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Review of  Third Person Reference in Late Latin

Reviewer: Eleonora Sausa
Book Title: Third Person Reference in Late Latin
Book Author: Mari Johanne Bordal Hertzenberg
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Latin
Issue Number: 27.2348

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Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote


The volume “Third person reference in Late Latin” by Mari Johanne Bordal Hertzenberg is an interesting monograph on the status of demonstratives, definite articles, and personal pronouns in the fourth century Latin text commonly known as “Itinerarium Egeriae”. The volume is organized in seven chapters.

In the “Introduction”, the author first presents the object of her study: a synchronic study of the third person referring expressions in the late fourth century text “Itinerarium Egeriae”. Next, she briefly reviews previous research on demonstratives in Late Latin and their development, discussing the nature of demonstratives, definite articles and personal pronouns and their interrelationship in Late Latin. She also considers various hypotheses concerning how the definite articles and personal pronouns developed and the causal factors to explain why these changes took place. The introduction closes with a clear statement of the research questions that emerged from previous literature reviews on this topic. The first is a precise understanding of the categories of demonstrative, definite article, personal pronoun, and intensifier, which tend to be lacking in the literature. The second is the study of the interrelationship among the third person referring expressions. The third is exploring the emergence of the third person personal pronouns.

Chapter 2, “Theoretical Foundations”, is devoted to the theoretical issues underlying the study. In section 2.1, Hertzenberg first discusses the major views on definiteness in literature with the aim of establishing a concept of definiteness. She also reviews the well-known uniqueness, familiarity, inclusiveness, and identifiability hypotheses of definiteness, discussing the virtues and limits of these theories. She finally argues in favor of definiteness as the identifiability of discourse referents and assumes that the choice of referring expression is determined by the accessibility of the referent. Accessibility and the choice of referring expression is largely discussed in section 2.2. The author refers to accessibility in the sense of Ariel (1988) as a psychological and memory-based notion, referring to the mental status of referents in the addressee’s memory. She then considers the variables that may influence accessibility and the choice of referring expressions, taking into account the givenness status of a referent, the distance of the referent to the antecedent, the animacy of the referent. The topicality of the antecedent and its syntactic function are accounted for as other relevant variables which influence the accessibility of a referent, together with the type of clause in which the antecedent occurs. Hertzenberg also discusses the interaction of accessibility with Grice’s maxim of quantity.

In section 2.3, Hertzenberg explores the properties and uses of three major exponents of definiteness, that is, personal pronouns, definite articles, and demonstratives. The author also assumes that together with such definiteness exponents there are null pronouns, that is, a special type of pronouns that require higher accessibility than overt pronominal forms. She briefly discusses the question as to when a demonstrative has become a definite article or a personal pronoun. Finally, the author outlines the properties of intensifiers.

Chapter 3, “Methods and data extraction”, contains a brief description of the annotated corpus used for the research and of the methodology adopted in the extraction of data. The “Itinerarium Egeriae” is included in the annotated PROIEL (Pragmatic resources in Old Indo-European Languages) corpus created at the University of Oslo. The author describes the multilayered annotation of the PROIEL corpus, focusing in particular on the annotation of the information structure which includes givenness, anaphoricity, topicality, and on semantic annotation which includes animacy. Finally, a description of the data extraction and the information contained in the data, together with a brief note on the statistical methods used in her work, are also provided.

In Chapter 4, “Full NPs, overt pronominal forms and null pronouns”, Hertzenberg focuses on the three main groups of referring expressions in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”, that is, full noun phrases, overt pronominal forms, and null pronouns. The author provides interesting quantitative data followed by a detailed analysis and a deep discussion concerning the interaction between the variables influencing accessibility and the choice of referring expression, considering above all the anaphoric and non-anaphoric uses of these forms.

Chapter 5, “High accessibility markers: pronominal forms”, contains a discussion on the pronominal forms in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”. The author analyzes the anaphoric and non-anaphoric uses of the pronominal demonstratives «hic», «idem», «ille», «ipse», is and of the null (subject) pronoun «pro». She discusses to what extent «ille» and «ipse» can be considered personal pronouns in the “Itinerarium Egeriae” and finally establishes an accessibility hierarchy of the pronominal expressions which is organized as follows: ‘pro/is > ipse > ille > hic’.

