Latin-language Seminar on ‘Humanitas’

by Robin Meyer (University of Oxford)

The Oxford Latinitas Project promotes the fluent speaking of Classical Latin as an essential part of scholarship (and love) of the Litterae Humaniores. This week, the project will host visitors from the Accademia “Vivarium Novum”, Italy, for a seminar discussion of classic texts on the theme of ‘humanitas’, accompanied by musical settings of ancient poetry. Refreshments will be served, and thereafter those who wish may join us for dinner in the city centre.
The entire evening will be conducted in Latin. Active participation is of course encouraged, but those who simply wish to observe and listen are also most welcome! It will be an excellent opportunity to get a taste for this exciting way of approaching the classical works and the languages they were written in as living things.
In addition to the main event Friday evening, the Vivarienses will be taking over our regular weekly sessions: Lumen Litterarum, on Wedensday, 16 May, at 12:00 in Oriel, and the Familia Romana / Roma Aeterna sessions at Brasenose College, Friday, 18 May, at 12:30 PM.

Please do RSVP, indicating whether you would like to join for the seminar, dinner, or both, or if you would like to come to Lumen Litterarum; no need RSVP for FR / RA.

Bashkardi – a language by convergence?

by Agnes Korn (CNRS, Paris)

Bashkardi, spoken in Southern Iran inland from the Strait of Hormuz, is a very little known language. The dialects differ on all levels of grammar and show strong influence of Persian. This talk will present some salient features of the phonology and morphology of Bashkardi and compare them to other Iranian languages to shed light on the development of the grammatical structures. I will examine the hypothesis that Bashkardi is not a genetic entity, but a group of Iranian dialects of diverse origin which developed common traits by a process of convergence, having found themselves next to each other in a small region that remains remote even today.

This paper will be read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS, Brunei Gallery building, first floor, room B104, on Friday, 11 May, 4.15pm.

Survey: Attitudes towards digital culture and technology in the Modern Foreign Languages

by Renata Brandão (King’s College London)

Looking at the history, present and future of ‘digital’ Modern Languages research, our strand, Digital Mediations, of the AHRC-funded Language Acts & Worldmaking project explores the effects of digital culture and technology upon Modern Language research, asking what kinds of ‘translation’ are performed as information enters and leaves the digital sphere.

As part of our research, we have just launched a survey of attitudes towards digital culture in the Modern Foreign Languages, with attention to both theory and practice, as part of the Language Acts & Worldmaking project, a flagship project funded by the AHRC Open World Research Initiative, which aims to regenerate and transform modern language learning. Please consider doing the survey if you work in Modern Languages. We would be very interested to hear about your experience.

The survey is aimed at people with any level of digital expertise, and whose work involves Modern Foreign Languages in any role (whether that be as researcher, learner, teacher, funder, policy-maker, digital practitioner, cultural practitioner or other).

For most participants, the survey will take about 15 minutes. For those who have strong involvement in digital theory or practice, you will be offered additional optional questions which might make the survey longer.

We will analyse the survey results for future presentation and publication—all results will be anonymised—and will present initial findings in the coming year.

The survey will be open until 31st May 2018.

To the survey ➡

This survey is part of a research project called ‘Modern Foreign Languages Research: Digital Mediations’ which was submitted to, and approved by, the King’s College Research Ethics committee under its Minimal Ethical Risk Registration Process (REC Reference Number: MR/17/18-280).

 If you have any questions, please contact Paul Spence at


Prepositional infinitives in Latin & Romance

by Keith Tse (Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Prepositional infinitives are an important type of clausal complementation in all Romance languages, especially the use of de-infinitive and ad-infinitive which are pan-Romance in their uses as non-finite clausal complements (Harris 1978:197-198, Vincent 1988:68-70, Ledgeway 2012a:179, cf. Meyer-Lübke 1900:426ff.). However, although Romance prepositional infinitives are widely attested across time and space, their Latin (or proto-Romance) origins are as yet unknown, since prepositional infinitives do not exist in Latin, apart from some very late and dubious examples which cannot be taken for granted (Diez 1876:201-202, Beardsley 1921:97). Nonetheless, there have been recent attempts to reconstruct proto-Romance prepositional infinitives, which are structurally equivalent to Latin prepositional gerunds/gerundives as suppletive markers of the oblique functions of the infinitive and the latter may be taken as precursors of the former (Schulte 2007:87ff).

