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punctuation

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punctuation

Postby PhilipF » Fri Jul 11, 2008 6:24 pm

I wonder if anyone can help me with something that has always puzzled me. That is the meaning of the punctuation marks in latin texts

For example in the passage from Tacitus below,
Why are there full stops which are not followed by a capital letter?
Why is it only at the start of a new paragraph that the sentence begins with a capital letter?
What do the colons and semi-colons signify? How do they differ in meaning and how do they differ from a comma?
What does it mean when a phrase is in brackets? Is this grammatical or just an 'aside' by the author.
I realise that all these marks were not in the original Latin so they have been added by editors presumably as an aid to the reader, but without knowing exactly what each one represents grammatically it is not helping me at all.

Iulius Paulus et Iulius Civilis regia stirpe multo ceteros anteibant. Paulum Fonteius Capito falso rebellionis crimine interfecit; iniectae Civili catenae, missusque ad Neronem et a Galba absolutus sub Vitellio rursus discrimen adiit, flagitante supplicium eius exercitu: inde causae irarum spesque ex malis nostris. sed Civilis ultra quam barbaris solitum ingenio sollers et Sertorium se aut Annibalem ferens simili oris dehonestamento, ne ut hosti obviam iretur, si a populo Romano palam descivisset, Vespasiani amicitiam studiumque partium praetendit, missis sane ad eum Primi Antonii litteris, quibus avertere accita Vitellio auxilia et tumultus Germanici specie retentare legiones iubebatur. eadem Hordeonius Flaccus praesens monuerat, inclinato in Vespasianum animo et rei publicae cura, cui excidium adventabat, si redintegratum bellum et tot armatorum milia Italiam inrupissent. Igitur.....

hope someone can help or direct me to a useful link
thanks Philip
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Re: punctuation

Postby Twpsyn » Fri Jul 11, 2008 6:41 pm

PhilipF wrote:Why are there full stops which are not followed by a capital letter?Why is it only at the start of a new paragraph that the sentence begins with a capital letter?


That's just a convention followed by some modern texts. Others capitalize after full stops, the 'normal' way.

What do the colons and semi-colons signify? How do they differ in meaning and how do they differ from a comma?


They're used similarly to how they are used in English.

What does it mean when a phrase is in brackets? Is this grammatical or just an 'aside' by the author.


You mean brackets like these: [] ? There are none such in the paragraph you posted, so I don't know. If the text is trying to be faithful to the original manuscript, it could indicate a suggested insertion for a lacuna, or a correction of a typo. Parentheses () are used as they are in English.

I realise that all these marks were not in the original Latin so they have been added by editors presumably as an aid to the reader, but without knowing exactly what each one represents grammatically it is not helping me at all.


Don't overthink it; as I indicated, they are not exotic.
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Postby PhilipF » Fri Jul 11, 2008 9:30 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, I was kind of hoping there was something much more specific. For example that some punctuation marks were only used to indicate ablative absolutes, or that commas, colons and semi-colons indicated different kinds of subordinate clauses. Now if it actually was some system like that (and you imply there isn't) I would find that a useful guide to understand these long and complex Latin sentences.
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Postby Twpsyn » Fri Jul 11, 2008 9:38 pm

That would be grammatical notation, like the little circles and arrows teachers have you draw over sentences. Punctuation doesn't mesh with grammar like that in the real world; its purpose has more to do with phrasing (commas and semicolons) and tone (exclamation and query marks). If you're having trouble with parsing Latin syntax, all I can tell you is that practice makes perfect!
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Postby PhilipF » Fri Jul 11, 2008 10:16 pm

ok I take your point that some punctuation like '!' or '?' is more about conveying some notion of what the silent 'voice' of the writer would convey if heard. But surely colons and semi-colons are not just the author taking a breath.
I am thinking about this notion: grouped around the main verb in a complex latin sentence there are subordinate clauses where the writer switches from actual statements (i.e.in the indicative) to something that is only present to his mind (i.e. in the subjunctive) . I noticed that these colons and semi-colons are occurring before 'cum' and 'ut' so I thought there may be some system behind them that indicated how these relative clauses stood in relation to the main subject+object statement. But if you are authoritatively saying there is no such system , I will have to accept that.
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Postby Twpsyn » Fri Jul 11, 2008 10:36 pm

Well sure, marking off subordinate clauses is part of what commas do. However, when we use a comma and when we don't is regulated by our speech patterns. All the information about the subordinate clause and what it means and the grammatical flavour of it is conveyed by the forms themselves, i.e., the uts and cums and the form of the verb. The fact that, when speaking the language, we tend to pause before these clauses is what motivates the insertion of punctuation. If what you're saying is that the punctuation itself creates the grammatical meaning, then I would say you're looking at the idea backwards.

In the end, the fundamental principles of the punctuation system used for Latin are, in my experience, equivalent to those used in English. I believe that the system of punctuation we use in modern languages was developed around the Middle Ages by scribes who would be equally familiar with Latin as with their vernacular. So in my opinion Latin punctuation is no more a system of grammatical notation than English punctuation (which, as we've been discussing, it is in a limited and vague sense).

Of course, it would take a degree in linguistics to go deep into the cognitive reasons for why a writer would put a comma before such-and-such a clause or put a semicolon instead of a full stop between such-and-such two sentences. I think if you apply your instincts about English punctuation (which, judging by your posts so far in this thread, you are perfectly competent with), you will not encounter difficulty with the dots-and-dashes. If it's the Latin that's giving you trouble, then over-analysing the punctuation will not help with that.
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