Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dealing with synthetic structures in Latin

In a previous post, I talked about two different ways of organizing language and then in a later post showed how to deal with possessives in French. Today, I want to discuss another way that languages indicate the meaning of and relationships between words. In many languages, a word will change form depending on its function. In language like English or French, much of the work is accomplished by using separate words. In Latin, the same is achieved by changing the endings of the word. Let's see how this applies to possessives in Latin

Take the following church record:

Many of the names are no doubt very familiar looking, but have unfamiliar endings.
There are two different sets of endings, a masculine set (-us, -i and -um) and a feminine set (-a, -ae and -am). You are probably familiar with the ending -us and -a from famous Roman names like Julius, Octavius and Augustus or their feminine forms Julia, Octavia and Augusta. This form is called the nominative and is the form which you can look up in the dictionary. The two other forms have different funtions. The endings -um and -am are the accusative endings used to indicate the object of a verb.
Julius amat Octaviam.
Octaviam amat Julius.
Julius Octaviam amat.
These three sentences all mean the same thing; the word order isn't important, the endings are everything. The final pair of endings (-i and -ae) are the most important for identifying possessives. These forms are called genitive and are used to mark the possessor.

We can now return to the marriage document. Let's take a single line.

We have an ampersand (&), which is a special form of the conjunction et "and". We have two names, Stanislai and Antoninae. Both are in the genitive and should be translated as "of Stanislaus" and "of Antonina". The final puzzle is the word filiam. Now you should be able to recognize this as an accusative form and look up the form filia in a Latin dictionary. You will discover that it means "daughter". The line above means "daughter of Stanislaus and Antonina"

You should now be able to identify and translate these types of structures providing family relationships in Latin documents.

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