Roberto Ugoccioni’s Kalendae program converts between modern and Roman dates. I learned about it at Bill Poser’s Language Log post, where you will also find a discussion of whether Caesar said “Et tu, Brute” or “καὶ σὺ τέκνον” to his old friend Brutus, who was in the process of murdering him, as well as an appeal to social historians to help him (Poser, that is, not Caesar) decide on the extent to which upper-class Romans routinely spoke Greek with each other, a question about which I too am curious.

Update (Feb. 2020). The original link is dead; here’s an archived version.


  1. It shouldn’t be hard to develop a universal calendar allowing all conversions (Chinese, Muslim, Julian, Gregorian, and quite a few more — e.g., the Seleucid calendar was still in use in Persia in the thirteenth century).
    If it were developed as a kind of wiki, specialists could add the niche calendars (e.g., the short-lived Chinese dynasties during periods of disunion.)
    Such a program could supersede quite a number of out-of-print books available only a few libraries, and it would also be more convenient to use than any of them.

  2. David Marjanović says

    There’s also one Roman historian who wrote that Caesar didn’t say anything. That sounds like the most likely possibility considering the 23 daggers in the body… one of which, Poser cites, is supposed to have been “right below the throat”…

  3. John Emerson: To support the true Hijri calendars, you’d need some sort of support for downloadable updates, since the new moon is actually determined by observation and isn’t perfectly predictable.

  4. Andrew Mihailoff says

    Julius Caesar evidently was a curious linguistic case-study. Cicero reports first hand to have marvelled at the future-dictator’s ability to read silently, an anecdote which has always fascinated me.
    As far as the καὶ σὺ τέκνον issue, of course there’s no way really to know what Caesar’s last words were, but speaking Greek was no big deal for inabitants of the Italic peninsula at any time in classical antiquity. Reading Greek of course would have been a different story, and the variety of Greek spoken by the Roman educated class would also have differed from the koine spoken throughout the oikumene.

  5. marie-lucie says

    It could well be that educated Romans (probably mostly men) in Italy spoke Greek like educated Russians in Dostoevsky’s novels speak French – that is, they did not have whole conversations in the language but peppered their Latin speech with words, phrases and entire sentences in Greek, showing off their common educated background which marked them off from lesser mortals. Those Romans had been educated by Greek “pedagogues” and the Russians by French governesses and tutors. This is quite a different thing from the general population having a working knowledge of the language.
    Caesar’s reported last words: like most people I only knew “Et tu, Brute?” which calls Brutus (wasn’t he C’s stepson?) by his name, but the Greek word “teknon” (sorry about the alphabet) is not a name, or is it? Could it be that the phrase was a quotation, for instance from a forgotten Greek play which featured a similar gory scene, and was reworked in Latin with the name because the literal translation from Greek was not considered quite appropriate to the situation?
    Re JuliusCaesar reading silently: I have often run into the same anecdote, but always as reported by St Augustine about one of his masters, much later than the time of Cicero and Caesar. Silent reading remained exceptional for centuries, eg Shakespeare presents Hamlet reading aloud while walking in a garden, as was the custom in antiquity. Reading aloud makes sense: you have to hear the words to truly understand them, especially if your writing system is not terribly user-friendly (eg not separating words clearly, or using too many letters that are similar to each other).

  6. To my knowledge the words “Et tu, Brute” appear first in Shakespeare, not in any ancient source. The only ancient source that I know of that gives Caesar’s last words is Suetonius, whom I quote in the post, and who gives the words in Greek.
    I’ll respond to Marie-Lucie on the use of teknon back at Language Log.

  7. Here is the site that goes with Calendrical Calculations. Their algorithms are even written in a real programming language, though they’ve been ported to others, including Java, so there’s an applet there.

  8. Oops. Updated link.

  9. I’ve got more on calendar conversion over at LL.

  10. marie-lucie says

    Bill at Language Log says that “teknon” means “child”, a word used from an older man to a younger one but not implying paternity: this is similar to English-speaking men addressing young boys as “son”, regardless of actual relationship. In French the equivalent would be “mon petit” (never “mon fils” it seems, which is only used for one’s own son), and for females “ma petite” or “ma fille” (which can be said from an older woman to a younger one, regardless of relationship). (Calling unrelated young people “son” or “ma fille” sounds a little old-fashioned or rural to me, am i right?).

  11. John’s site would, in some cases, be less pure algorithms and more lookup tables, which is where the Wiki benefit really kicks in. I believe that is how better Azan clocks work: one can pick MWL / EGAS / UIS / UAQ / ISNA / manual entry for the calendar.

  12. What’s the Greek or Latin for “Aaaaagh!”? I imagine Caesar probably said that.
    Also, I read on a blog the other day that there is no Classical Latin word for “moustache” (sorry, I can’t find the link). That would make sense since you either see ancient Romans bearded or clean-shaven. Apparently a portrait of one emperor (Heliogabalus?) has recently turned up showing him with a moustache, causing a flurry of consternation among scholars. But I could be misremembering.

  13. Plutarch’s account of the murder of Caesar (from his biography of Brutus) shows the protagonists speaking in both Greek and Latin: “…Casca, that stood behind him, drew his dagger first and strake Caesar upon the shoulder, but gave him no great wound. Caesar, feeling himself hurt, took him straight by the hand he held his dagger in, and cried out in Latin: ‘O traitor Casca, what dost thou?’ Casca on the other side cried in Greek, and called his brother to help him. Caesar, looking about him to have fled, saw Brutus with a sword drawn in his hand ready to strike at him: then he let Casca’s hand go, and casting his gown over his face, suffered every man to strike at him that would.”
    According to my Arden edition of the Shakespeare play, Et tu, Brute is not known in any classical source but is first recorded in The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York (printed 1595). Malone suggested the phrase might be from a lost Neo-Latin tragedy by Richard Edes, Epilogus Caesaris Interfecti, performed in Oxford in 1582.

  14. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie: In French the equivalent would be “mon petit” (never “mon fils” it seems, which is only used for one’s own son)
    It depends which French we’re talking about. It seems to me, as far as I can remember, that the French-speaking Pieds-noirs of North Africa use it fairly often, be it from an elder to a younger person or between people of the same generation — e.g. “Passe-moi le sel, fils.”

