Graffiti and Virgil.

Emily Gowers, in her TLS review of Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii by Kristina Milnor, makes some very interesting points about the inseparability of low and high, just the kind of thing I love:

Milnor reads the graffiti as carefully as any literary text, picking out clever manipulations of lines from Ovid and Virgil and the rhymes hidden in abbreviations that speak of subtle play on the aural and read experience of words. […] In her view, one reason graffiti should intrigue us is because it shows how permeable the borders were between elite and popular culture. Street songs influenced higher genres; conversely, letter-writing etiquette and the metrical conventions of epic, drama and elegy were widely known among ordinary scribblers. The affinity between Catullus’ more aggressive poems and graffito abuse is famous (and acknowledged by him when he follows up a threat of oral rape by offering to cover tavern walls with phallic images), while the satirist Persius likens himself to a naughty boy peeing in sacred precincts and scrawling insults behind the emperor’s back.

One of the most extreme forms of high–low exchange takes the form of engagement with Virgil’s Aeneid. Published three generations before the destruction of Pompeii and already consecrated as Rome’s national epic, this would seem to be the perfect example of a unified textual corpus. But, as Milnor shows, Virgil was almost instantly atomized into bite-sized snippets which permeated the popular consciousness and embarked on their own creative afterlife – just as “To be or not to be” did, or “The boy stood on the burning deck”. It would be nice to find something significant in the Pompeians’ choice of Virgilian lines (a few of them contain anti-Greek sentiment, for example). But mostly they are mindlessly ludic, especially when they use the momentous opening, “Arms and the man”. One variation, “I sing of fullers and the screech owl, not arms and the man”, takes us neatly from the Olympian heights of Augustan literature to the world of street traders and craft guilds (the owl was the fullers’ mascot). Some wag, spotting that a formal election announcement fortuitously contains the acronym DIDO, has inserted a tiny “Arma virumque” beneath it. “Everyone fell silent”, the audience’s preparation for Aeneas’ narrative of his post-Troy adventures, is knowingly redeployed in a mural context. Milnor has to conclude that most quotations, above all those of Virgil’s opening words, are “meaningless, not meaningful”. Aeneas had already become a kind of Everyman, his poem a dispersible symbol of authority and national spirit available for all Romans to imprint on its segments their individual stamp. Yet such authorship as is claimed is of an offbeat kind – opportunist and ultimately irresponsible.

[…] Pompeii, a city dedicated to Venus, contains a disproportionate amount of erotic graffiti and erotic wall-painting, though it is still unclear how much that really reflects the economic activities of this particular town. At any rate, it was more multilingual and cosmopolitan than quiet, graffiti-free Herculaneum (Pompeii even offers samples of the proto-Arabic Safaitic script). Yet it is less local difference than the wide reach and common repertoire of Roman popular culture that Milnor is keen to emphasize. The address to a beleaguered wall quoted above [“I’m amazed, wall, that you haven’t fallen down in ruins, since you bear the tedious outpourings of so many writers”] is no one-off but is found at least three times in Pompeii in different hands. Far from being the authentic voice of a single individual, the message was a replicable meme: a kind of ancient “Kilroy was here”. And repeated variations on the motif “We couldn’t wait to get here, we can’t wait to leave” made it the Roman equivalent of “. . . and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”.

Interestingly, whereas the online review is titled “Ancient vandalism?” the version in my physical copy is called “Conticuere omnes,” the Latin original of the “Everyone fell silent” quoted in the review. I don’t think an American publication for a general (i.e., non-classicist) readership would allow itself such an allusion; I’m glad someone does.

Comments

  1. I suspect that the presence of snippets from the Aeneid in graffiti from Pompeii is result of Vergil having been drilled into boys in the schoolroom–especially the famous passages.

  2. I imagine so, but we don’t tend to think of it that way. We think of the Aeneid as the central, solemn text of the Roman nation, recited at public occasions and quoted with reverence, not as a source of “famous bits” to be pillaged for bathroom jokes. At least I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Pompeii even offers samples of the proto-Arabic Safaitic script

    I just love this.