In this post, I outline a proposal concerning the Latin origins for Romance prepositional infinitives whose diachronic formation displays striking parallels with and divergences from the famous English to-infinitive (Los 2005), a comparison of which raises new questions not only for non-finite complementation but also for mechanisms of syntactic change.

Prepositional complementation in Romance

The two most common types of prepositional complementisers in Romance are de-infinitives and ad-infinitives, which show different distributions; the former is used with all types of verbs, while the latter is restricted mainly to verbs that imply purpose and futurity (Meyer-Lübke 1900:426ff, 435ff; Beardsley 1921:97-99, 106-108, 150-151; Vincent 1988:68; 1999:7). This is illustrated in the following examples from Medieval Romance where de-infinitives are used with verbs of communication (verba declarandi), command (verba praecipiendi) and as prolative infinitives (verba prolativa), whereas ad-infinitives are only attested with the latter two (prepositional complementiser in bold):

Verba declarandi:

1a) deneg-o             de  enuia-r-les              ayuda
deny-PRET.3SG DE send-INF-PRO.3PL aid
‘… he denied that he sent them help.’ (La Primera Crónica General 679a33)

1b)   confess-a                d’   aver-lo      fa-tto
confess-PRES.3SG DE have-PRO do-PERF.PTCP
‘he confesses that he has done it…’ (Rettorica p. 108)

1c)   qui           se               dout-e               d’   estre    blasmee
‘… who fears that he is being blamed.’ (La clef d’amors 2584)

Verba prolativa:

2a)   siempre contiend-e           de val-er            a    cuitad-os
always    strive-PRES.3SG  DE protect-INF AD victim-PL
‘he always strives to protect the victims.‘ (La Estoria de Sennor Sant Millan 623)

2b)   procaccia-ndo  di  riconcili-ar-si                    co-l                     Papa
strive-GERUND DE reconcile-INF-REFL.PRO with-DEF.ART Pope
‘striving to reconcile with the Pope.’ (Cronica fiorentina, p. 104)

2c)   desirroit              a    vivre      d-u                          sien
‘… he would like to live with his.’ (Les miracles de saint Louis de Guillaume de St Pathus 5554)

Verba praecipiendi:

3a)   ell-os      ordena-uan              de pon-er
PRO-3PL order-IMPERF.3PL DE place-INF
‘… they ordered to place them.’ (La Primera Crónica General 87a47)

3b)   pora            esforç-ar  a    defend-er-se force-INF AD defend-INF-REFL.PRO
‘in order to force them to defend themselves.’ (La Primera Crónica General560b31)

3c)   ordin-arono       di  fa-r-gli                fa-re    incontinente…
order-PRET.3PL DE make-INF-PRO make-INF incontinent
‘… they ordained him to be made to make him incontinent’ (Compagnia di S. M. del Carmine, p. 66)

3d)   era-no                 costr-ett-i …                           a    tagli-are selv-e
be.IMPERF-3PL force-PERF.PTCP-NOM.PL AD cut-INF   forest-PL
‘… they were forced… to cut forests…’ (Vegezio 2, cap. 24)

3e)   il      fust                contrei-nz            a    renoi-er     la             foy    Jhesu Crist
PRO be.PRET.3SG force-PAST.PTCP AD reject-INF DEF.ART faith Jesus Christ
‘… he was forced to reject his faith in Jesus Christ.’ (L’histoire de Barlaam et Josaphat 1.1.46)

The main difference between de and ad, therefore, is that de marks both realis and irrealis clausal complements, whereas ad only marks irrealis complements, which may be projected back to proto-Romance. In the next section, I look at some Latin attestations which bear striking similarities to these Romance examples and may be taken as their precursors.

