What is this page? [recensere]
This is a draft of the English version of the Translator's Guide that I am working on. Please do not edit this page (except for spelling) or make additions to it until it is in better shape. Instead, please put corrections and suggestions on the disputatio page.
The plan is for this page to be in English. There will eventually be a version in simple Latin, as it seems counterproductive not to do so on a Latin Wikipedia. I also plan on doing (or having others do) versions in other languages which are common among our users, with the content tailored to the needs of individual languages.
Syntax of Language Names [recensere]
The name of a language [recensere]
- Language names are generally given as lingua + the appropriate adjective (e.g. Lingua Latina, Lingua Anglica). If it is clear from context, you may omit the word lingua (but avoid this unless you are sure it will work). Hence: Lingua Anglica difficilis est! "English is hard!", Linguam Latinam amo! "I love Latin!"
- Alternately you may use the words sermo (with a masculine adjective) or loquella (but this word is condescending). If you are discussing a dialect, you may use dialectus (with a feminine adjective!), but the Ancients often did not make this distinction.
- Language names can also be given as an abstract noun, e.g. Latinitas, Graecitas. Such forms tend to be used in reference to the quality of how a language is used, e.g. Haec est constructio serioris Latinitatis "This is a Late Latin construction", Plauti Latinitas est insolita sed iucunda "Plautus' Latin is strange but nice." On their own, these forms tend to mean "good (language)"
To say "in (language)": [recensere]
- Put the language in the adverbial form: latine, anglice etc. In and of itself this means "in Latin", "in English", with no preposition needed. Thus: Latine loquor "I speak Latin", Equus (Anglice horse) "Equus (horse in English)"
- Note, however, that this construction is used in many constructions where it does not translate to "in (language)", for example Latine scio or Latine calleo (both of which mean "I know Latin").
- Never use the adverbial form with a preposition! Do not say *in Latine: just Latine. Do not say *e Latine, but e Latino (see below).
- If for some reason you cannot or do not wish to use this construction, you may put the name of the language in the ablative: Haec linguâ Latinâ dixit "He said these things in Latin."
Subdivisions of languages [recensere]
- It is often important to specify different phases or dialects of a language, e.g. "Old Persian," "Doric Greek" and so on. In the purest, most classical style, this would be indicated by an additional adjective: lingua Persica antiqua, lingua Graeca Dorica. Note that once such an adjective has been added, it is not possible to use the adverbial construction (Persice, Graece), and you must switch to using the ablative: (linguâ) Persicâ antiquâ, (linguâ) Graecâ Doricâ.
- When speaking less formally, Modern Latinists often adopt the convenience of Greek prefixes to distinguish different stages of a language:
The prefixed form is especially common for Greek, e.g. Neograece
English Formal Latin form short form proto-X lingua X prisca proto-X Old X lingua X antiqua palaeo-X Middle X lingua X media meso-X Modern X lingua X hodierna / moderna / nova neo-X
- Vulgo literally means "to the common crowd," but it is frequently used when giving the non-Latin equivalent of a word or name. For our purposes, I recommend using it only if the word or name is fairly international, or in cases where the language is clear from context e.g. Georgius Bush (vulgo George). Of course it goes without saying that this construction should not be used to indicate Greek either.
- Alternatively you may say Georgius Bush quem vulgus George dicit.
- When using a verb that means "translate" (e.g. verto, transfero, reddo), you may either use the adverbial construction mentioned above (Librum Latine reddidit "He translated the book into Latin") or in+acc. and/or ex+abl. with a masculine adjective (Carmen ex Anglico in Latinum vertit "She translated the song from English to Latin.")
- The noun "translation" is generally best expressed by versio or interpretatio, but we can also use the adverbial construction. Thus, to express "A Latin version of the Bible" one may say any of the following: Bibliorum versio Latina, Biblia Latine versa, or even just Biblia Latine.
