AUTHOR: Morani, Moreno
TITLE: Introduzione alla linguistica latina
SERIES: LINCOM Studies in Indo-European Linguistics 08
PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH
Anne Mahoney, Department of Classics, Tufts University
Morani's book covers Latin linguistics from Indo-European down to the modern
Romance languages. The book therefore describes not only the literary Latin of
Cicero and Vergil but the language as used by ordinary Romans, citizens of the
Roman provinces, scholars in late antiquity, and medieval speakers. The focus is
on historical morphology and phonology. Along the way, Morani reviews and
engages with much current scholarship in the area, making the book a useful
introduction to some current controversies.
The book is organized in four large chapters, covering the Indo-European
antecedents and relatives of Latin, phonetics and phonology, morphology, and
lexicon. Although syntax does not receive a separate systematic treatment, it is
mentioned where appropriate in the other chapters. Within each chapter after the
first, the treatment is chronological, with sections on Indo-European, classical
Latin, and Romance.
The first chapter, ''Il latino tra le lingue indeuropee'' (pp. 1-118), begins with
an overview of the Indo-European family and the general principles of
reconstruction in comparative linguistics. Morani argues that Latin is
conservative relative to the rest of the family, preserving archaisms that have
been replaced in more central areas, such as the old third person plural perfect
ending in -ere, the perfect stems in -v-, and religious vocabulary (pp. 7-9). He
suggests that the ''family tree'' model for Indo-European is oversimplified and
argues instead for the ''wave'' model (p. 6) of innovations moving outward from a
central area, though he observes that neither model can do full justice to the
history of Latin (p. 7). Moreover, he follows other Italian scholars, notably
Giacomo Devoto, in treating Latin as separate from Oscan and Umbrian, rather
than closely related in a single ''Italic branch'' as Anglophone scholars usually
present them. Latin has some features in common with Celtic that Oscan and
Umbrian do not share, so the old and largely discredited idea of an
''Italo-Celtic'' subgroup can be replaced by ''speciali rapporti latino-celtici''
(p. 18). Venetic, too, seems to have a closer relationship to Latin than to
other Indo-European languages like Illyrian or Messapic (p. 42). Thus instead of
a close inherited relationship between Latin and Oscan-Umbrian, we have a group
of languages in contact in the Italian peninsula forming a Sprachbund within
Indo-European (pp. 22, 52-53). Morani's careful examination of the various
isoglosses that separate Latin from some of its near neighbors (particularly pp.
31-39) is illuminating.
After considering the antecedents of Latin, Morani looks at varieties of Latin,
in a particularly strong section (pp. 59-103). Variation takes place on
diachronic, diatopic, and diaphasic axes: across time, space, and register.
Morani's diachronic scheme includes the earliest stages of Latin, down to the
third century BC; the archaic period from the third to the first centuries BC;
the classical period; later Latin, from the early third century AD through late
antiquity; and medieval Latin. He treats regional variations in chronological
groups as well. In the earliest period, Latin is confined to a small area around
the city, so the major varieties are urban and Praenestine. By the imperial
period, however, the language has been spread over much of Europe. The most
useful part of this section is the discussion of register variations. Here
Morani covers the conversational Latin of the educated classes (sermo
familiaris), for which Cicero's letters are a major source; Latin of the lower
classes (sermo plebeius and, slightly higher on the social scale, sermo
vulgaris), which we see in inscriptions and in comedy; language of specialized
groups such as the jargon of a profession; and Christian Latin. Professional
groups develop their own vocabularies for the tools, materials, and techniques
they work with. Morani shows that, in Latin, various groups favor particular
suffixes for creating their specialized words, for example -tura in agricultural
language, or -atio in military and medical language.
The last part of the first chapter covers the evolution of the Romance languages
from Latin, a process which may have begun as early as the end of the third
century AD (p. 107), though the main period of change was between about AD 600
and 800 (p. 111). Here and throughout the book, Morani's treatment of Romance
focuses primarily on Italian, naturally enough, though he gives examples from
the other languages as well.
Chapter two, ''Problemi de fonetica e fonologica latina'' (pp. 119-192), describes
the sound system of Latin and its evolution. Like the first chapter, this one
begins from Indo-European and proceeds toward Romance. Morani reconstructs
Indo-European with no laryngeals, though he does admit a schwa; he reconstructs
three series of guttural stops, the velar, palatal, and labiovelar, making five
stop series in all (chart p. 119). He gives the Latin reflexes of every single
Indo-European phoneme, with examples, in one succinct list (pp. 127-135); this
may sound tedious, but it's highly useful. After the historical section, Morani
goes on to a synchronic description of the classical Latin sound system (chart
p. 136), including minimal pairs to demonstrate which sounds are phonemes.
One problem in Latin phonology is whether there were nasalized vowels in the
classical language. A final syllable of the form vowel plus ''-m'' is elided in
verse before a word beginning with a vowel. The standard abbreviation ''cos.'' for
''consul,'' omitting the ''n,'' and forms like ''cesor'' for ''censor'' that appear in
inscriptions suggest a nasalized vowel rather than a plain vowel followed by a
nasal consonant. Morani concludes that the nasal sounds do exist, but as
allophones rather than independent phonemes (pp. 142-147).
Another problem is the status of the velar nasal consonant (as at the end of
English ''sing''). In Latin this sound occurs in words like ''anguis'' (''narrow'').
Although it is sometimes treated as an allophone of /n/ or of /g/, Morani
considers it a separate phoneme (pp. 160-161), based on contrasting sets like
''agnus'' (''lamb'') and ''annus'' (''year'').