  15. Siganus Sutor says

    Regarding Caesar’s last words, some have in mind “Tu quoque, fili” — you too, my son — instead of the abovementioned “Et tu, Brute!”. Maybe it’s so because they have too much read Uderzo and Goscinny’s comic books (cf. Astérix Gladiateur, p. 38).

  16. andrew w. mironiuk says

    I think that Plutarch was as much an authority on Ceasar`s last words as Herodotus was on the building of pyramids. Both of them had been born too late to witness either happening.

  17. *marie-lucie, you must have meant Tolstoy’s novels, not Dostoevsky, right?
    Different class people, personages as well as their authors.
    As to degree of fluency in French displayed by Russian aristocracy: given general Frankophilia in high society, I suspect they spoke Russian as foreign language. Some were even stranger: they spoke English and German as natives due to being educated simultaneously by German, French and English governesses!

  18. It could well be that educated Romans… spoke Greek like educated Russians in Dostoevsky’s novels speak French – that is, they did not have whole conversations in the language but peppered their Latin speech with words, phrases and entire sentences in Greek
    Like Tatyana, I assume you mean Tolstoy, but in any case, regardless of the linguistic habits of ancient Romans, aristocratic Russians did in fact carry on entire conversations in French (often German and/or English as well), right up until the Revolution (and of course afterwards, in exile, but then it came under the heading of fitting in with their surroundings). This can be indicated in novels by simply tossing in the occasional phrase, but if you look at the beginning of War and Peace in Russian, you’ll see that the entire first paragraph (part of a dialogue) is in French with the exception of a few words in Russian. Nabokov grew up equally fluent in Russian, English, and French, learning to read in English before Russian, and he was not exceptional in this regard.

  19. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: “fils” : no, I didn’t know this usage – but it makes sense if you remember that many of the Pieds-Noirs were not of French origin, many of them were of Spanish ascendance, and in Spanish you can call young men “hijo”. The fact that there is no possessive as there is in France with many terms of address (“mon petit”, “ma tante”, “mon capitaine”, etc) seems to confirm this.
    (At a time when I had a circle of Latin-American women friends, we met a Romanian woman who had spent several years in Venezuela before arriving in Canada. She kept referring to “mi hijo”, so someone asked her if she had other children: she said no, she didn’t have any children. – But what about “mi hijo”? – oh, she said, I mean my husband!).
    Tatyana, LH: Yes, I know that some of the Russian aristocracy actually did not speak Russian (and that some spoke more than one language from early childhood), but I don’t think that the Romans of Caesar’s time went as far as not speaking Latin – after all the goal of every upper-class Roman male at that time was to go into politics, while the Russians, living in an absolute monarchy, could not aspire to this goal.
    I confess that I have not read Tolstoy (wait, I did read Anna Karenina at a time when I was much too young to understand it) – but years ago I read several of the Dostoevsky novels (in French), and I was surprised at the amount of French (indicated in italics) that was spoken by the characters, never at great length but they obviously could have done so if they wanted to. It seems to me that the Roman-Greek bilingualism could have been of this kind, as the Plutarch version perhaps suggests. (Notice that I am not asserting anything, just putting forward a hypothesis). Another reason to think so is that (as I understand it) French (etc) governesses were in charge of both boys and girls in childhood (male tutors coming in for the boys at a later age), while the Greek pedagogues must have dealt exclusively with the boys.

  20. I had known that the Russian aristocracy spoke French; one of the surprises for me of Maciej Ceglowski’s collected Pushkin emails was that the French wasn’t that great. (This was a while ago, so I can’t remember the exact mistakes.) I’m not sure why—I suppose I expected great things of Pushkin.

  21. Looking through my old browser bookmarks, here are two more pages of online calendar link goodies: Today’s Calendar and Clock Page Internet Clocks, Counters, and Countdowns. (You can tell how old they are by the trivial page design and, unfortunately, the broken links.) For example, today in brightly colored Mayan glyphs. The original LL post was for the Ides of March. Right after that, fasli has five intercalendrical days, until نوروز‎ on Wednesday around the Equinox.

  22. From reading music history, I find apparently that apparently the French-speaking elite also had a peculiar lisping sort of way of speaking Russian, which some found charming and some found annoying.
    In English “Son”, “Sonny”, “Sonny-boy”, and “Kid” all can be used to younger non-relatives, with a friendly but condescending effect. “Boy” is insulting, especially with black men, but I’ve heard it used to address white men too, in authoritarian circumstances.

  23. I don’t think that the Romans of Caesar’s time went as far as not speaking Latin…
    Quite. I had thought, in fact, that Latin as it comes down to us by literary tradition starts as the highly developed artificial language of Roman élites, and that this language differs considerably from the Vulgar Latin of everyone else. If this is so, we might think there was less pressure to adopt a completely separate tongue as a mark of social distinction than there was for, say, the aristocracy concerning which Tolstoy wrote. But I’m guessing. How different, I would ask the learned folk here assembled, is the Russian used by that aristocracy from the Russian of the peasantry (to single out extremes)?
    There are those who say that French is a language more stratified in that way than English. However things stand now that English is the lingua franca of the era, it was for long far easier for any native speaker of English to write an acceptable letter to a newspaper than for a native French speaker. (Hence the need for a tabellion class!) Surely there is some stratification in the language of any large population, right? Which are now the most stratified in this way, and which the least, I wonder?

