Accusative declension from Latin -> Italian

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Alxmrphi, Sep 30, 2011.

  1. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hi guys,

    I read that the vast majority of nouns in Italian are actually derived from the accusative declension of the Latin nouns, and not the (at least what I would expect) the nominative. Does anyone have any information on why that would be? Is it because structural accusative case is the default object case so the words were often used and seen/heard declined in the accusative case, or is there more to the story than that? It just seemed a little bit weird to me and I thought if someone doesn't know in Etymology then nobody will :p

    Alex
     
  2. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    That's interesting - I've always thought of Italian, with its typical masc sing/pl of -o/-i and fem sing/pl of -a/-e as looking more like the Latin nominative (after dropping the final consonant of Latin -us and -um). What looks like the Latin accusative is the plural -s of Spanish/Portuguese/French. So I'm sure I'm misinterpreting your comment, and maybe others are too, so can you say more?

    EDIT - It occurs to me that maybe you're not talking about the noun endings in Latin and Italian, but rather about the Latin roots from which the Italian word was formed.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2011
  3. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    A Dan2 just said, the plural endings -i and -e derive from the Latin nominative. But it is correct to say that the stem of most Italian nouns is derived from the accusative form, or more precisely, from the oblique stem in Latin, which is found in all cases other than the nominative singular (for masculine and feminine nouns).

    The explanation is then basically what you said: frequency. Nouns (especially inanimates) are used more often in an oblique form than in the nominative singular. So for example you would hear radik'- (radicem, radicis, radice, radicibus, …) more often than radik- (radix). So when your case system collapses and you realize that you only need to bother with one form of the noun, which stem is more likely to survive? Radice.

    Many neuter nouns evolved differently, because of nominative-accusative syncretism. So for example you get tempo, nome, capo, etc. corresponding to the nominative/accusative singular stem, and not to the oblique stem (tempor-, nomin-, capit-).
     
  4. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Thanks!
    I've just seen your edit Dan, yes I was referring to the actual (word) stems.
     
  5. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Interesting. I also noticed that Italian kept a fairly large number of nominative nouns (compared to say Spanish). Perhaps in this case the nominatives were more frequent than the accusatives? It is time. My time is precious.... more so than a structure like take time. Also, My name is. What is the name.... rather than I give a name to that. Just a supposition.
    I believe Man (uomo) must come from the nominative otherwise it would have been (uomne).
    Otherwise, any idea why they would have given nominative endings to the oblique stem/ accusative forms?
     
  6. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    The same phenomenon appears in Modern Greek (not a Romance language I know) too...
    Modern Greek nouns (especially those masculine and feminine ones belonging to the ancient third declension) form their nominative by taking the ancient accusative, e.g:
    -Ancient Greek «ἔρως» (ĕrōs, sing. nominative masculine)--> sexual love, desire, gives «ἔρωτα» ('ĕrōtă) in the accusative, from which the Modern Greek «έρωτας» /'erotas/ (sing. nom. m.) derives.
    -Ancient Greek «ἐλπίς» (ĕl'pīs, sing. nominative feminine)--> hope, gives «ἐλπίδα» (ĕl'pīdă) in the accusative, from which the Modern Greek «ελπίδα» /el'piða/ (sing. nom. fem.) derives.
     
  7. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Well, the same form tempus/nomen was used for both nominative and accusative in Latin. The question would be why Italian didn't keep the oblique stem in the plural (e.g. tempora/nomina instead of tempi/nomi), but the answer must again be paradigm simplification by elimination of less frequent forms.
    In this case the oblique stem is retained in the plural: uomini (but the diphthong is probably there by analogy with the singular). Other examples of preserved nominatives: moglie, ladro, re.
    Actually, it looks more like accusative endings (in the singular). For the 1st and 2nd declensions, we can't really tell, since for most nouns, the nominative and accusative endings became indistinguishable by phonetic erosion (loss of final -m, final -s, vowel length). And anyway the whole business of oblique vs. non-oblique stems doesn't apply much in these declensions. For 3rd declension nouns, the -e seems to come from the Latin accusative -em.
     
