Monday, 17 December 2012

Go placidly...

Here is the promised -MENTE post; in my last I mentioned the link between Latin ACUTE and Spanish agudamente, and the excitement was too much for me - like the Wife of Bath I had to tell someone. You are my reeds.

 A few months ago, a student asked, in's Ask a Teacher forum, our views of the question 'How do you think of the plan?'

Someone posted a simple answer, with which I agreed. But I couldn't resist the temptation to imagine a cock-eyed context that would justify the question in ... er ... question.
In that question, 'How' means 'In what way?'. The answer to 'How do you think of the plan' would be 'Constantly', 'optimistically' - any possible adverb (often one that refers to a state of mind*)
And (as one does, when one is in two minds [or three or ...] about how much information to give to a student) I added a PS:
PS This probably doesn't apply to Korean, so you can ignore it keannu. But some readers may be interested to know that in the Romance languages this (the mind) is what, historically, was the basis of the standard mechanism for forming adverbs: initially, it worked only with adjectives that referred to mental states - placida mente is Latin for 'with a placid mind'. But more recently, in French, Spanish, Italian and so on, adding -ment[e] turns any adjective into an adverb.
The source of this tit-bit was Elcock's The Romance Languages:
In  the formal development of the adverb the most notable innovation of western Vulgar  Latin was the creation of the periphrasis formed from the ablative MENTE (ed: 'with a mind')  preceded by an adjective that agreed with its feminine gender.
1st edn, p 145.
In my UsingEnglish post, I had not mentioned that 'western' restriction - not because I edited it  out but because it either slipped my mind, or - more likely - never entered it. A mistake that is easily slipped into is to say 'in Vulgar Latin....', because the examples that spring most readily to mind are from the west - French, Provençal, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian ... and a myriad regional dialects (I know one word of Gascon). But anything eastern is easily ignored, even though the very word 'Romance' is derived from a way of forming an adverb ('the way the Romans speak') that doesn't use this MENTE periphrasis.

Anyway, in the Reichenau Glossary, a document of which the earliest copy dates from the early eighth century - already mentioned in another post - SINGULARITER is glossed as solamente.

Elcock goes on
The congealing of the periphrasis in such a way that -mente became an adverbial suffix indicating manner probably took place very gradually.
The Romance Languages, 1st edn,  p. 145
In fact, the congealing is still underway - or has reached a half-way house that speakers are happy to accomodate in a grammatical rule. In modern Spanish, and Portuguese, when two adverbs appear together the first one has no -mente ending but a femininine adjectival ending: clara y distintamente - 'clearly and distinctly', or (if you prefer to read an adjective into the first bit of the last word) 'in a clear and distinct way'.

OK, that 'one word' of Gascon before I get on with my day, Chaucer, as with the Wife of Bath's reed, is my springboard:
Lordynges, quod he, in chirches whannes I preche
I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche.
I forget the details - and indeed the spelling - of the Pardoner's description of this act , but one thing I do remember is his face: 'thanne bekke I forth'*. He is strutting about like a cockerel. And the Gascon word for 'cockerel' - bigey - is based on the basis of a metaphor: 'vicar'.

Guy Deutscher's 'reef of dead metaphors' again .


Update, 12.12.17:14.00 * Ha - so much for the italicized do. My four-word memory (Pardoner's Tale quotes Best Before June 1968) was an extreme conflation of three lines:
Thanne peyne I me to strecche forth the nekke
And est and west upon the pepl I bekke
As dooth a dowve...
It was that 'bird' image (with the echo of bekke and 'beak') that made my memory do some furtive editing, and it is this that made me think of the Pardoner and the Gascon for 'cockerel' in one thought.

Update: 2016.05.12.18:05 – trivial typo fix, leaving the unfortunate hyphens (where I should have used "–" for when I'm not about to leave for a rehearsal. But I did delete the superseded  footer.)

Update: 2016.08.25.14:10 – less trivial correction in penultimate para.

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