Michael Weiss of Cornell University has put online (at his homepage) an Outline of the Comparative Grammar of Latin:

My goal in putting together this outline is modest. I hope to provide the English-speaking/reading student with an up-to-date, reliable, introduction to the historical and comparative phonology and morphology of Latin… The outline is divided into 41 lessons of 5 to 10 pages in length. With a moderate amount of haste, the whole course may be completed in one semester.
I encourage anyone to download these outlines for teaching or learning purposes. They are obviously not intended as works of scholarship and should not be quoted as such. Comments, and corrections, which will be appreciated, may be sent to mlw36@cornell.edu

It’s unfortunate that the chapters are in pdf format (which makes them annoying to access and impossible to quote easily), but I understand the reason: when you’re using lots of Greek and other specialized type, it’s best not to risk the vagaries of HTML. Anyway, it’s an invaluable resource and worth the slight effort. To give just one example of the riches contained within, the chapter on Etruscan (pdf) has a nice detailed analysis of a bilingual inscription, with scrupulous descriptions of alternate views.

There are the usual errors endemic to unedited text; from the “Stress Laryngeal” chapter (pdf):
“the accent system was fundamental transformed”
“There is only one change, which may require…” (for “change that”)
“the Grammarian prescribe that”
But I’m sure over time these, as well as whatever other problems may be lurking, will be weeded out.
(Via Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey.)


  1. “when you’re using lots of Greek and other specialized type, it’s best not to risk the vagaries of HTML.”
    Why? I did all that just fine on my (now-defunct) weblog Nephelokokkygia. Working with Greek, Old Church Slavonic, Sanskrit etc. is quite easy, it doesn’t take long to learn.
    And to those who find comparative study of Latin, I’d recommend Andrew Sihler’s NEW COMPARATIVE GRAMMAR OF GREEK AND LATIN (Oxford University Press, ~1994), *the* work for the field, and a lot of fun. Somewhat pricey, however, but it’s worth it.

  2. Yeah, but you’re a blogger. This guy’s a professor who probably would quail at the thought of trying to master even as much HTML as needed for this. (But Prof. Weiss, if you read this, we’d all appreciate it if you’d make the effort!) The Sihler sounds great, and I’ll look for it at the library.
    I hope you’ll consider reviving Nephelokokkygia at some point — I’m sure I’m not the only one who misses it.

  3. Bob Violence says

    Actually, a lot of classics professors are pretty computer-savvy–things like Perseus (www.perseus.tufts.edu) and lots of other web resources have been created by professors (probably with a lot of help from grad students).
    A question, though: comparative grammars of Greek and Latin are usually concerned with phonology and morphology. These are interesting subjects, but why don’t I ever see syntax discussed in comparative grammars?
    I second LH’s comments on Nephelokokkygia. It was both enjoyable and useful.

  4. Re: “vagaries of HTML”: indeed, speaking from experience, it can prove to be rather cumbersome to deal simultaneously with markup, style, and Unicode. It can easily be ten times the amount of time and effort vs. wordprocessing.
    Re: Sihler as “*the* work”: indeed a valuable English-language work, but it tends to be more idiosyncratic than representative of communis opinio. Its utility is further limited by a lack of references. Michael’s outlines are more standard, drawing heavily from dominant European scholarship.
    Re: under-representation of syntax: I guess it’s the difficulty of working with historical syntactic developments and the dominance of phonology and morphology in all aspects of our formation since the Neogrammarians. P. Baldi’s _Foundations of Latin_ aims to address this under-representation, and many scholars do work in historical syntax, but the findings have yet to be collected in one reference.

  5. “why don’t I ever see syntax discussed in comparative grammars?”
    Because syntax was the last field of Indo-European linguistics to be explored, and it is still underappreciated. I believe Lehmann has published at least one general work on the topic. I’ll find out.
    As far as reviving Nephelokokkygia goes, it’ll either wait until I get a graduate degree, or I have a professor willing to approve all posts (which is unlikely with the workload at LUC’s Classical Studies department). I know that the blog is missed by some, but I have come to have a deep respect for academic hierarchy, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do anything on my own without a degree to show that I am at least a somewhat trustworthy source.

  6. Bob Violence says

    Speaking as a member of the academic hierarchy, I’ve never been one to see an advanced degree as a reliable sign of trustworthiness. I’d rather evaluate ideas than sheepskins, and your blog had enough interesting ideas in it that I’d like to read what else you had to say.

  7. Michael Weiss says

    Dear Languagehat et al.
    Thanks for plugging my grammar! The errors you point out are precisely the kind I hoped the web world at large would help me with. As for the PDF format, alas, I don’t have the computer chops to do it any other way.
    If I might respond to the question on historical syntax: there is indeed a long tradition of work on syntax. Some notable names: Berthold Delbrück, Jacob Wackernagel, Einar Löfstedt, and in more recent times, Mark Hale, Andrew Garrett, A. Devine and L. Stephens. Given the scope of an introductory course, it’s hard to include a systematic survey of syntax, but I have smuggled in some syntactic observations in later chapters of my CGL. Any comments or corrections will be greatly appreciated.

  8. Even though I’m a graduate of Cornell’s classics department (where I took only Greek, not Latin) my comment is on the use of PDFs, which I am fond of and quote often. There is a text capture tool that works very well in the professional version of Acrobat; I use it all the time in my work and in my writing. All the press clippings and internet captures for the book I’m writing are in .PDF format, so I’m going back and forth pretty often. (You do often have to reformat the pasted text.) NOW I’ll go look at Michael Weiss’s grammar!

  9. John McChesney-Young says

    Beth wrote in part, “There is a text capture tool that works very well in the professional version of Acrobat”
    The current free read-only version of Acrobat, Adobe Reader, also includes both “Select Text” and “Select Image” commands. These won’t work in all .pdf files, but they do on these very useful outlines. If I’m not mistaken, the Greek doesn’t appear to be in Unicode, so at least in my preliminary stabs at copying and pasting into a word processing/text editing environment the Greek turns into something vaguely reminiscent of a transcription into Latin letters, but with enough erroneous characters to render it unusable.
    I plan to post news of this to the Classics and Latinteach lists; my thanks to Dr. Weiss!

  10. I’ve never been one to see an advanced degree as a reliable sign of trustworthiness. I’d rather evaluate ideas than sheepskins
    Seconded. And an interesting site.

Speak Your Mind