Syntax of Geographical Names [recensere]
Geographical names generally behave like any other noun, except names of cities and small islands. These follow special grammatical rules you should be aware of. These rules do not apply to the names of countries, regions, or any other geographical terms, only to cities and small islands.
- To say "at" or "in" with a city name, one must use a special case called the Locative. For first declension placenames the locative ends in -ae, for second declension it ends in -i, for third declension it ends in either -i or -e (your choice). If the place name is plural (e.g. Athenae), the locative is the same as the dative/ablative, no matter what declension the word is. Thus Romae "in Rome", Corinthi "in Corinth", Carthagini (or Carthagine) "In Carthage", Athenis "in Athens", Delphis "at Delphi", Gadibus "in Cadiz."
Accusative of Motion [recensere]
- To say "to" or "towards" with a city name, use the accusative with no preposition, thus: Romam "to Rome", Corinthum "to Corinth", Carthaginem "to Carthage", Athenas "to Athens", Delphos "to Delphi", Gades "to Cadiz."
Ablative of Motion [recensere]
- To say "from" or "out of" with a city name, use the ablative with no preposition, thus: Roma "from Rome", Corintho "from Corinth", Carthagine "from Carthage", Athenis "from Athens", Delphis "from Delphi", Gadibus "from Cadiz." (Of course this is only with a verb of motion. To say "I am from _____" use an adjective instead.)
Verbs of Inhabiting [recensere]
- Verbs meaning "to inhabit" generally can either take an accusative (object) or a locative (place): Habito Romae or Romam.
How to say "Athens, Greece" [recensere]
- As noted above, these special rules apply only to names of cities and small islands. So what happens if you want to say "Aristophanes was born in Athens, Greece"? Since Athens is a city, it is supposed to be in the locative case, but since Greece is the name of a country it should be in the ablative with in. How to solve this problem? Say Aristophanes natus est Athenis in Graecia! This rule also applies with the other constructions listed above: Nuntium misit Athenas in Graeciam "He sent a messenger to Athens, Greece", Huc venit Athenis ex Graecia "He came here from Athens, Greece."
- In some cases it may be possible to use the name of the local tribe in the plural. This was commonly done to distinguish cities from others of the same name, e.g. Lugdunum Batavorum.
Is it OK to break these rules? [recensere]
- What happens if you say in Roma instead of Romae? In point of fact, not much. The Romans themselves did bend these rules fairly frequently. But as it is generally considered better Latin to use these constructions, I would recommend that you do so as much as possible.
- However, on some occasions it may actually be desirable to break these rules, especially when an ambiguity might otherwise arise. For example, does Romam Bethesdam misit mean "He sent (the goddess) Roma to (the town of) Bethesda" or "He sent (some woman named) Bethesda to Rome"? In such a case you might want to say In Romam Bethesdam misit. The ablative construction is especially prone to ambiguity, as a bare ablative can mean so many things in addition to motion from (e.g. ablative of means, ablative absolute). Also note that the ablative is potentially identical to the locative for third declension singular, and all plurals.
Words for "or" [recensere]
- Aut generally indicates a mutually exclusive choice (in logical terms, aut = xor): Aut adest aut non adest "Either he's here or he isn't!"
- Vel generally indicates a non mutually exclusive choice (in logical terms, vel = or): Vel bubulam vel galinaceam carnem libenter edam "I'll eat beef or chicken" (vel can often imply that the speaker does not care all that much one way or the other.)
- Sive (or seu) is most commonly used to list synonyms, or alternate forms of the same word. E.g. Mare Nostrum, sive Mediterraneum.
- An gives the second part of a compound question, so often translates to "or": Insanio, an piscis es? "Am I crazy, or are you a fish?" Note that the second part of the question might be implied: Esne piscis an delphinus? "Are you a fish or [are you a] a dolphin?"