Prepositional complementation in Latin

Both Latin de ‘about, regarding’ and ad ‘to, towards’ are lexical prepositions; there are numerous examples from pre-classical and classical times where prepositional gerunds/gerundives are construed directly with verbs which are compatible with their lexical meanings of these prepositions (Johndal 2012). In the case of de, it denotes the content of propositions and is attested with numerous types of verbs that express indirect statements (prepositions in bold):

Verba declarandi:

In this category, these are examples of verbs of saying and thinking (dicendi et putandi) that take de-gerund/gerundive expressing the content of the proposition, which can be reanalysed as indirect statements:

4a) primum tibi                   de nostr-o                     amico
first         PRO.2SG.DAT DE our-ABL.SG.MASC friend-ABL.SG.MASC

placa-nd-o                                               aut etiam plane
appease-GERUNDIVE-ABL.SG.MASC or   even   altogether

restitue-nd-o                                         pollice-or

‘First I promise you about appeasing or even restoring our friend altogether.’ >                   ‘I promise you that I shall appease or even restore our friend’ (Cicero ad Atticum                1.10.2)

4b)   qui                                       de  virgine         capienda


‘who wrote about capturing the girl’ > ‘who wrote that they would capture the girl’            (Gellius Noctes Atticae 1.12)

4c)   tu                       de alter-o                              consulat-u
PRO.2SG.NOM DE another-MASC.ABL.SG consulship-MASC.ABL.SG

gere-nd-o                                        te                      dice-re-s                         cogit-are

‘you said that you were considering about running another consulship’ > ‘you said             that you were considering running another consulship.’ (Cicero In Vatinium 11)

4d)   nam vell-e         se               cum eo                     conloqu-i
for    want-INF REFL.PRO with PRO.3SG-ABL converse-INF

de  parti-end-o                              regn-o

‘for he wanted to converse with him (something) about dividing the kingdom.’ >                  ‘for he wanted to say to him that he would divide the kingdom.’ (Nepos Dion 2)

Verba prolativa:

De-gerund/gerundive and ad-gerund/gerundive are used with certain verbs expressing the content of intention/purpose of the matrix subject:

5a)   nos… labor-amus         de aufere-nd-o                                   mal-o
we      work-PRES.1PL DE eliminate-GERUNDIVE-ABL.SG evil-ABL.SG
‘we strive about removing the evil…’ > ‘we strive to remove the evil.’ (Tertullian Adversus Hermogenem 11.3)

5b)   ego          enim te             arbitr-or…           statim  esse
PRO.1SG for     PRO.2SG think-PRES.1SG at.once be.INF

ad  Sicyon-em  oppurgn-and-um              profe-ct-um
AD Sicyon-ACC attack-GERUNDIVE-ACC set.out-PERF-ACC.SG

‘for I think that you immediately set off in order to attack Sicyon’ > ‘for I think that            you immediately set off to attack Sicyon’ (Cicero ad Atticum 1.13)

Verba praecipiendi:

Verbs denoting command can take both de-gerund/gerundive and ad-gerund/gerundive in expressing the content and purpose of the command respectively, which may be reanalyzed as indirect commands (Panchón 2003:384-387):

6a)   cum  de muta-nd-o                                      praecip-ere-t                     homin-e
‘since he ordered about changing the man’ > ‘since he ordered to change the man.’ (Augustine Sermones 9.8)

6b)   ut          consul-es            populum           cohort-are-ntur
so.that consul-NOM.PL people-ACC.SG encourage-IMPERF.SUBJ-3PL

ad  rogation-em accipiendam

‘so that the consuls might encourage the people so as to accept the plea’ > ‘so that the consuls might encourage the people to accept the plea’ (Cicero ad Atticum 1.14)

6c)   ad resistitue-nd-um                        non   compell-it
AD re-establish-GERUND-ACC.SG NEG  force-PRES.3SG
‘he does not force you so that you might re-establish it.’ > ‘he does not force you to re-establish it.’ (Augustine Epistulae 153.21)

The distribution of Romance prepositional infinitives hence seems to conform to Latin prepositional gerunds/gerundives where de in being the marker of theme/content is semantically more general and hence compatible with a wider range of verbs whereas ad as a marker of purpose/intention is only used with verbs that express command and purpose. These developments are strikingly similar to English to-infinitives, especially from a formal perspective, as discussed in the next section.