  4. Pompeii used to be an Oscan town, and had an Oscan-speaking population right up to the end, with Oscan public signs and graffiti.

  5. Etienne says:

    Pompeii also has some graffiti in Oscan, which to my mind indicates that the spread of Latin/Romance throughout the Roman Empire must have been a very slow and gradual process: after all, Pompeii wasn’t just any Roman town, it was geographically much closer to Rome than most. And if Oscan was still alive in Pompeii in 79 AD, then I suspect that it was alive if not dominant in the neighboring countryside. As must have been the case for a great many other local languages within the Empire.

    (Incidentally, the language of the Latin graffiti shows a number of vulgarisms that aren’t merely Romance, but specifically Italian, and indeed one respected linguist has claimed that the Pompeii graffiti are the first specimen of written Italian).

    Of course, because Pompeii was much closer to Rome than most towns within the Empire were, the question must be asked whether the use of the AENEID as a source for Pompeii graffiti was typical across the Roman Empire.

  6. Etienne says:

    Y: It would appear that great minds not only think alike, they also time their remarks alike! 🙂

  7. Etienne: my thoughts exactly.

  8. Thinking about this further, conticuere omnes — the opening of Book 2 of the Aeneid, which begins Aeneas’ narration of the fall of Troy, is one of the passages that I had to memorize in 4th year Latin when I was 16, about 53 years ago. (I can still recite it from memory down to et quorum pars magna fui.) It occurs to me that, as evidenced by the Pompeii graffiti, if I’m not mistaken, kids have probably been required to memorize this passage, and others that I memorized, continuously since at least the first century CE and probably earlier–Vergil became a school text in his own lifetime. This is probably true, at least in some places, even during the period from the sixth to the eighth centuries. So I have this wonderful connection with two millenia of school boys (and probably not a small number of school girls, too)!

    De Gaulle, asked to comment on a 1967 election reversal, uttered one of these lines: infandum, Regina, jubes renovare dolorem (he would have spoken it with the traditional French pronunciation of Latin). He was undoubtedly part of this chain of adolescents stretching back to the Year Zero and beyond!

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    The point that formality and high literary style may be quite independent of one another is interesting.

    I remember in a test question many years ago (many, many years) being confronted with Catullus’ famous poem about his dead brother (“Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus”) alongside a Latin epitaph for a dead wife:

    Gnatos duos creavit. Lanam fecit. “She had two sons. She made wool.”

    … and being asked to comment on which was the more natural, showed the most genuine emotion, or some such.

    Being a typical romantic teenager I naturally felt that the heartbreaking laconism of the epitaph was much more effective; I’ve always remembered both, and it was only years later I realised what a very sneaky question and very good question it really was, and saw that I had basically fallen into a trap set precisely to elicit the response I made.

    The epitaph, as I subsequently discovered, is entirely formulaic; respectable Roman matrons had sons and made wool; none of which means of course that the widower’s grief comes through any the less for being expressed just like the grief of so many others.

    And I have long since realised that the highly wrought artistry of Catullus’ poem in no way undermines the genuineness of his grief, albeit recollected in tranquillity.

  10. Bill W and David E: Excellent, thought-provoking comments both! Bill’s remark about the two-millennia-long unbroken thread of Virgil-reciting makes me wonder if the refugees from Africa turning up, unwanted, on the shores of Europe shouldn’t be quoting

    Quod genus hoc hominum? Quaeve hunc tam barbara morem
    permittit patria? Hospitio prohibemur harenae;
    bella cient, primaque vetant consistere terra.

    Who knows, maybe official hearts would be softened and they’d get the response

    Tros Tyriusque mihi nullo discrimine agetur.

  11. Y, Etienne: “It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time.” —Charles Fort

    David E: And if you had found out much later that the supposed epitaph was actually a fragment of the late Latin poet Rodobertus Gelus?

    Hat: I fear the unbroken thread was pretty thoroughly broken in North Africa, though it would be a great case of biter-bit: our ancestors sheltered yours in time of trouble, time to repay.

  12. it would be a great case of biter-bit: our ancestors sheltered yours in time of trouble, time to repay.