One of the funniest things about describing the world in a dead language can be the challenge of figuring out how to express modern concepts. But when you are puzzling out how to translate a word for something that the Ancient Romans didn't have, you should keep in mind that you are very likely not the first person to face this particular challenge:
- There is a significant number of people who write in Latin, correspond in Latin, broadcast in Latin, or even chat in Latin.
- Latin did not die with Rome! Latin may not have been anyone's native language, but it was still in frequent use as an international language until very recently! When Europeans first came to the Americas, and the Far East, they sent home descriptions written in Latin. When Martin Luther wrote his theses, when Newton wrote his laws of motion, when Fermat scrawled out his "last theorem," they all did so in Latin.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If something has already been named or described in Latin, it is generally best to stick with the established name. Here are some good sources to check:
- For current Latin, see Lexica Neolatina. If you cannot get ahold of any of these resources, there are some online ones, if you know where to find them.
- For Renaissance Latin, there are a huge number of texts already on the web in one form or another. A good place to start is the Lexicon Universale. Other resources are too numerous to list here. Luckily an index is maintained by Dana Sutton.
Word Formation [recensere]
- Agent nouns, like "reader" or "runner," can be formed with the suffix -tor. The stem of the agent will always the same form as the fourth principle part, thus:
- amo -are -avi amatum > amator
- video -ere -i visum > visor
- sumo -ere -psi sumptum > sumptor
- capio -ere cepi captum > captor
- audio -ire -ivi auditum > auditor
- Note, however, that the agent is not used quite as loosely as in English. It's rare, for instance, to use cursor to mean "someone who happens to be running" as we might in sentences like "If you go to the park you will see a lot of runners." For situations like that the participle is preferred. A good rule of thumb is that a -tor noun is usually something that someone could conceivably put on their business card. There are exceptions, the most obvious being amator.
- The feminine equivalent of -tor is -trix. Like -tor, -trix is generally appended to the stem of the fourth principle part. One difference, however, is that there will always be a t, whether or not it's in the fourth principle part, thus: amatrix sumptrix captrix auditrix but vistrix (rather than "*visrix" or anything like that).
- -trix nouns are fairly often used as feminine adjectives (-tor nouns may as well, but this seems to be much rarer) as in Roma Victrix "Victorious Rome." This has a somewhat poetic quality, and often has a negative connotation, especially with words like dominatrix (even before it acquired its modern sexual meaning!)
Tools and Machines [recensere]
- English can use agent nouns as names of machines, e.g. "computer," "capacitator," "garbage compactor" etc. Latin does not generally use its agent suffix this way.
- There is, however, a neuter equivalent to the agent suffixes: -trum. This is seen in words like aratrum "plough" from aro -are "to plough", claustrum "barricade" from claudo -ere "enclose," rastrum "hoe" from rado -ere "shave." Some Modern Latinists like to use this suffix to coin names for machines, e.g. computatrum.
- In my opinion, this suffix is overused. While it is not exactly uncommon in Latin, it does not seem to have been a productive suffix, meaning one that was regularly used to coin new words. Thus it would be my recommendation not to use it except where it is already firmly established.
- Other suffixes one might use:
- -torium (or -toria machina)
- -trix machina is a possibility, but given the poetic and sometimes even negative connotations, it should probably be avoided.
Modern Place Names [recensere]
- For a good bibliography on Latin placenames, see here. Many of these sources are even available online.
- Note that for better or worse, names like Georgiopolis for Georgetown, Angelopolis for Los Angeles, Paulopolis for Saint Paul/São Paulo and so on are pretty well established. This is presumably because Latinists wanted to avoid confusing statements like "I'm going to the Angels" or "Saint Paul is smaller than Minneapolis."
- By far the most used resource is Egger's Lexicon Nominum Locorum. It is the closest thing to "official" that we have. Unfortunately, Egger's coinings were not always the most felicitous, so even I often disregard his less established recommendations.
- Another good resource is Orbis Latinus online.
