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Beginners' Latin
Detail from 'Goat-bird-man', pictogram. 1278. Cat ref: CP 40/23 m 40. Crown copyright

Problems with Latin and the documents

 

Spelling Go

Interchangeable lettersGo

Words with more than one form

Use of ‘ae’ instead of ‘e’

 

This is an introduction to the problems that you may encounter with Latin vocabulary and grammar in documents from the period 1086 to 1733.

It is important to remember that the Latin used in the period covered by this tutorial was not consistent. As a living language, its vocabulary, meanings and grammar changed over time.

Read through these problems and be aware that you may face any or all of them. However, do not worry about them. In time and with practice, you will find that you can deal with them easily.

 

Spelling

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There was no consistent way of spelling even common words in the medievalGlossary - opens in a new window, TudorGlossary - opens in a new window or StuartGlossary - opens in a new window periods. Look at the different spellings of these words, meaning grace

gratia, –e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
gracia, –e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window

Spelling changed over time and varied between individuals. You will often see a word spelt more than one way within a single document.
If you cannot find a word in the dictionary, think about other ways to spell it and try looking these up.
Consider letters that sound similar, like ‘a’ and ‘e’, ‘m’ and ‘n’, ‘c’ and ‘t’.

 

Interchangeable letters

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In medievalGlossary - opens in a new window documents, many letters are almost indistinguishable, for example
‘c’ and ‘t’
‘u’ and ‘v’
‘i’ and ‘j’
Sometimes it is not possible to differentiate between ‘i’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘u’ or ‘v’!
Are you looking at an an unfamiliar word in your document?
Consider whether these interchangeable letters might help you identify it.
For example, could that letter that appears to be a ‘c’ really be a ‘t’?

 

Words with more than one form

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Some words have a form from more than one genderGlossary - opens in a new window, for example, both a masculineGlossary - opens in a new window form and a feminineGlossary - opens in a new window form.
Look at these words, which both mean ‘parkGlossary - opens in a new window’:

parca, -e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
parcus, -i (m.) Second declensionGlossary - opens in a new window

The dativeGlossary - opens in a new window pluralGlossary - opens in a new window and ablativeGlossary - opens in a new window plural of both of these forms is parcis.

Other examples you may find include
socGlossary - opens in a new window

soca, -e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
socum, -i (n.) Second declensionGlossary - opens in a new window

toftGlossary - opens in a new window

tofta, -e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
toftum, -i (n.) Second declensionGlossary - opens in a new window

wood

bosca, -e (f.) First declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
boscum, -i (n.) Second declensionGlossary - opens in a new window
boscus, -i (m.) Second declensionGlossary - opens in a new window

There are many more words with more than one form. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list.
You can try looking up these forms in R.E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-list, (London, published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press, 1973).
This is the standard and most accessible work, which you should be able to find in most reference libraries.
However, Revised Medieval Latin Word-list is not definitive and your document may contain a different form of a word. There is also the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (Oxford University Press). This is a substantial and long-term project; in early 2005, only volumes up to the letter ‘O’ have been published.

 

Use of ‘ae’ instead of ‘e’

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In TudorGlossary - opens in a new window and StuartGlossary - opens in a new window documents, you may notice that some words were spelt with an ‘ae’ instead of an ‘e’.
For example, instead of hec you might see haec.
The ‘ae’ spelling was used in the ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window period, but later lapsed. It was taken up again in the TudorGlossary - opens in a new window and StuartGlossary - opens in a new window period.
Be aware that in documents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, you will find words that are spelt with an ‘ae’ instead of an ‘e’.
Remember this when you are using the word list, where ‘ae’ forms are not given.

 

Differences between Medieval and Classical Latin

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No previous knowledge of Latin is required for this tutorial.
However, if you studied ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window Latin at school, you will find that the Latin in this tutorial is different.

  1. Word order in medievalGlossary - opens in a new window Latin was less strict than in ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window Latin. For example, medieval Latin verbs are not necessarily at the end of the sentence. You may find documents in which the word order is very similar to English.
  2. There was no consistency of spelling in medieval Latin.
  3. The Classical ‘ae’ form was replaced by ‘e’ in the medieval period.
  4. There are other changes in spelling, including Medieval Latin sometimes changes Classical ‘h’ to ‘ch’. For example, mihi ‘to me’ becomes michi. Medieval Latin sometimes adds a ‘p’ to Classical words. For example, damnum ‘damages’ becomes dampnum.
  5. The meaning of some important words in changed between the ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window and the medievalGlossary - opens in a new window periods

baro, baronis (m.) baronGlossary - opens in a new window, tenant-in-chiefGlossary - opens in a new window
miles, militis (m.) knightGlossary - opens in a new window
villa, -e (f.) villGlossary - opens in a new window, town

If you look these up in a ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window Latin dictionary, a different meaning will be given. The meaning will be inappropriate for the medievalGlossary - opens in a new window, TudorGlossary - opens in a new window or StuartGlossary - opens in a new window periods.

For example, in Roman times, a villa was an agriculturalGlossary - opens in a new window estate or farm with a large house at the centre.
In the medievalGlossary - opens in a new window period, a villGlossary - opens in a new window was a small to medium sized settlement or town.

Use reference works designed for medieval Latin to avoid any confusion.
You will find R.E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-list, (London, published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press, 1973) very helpful.

  1. Medieval Latin was influenced by contemporary society and therefore English spellings and words started to appear.
    For example, you will often find these words in medieval Latin documents

croftum, -i (n.) croftGlossary - opens in a new window
shopa, -e (f.) shop
virgata, -e (f.) virgateGlossary - opens in a new window

They are English words which have been turned into Latin.

  1. There is a much greater use of quod (meaning ‘that’) in medieval Latin. You will often find it after verbsGlossary - opens in a new window of saying, thinking, replying, claiming etc.

dicit quod    he says that

  1. The increased use of prepositionsGlossary - opens in a new window in medieval Latin, particularly ad, de and per. In ClassicalGlossary - opens in a new window Latin, the same phrase would be given using the nounGlossary - opens in a new window with the appropriate case ending.
  2. In medieval Latin, de is frequently used to mean ‘of’.