    Such was my thought, and it’s the European thread that’s relevant here, the Africans simply need to take advantage of it. (Of course, in the ruling halls of Europe there are no murals representing the history of Africa, but nothing’s perfect.)

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JC:

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5-VByarNY34C&pg=PA16&dq=carmina+epigraphica+52&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dt6CVaevKczn-AHqv4K4DQ&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=carmina%20epigraphica%2052&f=false

    I’d answer Question 3 “it was a standard trope in epitaphs of women, but its deployment here is not artless.”

  14. recited at public occasions and quoted with reverence, not as a source of “famous bits” to be pillaged for bathroom jokes.

    But those pious snippets are the very best material for potty jokes! I remember seeing one of those sex toy stores that sell sufferware called” Devices and Desires.” It had the double advantage of raunchy drag queen humor – the store served a largely gay clientele – and of being something of an in-joke, since it comes from the General Confession in the Morning Prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer:

    “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts….”

  15. But those pious snippets are the very best material for potty jokes!

    Oh, absolutely, and it’s delightful to learn that the Romans thought so too!

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    The great breakthrough in learning Latin comes when you realise that it wasn’t a code for writing high-minded histories and inspiring patriotic epics but an actual language, in which you could order your bread at the baker’s, chat up girls, be milk-curdlingly obscene, use irritating yoof-speak with the aim of winding up your elders …

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    … not necessarily in that order, of course.

  18. AJP Goat says:

    Gnatos duos creavit. Lanam fecit. “She had two sons. She made wool.”

    Strictly speaking, she didn’t actually makethe wool.

    Is there a Latin rule for when to use virumque and when et virum?

  19. cardinal gaius sextus von bladet says:

    The impossibility of learning David Eddyshaw’s proposed lesson is clearly seen in the all-too-frequent case of a literary critic who has just discovered a perfectly normal German word and has promptly awarded it an absurdly esoteric meaning that astonishingly happens to align with their critical agenda.

    The greatest breakthrough I personally ever made in Latin was breaking the chain of schoolboys. I may have been one of the first to not learn any Latin. (In my case, despite attending Latin classes. I blame the lack of a good Latin tabloid full of prinsesgossip, since I have little interest in inspiring patriotic epics.)

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Pompeii used to be an Oscan town, and had an Oscan-speaking population right up to the end, with Oscan public signs and graffiti.

    Public signs, too? I didn’t know that part.

    Pompeii also has some graffiti in Oscan, which to my mind indicates that the spread of Latin/Romance throughout the Roman Empire must have been a very slow and gradual process: after all, Pompeii wasn’t just any Roman town, it was geographically much closer to Rome than most. And if Oscan was still alive in Pompeii in 79 AD, then I suspect that it was alive if not dominant in the neighboring countryside. As must have been the case for a great many other local languages within the Empire.

    Well, yes. The Romans made no known effort to assimilate anyone linguistically; they themselves didn’t learn any other languages except Greek, but if you didn’t need to talk to a Roman, you basically didn’t need to even understand Latin, let alone stop speaking anything else. And so, the legend of St. Symphorian (son of a city senator, martyred in 178) contains a sentence in Gaulish.

    I wonder if this is why the Paleolithic Continuity Theorists claim to have found features of Italic languages other than Latin in modern dialects of the Iberian Peninsula: the Romans sent colonists from Italy long before Italy had become monolingual. This has also been suggested as an explanation for why Romanian has pt like P-Italic instead of ct like Latin, and why many Germanic runes look like non-Latin letters but apparently were only developed in the 2nd century.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    From Buck’s “Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian”:

    “Oscan was not a mere patois, nor was it so regarded by the earlier Roman writers. Ennius, in boasting of having three souls because he could speak Greek, Oscan and Latin, gave to Oscan a position which he had no thought of giving to the local vernacular of his home, the Messapian. For a long time, while Latin was still confined to Latium and its immediate borders, Oscan was spoken over a vastly wider territory.”

