Early Latin and late Latin

Michèle FRUYT

University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4)



10. Discontinuity: lexical innovation

10.1. Lexical strategy in some late Latin authors

Some lexemes are attested in the archaic and late periods, but not in the classical period. This may be due to the deliberate intention of some late authors of searching for sophisticated and rare lexemes. They found these rare lexemes in the archaic authors, but they also coined new lexemes based on the patterns provided by the archaic authors. The introduction of these artificial lexemes led to a growing divergence from the contemporary usual, standard vocabulary. Such antiquarian authors are Apuleius and Gellius in the 2nd century AD, and Nonius Marcellus in the 4th century AD.

They used obsolete lexemes found in archaic authors such as Ennius, Accius and Plautus and they coined new ones based on the archaic period vocabulary. About 380 new words were coined by Gellius (according to R. Marache, edition of Noctes Atticae, 1967, Paris, Belles Lettres, CUF, p. XVIII), so that Gellius is considered as a turning-point in the Latin lexicon.

These authors revived suffixal formations that had lost their productivity since the archaic period. They resuscitated the –tus, -tūs M. process nouns (Fruyt 2011-b: 158-159). Some of these substantives were attested in Plautus, but not in the classical authors where they were in competition with the productive –tiō (-tiōnis F.) process nouns. Gellius and Nonius Marcellus mentioned a 4th declension form with the –tus suffix for trĭbūtus, -tūs M. This form was attested in Plautus and, according to Nonius, it was used by Cato, while the classical form belonged to the 2nd declension: trĭbūtum, -ī Nt. ‘tribute’ (Caes., Cic.).

Some –tus words appear for the first time in Apuleius, as a reproduction of the archaic pattern of vocabulary. He probably coined rĕpertus, -tūs M. ‘act of finding’ (Apul. Met. 11,2) and ‘invention’ (Apul. Met. 11,11,3) as a process noun associated with the verb reperī-re, showing the same polysemy as the verb and built on the synchronic radical reper- ‘find, discover’.

For poetic and metric reasons, accŭbĭtus, -tūs M. ‘fact of lying down’ was coined (by Statius) in order to replace its usual –tiō counterpart accŭbĭtĭō (Cic.), avoided because of its three short syllables.

These authors also revived the –men (-minis Nt.) suffix, although it had been replaced by –mentum (-i Nt.) in the standard language: Apul. Apol. 64: formīdā-men ‘frightening figure’ on formīdāre ‘fear’. Perrot (1961: 40-43) mentions the following –men lexemes as attested for the first time in late Latin: adiūmen Ps. Cypr., aerāmen Comm., cōnsōlāmen Ps. Hier., creāmen Prud., cruciāmen Prud., ebriāmen Tert., genimen Tert., iuuāmen « help » Boethius, Cassiodorus, etc.

Tertullian coined some striking words in his sophisticated prose, e.g. the famous adjectival compound scytalo-sagitti-pelli-ger (Tert. Pall. 4,3,3) for Hercules: ‘the club-arrow-and-skin-bearer’ (Gr. σκύταλον or σκυτάλη ‘club’; sagitta ‘arrow’; pellis ‘skin’). The second term of this compound in °-ger is one of the two productive adjectival types characteristic of poetic vocabulary since Ovid. The °-ger and °-fer adjectival compounds (respectively ‘who / which bears ….’ and ‘which produces …’) stayed productive with good frequency in late poetry. For example, in Dracontius’s Romulea (5th century AD) we find: Drac. Romul. 10, 473 and 112: flammi-ger; 10, 500: stelli-ger; 10, 89: ali-ger; 10,11: astri-ger; 10, 579: ensi-fer; 10, 119: odori-fer; 10, 85: amori-fer.

The first term of scytalo-sagitti-pelli–ger, however, displays a high degree of innovation, since it has the structure of a dvandva compound with the addition of three substantival stems denotating three entities. Although this compound type is well documented in Sanskrit, it is not usual in Latin, where we mainly find, apart from this lexeme: su-oue-taur-īlia in an archaic prayer quoted by Cato (Agr. 141,3) for the denomination of a sacrifice containing three animals, sūs, ouis, Taurus (probably three males within these species). Two other dvandva adjectives are less well represented in the texts: dulc-acidus, -a, um ‘sweet and sour’ (Sammonicus; 4th century AD), dulc-amar-us, -a, -um (in a glossary). Since this dvandva type is not well represented in Greek either, we would suggest that Tertullian coined this compound by analogy with Cato’s su-oue-taur-īlia and Ovid’s bi-corni-ger. He innovated by creating a new type of first term within a productive poetic °-ger formation.

10.2. Pre-existing words

Some of the –tus M. nouns attested for the first time in late Latin may have been pre-existing words that were not attested earlier because of their technical referential values: in the legal vocabulary, animaduersus, -sūs M. ‘punishment’ (Aelius Lampridius, 4th century AD); in the medical vocabulary, conclūsus, -ūs M. (Cael.Aur.), used only in the ablative sg. conclūsū ‘with a narrowing’. Since the archaic authors, the –tus M. verbal nouns had been used in the ablative sg. case and had been almost grammaticalised as unfinite verbal forms (cf. Cato Agr. 5,6: cubitū surgere ‘to get up from bed’; iniussū Caesaris in the classical period ‘without orders from Caesar’).

Some technically connoted words are attested in Plautus and in Pliny the Elder’s encyclopaedia: olfactus, -tūs M. ‘action of smelling, sense of smell’ (Pl. Mi. 1255; Plin. Nat. 32, 28; 10, 194).

Since the calefacio verbs were continuously productive from archaic to late Latin, torpefacio ‘paralyse, create torpor’ (Non.) probably already existed in early and classical Latin. 10.3. Second coinings

In some cases, a late Latin author re-created a lexeme that was already attested in early Latin. The two terms thus result from two different coinages and creative processes. This happens within the word-formations that stayed productive during all periods of Latin. On the noun torpor (-oris M.) was built the denominative –ā- verb torporāre (tr.) with a causative meaning ‘paralyse, create torpor’. An attestation for the first coinage is found in Turpilius (end of the 2nd century BC) and the second coinage is illustrated in Lactantius (Lact. Inst. 2,8,62: beginning of the 4th century AD).

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