BMCR 2012.06.13

Lateinische Modalpartikeln: Nempe, Quippe, Scilicet, Videlicet und Nimirum. Amsterdam studies in classical philology, 19

, Lateinische Modalpartikeln: Nempe, Quippe, Scilicet, Videlicet und Nimirum. Amsterdam studies in classical philology, 19. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011. xii, 304. ISBN 9789004202757 $148.00.


Latin is a language rich in particles. They are sometimes difficult to interpret and also to translate, since some of them look synonymous, at least at first sight. After the pioneering study by Caroline Kroon (1995) on nam, enim, autem, vero, and at,1 which set an interpretative framework by distinguishing three discourse levels (see below), Schrickx presents another series of particles: nempe, quippe, scilicet, videlicet, and nimirum, traditionally called “modal adverbs”. She convincingly shows that an analysis along the lines of Kroon does really help us to understand how these particles work. The pragmatic framework she uses is complicated, it is true, but the facts she is dealing with are complex as well. Schrickx’s book, which was defended as a doctoral dissertation in 2011 at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and revised for publication, deserves credit not only for applying a modern approach to Latin particles; as a member of the staff working on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae ( ThLL) she has a rich experience with lexicographic work and contributed several good ThLL articles.

The book consists of 16 chapters, which can be roughly divided into two parts: a general overview of the questions related to modal particles (ch. 2-8), and a detailed study of the five Latin particles mentioned (ch. 9-13), followed by a short discussion of other modal particles (ch. 14-15). In chapter 1, Schrickx presents the aims of the book and the methods used; chapter 16 contains the conclusion. The book is accompanied by two appendices (frequency of particles under examination and their semantic maps), a rich bibliography, as well as two indexes. The book is very well produced with very few misprints. I will firstly present the content of the book, and then I will formulate several comments on it.

The first part (ch. 2-8) is devoted to a general discussion of problems with “particles”, i.e. uninflected words that do not belong to the categories of adverbs and prepositions (ch. 3). Such words have various functions and distinct syntactic behavior, as Pinkster (1972)2 has demonstrated for Latin sentence adverbs, connectors, and conjunctions. The term “sentence adverbs” covers items that function in several different ways. It is important to distinguish, especially (cf. the full summary on p. 24) between (i) connectors and connective particles (e.g. aut, tamen), which mark semantic relations between sentences (representational level), (ii) discourse markers that provide structure to a text by marking the relationship between two elements actually expressed ( nam, igitur, quippe; presentational level) or by referring to an extratextual element ( enim, ergo, nempe; interactional level), and (iii) modal particles, for which Schrickx suggests the term “commitment markers” since they express the degree of the speaker’s commitment to the content (e.g. scilicet, videlicet, nimirum, certe). Modal particles function at the interactional level (as the discourse markers enim and nempe do) in the sense that they entail cooperation between the speaker and the addressee. In chapters 4-7, the author gives an overview of various points related to the research question, such as modality, grammaticalisation, semantics, and pragmatics.

Then comes the second part: the presentation of the corpus, covering Plautus to Apuleius (200 BC – 200 AD), and the criteria adopted for the analysis are discussed in chapter 8; an overview of previous research, in chapter 9. Nempe ‘to be sure’ (ch. 10) is a discourse marker by which the speaker verifies whether s/he interprets correctly what has been said. Nempe involves interactivity between the speaker and the addressee and, primarily, establishes a link with the situation of the discourse. By contrast, quippe ‘the reason is that, for’ (ch. 11) forms part of an explanation of the content expressed in the preceding sentence; it is therefore a discourse marker referring to an intratextual element. Additionally, quippe has developed an epistemic value for marking that something is obvious (‘of course’). Scilicet ‘obviously’ and videlicet ‘evidently’ (ch. 12) are particles of evidential modality. Whereas scilicet is used in situations where the speaker assumes that the content is evident by itself to the addressee, videlicet appeals to logical inference. Nimirum ‘evidently, without doubt’ marks the speaker’s strong commitment to the content: there is no need to doubt. All particles under examination are submitted to detailed analyses using criteria such as the contexts in which they appear (dialogue / monologue, co-occurrence with verbal persons), sentence types (questions, directives, subordinate clauses), combinability with other particles, as well as other pragmatic and stylistic aspects. Attention is paid to their etymology and their evolution in the diachrony of Latin. Furthermore, they are compared with and distinguished from particles exhibiting a similar meaning: nempe – enim, quippe – nam. For the group scilicet, videlicet and nimirum, Schrickx compares their translations in English in order to establish “translation networks”. Other Latin “commitment markers”, such as certe ‘certainly’, fortasse ‘maybe’, profecto ‘indeed’, are discussed in a more detailed way in two following chapters: the use of the individual markers (ch. 14) and the typical properties of commitment markers in general (ch. 15). The overview of modal particles is therefore complete and the reader will appreciate such a clear synthesis. Chapter 16 provides us with a final overview of Latin particles and with outcomes of the research.