    It was used on the coinage minted by the Italians in their fight against Rome in the Social War of 90-88 BC.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coinage_of_the_Social_War_%2891%E2%80%9388_BC%29

  22. “I have little interest in inspiring patriotic epics”

    The Aeneid is a lot more than a patriotic epic, and it’s questionable whether it’s ultimately inspiring or deeply pessimistic.

  23. Yes, the older I get the more I appreciate the Aeneid (and lacrimae rerum).

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    Part of the problem with learning Latin in school is that the great literature you are exposed to was not written for children and is not easy to appreciate at that age no matter how well you have acquired the language itself.

    I hated Tacitus when I was a schoolboy because he just seemed gratuitously miserable and negative (and, to be honest, because his actual style was so hard.) It’s only as an adult that you really understand why he takes the tone he does and learn to appreciate rather than resent what he does with Latin.

    Horace, now: any teenager who really appreciates Horace is old before his time. His sort of Epicureanism is no right doctrine for the young. And again, his greatness as a poet is much more in the way that he says it than in what he actually says, a priority of form over content that rarely appeals to the young (or to our entire paedomorphic contemporary culture, come to that, which thinks that “creative” and “original” are synonyms.)

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would also like to declare that “inspiring national epic” was not meant to be pejorative.

    The Aeneid is certainly more than that; but it’s not less than that, either. It succeeds (opinor) in being inspiring in a great part exactly because of its subtlety and understanding that where there are victors there are always victims.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    @A Julius Porcianus Caper:

    “Is there a Latin rule for when to use virumque and when et virum?”

    Not an absolute one, but -que tends to be used to link words belonging particularly closely, for example either near synonyms or pointed contrasts, as in the standing expressions

    terra marique “by land and sea”
    domi bellique “in war and peace”

    and of course Senatus Populusque Romanus

    (I purloined this from the excellent Rubenbauer/Hoffmann grammar.)

    “arma virumque” certainly belongs in this category (also “arma et virum cano” doesn’t scan)

  27. David,
    The Romans made no known effort to assimilate anyone linguistically; they themselves didn’t learn any other languages except Greek,

    They seem to have had no real sense of other languages at all other than Greek. They seem to have been incapable of distinguishing between Celtic-speaking and Germanic-speaking tribes unless there was some actual political distinction for them to go on.

    While we are on the subject of Italic, what is the consensus these days about Italo-Celtic? How close were those two groups – is it an valid clade? How close were Gaulish, Lepontic, etc on one side and specifically Latin on the other- were they close enough that people language-shifted easily, closed enough that lexical items from Gaulish could be so easily Latinized that they became impossible to identify as Gaulish?

  28. The fact that -que is lost without trace in all the Romance languages suggests that it was not a feature of the colloquial style, except in cliches imported from the formal style. The SPQR stamped on manhole covers in Rome stands for Sono porci/pazzi, questi romani, как известно.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    “They seem to have been incapable of distinguishing between Celtic-speaking and Germanic-speaking tribes unless there was some actual political distinction for them to go on.”

    Not so sure of that. Tacitus’ Germania seems to be about speakers of Germanic languages pretty much.

    Part of the trouble is that we ourselves don’t always know the linguistic affiliation of groups named in the classical authors; moreover, maybe we are in danger of imposing our modern idea of ethnicity as intimately linked with language on peoples who themselves would have seen no very close or necessary connection.

    Incidentally, the Wikipedia article about the Germania claims that the common use of the term “German” for the Deutsche actually arose after the rediscovery of Tacitus’ work in 1425, and that the work itself had a significant influence on subsequent German concepts of themselves as a people. If this is so, it would be a fascinating case of nature imitating (perhaps not very reliable) ethnography.

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Rather as if the Samoans had discovered Margaret Mead and decided that they had better try to be a bit more promiscuous)

  31. They seem to have had no real sense of other languages at all other than Greek.

    Indeed. As Tolkien says about the Germanic word for ‘Romance-speaker’ which surfaces in Old English as walh, wealh (and of which Wales is the plural): “It was, therefore, basically a word of linguistic import; and in itself implied in its users more linguistic curiosity and discrimination than the simple stupidity of the Greek barbaros.”

    what is the consensus these days about Italo-Celtic?

