Vocabulary: principal parts

The principal parts of verbs may arguably be learnt early. The relation of so many Latin verbs to English – especially the supine of them – can enthuse the likely lad or lass with philological inclinations (something that the Cambridge Latin Course almost fails to do) and presents to all pupils a realisation about their own language.

Principal parts are not foreign to English, and the continental child who is being taught English thoroughly will learn a list of those verbs that form in the ‘strong’ mode, i.e. as in German: forget, forgot, forgotten; lie, lay, lain; swim, swam, swum.   For a list of these that can be used for practice, see the Morphology page: one or two of them are challenging.

After noticing this, the idea of Latin principal parts becomes more intelligible, once it is explained that Latin has four instead of three. (For that rare child who is keen on such things, and is already thinking of Greek, it can be mentioned in passing that a Greek verb can have seven.)

The supine, which roughly corresponds to the English PPP, is of interest, not only for the hundreds of English words ending –ion, but for the further possibilities. Most Latin verbs do not produce a full set, but the common verb audio does: audition, auditor and auditorium.

Latin words like lavatorium and laboratorium are of interest, as are purgatorium, conservatorium and dormitorium; victor, narrator, tractor, motor, doctor, navigator, creator, inspector, actor etc.

By the way, the word factorium was used only to mean an oil-press. Not many things in the ancient world took place on a large scale, but that did.

Later, the derivatives of the present participle are of interest to many children: regent, agent, tangent (and contingent), cogent, patent, latent, fluent, etc.

One child, who later became a well-known classicist and author, said he decided what was the subject for him the moment he saw some of these things written on the board in his classroom.

Next post: Mnemosyne and the wiring of the brain.

Vocabulary: practicalities

Perhaps we are lucky. Even our slowest Latinists in the junior forms—those who will prefer Classical Civilisation to Latin for GCSE—seem to be enthused by the challenge of learning a vocabulary.

Before starting to memorize, it helps if they are secure with the parts of speech. Attached (see Grammar in the menu) is a ‘Parts of Speech’ template, which of course can be adapted or improved upon. It does not deal with words that can be used in different functions, especially prepositions that can be used as adverbs and vice versa. More on this later.

But as for nouns: an American journalist remarked that any noun can be verbed, and an observant child will soon notice that.

It was for Indo-European languages that our ancestors devised the attached classification. It may not be valid for other languages, and some colleagues may query the system anyway, given some modern theories of linguistics. The reply seems to be that until a better system is devised, this must suffice.

Children like order, and to know how things work; and under this system the basic grammatical functions are reassuringly finite.

We have found it useful to arrange vocabulary lists by the parts of speech. Even at AS stage, or perhaps especially so, it seems to make sense of the learning and render it less of a chore. It also makes patterns of formation more visible.

Please see the AS  and GCSE Latin wordlists arranged in this way on the Wordlists page.

Next post: more on vocabulary.