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.