On Wednesday, April 7, 2004, at 02:13 AM, Paul Bennett wrote:

> All this has re-awakened an old dormant project bubbling away in the back
> of my brain.
> What if Latin hadn't risen as the language of the Roman Empire, and Greek
> had been the status-lect and the ordinary-lect up until the end of
> Latin-as-a-living-language?

Not so far fetched a notion as some might think. In the 1st cent BCE, the
Roman upper classes appear to have been virtually bilingual in Greek &
Latin; and the southern part of Italy as well as Sicily had Greek as its

The Republic was tearing itself apart with civil wars that century and
clearly heading for extinction. It was brought to an end, as we know, by
Octavian - soon to be named as Augustus, the first Emperor - who with
political astuteness maintained he was restoring the republic with himself
simply as the first (Princeps) among equal citizens. But part of the
Augustan settlement was a conscious literary revival and a flowering of
Latin writing together with a sort of idealistic "back to good ol' Italian
basics", which firmly established Latin as the language of the Empire.

If, however, Mark Antony had prevailed, the eastern influence is likely to
have been greater and it is not by any means unlikely that Greek, the
language of Cleopatra and the Levant generally, would have prevailed and
Latin become regarded as provincially mid-Italian. Also long-standing
Greek colonies in southern Gaul & Spain could well have further enhanced
the spread of Greek.

> How would the Romance languages have turned
> out, assuming similar phonetic and semantic drift took place as "here"?

It's not as simple as that, however. The phonology of Koine Greek is
rather different from that of Latin (whether Classical or 'Vulgar'); we'd
have to take into consideration what actually did happen to Greek in Italy
and elsewhere.

For example, Latin had no /y/. The sound had become /i/ by the Byzantine
period and we can presume a similar development would have happened in the
west. But we know Gallic Romance had /y/, being a development of VL /u/.
It would seem to me likely that in Gaul the Greek /y/ would be retained
thus *there* 'French' /y/ would appear as /i/ in the other Neo-Hellenic
langs. Of course Gallo-Romance did have /u/, being derived from VL /o/.
But Koine Greek, at least, did not have VL's opposition of /o/ ~ /O/ -
there was less "crowding" of back vowels; it's likely that Koine /u/ and
/o/ would remain.

Another obvious problem are the Greek aspirated plosives. One might argue
that as /h/ became silent, then these plosives simply lost their
aspiration and became pronounced exactly like their voiceless, unaspirated
counterparts. The trouble is that never actually happened in any Greek
speaking area; they became voicless fricatives. The change of /p_h/ to /f/
  presents no problem of course; but /t_h/ --> /T/ and /k_h/ --> /x/ does.
/T/ and /x/ simply didn't exist in VL so we have no parallel to go on. [T]
  did develop in old northern French, but only in certain positions, e.g.
Eng. faith <-- O.F. [fwET] (mod. fr, foi). It didn't, for example, develop
in initial positions which is where we want it.

There would BTW be, I think, similar palatalization; it was certainly not
unknown in Greek and is found, e.g. in Cretan Greek.

The above scenario BTW would not merely have affected what we now call the
Romance langs - which would *here* be Hellenic langs - but also affect the
loans in Germanic languages (e.g. our 'cheap' and German 'Kauf' are
ultimately derived from Latin 'caupo' (inn-keeper - obviously an important
person on the frontier posts) and have had a significant affect on Welsh
which has a _large_ layer of vocabulary assimilated from the VL of Britain.

But by far the greatest difference, and one with worldwide impact, is of
course the alphabet! It would most certainly mean that the _Greek_
alphabet became the dominant alphabet in Europe. Indeed, the Roman
alphabet would've died with the Latin language. The languages of all
non-Cyrillic Europe, of the Americas and much of Africa as well as Vietnam
would all be written in the Greek alphabet, as would Chinese Pinyin!

Yes, an interesting project   :)

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"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language."         J.G. Hamann, 1760