflexions sur le vocabulaire latin de la jalousie et de l'envie" (93-101), in which he addresses the problem of verbalising (complex) emotions in classical antiquity. Having discussed the chronological trends in the use of three lexical units—inuidia, zelus and liuor—with cognate words, he concludes that inuidia never got free of its polysemy, so that the specialisation of the meaning was transferred to liuor (because its abstract meaning was clearly distinguished from the physical meaning "bruise") and zelus (because it had a clear distinction between a positive and a negative emotion). The consequence is that in many late antique texts (e.g. in Cyprian's De zelo et liuore), only the last two terms occur.

The relative scarcity of phonological and morphological papers in the volume caused the editors to include them under the same heading. In the only paper dealing with phonology, Béla Adamik took advantage of his competence in Hungarian (as a native speaker of it) to provide a novel perspective on the classical Latin accent ("Zur Problematik der Akzentquantität im klassischen Latein", 117-130). He first outlines the two opposing opinions—"vigorous stress accent" vs. "pitch accent" theories—and then addresses the first as being partly supported in the literature by a comparison with the Hungarian (and Finnish and Czech) accent, which has traditionally been perceived as a strong stress accent. However, recent research has revealed the possibility of viewing Hungarian as having a pitch accent, and Adamik concludes that Latin of the classical period had a weak stress or a pitch accent rather than a strong stress.

A vexed morphological question is the topic of Moreno Morani's paper ("Gallia est omnis diuisa in partes tris: De accusativi pluralis forma in nominibus tertiae declinationis", 163-172). He first surveys the opinions of a wide range of grammarians from antiquity to the present day, without finding a definitive conclusion regarding the priority being given to one or the other ending during the classical period. The confusion is increased by modern editions, which prove that the real classical situation has been so obscured by the copyists and editors that the question of using one or the other form (or both) in textbooks and editions unavoidably remains an open one.

One of the many syntactical contributions, Juan J. García González's "La estructura de complementación del latín capio" (257-270), begins with outlines of the meanings of capio taken from three comprehensive dictionaries (TLL, OLD, and Gaffiot). The author proceeds with his own list of sixteen meanings, partly distinguished by the type of the obligatory complements the verb takes. He then introduces another element: the frequency comparison of all the meanings in a corpus of selected works by five ancient authors. Currently, technology makes it possible for us to analyse very large corpora and to use statistical data for building frequency-based dictionaries.2 A lexicon containing relative frequencies of various meanings and collocations can give a more precise view of real usage preferences and their variation across time, space and register.

Another paper dealing with verbal valency is "Les emplois intransitifs des verbes curare et vitare" by Claude Moussy (391-400). The main tenet of the article is that the appearance of the dative as a compulsory object of curo (occurring only in early and late ancient authors) is semantically motivated. This means that the use of the dative results from a specific meaning of curo. The fact is that most of the meanings identified by Moussy as characteristic of dative object use are also found with the accusative (e.g. "alienis rebus curas" (Plaut. Truc. 137) versus "qui rem alienam potius curet quam suam" (Plaut. Most. 26); "erili negotio plus curat" (Plaut. Mil. 481-482) versus "res rationesque eri Ballionis curo" (Plaut. Stich. 199); "inter illud tamen negotium meis curavi amicis" (Plaut. Rud. 182) versus "ibo hinc et amicos meos curabo" (Plaut. Stich. 682); "stabulo regio curantes" (Macr. Sat. V.17.2) versus "alter stabulum, alter curabat palatium" (Amm. Marc. XXXI.13.18)). This implies that, even in the works of the same author, the distinction, if it existed, was very weak and not strictly observed. Moreover, it never entered the standard Latin of the classical age. One may note that the title of the paper is somewhat misleading, because only curare is analysed, while vitare is dealt with in only one section (where it is distinguished from curare, along with nocere-type verbs), without appearing in the abstract or in the conclusion.