Perhaps the largest problem in Latin phonology, however, is the nature of the
accent. Here Morani's treatment is excellent. He argues, following German and
Anglophone scholars, for stress rather than pitch as the defining characteristic
of the Latin accent (pp. 174-184). Although the Romans themselves borrowed
terminology from Greek to discuss their language, this does not mean the two
languages had the same kind of accent. Moreover, even though Roman poets of the
classical period used Greek quantitative metrical forms, replacing the accentual
meters of archaic Latin, we cannot conclude that the Latin accent was the same
as that of Greek, still less that Latin replaced its stress accent with a pitch
accent in the second century BC (p. 183, an argument that Morani correctly
characterizes as weak and circular). Instead, as Morani observes, the patterns
of long and short syllables in classical Latin meter are independent of the
accent of the words (p. 183).
The phonological chapter concludes with a brief discussion of Romance phonology,
In the third chapter, ''Problemi di morfologia latina'' (pp. 193-300), the first
section treats the nominal system, including adjectives, pronouns, and what
becomes the Romance definite article. The second section is devoted to verbs.
Morani takes a long view of nominal inflection, pointing out (p. 195) that in
Indo-European itself, there were four ways to distinguish case and number forms:
suppletion, apophony (change of vowel in a particular syllable), movement of the
accent, or endings. Although all of these have left traces in the daughter
languages, endings were the most important and have remained so throughout the
family. Latin nouns are traditionally divided into five declensions, based on
their stems -- stems ending in ''a'' are the first declension, those in ''o'' are
the second, and so on. Textbooks identify them based on the ending of the
genitive singular. Morani suggests (p. 207) that it may be more sensible to view
the nouns as divided into two major classes, one comprising the traditional
first and second declensions, the other comprising the third and fourth. The
fifth declension is intermediate between the two types. Morani justifies this
classification by analyzing the endings of the various classes. For example, in
the genitive plural, the first and second declensions use ''-arum'' and ''-orum''
respectively (the first vowel being long in each case), as in ''feminarum'' (''of
the women'') and ''virorum'' (''of the men'') while the third and fourth use just
''-um'' as in ''hominum'' (''of the people'') and ''exercituum'' (''of the armies''). Here
the fifth declension is like the first and second, using ''-erum'' as in ''rerum''
(''of the things''). In the dative and ablative plural, the first and second
declension form is ''-is'' while the third, fourth, and fifth have a longer form,
''-ibus,'' ''-ubus,'' and ''-ebus'' respectively. Morani goes on to give examples of
older forms of the various endings, found primarily in inscriptions, then
briefly considers the uses of the cases.
In later Latin, nominal inflection is simplified. As vowel quantities disappear,
some endings become identical in sound (for example, short a and long a,
respectively nominative and ablative singular in the first declension, p. 233).
Prepositional phrases come into use, first supplementing independent uses of the
cases, then replacing them altogether. For example, instead of ''Romae'' in the
locative for ''in Rome,'' one might say ''in Roma''; ''Romam'' in the accusative for
''to Rome'' can also be expressed as ''ad Romam.'' These uses were always available,
but become more prevalent in later Latin (p. 235). The result is a near total
collapse of the inflectional system: most of the modern Romance languages still
have separate forms for singular and plural, but no longer inflect nouns for
As for verbs, Morani explains how the four traditional conjugations, identified
by the Roman grammarians based on the second person singular present form, arose
from the various Indo-European present classes (summary pp. 259-260). He also
explains the Latin tense and aspect system, made entirely consistent as a result
of merging the inherited perfect and aorist into one tense system, the Latin
perfect (p. 264). Along the way, he notes how the Latin future continues the
Indo-European subjunctive, while the Latin subjunctive is primarily the
Indo-European optative (p. 273). The biggest problem in verbal morphology is
arguably the second person plural passive ending ''-mini,'' which has never been
successfully explained. Morani summarizes the state of scholarship (pp. 285-286)
but has no new proposal to make; although none of the proposed solutions is
entirely convincing, he suggests that the old idea that this form is related to
the participles in ''-menos'' found in Greek, Sanskrit, and Venetic is as good a
solution as we have at present (p. 286).
The final chapter, ''Il lessico latino'' (pp. 301-325), is a brisk look at where
Latin words come from. Some are inherited from Indo-European, perhaps with
slightly different meanings in Latin from elsewhere in the family. Some words
presumably come from a substrate, a pan-Mediterranean language spoken before the
arrival of the Indo-European speakers; names of several trees may be in this
class, for example (p. 315). Latin also has loan words from Etruscan, and from
Greek either directly or through Etruscan. As the Romance languages develop,
Latin words may be re-borrowed, leading to doublets like Latin ''fiotto'' (''flow,
flood''; inherited, with normal development of initial ''fl-'') and ''flutto''
(''wave''; learned borrowing), both from Latin ''fluctus'' (p. 325).
The strengths of ''Introduzione alla linguistica latina'' are its coverage of the
entire scope of Latin, from its origins to its present-day descendants, and its
review of scholarship on Latin linguistics. The book is clearly structured and
lucidly written -- graduate students in classics who are beginners in Italian
should not hesitate to pick it up.
Although I do not agree with all of Morani's conclusions, for example his
separation of Latin from Oscan-Umbrian, his arguments are well supported and the
copious references allow readers to trace the scholarly debate for themselves.
It is unfortunate, however, that the book has no index. Even a more complete
table of contents, down to the lowest level of titled sections, would help. It
would also have been useful to have running headers on the pages. The major
references are in the bibliography but works only cited once or twice appear
only in the footnotes.
On balance, this is a strong overview of the Latin language from an
Indo-European point of view.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Anne Mahoney teaches in the classics department at Tufts University. Her
research interests include Greek and Latin meter and poetics, Indo-European
linguistics, and language pedagogy.