Medieval Latin

Medieval Latin

Gibbon famously defined the ‘Middle Ages’ to be that period extending from the fall of Rome in 476 AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD. However, we prefer to use a more pragmatic definition. For Blitz Latin’s dictionary the medieval era begins in 600 AD, when most classical Latin dictionaries drop out, and ends in 1500 AD, the beginning of the Enlightenment or the Reformation.

The medieval dictionary has been enhanced by the addition of all the most common words found in sweeps of medieval texts and/or listed in standard medieval dictionaries (such as Latham’s “Revised Medieval Latin Word List” (Oxford University Press, 1980); and Lynn Nelson’s Medieval books“Medieval Word List”). There are now so many medieval words in our electronic dictionary that some clash with older, classical Latin words. For this reason, we now advise strongly that those users studying classical Latin should toggle on the AGE era (EDIT/AGE PREFERRED) to ‘Classical Latin only’.

Word order Medieval scribes are much less likely to invert the word order of Latin texts than the writers of classical Latin (relative to modern usage). The ancient writers placed Latin words in order of their emphasis, whereas medieval and modern writers are much more likely to use the subject-verb-object word-ordering of modern languages. For this reason, it will often be preferable to TURN OFF the Subject Verb Object (SVOE) re-ordering routines from Blitz Latin with non-classical texts.

Poor spelling Medieval words pose something of a dilemma to the dictionary compiler. On the one hand the scribe may have mis-spelled existing words. On the other hand, in the days before dictionaries two unconnected scribes may have constructed the same compound Latin word but used it for different purposes. There is also the practical problem that many medieval English terms have fallen out of modern common English usage; for example ‘socage’. Indeed, the large majority of the new medieval Latin words derive from medieval law or ecclesiastical use. Where possible we have provided an additional expanded meaning for obscure medieval English terms, but the user of Blitz Latin who is not a native English speaker may well need to refer to a very detailed English dictionary as well.

Medieval Tricks

This option is available from the Edit menu and is toggled ON by default. It implements a number of rather slow tricks to compensate for some of the mis-spellings of medieval writers. The following is not a complete list.

Examples (‘->‘ means ‘corrected to’):

Internal ci -> ti. Internal chi -> ci. Internal d -> t. Internal e -> ae.
Internal cu -> quu. Internal single consonants -> double consonants, and vice-versa.
Internal thi -> ti. Final unque -> umque. Final in -> im. Final an -> am.
Internal ti->ci. Internal nn->mn. Internal ae->e. Internal oe->e. Internal f->ph.
Internal ph->f. Internal ho->o. Internal s->z. Initial y->hy.

While changes to medieval patterns are reasonably accurate, changes of single characters (eg ‘d’->’t’) are less likely to be valid. A tilde (~) is used to mark such words as uncertainly translated.

Medieval Phonetics

This option can ONLY be used when Medieval Tricks are toggled on (Edit menu option; Phonetics follows Medieval Tricks). The option is toggled OFF by default.

Medieval writers often spelled phonetically, due to poor communications and a lack of printed Latin dictionaries. One writer may use synemmenon, another sinemmenon, another synnemenon, another sinemenon, and so on. Blitz Latin allows a search of the phonetic form of a medieval Latin word against the phonetic forms of words in the electronic Latin dictionary. This trick is quite effective at picking up mis-spelled medieval words. It is of little value with Latin words used in pre-medieval times (say before the 6th Century AD) or post-Renaissance (say after the 16th Century AD).

Since the time to search the whole dictionary for phonetic matches would be excessive, the search is tightly bounded within 2-4 areas of the dictionary. Thus it is possible that some phonetic matches may be missed even if they exist within the dictionary.

Some medieval writers (eg St. Gregory of Tours, 6th Century AD) not only spelled-as-they-spoke, but spoke with accents, altering vowels on the stressed syllable. Blitz Latin contains code to change these words too.