Rüdiger Schmitt on Latin influences in the Greek vernacular: A Model Sentence from Laura Hunt

The material for today’s post was submitted by Laura Hunt, who is currently a PhD student at the University of Wales Trinity St. David. It thus falls under the categories of “research assistance” and “model sentences”. Her excerpt is taken from the following work:

Schmitt, Rüdiger. ‘Die Sprachverhältnisse in den Östlichen Provinzen des Römischen Reiches’. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Principat. Sprache und Literatur, edited by Haase, W., 29.2.554-86. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1983.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the grammatical commentary can directly follow the German version.

English Translation (wmc): “If therefore the role of Latin in the east is also set apart from that [= the role of Latin] in the west, then the manifold contacts between the two Empire languages in trade and life conduct, in offices and on the street nevertheless led also to numerous Latin influences in the Greek vernacular, which come to expression in very many Latin loanwords. Viewed in this way, it becomes comprehensible that Plutarch could write: Latin is ‘now used by almost all people’. (Plutarch, Quaes. Platon. 10,3)”, p. 563.

German Version: ‚Wenn sich somit die Rolle des Lateinischen im Osten auch von der im Westen abhob, so haben die vielfältigen Kontakte der beiden Reichssprachen in Handel und Wandel, in den Amtsstuben und auf der Straße doch auch zu zahlreichen lateinischen Einflüssen in der griechischen Umgangssprache geführt, die in sehr vielen lateinischen Lehnwörtern Gestalt annehmen. So betrachtet, wird es verständlich, daß Plutarch schreiben konnte, das Lateinische werde „jetzt von beinahe allen Menschen verwendet“. (Plutarch, Quaest. Platon. 10,3)‘, p. 563.

Grammatical Commentary:  “Wenn … so” has the force of “If … then”. “somit” could be translated as “thus”, “consequently”, “therefore”, “as a consequence”. “sich abhob von” is the past tense of “sich abheben von”, which has the force of “is set apart from” here (I think “is contrasted with” would probably be a bit too strong). “Die Rolle” is the subject of the sentence. It is modified by the genitive “des Lateinischen”. “Im Osten” is short for “in dem Osten”/in the east. “auch” has the force of “also”. “die vielfältigen Kontakte” (modified by the Genitive “der beiden Reichssprachen”) is the plural subject of the verb “haben … geführt zu”. “vielfältige”  could be translated with “manifold”, “diverse“, “varied” etc. “in Handel” means “in trade”. “In … Wandel” is much more difficult. “Wandel” usually means “change” but here it probably has the force of “Lebenswandel”, “Lebensführung”, or “Verkehr” (see Wiktionary). It should probably be translated as “in conduct”, “in life conduct”, “in the course of life”, “in life”, or the like (it corresponds to “on the street” just as “in trade” corresponds to “in the offices”. “In den Amtstuben” means “in the offices”. It may have the force of “in the administrative offices” but I’m not sure (Amt: office + Stube: room). “Auf der Straße” = on the street. “auch” = also. The dative phrase “zahlreichen lateinischen Einflüssen” is dependent upon “zu” which goes with the verb. It is noteworthy, and perhaps significant, that it says “in der griechischen Umgangssprache“ rather than “auf die griechische Umgangssprache“ (which I would have expected – perhaps wrongly!). “Umgangssprache” could be translated as “everyday language“, “everyday speech“, “common speech“, “colloquial language”, “vernacular”, etc. “die” refers back to “Einflüssen”. It is the subject of “Gestalt annehmen”, which could be translated woodenly as “take form” or “take shape”, but I have rendered it freely as “come to expression”, which seems to be the intended sense. “So betrachtet” means “viewed in this way”. I am uncertain, but the construction could/should perhaps be translated “If viewed in this way, then it becomes comprehensible…”. In any case “es” is the subject of “wird verständlich” and “daß…” provides the content of what is comprehensible or understandable. “konnte” goes to the end of the clause since it is a subordinate clause and the infinitive “schreiben” goes with it. Plutarch is the subject. “das” [not to be confused here with dass or daß] goes with the subject “das Lateinische” for which reason I have used a colon rather than writing “that”. “werde … verwendet” is the verb. “von” indicates who it is used by. “beihahe”, which means nearly or almost, qualifies “all people” or “all human beings”, which is dative because it depends on “von”.

Substantive Analysis: This sentence is important to Laura Hunt’s work because part of the aim of her research is “to show that although, as this [quotation] says, the situation was different in the East, we should not omit to examine the role that the existence of Latin, even as a smaller influence, still may have played, both in culture and in texts”. With regard to my own research interests, this quotation immediately brings to mind the way that Martin Hengel and others have appealed to the presence of Latinisms in the Gospel of Mark as part of their argument that it was written from Rome. Against the background of this quotation, it seems that one would have to be quite cautious about the amount of weight that could be placed on the presence of Latinisms. Nevertheless, with a view to the first part of the quotation, it also seems that the presence of Latinisms could still function as part of such an argument, especially if they were judged to be unusually numerous.

Thank you, Laura Hunt, for submitting this “model sentence” for analysis. I wish you the best in your research and look forward to hearing how it develops!

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