  24. marie-lucie says

    “”it was for long far easier for any native speaker of English to write an acceptable letter to a newspaper than for a native French speaker””
    I think this is still the case. It seems to me that the degree of diglossia between formal, educated written French and the spoken varieties is (at least in France) increasing rather than decreasing, although the distance between different regions is decreasing. It is true that many literary works of a recent period use a colloquial and slangy type of French, especially if dealing with, say, the so-called “couches défavorisées” – “the underprivileged classes” -, and especially if written in the first person, but otherwise the written language does not reflect the way people speak in conversation, even more so than in English. One instance of this is the fact that conversation rarely uses the pronoun “nous” as a subject, using instead “(nous,) on” with a 3rd person singular verb (when I started to learn English at the age of ten, I was very surprised that even English children actually said “we”), but quite often the word is replaced by “nous” in written accounts, even those quoting actual spoken words (although this seems to be diminishing). Similarly, written accounts will use the “ne” negative particle while most people speaking casually do not use it even if they know very well how to do so. And of course older works use the often irregular “passé simple” as the narrative tense, something people have not said for a long time (although in this case there are very good reasons to continue writing it). As I have not lived in France for quite a while I can’t think of other examples offhand but I am sure there are many more. Reading older literature (even 19th century) is very difficult for the children of uneducated people because of the discrepancy, and so is reading a newspaper like Le Monde which sticks to a fairly formal style. In English the difficulties are usually reported for reading Shakespeare rather than Dickens.
    Re the need for a “tabellion” class: a French tabellion was not a public scribe (who writes letters for illiterates) but (see above) a senior employee of a “notaire”, who is not a notary but more a kind of “solicitor” in the British sense (the one who makes regular appearances for instance in Agatha Christie’s novels as he is among other things a drafter and custodian of deeds and wills).
    I used the word “diglossia” above – this started in Greece for the difference between the “dimotiki” and “katharevousa” distinction in the language (katharevousa being until recently the only one acceptable for written works including newspaper), and it is now a technical term in linguistics for the existence of (at least) two distinct varieties, reflecting social stratification, in a language. You can find other examples in any work of sociolinguistics. One pioneering work was William Labov’s The Social Stratification of Language in New York City and there have been many studies elsewhere since.

  25. Re the need for a “tabellion” class: a French tabellion was not a public scribe (who writes letters for illiterates)…
    Ah oui, c’est bien compris. I was just making a cheeky reference to our arch-thread Tabellion, lest it fall into decline. (It will not, of course!)

  26. 1-Marie-Lucie: French also has a separate word, “fiston”, a derivative of “fils” which is used to address a male child/young man by an older male, and which seems to be the masculine counterpart of “ma petite/ma fille”
    2- To J. Cassian: A Roman writer (possibly Varro, but I’ll have to look it up) actually wrote that (aristocratic!) Roman parents ought to speak to their children in Greek, since there would be plenty of “uneducated” (i.e. non-Greek-speaking) persons in their surroundings from whom the children would acquire Latin. Julius Caesar’s parents may have done so, if indeed his last words were in Greek. The same could be said of Casca’s: indeed, Plutarch specifying that he spoke to his brother in Greek suggests this was the language of intimacy and childhood for those two (and does not the fact that Caesar, in the Senate, a place where public discourse was normally in Latin, not yet realizing the seriousness of the situation, spoke to Casca in Latin, and then, after realizing it was all over, to Brutus in Greek, suggest that Caesar, too, was a man for whom the latter language was that of intimacy/childhood?)
    3-The evidence of the Romance languages seems to indicate that Greek influence was not a purely aristocratic matter: such basic notions in Romance as “stone” and “each” are expressed by Greek loans which largely replaced the indigenous Latin words; moreover, such Romance features as the definite article and the “have” perfect have long been suspected of being hellenisms.

  27. …such Romance features as the definite article and the “have” perfect have long been suspected of being hellenisms.
    Etienne, I assume you mean the syntactic devices, rather than the words involved in their implementation, right?

  28. marie-lucie says

    Etienne, merci!
    – “fiston”: yes, it is true that this word exists, but I don’t think I have actually heard anyone use it; perhaps it is used in some regions more than others?
    Latin and Greek:
    – what we have been arguing about is what Caesar is alleged to have said, and to whom: it could be that two accounts of C’s death have later been conflated into one (and it is well-known that eyewitnesses can disagree about what they have seen or heard, especially if the act witnessed is fast and unexpected);
    – according to the various sources, it is agreed that at the time of Caesar the upper class Romans were cultivating a knowledge of Greek, though not going as far as forgetting Latin – witness Caesar’s written work “De Bello Gallico”, and the continuation of literature in Latin; but the common ancestor of the Romance languages is lower-class Latin of the empire, which lasted several more centuries and received a lot of cosmopolitan influences: just as Paris, London and New York have a high proportion of second-language speakers, Rome was also full of people for whom Latin was a second language; as there were many Greeks among the lower classes too at that time, it is not surprising that some Greek words would have been adopted by everyone. The fact that some words are part of basic vocabulary does not mean that they can’t acquire near-synonyms from other languages, which might or might not replace them: ex in the case of ‘stone’, one could be a rough stone or rock and the other a dressed stone, prepared for use in building (ex in French the coexistence of ‘caillou’ and ‘pierre’, the latter more general in meaning).
    There was another reason for adopting some foreign words: Latin had several classes of nouns, each one with many endings, and some endings (for instance -is) were not clear as to what class and case (function) and in some cases gender and number they indicated, so that foreign words which had a form compatible with a very regular noun class were likely to be used and adopted as an alternative to a less regular Latin form: ex for ‘stone’ “petra, petrae, petram”, clearly a feminine noun, instead of “lapis, lapidis, lapidem”. The extensive use of diminutive suffixes in Late Latin is another instance of clearing up the ambiguity of some short words which had not been ambiguous to earlier Latin speakers: as in “auricula” ‘little ear’ (hence Italian “orecchia”, French “oreille” and Spanish “oreja”) rather than “auris” ‘ear’: only “auricula” is obviously a feminine noun, of a class in which most forms cannot be confused with others.
    – In Romance the definite article comes from the Latin demonstrative in ill-, and there are many other languages in which definite articles or equivalent particles are historically derived from demonstratives, by “semantic bleaching”, or loss of specific meaning. This is why in many cases articles and demonstratives have similar forms: as in English “the, this, that, there”, all starting with th- . If Latin speakers had adopted the use of articles from Greek, one would expect that they would have borrowed the Greek ones instead of using their own demonstratives in an article-like manner. How much they used them in that way is also doubtful: the use of definite articles must have taken a long time to become generalized in the Romance languages – in medieval French texts there are far fewer instances of articles than nowadays.
    Another reason not to credit the use of articles to Greek influence is the Romanian situation: I understand that Greek articles are placed before the noun, but in Romanian the Latin ill- word has ended up as a suffix: this suggests that the various languages descended from Latin have settled on one of two possible orders of Latin: for instance in the West “le loup” and “el lobo” are from “ille lupus” ‘that wolf’ but in Romanian “lupul” is from “lupus ille” (an example found in many textbooks). This would not have happened if the use of ille (etc) had been calqued on the Greek use. Instead, the ill- words too were useful as indicators of the gender, case etc of the associated nouns.