Latin Names of Historical Figures [recensere]
As with other vocabulary items it is generally preferable to refer to historical figures by their established name, rather than to coin a new one.
- Established Latin Names: Up until the 18th centrury, virtually anyone of any importance either had a Latin name they themselves used, or were at least referred to in someone else's Latin writings. The best way to find such a name is often to search a good library catalog.
Overview of Greco-Latin names by period [recensere]
- From roughly 1700 to the present, Latinized names started going out of fashion. In Latin texts names were often left in their native form, or only the first name was Latinized. See Coining New Names. Fortunately, many authores continued use Latin, e.g. Linnaeus.
- During the Renaissance, Latin names tend to be very common and very easy to find. German Humanists generally prefered to translate their names (e.g. Neander, Mercator etc.) rather than to simply Latinize it. Due to the prevalence of ethnographies (e.g. Christophorus Richerius Thorigneus' De Rebus Turcarum) it is frequently possible to find Latin names for important people from all around the globe.
- In the Middle Ages Latin names are usually quite easy to find, though the exact forms tend to vary even more than in the Renaissance. There also tends to be a lot more trouble with "Latin" names that aren't very Latin-looking.
- In Late Antiquity and the so-called Dark Ages, it was especially common for barbarian names to be treated as indeclinable. As this can be problematic, if an alternate, declinable form of the name exists it should be used. Greek sources can be extremely valuable during this period as well, especially when it comes to nations bordering on the Byzantine Empire.
- In Antiquity there is obviously no problem finding names for Greeks and Romans. If you know where to look you can even find classical names for important historical figures throughout the Mediterranean world, especially in ethnographers like Herodotus, Hellenized barbarians like Manetho and Berossus, or even the extensive papyri discovered in Egypt, and inscriptions as far flung as Aksum and India. Of course all the sources I have named are in Greek, but this presents little problem. Obviously, though, if the name exists in both Greek and Latin sources, the form used by Latin authors is preferable.
- Note that this system is not infallible. Often more than one name will exists for the same person. In such cases it is generally best to use the form they themselves used, or failing that one which was used by their contemporaries. But even this has flaws:
- A later form may have become entrenched, supplanting the original. In such cases it may be better to use the established form, making a note of the change (cf. Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozart)
- Quite often, even the author himself will have used more than one Latin form of their own name (e.g. Galileo), in which case it can be very difficult to chose.
- This system can also be somewhat inconsistent. Note, for example, the bewildering number of different Latinizations for the name "William" (e.g. Vilelmus, Gulielmus, Guillelmus etc.) It is also quite common for two people with the same family name to Latinize it differently (e.g. Ioannes Dominicus Cassinus, whose son used Iacobus Cassini).
Coining New Names [recensere]
- The rule generally used by Latinists today is to Latinize the personal name (if possible), but to leave the family name unchanged and indeclinable. As a rule, this method should be adhered to for persons of the modern era.
- For people who lived in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, if you look hard enough you will generally find a Latin form eventually. But sometimes it will be necessary to make something up, in which case you will probably want to create something similar to what they may have actually used.
- Often if you cannot find what the actual person in question was called, you can find another member of their family.
- How to render "of/de/von"
- If "of" is simply a geographical designation, use the adjectival form of the placename: Hidegard of Bingen > Hildegardis Bingenensis. Exception: if the geographical designation is a country (as opposed to a city or a region) you will sometimes get a simple genitive.
- In the title of a noble, words like of, de/d'/da, and von/van tend to be translated "literally" as de or a. For obvious reasons, speakers of Romance languages generally prefered de (Iohannes de Plano Carpini), while speakers of Germanic languages prefered a (Carolus à Linné). This construction is not unheard of when the epithet is simply geographical.
- In the titulary of a monarch, some sort of genitive is used, either of the country (rex Angliae) or the genitive plural of the population (Persarum rex). Which is used varies from country to country (and sometimes from monarch to monarch), but usually some quick research on Google will help you figure out which is most correct. This page is a very good resource when it comes to European rulers.
