Are you ready for some transmogrification?

English: Closeup of the upper surface of the c...

When Latin teachers dig deep into their ears maybe this is the sort of thing that they come up with. Closeup of the upper surface of the cap of the “ear-pick fungus”, species Auriscalpium vulgare Gray. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a brother who teaches languages including French and Latin, but as far as I know he does not pick his nose or ear in class or throw his shoes at the pupils (although he might be tempted to, haha). Maybe he picks his nose in private. Anyway, he kindly answered my queries on why some websites on Latin give different third person pronouns. (You can tell he is a teacher by his impressive vocabulary… he used the verb “transmogrify” in his explanation. It’s not often you come across that word, I will have to look it up in my English dictionary * as well as see what its equivalents are in my five romance ones, if they have got it.)

Anyway, over to Edmundo, brother of Bernardo…

“In Latin there are pronouns to express the first and second persons singular (ego, tu) and plural (nos, vos).  These are the source from which the French tu, nous and vous are derived. However, there is no specific pronoun for the third person so something had to be substituted for it – but what?  The solution was to use demonstrative adjectives instead. So:

1.      hic, haec, hoc, meaning “this … (near me)”

2.      ille, illa illud, meaning “that … (over there)”

3.      is, ea, id, with more neutral meaning, signifying either “this …” or “that …”

All the above could be used on their own as functional equivalents of third person pronouns, thus:

‘hic’ (masculine) = ‘this male one’ = ‘he’

‘haec’ (feminine) = ‘this female one’ = ‘she’

And so on.

Interestingly, the second of these demonstratives ilLE, ilLA, illud, is the origin of the French definite articles LE and LA. When the use of the demonstrative became standard, it lost its demonstrative force and was transmogrified into the definite article.  ‘Le livre’ really means something like ‘this (particular) book’ as opposed to ‘un livre’, derived from the numerical adjective unus, una, unum, meaning ‘one’ or ‘(any)one’.

Thanks, Edmundo!

* Transmogrify = to change shape or transform, especially in a manner that is surprising, bizarre or magical.


One thought on “Are you ready for some transmogrification?

  1. Pingback: And Done! | Raiding, (not so) casually,

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