ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47 (2010) 323-327
Hilla Halla-aho, The Non-Literary Latin Letters: A Study of their Syntax and Pragmatics. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum 124.
Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 2009. 189 pages. ISBN 978 -951-653-363-9.
In recent years, several areas of research have been of particular interest to
linguists of Greek and Latin: the effects of bilingualism on syntax, the function
of particles from the standpoint of pragmatics (the branch of linguistics that
deals with how the wider context affects the shaping of an utterance), renewed
attempts at understanding word order, and the relationship between written
texts and spoken language. This careful study by Halla-aho (henceforth H.) of
the non-literary Latin letters (primarily those of Claudius Terentianus and the
Vindolanda tablets, though she also draws on the full range of material in CEL
1 and 2) lies at the intersection of all of these issues.1 While her discussion is
perhaps not as conclusive as one might wish, she always gives due attention
to the numerous variables that might account for the divergences between the
language of these letters and that of Classical Latin (CL) prose, and anyone
interested in the word order of Latin that does not have the stylistic ambition
of a Ciceronian oration will want to look closely at the examples she has culled.
The first three chapters all provide the necessary background for understanding the nature of the documents with which H. is dealing. In Chapter 1,
she offers a general overview of the non-literary letters, the extent of her corpus, and a basic survey of the types of linguistic evidence the letters provide.
As to the vexed question of whose language is actually represented in the letters
- that of the letter-sender or the scribe - H. believes that in most cases it is the
former, pointing out the correction in a second hand in T Vindol. 2.218. In the
next chapter, H. turns to the theoretical questions that complicate the discussion of these texts: the difficulty of defining Vulgar Latin (VL) (a term that
H., like many, avoids, preferring to highlight variation in spoken and written
language instead of a simplistic dichotomy between CL and VL), and the fact
that register is a variable that operates independently of the spoken-written
1 As one would expect, the works of J.N. Adams are prominent in H's bibliography
(e.g. The Vulgar Latin of the Letters of Claudius Terentianus [Manchester 1977], Bilingualism and the Latin Language [Cambridge (not Oxford, as in H's book) 2003], The
Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC - AD 600 [Cambridge 2007]); so too linguistic
scholarship of the Functional Grammar school from the Low Countries (e.g. the works
of A.M. Bolkestein, D.G.J. Panhuis, and H. Pinkster). The flourishing state of the study
of non-literary Greek and Latin can be seen in the range of topics covered in the recent
volume edited by T.A. Evans and D. Obbink, The Language of the Papyri (Oxford 2010),
to which H. has also contributed.