Grammatical Mistakes in Medieval Texts.

Bathrobe sent me this extremely interesting response from Will Scathlocke at Quora:

What kind of grammatical mistakes are most prevalent in medieval and later texts written in Latin or Greek by non-native speakers?

Do you by “mistake” mean a deviation from the sort of Latin which Caesar and Cicero wrote?

If so, then the most common sort in mediaeval Latin involves interference from the writer’s actual native language. For example, in classical Latin the preposition post always means “after, behind, in back of” and never “towards”. In the mediaeval Latin written by native speakers of German, the preposition post often enough does mean “towards” because the corresponding German preposition nach means both “after, behind” and “towards” (e.g. in the mediaeval Christmas carol “In dulci jubilo”, a Latin-German macaronic, it is trahe me post te, “draw me unto thee” or “zeuch mich hin nach dir”, where classical Latin would have used the preposition ad, “to, toward”.

Another common type of interference from people’s native languages involves the use of the infinitive to express purpose (in classical Latin a big no-no, but normal in most vernaculars in the post-classical period). Thus what in the creed comes out as venturus est iterum iudicare vivos et mortuos (“and He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead”) would be the following in classical Latin: iterum veniet ut vivos et mortuos iudicet (with ut plus subjunctive; lit. “and He shall come again that he may judge the quick and the dead”).

There’s plenty more at the link, including “the use of pseudo-Latin verbs coined on the basis of English ones” in the Magna Carta (imprisono, disseisio, utlago, exulo = “to imprison”, “to disseise”, “to outlaw”, “to exile”).

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    In terms of “do you mean a mistake,” surely it’s possible to deal with Late/Medieval Latin on its own terms, note that it has syntactic norms and lexemes that vary from those of Classical Latin, but also note that sometimes individual texts deviate from those medieval norms, i.e. do or say something that other competent scribes of the same era writing in Latin, none of whom (before the Renaissance) spent much time trying to ape a perfectly Ciceronian style, would agree was a mistake.

    I”m not sure disseize (and possibly not even imprison) was even an English word as of the date of Magna Charta. It was a Law French word at an early enough stage that the best understanding of Law French was probably not yet “specialized register of English used as in-group jargon by those in a specific trade.”

  2. Surely the phrase Trahe me post te in “In dulci jubilo” makes reference to the Vulgate translation of the opening verses of Song of Songs 1, where post te translates Hebrew אַחֲרֶיךָ ’aḥăreḵā “after thee, behind thee.” Although Heinrich Suso (or whoever was the author) may have taken post te as “nach dir”, or intended to have the phrase to be taken that way.

    I gather, perhaps incorrectly since I am away on the road away from my library, that Jerome originally had

    Trahe me post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum

    The Septuagint has εἵλκυσάν σε, ὀπίσω σου εἰς ὀσμὴν μύρων σου δραμοῦμεν, “They have drawn thee: we will run after thee to the smell of thine ointments.” (I don’t really understand how “they drew thee” was interpreted in context…) The Hebrew has nothing to correspond to “in odorem unguentorum tuorum” (which was probably introduced by into the Septuagint tradition through a copyist’s error, I suppose). The whole Hebrew phrase is

    מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה
    māšəḵênî ’aḥăreḵā nārūṣāh

    There seems to be some debate about how this is to be construed and punctuated: “Lead me off; let us run after thee!” or “Draw me after thee; let us make haste!” I grew up interpreting Trahe me post te curremus as “Draw me after you, we will run…” mainly from the phrasing in motets such as Palestrina’s.

    This has been interesting to look into even though I am on a bus–I didn’t know this passage was such a crux. Maybe other readers can fill in the details or correct errors.

  3. “Imprisono” is my favorite because through fortuitous orthography it totally looks like they just slapped a Latin verb ending on a regular English word (in a way that e.g. “utlago” does not). “Hey Richard, what’s Latin for ‘horse’ again?” “Just use ‘horsus’ or something, dude, in 800 years no one’s going to care.”

  4. Unrelated, but has anyone had a look at this:

    The Art of Travel, 1500-1850, is a database of European travel advice literature (Ars apodemica) from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The project aims to recover and reconstruct the transnational genre of travel advice literature, exploring its intellectual and cultural contexts, and illustrating its lasting importance. We are a collaborative international project based at the Moore Institute of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

    https://artoftravel.nuigalway.ie/

  5. The Hebrew has nothing to correspond to “in odorem unguentorum tuorum” (which was probably introduced by into the Septuagint tradition through a copyist’s error, I suppose).
    Errors are always possible, but as J. W. Brewer mentioned on another thread that some of the Dead Sea scrolls seem to contain a Hebrew text that goes with the Septuagint against currently extant Hebrew text traditions, the Septuagint text here may also be based on a Hebrew text variant that was subsequently lost.

