Joshua T. Katz

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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Humans, including speakers of Latin, produce sounds (the study of which is called phonetics) that interact with other sounds (phonology), and the resulting meaningful sequences (morphology) are then linked to other such sequences – most prominently words – to form clauses (syntax), which in turn combine into more intricate narratives (discourse analysis and stylistics). Furthermore, everything from a morpheme to a novel has in its context an overt sense (semantics) and very likely some covert ones as well (pragmatics). The first surviving book of the great Roman polymath Marcus Terentius Varro's De Lingua Latina (‘On the Latin Language’) opens with the statement that ‘in the Latin language’, ‘[i]nasmuch as each and every word has two innate features, from what thing and to what thing the name is applied..., that former part, where they examine why and whence words are, the Greeks call etymology, that other part they call semantics’. This article shows – by means of just a few prominent examples, notably the words for ‘Latin’ and ‘language’ and the very idea of ‘Roman-ness’ – what linguistics can do and why it matters.

Keywords: Latin; linguistics; Roman-ness; language; Marcus Terentius Varro; De Lingua Latina; semantics; etymology; phonology; syntax

Article.  7643 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Philosophy

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