  8. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Is this sure?

    According to other theories, the loss of the final -s could lead in Italian to the changement of the preceding vowel, thus amicas (through *amicaj or something similar) became amiche, patres became padri, matres became madri (by the way, the Latin nominatives are patres and matres, not *patri and *matri), etc...

    Similar evolution can be noticed also in other cases, e.g.: tu das > tu dai, post > *pos > poi.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  9. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    What loss of -s? In order to loose it, Italian would first have had to have acquired it. Is there any evidence it ever had? I've never heard of that.
     
  10. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    The loss of the final -s present in the Latin accusative plural, maintained in some other Romance languages. We speak about the evolution of the plural endings from Latin to Italian ...

    By the way, my previuos post is rather a question, not a constatation.
     
  11. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    You are right, but according to some versions of this theory, the -as ending was actually an old nominative plural ending that persisted in spoken Latin long after the literary ending had evolved to -ae. In this case, Italian -e derives from a common nominative/accusative form. (This would also explain why Old French had a common feminine plural form in -es.)

    For o-stems, I don't think there is any doubt that amici derives from nominative amici and not from accusative amicos.
    The -i is analogical for 3rd declension nouns in Italian; it did not develop phonetically from -es as you seem to suggest.
     
  12. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    So was my reply.:)

    Is this attested in older text? I have heard only of an -ai ending in Old Latin 1st declension nominative plural.
     
  13. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Hi everybody. I wonder if the proponents of this theory of loss of /s/ and change of vowel sound have been influenced by Eastern Andalusian Spanish, where exactly that happens. Los perros < lò perrò (the dogs), Las perras < lae perrae (female dogs), making singular and plural contrasted by vowel sound, or verbs tu hablas < tu hablae. In Italy I don't think this happened. I've never read anything about that in any scholarly work and the pattern fits in so well with the nominatives. I'm intrigued about the tu forms ending in i and words like "poi" though. s = i
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  14. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Yes, but not uncontroversially. See here, for example.
    Well, this can mean one of two things… ;)
     
  15. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Thank you.
     
  16. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Thanks, CapnPrep, for your interesting answer.

    I agree, finally the -i has become in Italian a "general" plural ending for masculine nouns regardless of the original stem (e.g. poeti, laghi, spiriti, amori ...).

    But I've found also the following opinion (here):
    "The masculine plural amici is thought to reflect the Latin nominative plural -ī rather than accusative plural -ōs (Spanish -os); however, the other plurals are thought to stem from special developments of Latin -ās and -ēs."
     
  17. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Of course, I don't know if they were influenced or not ... But your Andalusian examples are interesting because they demonstrate the real possibility of this kind of phonetical development.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  18. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    One has to wonder what is hidden behind the choice of words "special developments"…
     
  19. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    The "loss of -s" that we were talking about (it is mentioned further on, cani from canes is given as an example). But it is not so important, I only wanted to say that there are also opinions that do not exclude the 3rd declension nouns (at least partially).
     
  20. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Thanks for the answer :). What is your opinion about the origin of the Italian plural endings?
     
  21. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Hello again. Thinking about this a bit more, Italian really has no final -s (nor really any final consonants of any type) where they would be expected from vulgar Latin, not in any verb ending nor any noun or adjective plural, or any other word of any type (adverbs...). I'm not really sure about this theory.... but there's food for thought. All final consonants have systematically been eliminated (from a Latin point of view). There could well be another reason beyond the nominative-accusative explanation for nouns.
    I suppose we could almost say the same for French too, except in the written language these consonants are still written. There's never really been a major phonetic reform in that language. As for Spanish many dialects also weaken or eliminate final consonants and it's definitely an active trend.
     
  22. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Since ī>i and æ>e are regular developments in all Romance languages, I would in absence of compelling reason to adopt a different view, resort to Occam's razor and assume that the Italian plural endings are derived from the 1st/2nd declension nominative plural endings.
     

Share This Page