  6. JWB: It’s too close to call. The OED first records disseise in English in 1330 (the first and only Anglo-French citation is Britton 1292: “Cestui est proprement disseisi qi a tort est engetté de acun tenement”), and imprison in 1297. So they may or may not have been current in 1215 when Magna Carta was first proclaimed.

  7. So in other words if Latin is a dead language, it died a lot later than is generally assumed.

  8. Kept alive by regular lexical and grammatical transfusions from both direct descendants and more distant relations.

  9. > the use of the infinitive to express purpose (in classical Latin a big no-no, but normal in most vernaculars in the post-classical period). Thus what in the creed comes out as venturus est iterum iudicare vivos et mortuos

    Just curious, is it normal in most vernaculars like this, a bare infinitive without a preposition? That to me would seem like an error that English/German speakers would be likely to make. The other European languages I know would require some preposition like para/per/pour/for in front of the infinitive.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Latin is not dead: it is the official language of the Vatican and some people there are busy inventing new words and phrases for modern concepts. I don’t know about grammatical innovations.

  11. Just curious, is it normal in most vernaculars like this, a bare infinitive without a preposition? That to me would seem like an error that English/German speakers would be likely to make. The other European languages I know would require some preposition like para/per/pour/for in front of the infinitive.

    German wouldn’t use the bare infinitive here as well, but the Infinitive plus zu (“zu richten”) or even um zu (“um zu richten”. But AFAIK Latin doesn’t distinguish between a bare infinitive and a prepositional construction with the infinitive.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I actually wonder if zu richten in the Apostolic Creed, where I’d expect um […] zu richten, is a calque that wasn’t quite grammatical at the time.

    I also don’t think venturus est (with the future active participle) is some kind of error for veniet (plain future). Its Classical meaning isn’t simply “will come”, but “has to come”, “should come”, “is to come”; that may be intended here as conveying “it is preordained and inevitable”.

  13. it totally looks like they just slapped a Latin verb ending on a regular English word (in a way that e.g. “utlago” does not)

    Except that utlaga (noun) is totes a regular English word from back in the day, even if we spell it outlaw now. It’s also part of the evidence that law is not a borrowing from loi but a cognate of it: one of the few legal terms — along with king, queen, right, moot, deem, dock(et), burden (of proof) — of native origin still in use.

  14. Will Scathlocke has a bunch of interesting responses to various linguistic questions (and others) on quora. A pity he doesn’t step out of the shadows more than he does.

    (Then again, maybe he does. The question then becomes, where? and under what name?)

  15. > German wouldn’t use the bare infinitive here as well, but the Infinitive plus zu (“zu richten”) or even um zu

    Right, what I wrote was confusing, I shouldn’t have written “bare”. I just wanted to point out that the given sentence seemed like something an English speaker would write, because “to judge” was translated directly to “iudicare”, infinitive to infinitive. I’m not sure if “zu” in German is considered part of the infinitive (as in English, at least sometimes) or a preposition/marker that comes before it.

    In some other languages, there would be a preposition, “para juzgar” etc. In e.g. Danish “at dømme”, “at” is an infinitive marker and never a preposition. But to express purpose we still need a preposition: “for at dømme”. So I’m curious if any vernaculars would use “pro iudicare” or “ut iudicare” instead of just “iudicare” to express purpose.

  16. I’m not sure if “zu” in German is considered part of the infinitive (as in English, at least sometimes) or a preposition/marker that comes before it.

    It’s not considered part of the infinitive. There is a distinction between verbs (mostly modal) that take the bare infinitive and other verbs (the vast majority) that require zu + infinitive.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re “venturus est,” I expect (unless the history is even more complex than the complexities I know of!) that that was already in the standard Latin text of the Creed by the 5th century if not the 4th. Lots of Christian Latin from Late Antiquity deviates from high-falutin’ prescriptive norms of Posh Latin based on the usage of the first centuries BC and AD, which led to some sniffiness by Renaissance humanists besotted with pagan notions of literary merit, but Latin of that era was not necessarily affected by interference from a definitely-not-Latin L1 vernacular the way Latin of the 10th or 11th centuries might have been. The day-to-day language Augustine of Hippo (or even Ambrose of Milan) spoke may have been materially different from that which Cicero had spoken, but it’s still probably more useful to think of it as Late Latin (in some sort of vernacular register) rather than a separate Romance tongue.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    So I’m curious if any vernaculars would use “pro iudicare” or “ut iudicare” instead of just “iudicare” to express purpose.

    That would trigger declination of the infinitive, the so-called gerund: pro/ut iudicando. Just in case anyone actually fires up the Google machine.

  19. Except that utlaga (noun) is totes a regular English word from back in the day, even if we spell it outlaw now.

    Yes, it’s purely about orthography. Imprisono = funny. *Outlawo = funny. Utlago = meh. Perhaps if I’d studied OE more diligently and internalized its inflections properly I’d find an -o ending more amusing!

  20. David Marjanović says:

    declination

    Uh, declension.

    (Why has this one of all grammatical terms gone through French?)