  29. I understand that Greek articles are placed before the noun, but in Romanian the Latin ill- word has ended up as a suffix: this suggests that the various languages descended from Latin have settled on one of two possible orders of Latin: for instance in the West “le loup” and “el lobo” are from “ille lupus” ‘that wolf’ but in Romanian “lupul” is from “lupus ille” (an example found in many textbooks). This would not have happened if the use of ille (etc) had been calqued on the Greek use.
    Very interesting, Marie-Lucie. This talk of calques sets me to speculating about IE features in Hungarian. We suppose that Hungarian aspect-marking is modelled on the system characteristic of Slavic languages, yes? (A basic imperfective-style aspect is assumed, which can trumped by various prefixes that mark perfective and other aspects.) Now, what about the Hungarian definite article a[z]? It functions very much like a Germanic definite article. I wonder if it too is a borrowing.
    Returning to your evidence from Romanian, it certainly looks like the right sort of evidence to be adducing to establish the provenance of the Romance definite article, but is it totally decisive? Sure, in modern Greek and in the ancient dialects as we know them, the article appears to precede the noun regularly. But two considerations might give us pause. First, as with Latin we have only literary evidence for the ancient language, so we may lack evidence concerning early forms (pre-Koinē, I mean) and low-stratum forms that had potency in determining the course of Romance – at least in some regions, and possibly through intermediates of one sort or another. (Remember the location of modern Romania, after all.) Second, let us reflect on the Homeric language, and recall that in it the article is far from settled in its use, and functionally resembles Latin ille, etc. So to claim that Greek is irrelevant in the formation of the Romance article on the grounds that the Greek article consistently precedes the noun is, perhaps, questionable.
    Such are the idle speculations of one from the demotic rabble, anyway.

  30. The evidence of the Romance languages seems to indicate that Greek influence was not a purely aristocratic matter
    True. I don’t think upper class usage of Greek in the Roman Empire is comparable to upper class usage of French in the Russian Empire. For one thing, for most of the history of the late Roman Republic, and all of the Roman Empire Greek was the single most widespread language. Even in Italy in Caesar’s day everywhere south of Naples was probably majority Greek speaking, and Rome was certainly full of Greek speaking slaves, tradesmen, craftsmen, etc. Greek was not just an affectation – anyone seeking to enrich himself through administrative positions in the provinces would have found Greek extremely useful, even necessary. It would be interesting to know what sort of socio-linguistic studies have been done in this area. I would assume that most trade was probably conducted in Greek, I had always thought it was the Roman military and colonization that were responsible for the diffusion of Latin, not necessarily prestige.

  31. For the postponed definite article in Romanian see Balkan Sprachbund. It occurs in Albanian and Bulgarian too.
    I’ve just been reading Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire which talks about the kind of Latin educated Romans used during the final centuries of the Western empire: “The bedrock of the [education] system was the intense study of a small number of literary texts under the guidance of an expert in language and literary interpretation, the grammarian. This occupied the individual for seven years or more from about the age of eight and concentrated on just four authors: Vergil, Cicero, Sallust and Terence…Essentially these texts were held to contain within them a canon of ‘correct’ language, and children were to learn that language – both the particular vocabulary and a complex grammar within which to employ it. One thing this did was to hold educated Latin in a kind of cultural vice, preventing or at least significantly slowing down the normal processes of linguistic change. It also had the effect of allowing instant identification. As soon as a member of the Roman elite opened his mouth, it was obvious he had learned ‘correct’ Latin. It is as though a modern education system concentrated on the works of Shakespeare with the object of distinguishing the educated by their ability to speak Shakespearean English to one another. To indicate how different, by the fourth century, elite Latin may have been from popular speech, the graffiti found at Pompeii – buried in the eruption of AD 79 – suggest that in everyday usage Latin was already evolving into less grammatically structured Romance.”

  32. marie-lucie says

    I think we are all agreed on the basics, just quibbling about details.
    – About the prevalence of Greek among upper class Romans, are any of them known to have composed works in Greek? (the way some bilingual post-conquest Gauls wrote literary works in Latin?) J. Cassian’s quote about Roman literary education would seem to show that instruction in Latin was strongly emphasized.
    – Even if earlier stages of Greek had more leeway as to the placement of the article, I don’t think that the state of affairs in Homeric Greek is really relevant to the use of articles in Romance languages, as that version of Greek is dated centuries before the differentiation of these languages.

  33. marie-lucie says

    The Wikipedia entry for the Balkan Sprachbund is very informative. About the postponed article in Romanian, obviously this must have been influenced by some regional trend (whatever its origin – I would lean toward a substrate) which did not exist in the West, but the ill- demonstratives in Latin could be either before or after the noun, viz. the well-known hymn “Dies irae, dies illa” ‘Day of wrath, that day’ which is part of Requiem sequences. The Balkan entry also notes that the postponed articles in the various languages derive from demonstratives as well.

  34. Well, the Roman attitude towards Greek is a big topic and I’m not really qualified to talk about it as an expert. It seems to have varied over the centuries. There were certainly Roman writers who chose to write in Greek, such as Claudius Aelianus (Aelian) who “spoke Greek so perfectly that he was called ‘honey-tongued’ (meliglossos); Roman-born, he preferred Greek authors, and wrote in a slightly archaizing Greek himself.”

  35. I forgot the obvious ones: the emperor-authors. Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations in Greek and I think all Julian the Apostate’s writings are in Greek too.

  36. Even if earlier stages of Greek had more leeway as to the placement of the article, I don’t think that the state of affairs in Homeric Greek is really relevant to the use of articles in Romance languages, as that version of Greek is dated centuries before the differentiation of these languages.
    First, Mare-Lucie, let us note that with Homeric Greek it is not just a matter of placement of “the article”: it is more a matter of what evolved into an article functioning unstably and more like a demonstrative than anything else.
    Second, of course Homeric Greek long pre-dates the development of Romance languages. I mentioned Homeric Greek to illustrate a point that I had made separately, concerning older and also more demotic versions of Greek of which we may not have direct evidence.
    Third, I explicitly mentioned an influence “at least in some regions, and possibly through intermediates of one sort or another.” This qualification appears to have been ignored.
    Fourth, yes: the Wikipedia article on the Balkan Sprachbund is indeed food for thought. I had not known that Bulgarian has a definite article. Turns out that it is postpositive. And at History of Bulgarian, another excellent piece, we find this concerning Old Bulgarian: “the use of suffixed demonstrative pronouns (тъ, та, то). These developed later into suffixed definite articles.” How this fits into the larger picture is unclear. Both Greek and Romanian are members of the Sprachbund, but their ways with definite articles are different. What led to the postposition of the Bulgarian article, exactly? It would be good to know that. But a good general point to consider right now is just how mercurial this matter is. Quick conclusions beyond that would seem to be ill-advised.

