Early Latin and late Latin

Michèle FRUYT

University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4)



4. Continuity, discontinuity, turning-points

Languages evolve along a diachronic continuum extending over many centuries. This continuity, however, may remain unobserved, due, as we have seen, to the insufficient properties of written texts. Another reason is that the classical texts do not cover all the referential domains involved in a contemporary society; many technical areas are not documented in the classical texts, but we can be sure that knowledge of them and their vocabulary did exist in the classical period.

A general tendency for continuity is not incompatible with certain discontinuous situations. Sometimes the texts will show us situations that can be termed a turning-point, where we can see an acceleration and/or an accumulation of new features. These features become visible after a period during which they had remained outside our field of observation. The diastratic variants that had not been previously reflected in the texts (because their level of language was too low or because they dealt with topics and literary genres that had been absent from the texts) underwent a diastratic upgrading so that they appear in the standard or higher levels of the language. Only when they have become established in the diastratic levels of the (more or less) literate people of the time are they likely to be documented in the texts.

One such turning-point is visible in the second century AD, in particular in Cyprian’s works (see Conclusion).

In some cases, a given linguistic feature displays a discontinuity in our texts. Documented in the archaic period, it disappears in the classical texts and appears again in the late texts. As suggested by the title of this book, we may wonder if this gap in the classical texts reveals a discontinuity in the language itself or only a break in its attestation in the texts.

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