Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indirect Speech

Yeah, I think about grammar crud like this. Mostly because it came up in class last week.

And I had a realization: for once, English isn't the odd man out of the IE tribe.

In most Indo-European languages, indirect speech is pretty easy. Here's an example in English:
Direct: He's a good driver.
Indirect: I think he's a good driver.
The grammar machinery is pretty easy. Drop your head verb (which doubtless has a technical name) and your indirect-speech-itizer on your sentence, and presto! You're in indirect speech. Other IE languages do the same. Ancient Greek uses ὁτι, Persian uses که, English uses that and Spanish uses que. So easy. So simple.

But classical Latin can't do that. It has to do something very different. It has to press an accusative noun into duty as the subject of the indirect speech. The verb can't be a standard conjugated verb: it has to be an infinitive. So Latin, using our example above, does something like this:
Direct: Ille est gubernator bonus.
Direct: He's a good driver.
Indirect: Puto illum esse gubernatorem bonum.
Indirect: I think him to be a good driver.
And it's just weird. So congratulations to Latin for being the odd man out of the IE tribe for a change.

Note: As you see in the translations, English can do this bit of weirdness if needed. Ancient Greek can too. What's odd is that Latin doesn't have the easy "add in that for indirect speech" formula. Of course now I suppose I'll hear from all sorts of people telling me, "Dude, Armenian is just like Latin that way" or the like.