  37. O, and at the Wikipedia article on the Balkan Sprachbund we find the conjecture that the postposition of the article had spread from Albanian to other members of the group. This would weigh against the argument that the Romanian postposition was simply a matter of choosing one of two positions that were justified by the Vulgar Latin of the region. Might there not have been pressure from both the Albanian model and some less understood Greek model, in determining the placement? Such speculations might be in order, since so far no definitive study of the matter has been brought to the discussion.

  38. David Marjanović says

    And of course older works use the often irregular “passé simple” as the narrative tense, something people have not said for a long time (although in this case there are very good reasons to continue writing it).

    Yes — saving space. That’s why even the comic Lucky Luke keeps using it (and l’imparfait du subjonctif, for crying out loud!!!). French — the only language other than Chinese where a highly formal style is shorter than anything reasonably colloquial.

    Now, what about the Hungarian definite article a[z]? It functions very much like a Germanic definite article.

    I have no idea about Hungarian, but don’t go around talking about “the Germanic definite article”. Those of English and German were derived from the same demonstrative pronoun, but independently; usage still differs a lot (there are plenty of cases, such as “usage” in this sentence, where a noun does not take an article in English but does in German). And of course the Scandinavian definite article is a suffix like in the Balkans.

  39. …don’t go around talking about “the Germanic definite article”.
    Just for the record, I did no such thing. Let us distinguish between definite and indefinite articles! Even by your own citation, David, I wrote:
    It functions very much like a Germanic definite article.

  40. Noetica: yes, indeed, I meant that the Romance “have” perfect and definite articles are calqued upon Greek.
    On the Romance definite article: a strong piece of evidence in favor of its being a hellenism in Latin is the use of ILLE to translate the Greek article in Latin texts: thus in a late imperial text we find VENIT ALIQUANDO ABBAS MACARIUS ILLE AEGYPTIUS “At a certain time there came the Abbot Macarius the Egyptian”, where ILLE is quite alien to normal Latin but renders the Greek article (HO AIGYPTIOS) quite faithfully.
    As for the postposition of the Romanian article, this is clearly a post-imperial Romanian innovation: Latin inscriptions of the Balkans do not show a more pronounced tendency to place ILLE in post-nominal position than inscriptions from other parts of the Empire.
    As for the cause of this Romanian innovation, I am strongly inclined to think that it was due to internal re-analysis: it has been pointed out that in Vulgar Latin (throughout the Empire) ILLE was typically placed immediately before adjectives or possessives, wherever these were vis-a-vis the noun: thus, in Plautus we’ve AMICA ILLA MEA “my friend”, but ILLUM MEUM MALUM “my evil” (compare Italian LA MIA AMICA, IL MIO MALO): it has been argued that in (Early)Romanian the AMICA ILLA MEA type underwent reanalysis, from (AMICA) (ILLA MEA) to (AMICA ILLA) (MEA). This may have been favored by Greek, where definite articles are indeed pre-nominal, but frequently repeated with postnominal adjectives: thus, “the Roman general” in Greek was HO STRATEGOS HO HROMAIOS, “the general the Roman”, and such a structure may well have made it easier for Late Balkan Latin speakers to re-interpret their own postnominal ILLE as qualifying the preceeding noun and not the following adjective/possessive.
    This implies that the Bulgarian/Macedonian and Albanian postnominal definite articles are themselves of Balkan Latin origin: I think this is likely: Albanian, especially, contains so many Latin loans, including very basic terms, that there is nothing implausible about its having been syntactically influenced by Latin.
    P.S. Most of the facts/arguments above are drawn from H. Mihaescu’s excellent book “Limba latina in provinciile dunarele ale imperiului roman”, which I refer interested readers to.

  41. marie-lucie says

    (continuing to use the passé simple: “yes, saving space”)
    – it is not as simple as that! Camus wrote his famous novel L’étranger without using the passé simple, instead using the phrasal passé composé – the impression made on the reader is not that of a smoothly flowing narrative but of independent sentences extracted one by one from the narrator (Sartre’s reaction was: “Chaque phrase de L’Etranger est une île”). This of course ties in with the social alienation of the main character, who does not seem to care about anything that is happening to him. I have not tried to find English translations of the work, but a similar impression in English would be to have every sentence starting with “And then …”.
    In spoken French, smoothly flowing oral narrative is not conducted in the passé composé but (especially when things get interesting) in the present tense. For instance, when translating English narratives written in the first person by adventurous people such as Thor Heyerdahl or Tim Severin, the English past tense is usually translated with the present tense, which takes about as much space as the passé simple would.

  42. Interesting as always, Marie-Lucie.
    In spoken French, smoothly flowing oral narrative is not conducted in the passé composé…
    There are strange changes taking place in English, with the use of simple and composite past forms. In the language of Australian police forces, when an account is given of some long sequence of events, the simple past is used for the first few verbs, then there is a switch to composite forms. It’s very pervasive! I had noticed it in the media, and then for my sins it fell to me to assess a huge number of police cadets’ essays (don’t ask). The following is typical:
    The suspect appeared to be driving along the wrong side of the road. He stopped at an intersection, and the car stalled. Police arrived to [sic] the scene, and approached the vehicle. The suspect has then taken a gun from the back seat, and hidden it under the front seat. Police have then tapped on the window… etc.
    Why, I wonder?

