Early Latin and late Latin

Michèle FRUYT

University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4)



7. Paradigmatic regularity

Another tendency at work in Latin is paradigmatic regularity and thus the regularisation of irregular paradigms. In the consciousness of the speech community, in a regular nominal paradigm all the inflected forms have the same number of syllables. In the 3rd declension, when one syllable was perceived as ‘missing’ in the nominative sg. forms, this nominative was aligned on other forms, mainly on the genitive sg. These regularisations are documented in early Latin, after which there is a gap in the classical texts before we see them again in Petronius (at a low language level) and in later authors where they may belong to the standard language, just as in the early authors.

Lac (lactis Nt.) ‘milk’ has a nominative lacte in the archaic period (Ennius, Pl., Cato Agr.) as well as in the late period (Ausonius, Martianus Capella). The theonym Iupiter / Iuppiter (acc. Iouem, gen. Iouis) shows several instances of this isosyllabic requirement. The abnormal nominative becomes Iouis in Ennius (apud Apul.) and Petronius. The nominative sg. of hērēs (hērēdis) M. F. ‘heir’ was remodelled in heredes in Commodianus (Comm. Apol., 3rd century AD) and in Merovingian Latin (Passio Marinae: Goullet coord. (2014): 32, 229r, 5).

But conversely, inflectional forms can also be remodelled analogically on the nominative: hērēs (hērēdis) M. F. has an archaic accusative herem in Naevius (apud Nonius). Tertullian built a new acc. pl. Iuppiteros on the nominative Iupiter / Iuppiter:

  • Tert. Apol. 14,9:
    Varro trecentos Ioues, siue Iuppiteros dicendum, sine capitibus inducit.
    ‘Varro introduces three hundred Joves (or ought one to say Jupiters ?) without heads’
    (translation T. R. Glover & G. H. Rendall, 1984, Loeb Classical Library).

Bōs (bouis) F. M. ‘cow’ has an analogical nominative bouis in Petronius.

These regularisations must have been frequent in the spoken language of the illiterate people although they do not appear in the grammatically normalised classical texts.

Another morphological tendency is a noun regrouping into the two main declensions that contained the most lexemes: the first declension for feminine nouns (incorporating the 5th declension) and the second declension for masculine nouns (incorporating the 4th declension). Although this shift is documented in the early and late periods but not in the classical period, we may suppose its existence during all periods in some diastractic variants.

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