    There are surely common forms, of which the assimilation of /*p…kʷ/ to /kʷ…kʷ/ is the best known, as in *penkʷe > Latin quinque. (In Celtic it was followed by the loss of /p/, and in P-Celtic by the change of both original and assimilated /kʷ/ to /p/.) Other non-controversial cases are the genitive singular in /i/, the subjunctive (former optative) in /a:/, and the preterite derived not just from the IE perfect (as in Germanic) but from the aorist as well. But whether these are shared innovations (as would be needed to show a common ancestor), shared retentions, independent changes, or contact effects is a question. In particular, passive /-r/ was thought to be a shared Italo-Celtic innovation, until it was found in Anatolian and Tocharian, and therefore is a good candidate for a shared retention.

    Ringe et al. hold that Celto-Italic is a legitimate node, but also that it branched off immediately after Anatolian and Tocharian, with the rest of IE as its sister group. In addition to the above, they point to the cognate Italic and Celtic forms for ‘lake’ and for ‘sing’ as a verbal root, and more tentatively to a partial morphological shift from an abstract noun forming suffix /-ti-/ to a compound form /ti-Hen/; they characterize the evidence as “slender but fairly solid.” Others of course will disagree.

    How close were Gaulish, Lepontic, etc on one side and specifically Latin on the other?

    Very close phonologically: Gaulish is essentially Latin with more diphthongs, so that Gaulish speakers could probably manage Latin with little or no foreign accent. Not so close that there was any question of mutual intelligibility with Latin.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    Surely the very name “Wales” shows that the Germanic etymon means “not-Germanic-speaking” rather than “Romance speaking”? Basically, “barbarian.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walhaz

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    Are there any similarly old common Germanic words to label speakers of Slavonic or Finno-Ugrian languages? If not, given that *walhaz seems to have arisen from the name of a Celtic group, and been applied in Britain to speakers of Celtic languages, if it has any meaning narrower than “not Germanic”, that would presumably be political rather than linguistic: “person from the territory of the old Roman empire.”

    Again, pace Tolkien, it may well be anachronistic to think that purely linguistic factors would have been thought of as particularly important by any of the groups involved in determining how they understood themselves.

  34. Rodger C says:

    Tacitus’ Germania seems to be about speakers of Germanic languages pretty much.

    But he also hesitates on whether the Venedae (Slavs) should be classified as German or Sarmatian, as if they had to be shoehorned into one or the other already-familiar category. Of course it’s unlikely he met any.

  35. I may have been one of the first to not learn any Latin. (In my case, despite attending Latin classes.[])</i

    I’m afraid, Your Eminence lost the precedence here by a couple of millennia.

  36. Rodger C says:

    Are there any similarly old common Germanic words to label speakers of Slavonic or Finno-Ugrian languages?

    Wends and Finns.

  37. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Rodger C:

    True enough. I certainly wouldn’t want to overegg the pudding by trying to make out that the Romans had anything like our appreciation of foreign languages; though I would also say that they were hardly exceptional in that.

    It also occurs to me that it is pure chance that we have the Germania at all. Vast amounts of classical literature have been lost, especially stuff unlikely to appeal to early mediaeval monks. It’s perfectly possibly that there was a good deal of competent ethnographic and even linguistic work which would have fascinated us which has perished because our literate forebears didn’t find it especially edifying.

    Claudius wrote an Etruscan grammar, if I remember right.

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Rodger C (again)

    “Wends and Finns.”

    Good thought. But are the term used as labels for speakers of particular language families (as opposed to ethnic groups or inhabitants of particular geographical areas) as Tolkien implies *walhaz was? Were all Slavs “Wends”? Were Lapps “Finns”?

    The later derivatives of *walhaz evidently did eventually come to apply to groups associated with particular languages; but that doesn’t justify Tolkien’s swipe at the Greeks, who by that period had had plenty of words of their own for numerous different foreign languages for quite some time.

  39. Claudius wrote an Etruscan grammar

    Indeed, in twenty books.

    Were Lapps “Finns”?