Prepositional phrases > prepositional infinitives

English to-infinitives are the prototypical example of non-finite complementation and it is widely held that to-infinitives are reanalysed in Old English (OE) from being purposive adjuncts to clausal complements (cf Latin ad-gerund/gerundive), which are particularly frequent with verbs of purpose and command (Los (2005:chapter 3)):

7a)   tiligen we us to  gescild-enne and us to gewarnig-enne
strive   we us TO shield-DAT   and  us to guard-DAT
‘we should try to shield ourselves and guard ourselves…’ (HomS 44,158)

7b)   on hwilcum godum tihst    pu     us to gelyf-enne ?
in  which      gods     urgest thou us to believe-DAT
‘which gods do you urge us to believe in?’ (AELS (George) 148)

Furthermore, both Latin/Romance and English prepositional infinitives are the results of morphophonological erosion in the nominal paradigm, since the Germanic dative ending –enne following OE to is argued to be obsolete in OE (Los 2005:3-5) and the Romance infinitive, in contrast to Latin gerund/gerundive, likewise does not inflect for morphological case. In both cases, the nominal properties of the clausal complement are practically eliminated, which severely weakens the agreement between the preposition and its nominal complement (Roberts and Roussou 2003:105), which leads to their reanalysis as non-finite clauses. Furthermore, Latin/Romance de-infinitives represent a new pathway of syntactic change since, in contrast to English to-infinitives and Latin/Romance ad-infinitives, Latin/Romance de does not express purpose but is more semantically general in expressing the content of propositions, which not only yields its wider distribution in Romance but also reveals two distinct types of non-finite complementisers, one more purpose-oriented (to/ad), the other more neutral (de). Since non-finite complementisers are traditionally held to be low in the cartography of C-elements (Rizzi 1997), it may be argued that there are two functional projections in the non-finite domain (Mrealis/Mirrealis), which parallels the dual complementiser system in Romance finite complementation (Ledgeway 2012b). The Latin/Romance evidence, therefore, reveals a more sophisticated C-system, especially in the non-finite domain.


The use of Latin prepositional gerund/gerundive represents a new topic in Latin/Romance historical syntax which opens up many new avenues to the formation of Romance non-finite complementation, since although prepositional infinitives, which are plentiful in Romance, are not attested in Latin, their historical structural equivalents, namely Latin the prepositional gerund/gerundive, are widely attested in examples where they are re-analysable as clausal complements. It is therefore possible to account for the pan-Romance distribution of prepositional infinitives by expanding our search and analysis to Latin prepositional gerunds/gerundives.


Beardsley, Winfred, A., 1921, Infinitive Constructions in Old Spanish, New York, Columbia University Press.

Diez, Frédéric, 1876, Grammaire des Langues Romanes, vol III. 3rd ed, Paris, Libraire-Éditeur.

Harris, Martin, 1978, The evolution of French syntax: a comparative approach, London, Longman.

Johndal, M. (2012): Non-finiteness in Latin. DPhil dissertation, University of Cambridge.

Ledgeway, A. (2012a): From Latin to Romance: Morphosyntactic Typolog and Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ledgeway, A. N. (2012b): ‘La sopravvivenza del Sistema dei doppi complementatori nei dialetti meridionali’, in Del Puente, P. (ed): Atti del II Convegno internazionale di dialettologia-Progetto A.L.Ba. Rionero in Vulture: Calice, pp. 151-176.