  21. marie-lucie says:

    DM: The French word corresponding to “declension” is la déclinaison.

  22. Declensio is perfectly cromulent Latin, “falling away.”

  23. Matt: Yes, I see what you mean. It’s kind of like Mock Spanish, which goes from “numero uno” to “numero two-o”. Fortunately, there aren’t any Latin-speakers left to be insulted by it.

  24. @BWA: It seems quite odd to me for somebody to use “Will Scathlocke” as a pseudonym, since (according to legend), that was the real name of Will Scarlet.

  25. Just looked at the Nicene creed in Greek, to see if venturus est is a calque, like so much early Christian Latin.

    Turns out the entire Greek text is a string of participles in the accusative, agreeing with καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν. (They are aorist participles for past events, present ones for future events like this one.) Latin converted them into relative clauses.

    So no calque.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Declensio is perfectly cromulent Latin, “falling away.”

    Oh. That explains a few things. I thought the English was some kind of reduction of French déclinaison, which looks like it’s the regular development (or semicultismo?) of the source of German Deklination

  27. Lars (the original one) says:

    Since Danish was mentioned: It is true that modern Danish would prefer for at dømme to express purpose, but the traditional form of the creed does in fact go hvorfra Han skal komme at dømme levende og døde. The at that marks the infinitive in many constructions is actually a bleached preposition cognate with English at (and surviving in Danish ad ‘along,’ older ‘towards’) that originally expressed purpose or intent when used with an infinitive in a free prepositional phrase; the bleaching happened when such phrases were grammaticalized as complements of verbs like ‘wish’ and ‘want’ and the form was then generalized as a noun form of the infinitive. (I would guess that the story is more or less the same for German zu, the Danish development may even have been encouraged by if not calqued from big brother, and for English to).

    Also the part of the creed after og på Jesus Kristus, vor Herre is a string of participial phrases like in Greek, except for the final one which is a relative phrase as above because the modal verbs that express future don’t really do the adjectival participle thing and using the present participle of komme for a future action is too strained.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    a string of participial phrases

    Also in German, to the point of being ungrammatical in gelitten unter Pontius Pilatus “suffered under P. P.”, which needs “have” somewhere (at least gelitten habend “having suffered”, which would still be rather construed). The whole thing seems to have been translated two or three words at a time.

  29. I thought the English was some kind of reduction of French déclinaison

    It is. The Latin word is declinatio, not declensio.

  30. Declensio is perfectly cromulent Latin, “falling away.”

    I thought the English was some kind of reduction of French déclinaison,

    It is. The Latin word is declinatio, not declensio.

    How did English get from déclinaison to the perfectly cromulent declension, even though this was not the customary Latin term for the concept?

  31. I’m skeptical that “declensio” was originally valid Latin (it may certainly have existed at some point in Latin as a borrowing from English “declension”). There doesn’t seem to be any plausible Latin word for it to be based on, like *declensus. Looking online, the only sources I found that support the idea of a Latin “declensio” seem to be 19th-century English dictionaries and an encyclopedia123 page that has a warning at the top saying “Do not rely on this information. It is very old.”

  32. Declensio is not found in Latin dictionaries, nor in Perseus search tool. Merriam Webster, probably out of desperation, thinks that French declinaison was borrowed as declinsion and then “regularized” under the influence of words like ascension..

    In an case, declension is strictly an English-only form.

  33. The OED explanation looks quite convincing to me:

    Represents L. dēclīnātiōn-em (n. of action f. dēclīnāre to decline), F. déclinaison (13th c.). The form is irregular, and its history obscure: possibly it came from the F. word, by shifting of the stress as in comparison, orison, benison, and loss of ĭ, as in venĭson, ven’son, giving declin’son (cf. 1565 in 4), with subsequent assimilative changes; the grammatical sense was the earliest, and the word had no doubt a long colloquial existence in the grammar schools before the English form appears in print. Cf. conster

  34. The confusing part is the -sion, which has to go back to underlying -tionem, with the usual /ti/ > /si/ palatalization. Declinaison actually looks more irregular: why isn’t in declinaision? I note the parallel of late ligationem > liaison, so perhaps this is a regular change.

  35. @JC. -aison is the result of -ationem unless the word has been perturbed by reborrowing. Think venaison/venison from venationem.

    The word declinaison must be a sort of chimera, since declin- must be taken from medieval Latin, but the ending is unalloyed historical French.

  36. Well well. I confess I Googled it and came across that encyclopedia123 page without looking at it closely. I could have sworn that it occurred in Lucretius–maybe it was archaic?–but evidently I was remembering English discussions of the concept of “declension of atoms.”

  37. Ah, being a chimera explains it. English is full of them, of course (like redo, with its Romance prefix and native root) but I don’t think of them as being a component of French. In Dutch, although there are lots of Romance borrowings, Romance affixes aren’t added to native roots.

    For that matter, perhaps declension is a hybrid too, with only slightly modified French declen- and -sion as the regular English outcome of -tionem.

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