    To judge by the saga evidence, they were the prototypical “Finns”, primitive hunter-gatherers (from the Nordic viewpoint) but with powerful magic. The ancestors of the modern Finns were essentially intrusive IE-speakers who learned Sami but pronounced it badly. 🙂

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    Tolkien was no ignoramus, heaven knows. I wondered what came before the “therefore” and discovered his characteristically interesting lecture.

    http://www.frodo.ru/library/tolkien/English_and_Welsh.txt

    “It seems clear that the word walh, wealh which the English brought with them was a common Germanic name for a man of what we should call Celtic speech.But in all the recorded Germanic languages in which it appears it was also applied to the speakers of Latin. That may be due, as is usually assumed, to the fact that Latin eventually occupied most of the areas of Celtic speech within the knowledge of Germanic peoples. But it is, I think, also in part a linguistic judgement, reflecting that very similarity in style of Latin and Gallo-Brittonic that I have already mentioned. It did not occur to anyone to call a Goth a walh even if he was long settled in Italy or in Gaul. Though ‘foreigner’ is often given as the first gloss on wealh in Anglo-Saxon dictionaries this is misleading. The word was not applied to foreigners of Germanic speech, nor to those of alien tongues, Lapps, Finns, Esthonians, Lithuanians, Slavs, or Huns, with whom the Germanic-speaking peoples came into contact in early times. (But borrowed in Old Slavonic in the form ulachu it was applied to the Roumanians.) It was, therefore, basically a word of linguistic import; and in itself implied in its users more linguistic curiosity and discrimination than the simple stupidity of the Greek barbaros.”

    I’m not altogether persuaded by this but it does answer some of my objections.

  41. But certainly your political gloss ‘Roman citizen/subject’ fits with the evidence too. “Ulachu” should be “vlach&ubreve;”.

  42. When you start out studying Latin (or any classical language) you are expected to think all of the surviving works in it are perfect masterpieces. I wish I’d read early on Huysmans’ takedown (in À Rebours) of the entirety of Latin literature (except Petronius), to balance that out.

  43. AJP Igg says:

    Thanks, Eddy – also for the Rubenbauer/Hoffmann grammar.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    Only in French are masterpieces ever perfect. English masterpieces are gloriously flawed, and masterpieces nonetheless.

    Who’s for the Racine vs Shakespeare celebrity deathmatch?

    Latin literature as we have it, I think, is actually a bit nearer the French end, but the selection that has come down to us is incredibly skewed, consisting on the one hand of a very few things like Virgil which were recognised as exceptional practically from the outset, along with a tantalising set of random chance survivals which we nearly never had at all, like Catullus and Tacitus, to show us how much more and how much more varied Latin literature originally was.

  45. English masterpieces are gloriously flawed, and masterpieces nonetheless.

    As are Russian ones.

  46. Trond Engen says:

    Finn was the regular Norwegian word for “Sami (person)” until quite recently, at least in Northern dialects.

  47. Trond Engen says:

    David Eddyshaw: (Rather as if the Samoans had discovered Margaret Mead and decided that they had better try to be a bit more promiscuous)

    But then, who haven’t?

  48. Bathrobe says:

    That Tolkien talk is inspiring for lovers of language:

    The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in a higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from the practical knowledge of a language, and not the same as an analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted, and yet more immediate than the enjoyment of literature. Though it may be allied to some of the elements in the appreciation of verse, it does not need any poets, other than the nameless artists who composed the language. It can be strongly felt in the simple contemplation of a vocabulary, or even in a string of names.

    On Gothic and Finnish:

    Gothic was the first to take me by storm, to move my heart. It was the first of the old Germanic languages that I ever met. I have since mourned the loss of Gothic literature. I did not then. The contemplation of the vocabulary in A Primer of the Gothic Language was enough: a sensation at least as full of delight as first looking into Chapman’s Homer. Though I did not write a sonnet about it. I tried to invent Gothic words.
    I have, in this peculiar sense, studied (‘tasted’ would be better) other languages since. Of all save one among them the most overwhelming pleasure was provided by Finnish, and I have never quite got over it.