Los, Bettelou, 2005, The Rise of the To-infinitive, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Meyer-Lübke, Wilhelm, 1900, Grammaire des Langues Romanes. Tome Troisième: Syntaxe, Paris,  H. Welter.

Panchón, Federico, 2003, ‘Les complétives en ut’. In: Bodelot, Colette, 2003, Grammaire Fondamentale du Latin. Tome X: Les propositions complétives en latin, Louvain/Paris/Dudley, Peeters: 335-481.

Reenan, Pieter, van. / Schøsler, Lene, 1993, ‘Les indices d’infinitif complément d’objet en ancien français’. In: Lorenzo, Ramón (ed), Actas do XIX Congreso Internacional de Lingüística e Filoloxía Románicas, Vol V, La Coruña: 523-545.

Rizzi, L. (1997): ‘The fine structure of the left periphery’, in Haegeman, L. Elements of Grammar, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 281-337.

Roberts, I. and Roussou, A. (2003): Syntactic Change. A Minimalist approach to grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Schulte, Kim, 2007, Prepositional infinitives in Romance: a usage-based approach to syntactic change, Oxford, Peter Lang.

Vincent, Nigel, 1988, ‘Latin’. In: Vincent, Nigel / Harris, Martin (eds), The Romance Languages, London, Croom Helm: 26-78.

Vincent, Nigel, 1999, ‘Non-finite complementation in Latin and Romance’, Paper presented at the Indo-European Seminar, Department of Classics, University of Cambridge, October 1999.


Indo-Iranian Philology Day

by Robin Meyer (University of Oxford)


Wolfson College, Oxford, and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics at the University of Oxford are pleased to host an Indo-Iranian Philology Day on Saturday, 28 April 2018, at Wolfson College.

This day celebrates the long-standing tradition of teaching Indic and Iranian languages as well as Indo-Iranian Comparative Philology at the University, and will showcase the breadth of the field as well as the fascinating connections with other areas of study.

The day begins with a lecture introducing Indo-Iranian Philology. Thereafter,  the morning consists of three sets of short introductory classes in Vedic and Avestan language and texts, as well as a brief survey of Indo-Iranian and Indo-European Comparative Philology and Old Persian Cuneiform.

After a buffet lunch, four lectures by international and local scholars on a number of religious, historical, and literary topics relating to the Indo-Iranian world will round off the day.

The Indo-Iranian Philology Day, sponsored by the Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics and by the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics at the University of Oxford, is open and free to all who are interested. For catering and room booking purposes, we ask that you register on our Eventbrite site, where you can also find a full programme of the day.

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 6

Changes in status and paradigms? On subject pronouns in medieval French

by Michael Zimmermann (University of Konstanz)

This paper addresses the debate on the morpho‐syntactic status of subject pronouns in the pre‐modern stages of the French language by reinvestigating this issue along with that of the number of paradigms of such elements. On the basis of a collection of the various evidence provided in the literature as well as hitherto ignored and novel empirical insights, the paper discusses the different views put forward and essentially argues that, in its medieval stages, French had two paradigms of, respectively, strong and phonologically clitic subject pronouns. From this finding as well as standard assumptions on the modern (standard) stage of the language the paper eventually concludes that, diachronically, French evinces continuity, rather than changes regarding the two issues under investigation.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12112

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 5

IE *peug′‐ /*peuk′‐ ‘to pierce’ in Celtic: Old Irish og ‘sharp point’, ogam, and uaigid ‘stitches’, Gallo‐Latin Mars Ugius, Old Welsh ‐ug and Middle Welsh ‐y ‘fist’, Middle Welsh vch ‘fox’, and ancient names like Uccius

by Patrick Sims-Williams (Aberystwyth University)

A systematic search for Celtic derivatives of IE *peug′‐ /*peuk′‐ ‘to pierce’ illustrates the extent to which Indo‐European etymological dictionaries have tended to overlook the existence of cognates in the Celtic languages.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12107