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The earliest pronouncements on Latin spoken and written usage come to us from a literary figure in the late second century BC, i.e. the Roman satirist Gaius Lucilius (180 / 168?–103 / 102), who had a pervasive influence on authoritative writers on Latin of the late Republic. Lucilius’ personal poetry – the first of the kind to appear on the Roman stage since Ennius’ experimental miscellaneous saturae – was characterized by an assertive voice delivering views on an unprecedented variety of themes. That language was a favourite theme is evidenced by the significant number of metalinguistic comments in the fragmentary remains of Lucilius’ notoriously large production, which included a systematic treatment (Book 9) of Latin orthography and morphology.
Our records trace the English adjective ‘colloquial’ back to Samuel Johnson (1751) and the noun ‘colloquialism’ to nineteenth-century poets, who used it to describe characteristics of common speech as distinct from more elevated forms of language – ‘the frequent mixture in some translation of mere colloquialisms’ (R. Polwhele, writing in 1810) – or the overall quality of a style – ‘their language is…an actual transcript of the colloquialism of the day’ (Samuel Coleridge, writing in 1818). In these modern uses, as in many ancient notes on style, one detects a sense of unease, or curiosity, about the possibility that characteristics of ordinary conversation might creep into the timeless dimension of ‘literature’.
The questions addressed in this volume rise from a desire to investigate this process: to what extent, and with what intent, do authors manipulate (generally) spoken language in the construction of their (specific) literary work? Or, in our subject-specific critical terms, what is the relation of ‘literary language’ (Kunstsprache) to ‘colloquial language’ (Umgangssprache) in individual authors, and what trends can be identified in the building of Latin literary language as a whole?
No fruitful approach to this inquiry is possible until a satisfactory definition of the colloquial is reached. Adams has rightly drawn attention to the unhelpful nature of the generalising (and dogmatic) categorisation implied in the usage of the term ‘colloquialism’, which in fact ‘embraces a multitude of phenomena with different distribution and different degrees of acceptability’ (Adams 2005b: 86).
What is colloquial Latin? What can we learn about it from Roman literature, and how does an understanding of colloquial Latin enhance our appreciation of literature? This book sets out to answer such questions, beginning with examinations of how the term 'colloquial' has been used by linguists and by classicists (and how its Latin equivalents were used by the Romans) and continuing with exciting new research on colloquial language in a wide range of Latin authors. Each chapter is written by a leading expert in the relevant area, and the material presented includes new editions of several texts. The Introduction presents the first account in English of developments in the study of colloquial Latin over the last century, and throughout the book findings are presented in clear, lucid, and jargon-free language, making a major scholarly debate accessible to a broad range of students and non-specialists.