    On Welsh, he sent me running to look up ‘adminicle’:

    For myself I would say that more than the interest and uses of the study of Welsh as an adminicle of English philology, more than the practical linguist’s desire to acquire a knowledge of Welsh for the enlargement of his experience, more even than the interest and worth of the literature, older and newer, that is preserved in it, these two things seem important: Welsh is of this soil, this island, the senior language of the men of Britain; and Welsh is beautiful.

  49. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Trond Engen:

    “Finn was the regular Norwegian word for ‘Sami (person)’”

    That’s interesting. So what was the word for “Finn”?

  50. Trond Engen says:

    Also finn, especially in the south, but the usage differed with dialect and maybe even context. Finnish slash-and-burn settlers in the southern forests were known as skogfinner “Forest Finns”. Finnish speakers from northern Finland settling in northern Norway were (and their descendants still are) known as kvæner. A Sami finn following the prototypical Sami lifestyle, was a fjellfinn “Mountain Finn”.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    Seems the answer to my original question about the scope of the word “Finn” was “yes”!

  52. Trond Engen says:

    In Norway they were. Swedish usage generally discerned between lappar “Sami people” and finnar “Finns”. Lapp was also used in Norway, but mostly, I think, as a result of Swedish influence. My grandfather the genealogist speculated that our distant ancestor Simeon Fjelldal was Sami and suggested that the farm he settled in a valley in Rana, Norway, was a lapprønning. The Rana dialect has some distinctive vocabulary (and possibly other features) from Swedish (often attributed to an influx of refugees from Jemtland after the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645).

  53. Jeffry House says:

    So when was it that “Finn” stopped being the normal word for Sami, Trond?

    In my high school textbook for Geography, 1961 or so, I remember memorizing a distinction between “Samer” and “Kvaener”, but no Finns (except in Finland) and no skogfinner, either.

    I don’t think there was a Sami Parliament like there is now, though.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    But whether these are shared innovations (as would be needed to show a common ancestor), shared retentions, independent changes, or contact effects is a question. In particular, passive /-r/ was thought to be a shared Italo-Celtic innovation, until it was found in Anatolian and Tocharian, and therefore is a good candidate for a shared retention.

    Ringe et al. hold that Celto-Italic is a legitimate node, but also that it branched off immediately after Anatolian and Tocharian, with the rest of IE as its sister group.

    As far as I know, their only piece of evidence for this early divergence is the passive in -/r/, or rather the assumption that this ending can only have been replaced by -/i/ a single time. I don’t know what they find so compelling about that assumption.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Jeffrey House: So when was it that “Finn” stopped being the normal word for Sami, Trond?

    In colloquial northern speech, I’d say early 20th century.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    Jeffry House: I don’t think there was a Sami Parliament like there is now, though.

    Established 1989.

  57. David: It is only one character, but it speaks loud and clear: Hittite, Tocharian, Italic, and Celtic uniformly with /-r/ (with no evidence available from Lycian) vs. Hellenic, Indo-Iranian, and Germanic uniformly with /-i/ (with no evidence from OHG). Armenian, Albanian, and Balto-Slavic are silent. If you believe that Hittite and Tocharian are the first two branches, then Italic or Celtic or Italo-Celtic must be the next: there is no other character that contradicts it, modulo the known problems with Germanic and the character ‘tears’, which has lost its initial consonant (a thing which might happen to anybody) in Tocharian as well as Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    there is no other character that contradicts it

    There are several. Off the top of my head, if Italo-Celtic is the sister-group to Germanic, you only need to assume that the “kentum” merger happened 3 times (Hittite & friends, Greek, Western) instead of 4 (Italo-Celtic and Germanic separately), you only need to assume that the shortening of pretonic long vowels happened once instead of twice, you only need to assume that |t-t| clusters turned into */sː/ once instead of twice, and similar things might hold for the other long consonants (which were all absent from PIE). I’m sure there’s more. I’m sure Ringe knows most or all of them – and nonetheless assumes that the passive in */i/ outweights them all.