  43. Etienne, those are extremely engaging points. I’ll try to follow some of them up. Thanks!

  44. marie-lucie says

    (ille-type articles)
    – Just because “ille” was used to translate a Greek article does not mean that the use of “ille” as an article comes from Greek: one of the difficulties of translation arises from the temptation to stay close to the original text, and it is hard not to yield to the temptation to translate every single word, even words which are not needed in the target language, unless that is absolutely impossible. (This is one reason why texts considered particularly important, such as Scriptures, often keep some features of the original language, which then become revered as “the word of God” – the Gothic Bible, translated from the Greek, is apparently chockfull of Grecisms). Greek influence may have been a contributing or reinforcing factor in the evolution of the Latin ill- words but the tendency observed in many languages of the world (not just Indo-European) for demonstratives to become articles (by losing their demonstrative force through constant use) is sufficient to explain the Romance evolution – Greek may have given it a little push, but not been the prime mover (and how much Greek influence was there, for instance, in Spain or Portugal?).
    – Romanian postpositions: I find the hypothesis of generalization from possessive to non-possessive phrases doubtful, since the nouns likely to be often used in a possessive context are few compared to the ones that are not – reanalysis of the noun+ill+possessive complex would perhaps have been more likely to result in the attachment of the ill- word to the following possessive word (the ill- word was possible but not required to be included in the Latin possessive phrase). And even if Latin inscriptions of the region (written by whom?) do not show more post-position than pre-position of the ill- word, the general regional tendency at one point was obviously towards post-position of the demonstrative-cum-article, which became the only position used in the spoken language. If this tendency was indeed of Greek origin, why is it not found more in Greek, while it is in all the other Balkan languages? As for the Greek repetition of the article before both the noun and the adjective, it is also found in Hebrew (and I believe also in Arabic) – are we to believe that these languages were influenced by Greek, or Greek by them, in a major way?
    There is a branch of linguistics called typology which deals with general tendencies in languages – the same characteristics, or types of change, can sometimes be found in languages which have nothing to do with each other, either geographically or genetically. This study has brought interesting insights to the study of historical processes, by putting them in a larger perspective.

  45. To Marie-Lucie: actually, typological considerations make it likely that the Romance languages and Greek influenced each other as far as their articles are concerned: both have pre-nominal articles, definite as well as indefinite, with the latter deriving in both cases from a form of the numeral “one” (I have a hunch that this is a Romance innovation that entered Greek…). Now, while definite articles arising out of demonstratives are indeed common, it is much more unusual for a language to have both definite and indefinite articles. Ancient Greek only had the former: Latin had neither. Both languages were in close contact with one another. Today Romance and Modern Greek have both definite and indefinite articles. And chronologically the facts do fit a contact explanation, inasmuch as the birth of the Romance article (late Imperial period) does coincide with a massive onslaught of Greek loanwords, found in all Romance languages, including ones quite far removed from Greek-speaking lands (like Portugal, for instance: in Portuguese “each” is CADA, “stone” PEDRA…)
    As for the origin of the Romanian suffixed definite article, I fear you misunderstood my post: ILLE was originally placed before possessives AND ADJECTIVES, whatever their position: so ILLE HOMO “the man”, ILLE BONUS HOMO “the good man”, but HOMO ILLE BONUS, not *ILLE HOMO BONUS. And the idea that HOMO ILLE BONUS was re-analyzed as a case of an article in post-nominal and not in pre-adjectival position does not seem inherently unlikely. And my point was not that Greek was the cause of this change, but that structures such as HO ANTHROPOS HO KALOS (“the man the good”) may have favoured such structures as HOMO ILLE BONUS, making it easier for ILLE to be re-analyzed as a nominal suffix.

  46. Noetica: regarding the “have” tenses in police reports, I’ve noticed that too! In both Australian and NZ newspaper reports, quotes from police officers seemingly invariably take that form. I implore you to get to the bottom of this!

  47. David Marjanovi? says

    Oopsie. That’ll teach me. I will try to remember not to comment on blogs after 2 at night.
    Very interesting points on the Balkan articles!

  48. marie-lucie says

    Etienne, since you only gave examples of possessive phrases, I did not realize that you meant phrases with adjectives as well (but I did see the word “adjectives” in rereading your post). What you are saying makes more sense now. About the use of ill- words with possessives, in Italian there is both “la mia mamma” with the article + possessive, before the noun, and “mamma mia” with just the possessive, after the noun, illustrating a leftover from the Latin flexibility in word order. There is no contradiction between saying that the Latin demonstrative (and other words) could be either placed before or after the noun, and the observation that the present-languages where the demonstrative has become the definite article, have settled on only one place for this word (whether under the influence of another language or not). I think that we are in agreement that something (whether Greek or some other language) may have provided a little push in the direction of Rumanian postposition without being the direct cause: “fossilization” of word order and subsequent affixation of short grammatical words has been found to be quite frequent in the evolution of languages. Earlier David M. mentioned the postponed Scandinavian articles: surely nobody would try to connect these with Greek, Latin or the Balkans?
    About the presence of words of Greek origin in the Iberian peninsula, it is not surprising to find such words if they had already been adopted in the Latin language brought to that area, but I was talking about the unlikelyhood of an independent influence (that is, independent of the Latin intermediary).
    Noetica: the police has been, etc: perhaps this is an instance of hypercorrection by people not very familiar with written style, especially administrative? it is interesting that this is happening “down under”, as nomis confirms.

  49. Marie-Lucie and Etienne:
    In truth it seems that nothing has yet been demonstrated one way or another, concerning the provenance of various patterns of deployment of definite articles. Sure, we observe fascinating convergences and divergences between and within Semitic, Ugric, and IE groups; and two or three of us have cursorily examined the logic of the situation, and adduced fragmentary evidence. But not much more. I for one would like to see a core systematic study of this. Can anyone furnish an easily accessible reference, for those of us who might be interested? We could then approach the topic with a more solid common grounding.
    Marie-Lucie and nomis:
    …the police has been, etc: perhaps this is an instance of hypercorrection by people not very familiar with written style, especially administrative? it is interesting that this is happening “down under”, as nomis confirms.
    Certainly there is hypercorrection of other sorts in such discourse. There is what I call “straining after formality” in the ubiquitous use of whilst, thus far, as per, and similar markers of some presumed “official” register. But I don’t know how the use of have-forms fits with that. It is standard, as I have said, for these forms to come into play late in a narrative, and then to persist. What does that show, I still wonder? Have you noticed that aspect of the phenomenon, nomis?
    I also wonder what might be the relevance of it’s happening “down under”! What did you find interesting in that, Marie-Lucie?
    Many oddities that I had thought purely Australian I now hear in British and American speech, also. Like the peculiar new stress patterns in sentences that I noted some time ago chez LH (to no response at all). It is very strong here (and becoming far more developed and entrenched); but it is also to be observed on both sides of the Atlantic, if we can judge from the media and from the speech of visitors to our far-flung outpost of humanity’s terrestrial diaspora.
    But it occurs to me now that, since all of the have-forms have long been slipping into disuse in America, it would not be surprising if the usage I have noted in Oz does not occur in America. And that leads me to wonder what if anything is happening on the ground in Britain, with this phenomenon. Can anyone inform us?