- Languages like Greek and Hebrew which were known (in their ancient form) to the ancients tend to have established systems of Latinization. I find it very satisfying to apply these systems to the modern forms of the language, even where this gives a very different pronunciation (and standardized transcription) from the modern form. I plan on eventually writing separate articles on Latinizing Greek and Hebrew.
- For Arabic names, it is often possible to use the same system as for Hebrew, but I have mixed feelings about this as this was not done in Renaissance or Medieval references to Arabs. Japanese also tends to Latinize quite nicely.
Word Order [recensere]
You doubtless know that Latin has a very free word order. There are few rules that can be said to be absolute, but there are definite tendencies. Here are some guidelines.
- Titles like rex, dux, pontifex and so on, more often than not follow the name, e.g.: Henricus Rex "King Henry."
- Exception: imperator generally precedes the name when it means "emperor." It still follows the name when it means "honored general." Note that the full titulary of a Roman Emperor often includes this title in both positions.
- The Christian title cardinalis, bizarrely, is traditionally placed after the person's given name, but before their family name, thus Antonius Cardinalis Bacci.
- Geographical Names
- Similarly, in geographical names, words like mons, lacus and fluvius more often than not follow the actual name, e.g.: Olympus Mons "Mount Olympus," Lemanus Lacus "Lake Geneva" and so on.
- It is not wrong to deviate from either of the above guidelines, but do be aware of them.
Verb Tenses [recensere]
In the Indicative [recensere]
- The biggest difficulty for English speakers is when to use the perfect, and when to use the imperfect. Here are some rules of thumb:
- For the English simple past tense ("he did") and the present perfect ("he has done") use the Latin perfect (fecit).
- For the English past progressive ("he was doing") and the past habitual ("he used to do") use the Latin imperfect (faciebat).
- In other words, when in doubt use the perfect.
- The above rules apply mainly to verbs that describe actions. Certain verbs that describe states (such as esse "to be," nequire "to be unable," virere "to be green" and so on) follow a different set of rules.
- For "stative" verbs, just about any English past tense will equate to the imperfect. Thus "he was" = erat (not fuit).
- You should only use the Latin perfect if you wish to emphasize that the state is no longer in effect. This will generally equate the the English present perfect ("he has been"), but on some occasions might equate to another tense (especially the past habitual "he used to be"). This is why the famous Latin phrase: fuit Ilium "There used to be Troy (but now there isn't)" can be so much more concise in Latin.
- An even quicker and dirtier version of the above rules: put esse in the imperfect, put all other verbs in the perfect.
- Note however that Latin uses the pluperfect a good deal more than English does. If you can possibly paraphrase a verb to a form like "had done" then do use the pluperfect in the Latin (e.g. "I did my homework by the time mom got home" = "I had done my homework ..." so you will want pensa mea scholastica matre ineunte feceram.) The same applies to the future-perfect: if you can use it, do.
In the Subjunctive [recensere]
- For conditionals: see separate section.
- With other subordinate clauses it is a question of sequence of tense.
- If the verb in the main clause is in the present, and the action of the subordinate clause is contemporanious, use the present subjunctive, e.g. Rogat quid sit "He is asking what it is."
- If the verb in the main clause is in one of the past tenses, and the action of the subordinate clause is contemporanious, use the imperfect subjunctive, e.g. Rogabat quid esset "He was asking what it was."
- If the verb in the main clause is in the present, and the action of the subordinate clause is previous, use the perfect subjunctive, e.g. Rogat quid fuerit "He is asking what it was."
- If the verb in the main clause is in one of the past tenses, and the action of the subordinate clause is previous, use the pluperfect subjunctive, e.g. Rogabat quid fuisset "He was asking what it had been."
