BMCR 2024.02.21

Greek – Latin – Slavic: aspects of linguistics and grammatography

, , Greek - Latin - Slavic: aspects of linguistics and grammatography. Sprachvergleich, 3. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto, 2022. Pp. 275. ISBN 9783823385271.


[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review]


The volume edited by Barbora Machajdíková and Ĺudmila Eliášová Buzássyová is a collection of selected papers resulting from the conference ‘GreekLatinSlavic: Aspects of Linguistics and Grammatography’. The result is remarkable for its intention to address both the field of linguistics and the field of historical and comparative linguistics, bringing together disciplines that should increasingly be in communication and collaboration. Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.

The volume presents nine contributions, all of excellent depth and scholarly quality, which trace relevant themes in the in-depth study of linguistic and grammatical research and their interface. The scope of the research carried out by the various contributors to the book covers numerous disciplines, such as phonetics and phonology, morphology, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, and the history of grammar, within the broad framework of Latin, Greek, and Slavic languages. One of the main aims of this work is to test the theoretical background of ancient grammars against the updated models of today’s general linguistics, from both a synchronic and diachronic perspective, through essays that aim to provide a summary of very specific topics, such as the history of linguistics, as well as case studies that seek the connection between the Latin grammatical tradition embodied in the Artes grammaticae and the traditions of vernacular grammars (until the 19th century). As the editors explain in the preface (p. 7), the volume is divided into two parts. The first part presents case studies and offers very detailed pictures of the theoretical and descriptive approaches of grammarians since antiquity and the Middle Ages, and how these approaches and considerations have evolved over time. The second part presents what might be called a fundamentally comparative-historical approach within the framework of a broader philological analysis, thus examining the Indo-European languages and in particular the Classical languages (with a very special and interesting focus on Greek).

In the first part, the contributions by Anneli Luhtala and Gabriela Múcksová are particularly representative, as they deal with wide-ranging issues and represent theoretical pillars in the academic discussion of these topics, both with regard to the history of linguistics and to linguistics in general and the philosophy of language. In particular, Anneli Luhtala’s work presents a useful and detailed summary of some key concepts that are fundamental in the history of linguistic thought and syntactic theory, such as ‘regimen’.  Luhtala’s work is a concise and clear summary of many of the recent studies on medieval grammarians, among which those of Cotticelli-Kurras are worth mentioning.

Múcksová’s chapter on grammatical and grammatographical categories highlights certain linguistic phenomena and their linguistic categorisation, for which no clear grammatographical description is possible, ranging between different variant forms and linguistic levels (e.g. the disappearance of vocative or the declension of paradigms) for a survey of the language development and changes in the description of grammar. The author emphasizes how the prescriptive reality of grammars (divided into descriptive and didactic grammars) does not necessarily correspond to the reality of speakers. In this way, the author successfully problematizes the issue of generating controversial or at least problematic interpretations (p. 75). The grammatical description of a language, no matter how detailed and comprehensive, cannot fully reflect the objective reality of the language itself and cannot consistently represent all the structural aspects of its linguistic units. She uses the comparison of Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages with the Slovak language, whose grammatical description is relatively recent and cannot rigorously be fitted into the models of other grammars.

Eliášová Buzássyová examines how the phenomenon of descriptive word formation changed between the sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. The article is of particular value both for its content and for the way it is presented, as it clearly deals with primary and secondary sources and immediately clarifies the focus of the presentation by contextualizing it in its German-speaking milieu. Eliášová Buzássyová specifies two focuses of analysis (p. 42): the formal incorporation of text units with word-formation content in a grammatical text, in order to determine their role in the process of separating word-formation as an autonomous discipline, and “the use of terms and the formulation of definitions of selected key concepts of word-formation units” which broadly consist in the identification of specific keywords. In this way, it was possible to determine, from a selection of authors, how the phenomenon of Latin word formation was understood and explained in grammatical texts.

Ondřek Šefčìk focuses on a very specific—but interesting—issue concerning an orthographic controversy between two philologists of the national revival movement in Bohemia,  Josef Jungmann and Jan Nejedlý, which is based on linguistic and orthographic premises, but also on cultural and political ones.