  50. marie-lucie says

    Noetica, about the articles, I agree that none of us appears to be a real specialist in the matter, although we all know a few things. Shall we let it go at that for a while? unless someone finds another reference (but this is the kind of area where there is likely to be controversy among scholars as the history is not quite clear).
    About the have-forms of the past in English: What I find “interesting” is the restricted localization, in both Australia and New Zealand, as well as the apparent restriction to a genre which is not read by the general public, and where hypercorrection is almost to be expected (I like your expression “straining after formality”). If this particular use was (or should it be were?) a widespread trend in English one would expect it to occur elsewhere too (both in geography and context).
    all of the have-forms have long been slipping into disuse in America
    Perhaps you mean the “had” forms? In Canada (where English speech tends to be conservative) I have noticed that in the past few years many people (not all young) have stopped using those forms, especially in conditional sentences, saying for instance “If I had the money I may have bought the car” instead of “If I had had the money I might have bought the car” (the disappearance of
    might in favour of may is another thing which appears to be new here). But the “have” form is still going strong, I think. Or do you mean things like saying “I never went there” instead of “I have never been there”? On second thoughts, perhaps this is a regional trait here in Nova Scotia. I wonder if this is happening elsewhere.
    the peculiar new stress patterns in sentences that I noted some time ago chez LH
    What do you mean? Have you spoken to LH in person? or do you mean stress in a syntactic sense? can you be more specific?

  51. marie-lucie says

    p.s. still those pesky italics!
    When I previewed the comment above, if looked just like it does here – too much stuff in italics. When I went back to the comment box, the leftmost ‘s were all in place, but the rightmost ‘s had all migrated to just below the comment! it looked cute, but this means that once italics start, they don’s stop! Even after I put them back where they belonged, it still happened. I thought the problem might be restricted to the preview, so after fixing the paragraph I sent the post without previewing it a second time, but the same thing happened.

  52. marie-lucie says

    p.p.s. I meant the leftmost and rightmost i’s bracketed by arrows (the rightmost followed by the slash).

  53. the peculiar new stress patterns in sentences that I noted some time ago chez LH
    What do you mean? Have you spoken to LH in person?
    I believe he means “that I mentioned some time ago here at LH” (occasionally the ambiguity of LH the blog vs LH the blogger can trip one up).

  54. marie-lucie says

    Sorry! I was misled by the ambiguity of “chez”, and I must have missed Noetica’s post about the matter. Noetica, if you tell me where to look, I will do so.

  55. Noetica: actually, if you or anyone else could supply me with a reference to a good cross-linguistic study on the diachrony of articles, I’d be very grateful, as I have failed to find one anywhere.
    Still, the fact that languages with articles seem to “cluster” geographically (thus, along with the European language families with articles: Romance, Germanic, Celtic and Greek, we find that individual European languages with articles which belong to language families which otherwise lack articles –Bulgarian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Romani–are *all* geographically contiguous to languages with articles: the same is true of Albanian and Basque, and in the case of the latter language there is good evidence that its article was born in the post-Roman period. All of this certainly suggests that language contact has played a major role in the genesis of the article.
    Marie-Lucie: actually, a serious linguist named Hasdeu actually claimed once that the Scandinavian postnominal article was best explained as being due to Balkan influence upon Scandinavia. Nobody takes such a claim seriously today, happily.

  56. I believe he means “that I mentioned some time ago here at LH” (occasionally the ambiguity of LH the blog vs LH the blogger can trip one up).
    Well, I referred to the relevant web-person as LH, and this blog was then chez LH, as far as I was concerned. Sorry for not being clearer. I would not refer to the blog itself or to the real-person animateur of the blog as LH. Just habit. What usage does LH prefer?

  57. Noetica, I’ve never noticed the phenomenon you describe whereby PC Plod starts using the “have” forms some time after the first sentence. I’ll keep an eye out for it, but the fact that all my examples come from quotes in newspapers means that there has probably been heavy editing, so it may be less apparent.

  58. What usage does LH prefer?
    I tend to lazily use LH for both/all. Context usually keeps things straight.

  59. Marie-Lucie:
    Perhaps you mean the “had” forms?
    No, I meant that all have-forms are less in use in America than outside of America, and I meant to include the had-forms – the pluperfect, as some of us still like to call it. The pluperfect, being a complex sort of an affair, is less in use even in Australia. But I suspect that its decline is more pronounced in America, because of the general move away from all have-forms there. From what you say about practice in Nova Scotia, it may be that Canada is following the American lead. (Should we be at all surprised?)
    do you mean stress in a syntactic sense? can you be more specific?
    As I said in one earlier thread, for example:

    A connected and even more serious shift, I think, is in the stress patterns of whole sentences. Again this is well shown in Australian media, where it is pervasive and truly remarkable. Last night I watched an iconic Oz television documentary program, Four Corners, on our ABC. The topic was an important one, so I endured the whole thing. But I could hardly bear the narrator’s way of imposing the same fixed pattern on virtually every sentence he uttered, completely insensitive to the meanings or relative salience of the words. It was as if he did not understand the text at all, but was simply a virtuoso pronouncer of isolated English words, which he then had somehow to string together.

    To give a related concrete example, we very often hear a strong emphasis on minor words like propositions, where there can be no communicative reason for such stressing. This sort of things is ubiquitous:

    The cold front will then move into the Riverina, bringing colder temperatures to the area around Wagga Wagga.

    Very strange, very much entrenched, and almost completely undiscussed. The example that interests me at the moment is a book reading on RN (Australian ABC’s Radio National). The reading is fine, except for the very odd choices made in the emphases in about half of the sentences. It is as if the reader wished to appear to be bringing out something awfully subtle in the text; but attention to the meaning reveals that this is not happening! One is left conjecturing that the reader has not in fact thought about the matter carefully at all. But since no one appears to notice, such a practice continues.
    Marie-Lucie and Etienne:
    Yes, let’s see if a systematic comparative study of the development of the definite article surfaces somehow. Till we have such a thing, not much more can be done. Etienne, I like your recent summary of the situation.