Although Latin has previously been put into a typological perspective, Francesco Rovai ("Gender doublets and semantic alignment in Early Latin", 423-435) presents some new insights. After explaining the topic of alignment typology, he starts his discussion with the familiar phenomenon of accusative subject marking in sub-literary Latin during late antiquity (e.g. "ustionem necessaria res est", Chiron 153). In earlier periods, even in classical Latin, the accusative can take over nominative functions in certain situations, such as in exclamations and presentative expressions. On the other hand, a set of second-declension nouns apparently occur in sub-literary Latin in both masculine and neuter gender forms (e.g. corium/corius). Rovai argues that these cases did not begin as gender doublets, but as instances of semantic alignment (as opposed to predominant syntactic nominative/accusative alignment). He supports his claim with the fact that all examples present the subjects of the events typically permitting accusative subject-marking.

Errors are few and mostly insignificant; nevertheless, some can lead to confusion. For example, in a reference on p. 91, the author's surname is given as "Iviv", instead of "Ivir"; on p. 129, ad Herman, the place of edition is University Park, Pa. and the translator is Roger Wright; on p. 434 ad Kühner, it should be Ausführliche instead of Ausführlich.

Perhaps a more general point will not be out of place here. Colloquia on Latin linguistics expressly cover only pre-literary and ancient Latin.3 On the other hand, the ever-growing interest in medieval and early modern Latin shows that later periods of Latin are anything but unexciting for a linguist.4 The interplay of Latin with local vernaculars and its ways of dealing with new concepts and world views are only some of the topics that attract the attention of scholars to the last fourteen centuries of its development. This is especially true for humanistic Latin, which is structurally closer to classical Latin than are many of the ancient substandard idioms. In short, closer collaboration within the linguistic research of the various periods of Latin is certainly a desideratum. Maybe International Colloquia of Latin Linguistics can become one of the meeting points for scholars dealing with any period of Latin, instead of ancient Latin only, and thus fully justify its name.5 The need has been recognised in the research community; for example, the recently established Journal of Latin Linguistics does not set a chronological limit to the contributions.6

As with any valuable book, this one creates as many question as it answers. Various contributions exhibit a cross-section of the rich field of Latin linguistics. For anyone interested in the way Latin works, this volume presents a true feast of fresh data and innovative analyses. ​


1.   See Vossius, Gerardus Ioannes, Etymologicon linguae Latinae (Amsterdam 1662); Valpy, Francis E. J., An Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language (London 1828); Forcellinus, Aegidius, Lexicon totius Latinitatis (Padua 1940 [1864-1926]), all s.v. texo.
2.   See. e.g. McGilliwray, Barbara; Passarotti, Marco C., Accessing and using a corpus-driven Latin Valency Lexicon, in Haverling, G.V.M. (ed.), Latin Linguistics in the Early 21st Century. Acts of the 16th International Colloquium on Latin Linguistics, Uppsala, June 6th–11th, 2011 (Uppsala 2015), 289-300.
3.   For example, the 2015 Toulouse colloquium Call for Papers limited the contributions to the classical antiquity (up to 600 AD). In the entire series, only a handful of papers dealing with later periods can be found, analysing mostly the way of speaking about (ancient) language, rather than the language itself.
4.   Traditionally, ancient Latin was deemed the only variety of Latin worthy of any serious research, although it in fact presents only a fraction of existing Latin. The term "Late Latin", pointing to a period after which there has been a whole lot of Latin, is the most startling residue of this state of affairs. Though the term can be defended by the fact that Latin ceased to be a native tongue after classical antiquity, it is not true that this makes the post mortem Latin linguistically less interesting or non-existing. On the other hand, many non-native speakers used Latin even in classical antiquity, and the linguistic analysis of their writings is never questioned. Thirdly, classical Latin itself was in many respects an artificial construct, not a natural variety.
5.   Of course, the name of a language can be used synonymously with its standard or most prominent variety. However, professional colloquia do not have to follow this colloquial usage.
6.   See also e.g. Plesner Horster, Camilla, Perotti's Use of the Subjunctive: Semantic Ornamentation in the Latin Genus Sublime, Renæssanceforum 7 (2011), 147-161. ​

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