  59. The Fuluffyans’ view is that Germanic started out as a satem language and got mugged by Italo-Celtic when it moved next to them.

  60. English masterpieces are gloriously flawed, and masterpieces nonetheless.

    Macaulay put this in more measured tones, in his minute on the education of Indians, linked from here recently:

    How then stands the case? We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West. It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us, –with models of every species of eloquence, –with historical composition, which, considered merely as narratives, have seldom been surpassed, and which, considered as vehicles of ethical and political instruction, have never been equaled– with just and lively representations of human life and human nature, –with the most profound speculations on metaphysics, morals, government, jurisprudence, trade, –with full and correct information respecting every experimental science which tends to preserve the health, to increase the comfort, or to expand the intellect of man. Whoever knows that language has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations. It may safely be said that the literature now extant in that language is of greater value than all the literature which three hundred years ago was extant in all the languages of the world together.

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    Macaulay stands high in the league of Extremely Clever Yet Remarkably Silly People, some of whom have done very well for themselves, as he did.

  62. I hold him high in the league of extremely clever people with whose opinions I occasionally disagree.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think it’s a bit more radical than that in Macaulay’s case. There is a particularly striking and painful contrast between the awesomely high intellect and the astonishing lack of insight which even now is such a help to the career of many a politician.

    I don’t think you can let him off the hook by saying he was simply a man of his time and place (though there would be a pleasant irony in defending a man so spectacularly culture-blind in such terms.) After all, he plainly faced considerable opposition even at the time.

    Coming up with other examples risks being fairly accused of trolling, but I’ve always seen George Bernard Shaw and Enoch Powell as examples. You may well disagree about them individually (neither really deserves to be lumped in with Macaulay) but they both showed huge areas of startlingly poor judgment all the more surprising in people so greatly gifted in general.

    I’ve got Powell’s OUP edition of Thucydides and his Lexicon to Herodotus. Professor at 25. Brave man well beyond the call of duty. Knew Urdu. In no sense himself a racist. And then …

    GBS? Where to begin? But I should make it abundantly clear that you don’t get to be on the list without formidable and genuine accomplishments and virtues.

  64. Maybe we can agree on this: intellect of any kind, whether awesomely high or moderate, does not strongly correlate with insight or an astonishing lack of it.

    What I appreciate in Macaulay is his sharp way of arguing a point without denigrating the person of his opponents. One doesn’t find him attacking these with phrases like “spectacularly culture-blind” and “startlingly poor judgment”.

  65. @ John, David: I think we all know that, but for the record – there is no “Passive in -i”. The “i” in Greek “-oi”, Indo-Iranian “-ai” etc. is just the marker of the present tense, as in the Active.

    Both the r-mediopassive and the Indo-Greek mediopassive are based on endings from the Medium / Perfect paradigm, just on different ones. My late former teacher Erich Neu argued that the r-endings in Anatolian actually spread by a different route than the Italic, Celtic, and Tokharian r-endings, and that the r-endings in Italic and Celtic go back to what was originally an impersonal form that became a passive later. That would mean that this could have happened independently from Anatolian, so an early branch-off would not be necessary.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    ^ Very interesting!

  67. If you’re interested in reading more, this is the book where he developed these ideas, based on a detailed investigation of the morphology of the Hittite Mediopassive.

  68. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks! I’m reading the Google preview now. 🙂

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Rodger C, Trond Engen:

    You (RC) were also absolutely right about “Wend” as a generic name for Slavs in contact with Germans.

    (I happened to be reminded of the odd Finnish name for Russia, Venäjä, and finally thought to look it up. “Ruotsi”, as Macaulay’s schoolboy can tell you, is Sweden, where the founders of “Russia” came from.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wends

    So Germanic speakers did indeed have generic terms for speakers of Finnic and Slavonic languages.

    Still, I suppose you could still interpret these as being essentially labels for ethnic rather than linguistic groups, but with the two happening to coincide in these cases; with the only one of these old Germanic foreigner-labels where ethnic group and language did not fully coincide, *walhaz, the term seems to refer to ethnicity rather than language.

Speak Your Mind

*