In Chapter 6, “Low accessibility markers: full NPs”, Hertzenberg discusses several types of noun phrases, namely, «hic» NPs, «idem» NPs, «ille» NPs, «ipse» NPs, «iste» NPs and bare NPs. The author addresses the question as to whether adnominal «ipse» is an intensifier before discussing non-anaphoric (section 6.2) and anaphoric reference (section 6.4). Finally, Hertzenberg arranges in an accessibility hierarchy the types of full NPs taken into account, which is organized as follows: ‘ille/hic NPs > ipse NPs > is/idem NPs > bare NPs’.

Chapter 7, “Conclusions”, contains the summary of the main results of the work carried out by Hertzenberg. The author discusses the results concerning the interrelationship between the third person referring expressions and proposes a unique accessibility hierarchy of the referring expressions (p. 339) both for pronominal forms and for full NPs in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”. The final remarks underline that «ille» and «ipse» are personal pronouns in the “Itinerarium Egeriae” but not definite articles, with some rare exceptions. Hertzenberg’s hypothesis is that the contexts in which the demonstratives are not necessary for the identification of the referent but rather mark emotion or expressivity are the contexts of origin of the definite articles; nonetheless, she admits that further research is necessary to establish the validity of this hypothesis. Furthermore, other data from Augustine’s Sermons are provided confirming the trends observed in the “Itinerarium Egeriae” which allows the author to assume that the findings of this study do reflect general usage in spoken language around 400 AD. Finally, Hertzenberg lists some theoretical implications for accessibility and referring expressions and suggests directions for future research in this field.


The book “Third person reference in Late Latin” convincingly pursues the goal of providing a complete and coherent analysis of the status of demonstratives, definite articles, and personal pronouns in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”. Indeed, this volume provides not only precious results and conclusions on the status of third person reference expressions in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”, but it also gives to the reader an excellent and original overview on some discussed categories frequently used in pragmatic and discourse-based approaches to language.

From the point of view of the organization of the work, the book is well structured and easy to follow. The two parts of the book, the theoretical foundations and the state of the art with the review of the existing literature on one hand, and the presentation and analysis of the data taken in exam on the other hand, are perfectly balanced and complementary. The first part adequately describes the research questions, while the second part systematically develops the research, answering to each question. Useful summaries are often provided by the author during the step-by-step development of the argumentation, which help the reader to follow the line of reasoning and the rigorous analyses.

Together with the results obtained concerning the main topic of the book - third person reference expressions in Late Latin - Hertzenberg presents the most updated reflections on categories often vague and hard to define, such as definiteness, accessibility, identifiability and topicality, reviewing the existing literature and providing proper definitions. For these reasons, certainly this monograph can be of interest to Latin and Romance linguists, but also for theoretical and general linguists, and for those interested in pragmatics and discourse-based approaches.

The study exploits the most recent digital resources and methodologies for the extraction and analysis of data. The use of the PROIEL corpus and the best employ of its multilayered annotation are exemplar and make the collection of data accurate, complete, and rich of metalinguistic information.

The fine analysis, perfectly carried out both from a quantitative and a qualitative point of view, provides to the reader a clear understanding of what the author argues, thanks to the organization of data in tables, their treatment with statistical methods adequately explained, and their representation through graphs. Furthermore, the many Latin examples, well-glossed and translated, can be understood and appreciated by linguists of any field of expertise.

In conclusion, this monograph has a valuable importance as the most complete and updated description of the system of third person reference expressions in the “Itinerarium Egeriae”, and it also provides a crucial contribution to the discussion of the development of «ille» and «ipse» into definite articles and personal pronouns, fitting the current and challenging debate on the development of definite articles from Latin to Romance languages.

Overall, this volume convincingly meets the author’s goals and fulfills the reader’s expectations, representing an excellent research and an inspiring starting point for further studies.


Ariel, Mira. 1988. Referring and Accessibility. Journal of pragmatics, 31(3), 363-397.
Eleonora Sausa has obtained her PhD in Linguistics in December 2015 at the University of Pavia. Her research topics include diachronic linguistics, Historical and Indo-European linguistics, Ancient Greek syntax, Construction Grammar, Digital Humanities, and teaching Italian as second language.