The second part is lengthier and more varied but it plunges into the kaleidoscopic variety of Greco-Latin classicism, with five contributions mainly focusing on the Greek perspective. Wojciech Sowa uses the example of the anonymous Γλῶσσαι κατὰ πόλεις. This paper examines the question of the reliability of ancient lexicographical sources in the context of the study of the dialectal vocabulary of Ancient Greek. The author uses the historical-comparative method, while placing the topic in a larger context of philological analysis. The aim of this study is to explore new approaches to the linguistic analysis of Ancient Greek using comparative and interdisciplinary modes of investigation. The article is based on the idea of conducting systematic research that examines the documented forms from three different points of view: epigraphy and dialectology, etymology, and the history of ancient lexicography and manuscript tradition. Given that the Γλῶσσαι may contain passages from the lost work of Diogenianus, which have been cited in the well-known lexicon compiled by Hesychius, one of the aims of the article is to analyse all these alleged connections.

Václav Blažek questions the etymology of γέφυρα (‘dam, bridge’) by surveying the different glosses available. The author is keenly aware that there is no convincing etymology available for this word and offers a possible interpretation based on non-European loan-elements within an Indo-European framework. After going through wrong, possible, and likely possible solutions, the most suitable solution highlighted by the author seems to be the adaptation of the Hurro-Urartian substratal term and its interference with proto-Greek *gōuphora.

Martin Masliš writes on formal opacity and semantics concerning nominal lexemes in Ancient Greek. In particular, he shifts the focus of academic discussion from purely historical to psycholinguistic aspects by examining how speakers process and store lexemes on the basis of their morphological structure. The investigation is based on 184 lexemes, 135 of which are found in the Etymologicum Magnum, a lexicon compiled in Constantinople by an unknown lexicographer around 1150. For the author, ancient Greek speakers can register relationships across words on the basis of formal and semantic similarity. This is a probabilistic argument, especially taking into account the impossibility of a concrete comparison with the community of speakers examined.

Máté Ittzés’ contribution deals with the phrase from Plautus’ Mostellaria (Most. 662) speculo claras, the interpretation of which has been the subject of numerous studies. The author shows great competence both in handling with confidence the history of previous studies, and also from a strictly philological point of view, arguing very convincingly, despite all caution, that the interpretation of speculo claras as two words is not a strong one in the Latin linguistic landscape and that the possibility of interpreting the form as a nominal compound is not trivial but tenable, since it would fit into a very productive series of compounds in Latin (p. 208).

Reiner Lipp deals extensively with the genesis of the Old Latin s-future of the type faxō and its Sabellic equivalent from the Indo-European desiderative in the context of Italic verbal grammar. The work is truly wide-ranging and properly glottological in that it analyses this form in detail, taking into account not only forms related to Italic languages and Latin but also related forms available in Iranian, Anatolian, Homeric Greek and Celtic languages.

The papers in this volume, especially in the second part, are extremely varied in terms of research topic; some are highly specific, as in the case of Šefčìk, Ittzés or Lipp, others are of great theoretical breadth, such as those by Luhtala and Buzássyová, yet the common intention is fully visible and achieved in providing, rather than conference proceedings, a wide-ranging anthology on grammatography in a truly extensive and timely manner.



Cotticelli-Kurras P. (2021a), Regimen vs. ordo: how to build phrases with words in ME grammars, in Melazzo L., Aliffi L., Bartolotta A. (eds.), Submerged syntax between Late Antiquity and the Modern Age. Sources, models, and interpretive strategies, Roma, il Calamo, pp. 7-40.

Cotticelli-Kurras, P. (2021b), Constructio and related terms in Medieval grammars: toward a theory of syntax, in Perspectives on Language and Linguistics. Essays in honour of Lucio Melazzo, Palermo University Press Springer, pp. 93-115


Authors and titles

Anneli Luhtala, “Milestones in the study of syntax in antiquity and the Middle Ages”

Ĺudmila Eliášová Buzássyová, “Word-formation in neo-Latin school grammar”

Gabriela Múcsková, “Grammatical and grammatographical categories – accord and conflict”

Ondřej Šefčík “Classicism, Czech language and Jungmann”

Wojciech Sowa, “Glossai katà póleis. Greek dialects through the lenses of the ancient lexicography”

Václav Blažek, “Greek gephyra ‘dam; bridge’”

Martin Masliš, “Formal opacity and semantic (in)stability of derived nominal lexemes in Ancient Greek”

Máté Ittzés, “Speculo claras or speculoclaras?”

Reiner Lipp, “The Latin future tense formation of the type faxō and its Italic background”