In non-finite forms [recensere]
- For participles and infinitives, tenses are relative to the main verb. [insert brilliantly terse yet easy to understand explanation here]
a note on the passive [recensere]
- In most tenses, Latin has a one word form for the passive, notably the present: vocatur "he is called." However, in the perfect system, the passive is formed "periphrastically," meaning with a particple and a form of the verb esse.
- It is very tempting, especially for English speakers, to confuse these forms. Remember, even though vocatus est looks like it means "he is called" (which would be vocatur) it actually means "he has been called." Likewise vocatus erat does not mean "he was called" (which would be vocabatur or vocatus est) but "he had been called."
Tricky Words [recensere]
These words are frequently misused by Wikipedians, or otherwise require some sort of comment.
- De: de generally means "about, concerning; down from"... since the reflex of this word means "of" in the Romance Languages, it is often tempting to use de this way. But Latin does not really have any single word that equates to English "of": posession must be indicated with the genitive case. Exceptions:
- If "of" can be paraphrased as "about" then you may use de: "A tale of betrayal" Narratio de perfidia
- In medieval European names, "of/de/von" etc. often show up as de. See Latin Names of Historical Figures.
- Indeclinable nouns are not an exception to this rule! See separate section (forthcoming).
Words for "man" and "woman" [recensere]
The distinction between homo, vir, mulier, and femina can be rather subtle.
- The usual rule given is that homo means "man" as opposed to animal or god, whereas vir means "man" as opposed to woman or child. Nowadays we could say that vir means "man" whereas homo means "person" or "human" (though it is still always masculine).
- In practice this distinction is complicated by rhetoric. Since homo was essentially a neutral word, whereas vir was positive, Romans would generally use vir in compliments and homo in insults: vir audax "a brave man" vs. homo audax "a man who doesn't know what's good for him." Exceptions:
- The Romans sometimes used homo with an otherwise positive adjective when the man in question was not upper class, or to form a backhanded compliment.
- Since homo is the name of the human species, scientists of course use it without negative connotations, hence Homo sapiens.
- Philosophers likewise use homo with neutral connotations, and so themselves are often called homines even in complementary contexts.
- For women the term mulier is used in a negative or neutral context, and femina in a positive context.
- Note however that when we are directly contrasting men and women it is normal to use vir and mulier without any moral judgement: Nomina virorum et mulierum "Names of men and women."
- This topic is covered in more thorough detail in The Rhetoric of Gender Terms by F. Santoro L'hoir.
- Persona: the basic meaning of persona is "mask." From this it acquires the meaning "character (in a play or story), personage." In Classical Latin it never means "person" per se. Use homo (or mulier) instead.
- Populus: populus means "a people," never "people" generally.
Words for "Modern" [recensere]
Classical Latin doesn't really have a word for "modern"... one may use circumlocutions like huius aetatis.
- Hodiernus, in Classical Latin, means "today's": ius hodiernum "soup of the day." Nevertheless, it is frequently used by modern Latinists to mean "modern."
- Modernus does mean "modern" (derived from modo "just now") but doesn't show up until the sixth century, so many feel it should be avoided.
- "North" and "South": the normal words for northern and southern are septentrionalis and meridionalis respectively. Etymologically these words come from Septemtriones "Ursa Major" and meridies "noon" (because the sun reaches its southernmost point at noon, to an observer in the northern hemisphere").
- Since both these terms technically refer to northern hemisphere phenomena, it is often preferable to use the universal terms borealis and australis when refering to things of a global scale.
- "East" and "West"
List of Future Topics [recensere]
- How to handle indeclinables.
- Differences in phrasing between Latin and English
- Adjectival forms/How to handle English compound expressions.
- Abstract nouns
- Participial & absolutive constructions
- Accusative-Infinitive constructions
- Special Verbs
- Deponent verbs
- Semi-deponent verbs
- Defective verbs
- Verbs with no present
- facio ~ fio
- perdo ~ pereo
- vendo ~ veneo
- Verbs requiring special cases
- Deponent verbs