  60. Noetica, I had always assumed that the odd emphases came about through reading from autocues and using line breaks rather than punctuation to guide ones intonational units. It does seem like this kind of thing is limited to situatiuons involving reading aloud.

  61. Nomis:
    It does seem like this kind of thing is limited to situations involving reading aloud.
    It is perhaps more common in those situations, I can assure that it is not confined to them.

  62. Anyone interested in the RN book reading that I mention can track it down, and listen to it, here.

  63. Siganus Sutor says

    we very often hear a strong emphasis on minor words like propositions
    One can only hope that this kind of behaviour never entails indecent propositions, especially since minors seem to be involved.

  64. Arghhh! I meant “prepositions”. You know – preponing words.
    My brain is ageing behind my very eyes. (Or aging, perhaps.)

  65. marie-lucie says

    about strange stress and intonation:
    I too have noticed odd stresses and sometimes intonation used by radio presenters, including stressed prepositions without an obvious reason. I think that this is because prepositions and some other short words are normally unstressed and tend to be slurred over in normal speech, and as radio presenters have to enunciate very carefully in order to be understood, this leads to a type of hypercorrection.
    For instance, I often hear pauses in front of “and” when the two words joined by “and” belong to the same phrase and should not be separated, for instance in this frequently heard segment of a weather report: “a mix of sun – and cloud”: this pause must be intended to make sure that the “and” does not get lost in “sun’n cloud”, because “a mix of sun” does not make sense. This sort of thing occurs so regularly that it can’t just be that the announcers are reading off a teleprompter and the written line ends before “and”. It must be they are trained to read that way.
    On French radio or TV (in France) I have noticed another type of intonation which makes me cringe whenever I hear it: just before the end of a sentence, the pitch of the reader’s voice (it has to be a reader) which has been going steadily down towards the end starts to level off, then rises very sharply before going down just as sharply, on the last two syllables. I find this sudden rise and fall totally unnatural, but I think that this mannerism comes from the following: normally the pitch of a (Standard) French declarative sentence (especially if read aloud) goes up gradually then down just as gradually, often ending below the range of the speaking voice, so that the very end of the sentence appears to be whispered. Therefore in order not to let the voice fall that low, a new rise is needed, from which the pitch of the voice will go down but not so low as to become a whisper.
    In both cases it is not that every announcer does it, but those that do are very noticeable.

  66. marie-lucie says

    articles and language contact:
    Of course there is influence from contact with other languages! but whether these “areal influences” are remnants of the structure of an earlier language (spoken in the wider area before different regions adopted other languages), or they come from calquing a more prestigious language (either through widespread bilingualism or through the availability of not very idiomatic translations), or both, is difficult to untangle – in the case we were discussing, there was probably some of both.

  67. It seems that the ways stresses and intonation are managed in sentences are undergoing substantial change, Marie-Lucie: in more than just one language, and more rapidly now than in recent decades. Two likely factors are the rapid profusion of new media (along with the greater penetration of these media), and the associated globalisation of the spoken practice of many languages. English especially, I had thought.
    In both cases it is not that every announcer does it, but those that do are very noticeable.
    But I find, as I have complained, Cassandra-like, that these things are hardly noticed by most people, let alone commented on, or lamented or welcomed.

  68. marie-lucie says

    Noetica, you are probably right on all points: about the substantial changes and their causes, and on the fact that few people notice them. Most people who notice change in language concentrate on items of vocabulary or grammar, and this must be because those are relatively easy to demonstrate, especially in writing. It is not very easy to comment about stress or intonation without a live demonstration or at least a physical representation (such as a contour diagram as you find in works by phoneticians). And anything new and unusual in language is usually lamented rather than welcomed: “if it was good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for the new generation?”

  69. marie-lucie says

    About the definite article, etc:
    Those of us interested in the question agreed that we needed some extra references. I posted a request on Linguist List (a professional list) for such references and have received about 10 answers. Most of them seem quite technical so I don’t think it would be suitable to place them all here, but if you email me about it I will forward you what I have.

  70. Thanks for that, Marie-Lucie. I have emailed you.

  71. marie-lucie says

    To get to another exchange about articles in Semitic and Romance, search YEHUDAH IBN QURAYSH and follow the second link to a post on Jabal al-Lughat.

  72. Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations in Greek and I think all Julian the Apostate’s writings are in Greek too.
    Indeed he did, and Hadrian was a famous philhellene.
    However, it is interesting to note that there was also a strong current within Roman culture that was quite anti-Greek, and saw Greekness as a negative force eroding and destroying good old-fashioned Roman values. So I would expect that some élite Romans would have been raised in a more ‘pure’ Latin context, depending on the views of their parents.

  73. John Cowan says

    Graves’s Claudius says that he is writing in Greek because he assumes that even 1900 years after his time, when Latin may well be forgotten, Greek will still be the language of literature.

  74. The Kalendae program, alas, has joined the Greek Calends.

  75. Lars Mathiesen says

    the Scandinavian definite article is a suffix — @DM, don’t go around talking about the Scandinavian definite article, it’s only the postponed one that is a suffix. As soon as there is an adjective, Danish goes back to the same pattern as German (det røde hus, article, weak adjective, noun).

    (Swedish keeps the suffix when adding the preposed article: det röda huset. A pleonastic superfluosity if you ask me. Nw is with Sw on this, I’m afraid).

  76. A pleonastic superfluosity if you ask me.

    There are some distinctions Sw makes that escape me, eg:
    3 No front article Gamla stan svenska språket högra sidan östra stadsdelen andra gången största delen Röda korset lilla gumman hela dagen

    (from A Comprehensive Grammar of Swedish)

  77. Lars Mathiesen says

    @juha, in all those cases you can add the definite article and still get a cromulent noun phrase — I don’t know a good term for what happens when you leave it out, marking the noun phrase as having a conventional reference is the closest I can come. Röda korset is a good example, without the article it’s the International Red Cross organization, but any red cross you see can be called det röda korset. Likewise, lilla gumman might be a pet name for your daughter, or (formerly) a disrespectful term of address for a woman you think unimportant, den lilla gumman is the old woman over there who is actually not that tall. The other cases are less clear cut.

    Also you can leave out the article in less formal registers without any implications other than wanting to save time and breath.

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