Friday, April 26, 2013

Adjective order in Latin

Warning: speculation follows, hopefully not all baseless

As we all know, you can graduate from college magna cum laude or summa cum laude. Latin students can skip ahead, but for those of you who don't know: here's the story. Both of those expressions are prepositional phrases. We'll skip some of the fine points, but here's the outline
1. magna cum laude    great    with praise
    with great praise
Now, you might notice that the adjective is before the preposition, and that's odd by English standards. In ordinary Latin you might get
2. cum laude magna
Yes, the adjective is prone to coming after its antecedent noun, hence the name antecedent. In previous entries, I've mused as to what is going on here. And I don't know that I've got any stunning new insight about why the preposition should move to where it does. In fact, it probably doesn't move to the spec P position. Oh well. Here's an example
3. Cytoriaco radium de               monte      tenebat (Met, 6.132)
    cytorian    shuttle  down.from mountain she.held
    She held a shuttle from the Cytorian mountain (i.e. boxwood).
The adjective Cytoriaco is separated quite a way from its antecedent noun monte, which is behind the preposition—as it should be. And this made me wonder whether there was some rule in how to separate an adjective from its noun. Latin is famous for this sort of word order play in poetry: noun and adjective bracket a line. It's picked up a name: Latin sandwich. Here it is in the Metamorphoses.
4. et    rupit         pictas      caelestia crimina vestes (Met, 6.131)
    and she.broke decorated celestial  crimes   cloths
And she [Minerva] tore apart the tapestry decorated with the crimes of the gods
Just what I want to show you. In 4, the adjective, pictas, comes well ahead its antecedent, vestes. Once again, I've done some casual looking around. The pattern seems to hold. If a noun and its adjunct adjective are separated, the adjective comes first. 

But so what? It is even real? I don't know I'll have to file this under: things to look into.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

End of semester wrap up and reflection

And spring semester is over. Or, rather, I went to the last night of classes last night. 

As you may know, I've decided to post my homework on Scribd—at least the stuff that might be of interest to someone. Why? If someone is interested in how language works, my homework might be of interest. So as much as I think I can get away with it, I try to write for you instead of the professor. Whether I've succeeded or not is another matter that I leave to you.

One advantage of posting my homework beyond wider circulation is that I can refer back to it, which I did on a recent paper. I saw something in subject agreement marker syncretism that reminded me of some work with pronouns I had done. And a revelation hit me: I couldn't have done this (easily) pre-internet. I made the connection, referenced it in the paper and had a link pointing  back to the previous work. That's really powerful. Building connections between classes, admittedly easier at graduate level, is a major part of education: taking disparate information and synthesizing knowledge.

So what information got poured into my head this semester? Morphology, which may or may not be a thing, and First Language Acquisition. I loved one form the get go and needed some encouragement in the other. Oddly, the classes were taught by husband and wife. They couldn't have been more different for it. 

But now I don't have to tangle with stuff I'm less interested in. Hopefully there will be more time for blogging and crunching through texts. Derivational morphology in Latin anyone?

Friday, April 19, 2013

ho de

My research presentation from today. The professor moderating the symposium wasn't sold on my conclusion, but did like the direction I was taking.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First language acquisition

The research problems here are massive: you've got to deal with small children as your informants. I can't think of too many areas of research where the child—some just a few months old—have exclusive hold on the answers.

As part of the first language acquisition class I'm finishing up, I did a bit of research involving 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children. There is something very intimidating about realizing that as an adult, you cannot answer the questions. You can ask. You can interpret the responses. But you can't answer. Your subjects may not want to answer, and they're all you've got.

The other wildly difficult thing about first language acquisition research is that a lot of the principles involved are highly intuitive. For example: when applying names to objects, children assume that things have only one name. Researchers call it the Mutual Exclusion principle. Obvious, but you have to put some scientific rigor to it if you're going to use it in your work.

Anyway, what I want to impart is that this area of linguistics is both specialized and accessible for ordinary people.

Here's my final paper for the curious.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Theta roles, animacy and passivity in Latin

If this post seems weird, don't sweat it. I'm putting it up so that I can remember it more easily if I need something to research.

Last night we were talking about the difficulties children face in acquiring passives. One of the problems was reversible theta roles, specifically agent and instrument. As we all know, Latin treats these differently in terms of syntax. Which got me to wondering. Does the Latin passive favor animate subjects to inanimate subjects?

My hunch is yes. But in and of itself it isn't a very interesting question. The interesting question to ask is how does Latin passive use relate to later literature in Romance languages? Does passive favor mentioning agents or instruments? Does passive favor animate subjects? How is this similar/different in daughter languages?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Switch Reference in Ancient Greek?

I'm going to be presenting at the student research symposium again. I think, though some of the data is a problem, that Ancient Greek has a switch reference marker. The data, very much a work in progress, is here:

What I find interesting is that so many things, such an elegant word, flank the particle de. I'm quite aware that Runge says that de is [+development], which is to say indicating new information, but I don't think that's the whole story. About 40% of the time, de has a nominative case something on one side or the other. 40%? This seems much higher than chance alone. Of course it could also be an artifact of being located near the front of a clause, which is where the subject tends to hang out.

Anyway, I've got to pour some work in on this, but my preliminary research will be presented in two (yow!) weeks. I'll put up the presentation slides here then.