One can disagree with this or that interpretation. For example, I doubt whether nempe in Hor. Sat. 1.10.1 really has a concessive value. However, in general, the discussion of the examples is convincing. Perhaps one point deserves more attention in the case of scilicet, videlicet and nimirum : asymetric coordination or “epitaxis”, as recently investigated by Rosén (2008).3 In the examples quoted in section 12.4.3 (p. 176-7): eiusmodi exhortationibus, tacitis scilicet (Sen. Epist. 54.6) and de oratore loquor, summo scilicet (Cic. de Orat. 3.84) the particle scilicet does not, in my view, contribute to organising the discourse, but rather marks a further specification of what has been said: tacitis makes it explicit what is meant by eiusmodi exhortationibus, summo specifies what kind of orator is concerned. Rosén interprets them as “appended additive rheme”.4 Such a self-correction, made by the author, is not necessarily the same thing as sub nomine alieno, nepotum scilicet (Suet. Aug. 29.4), quoted on p. 180, where simple equivalence is established between nomen alienum and nepotes (‘ id est, namely’). Schrickx states that “die Bedeutung nämlich, id est ist eine spätere Entwicklung” (p. 150; cf. p. 179f., as Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. scilicet, n. 5) but these two cases should be examined in more detail in order to fully support this statement. Additionally, I would be cautious in making references to Roman grammarians (p. 69f.). Interpretation of the categories they distinguish, especially rationales and expletivae, is a very complicated issue (see Baratin 1989: 74ff.)5 and would require a more detailed discussion.

To sum up, Schrickx’s book deserves appreciation from several points of view. Firstly, she demonstrates that Kroon’s distinction of discourse levels makes it possible to explain differences between seemingly synonymous particles. Secondly, the discussion of individual particles is comprehensive: it is not limited to pragmatics aspects, but takes into consideration also syntax, semantics, etymology, and stylistics. Thirdly, the analyses of material are made with a high philological acribia and linguistic competence. It is a valuable contribution to the research on Latin modal particles.


1. Kroon, Caroline, 1995, Discourse Particles in Latin: A Study of nam, enim, autem, vero and at, Amsterdam: Gieben.

2. Pinkster, Harm, 1972, On Latin Adverbs, Amsterdam: North-Holland.

3. Rosén, Hannah, 2008, Latin epitaxis in historical and typological view. In: G. Calboli (ed.), Papers on Grammar 10, Roma: Herder, 205-242. This work figures in Schrickx’s bibliography.

4. This phenomenon partially covers the pragmatic function of “Tail constituent” (right-dislocated constituent) in terms of Functional Grammar (see Dik’s The Theory of Functional Grammar, 1997 II: 401ff., Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter). For example: Sed erant permulti alii ex quibus id facillime scire posset, omnes scilicet Lanuvini (Cic. Mil. 46) ‘But there were many others from whom he might very easily have ascertained the fact, any Lanuvian, for instance.’ Omnes scilicet Lanuvini further specifies an earlier element ( permulti alii).

5. Baratin Marc, 1989, La naissance de la syntaxe à Rome, Paris: Eds. de Minuit.