The Latin of the Common People
Unless one is a professional philologist he feels little interest in the language of the common people. Its peculiarities in pronunciation, syntax, phraseology, and the use of words we are inclined to avoid in our own speech, because they mark a lack of cultivation. We test them by the standards of polite society, and ignore them, or condemn them, or laugh at them as abnormal or illogical or indicative of ignorance. So far as literature goes, the speech of the common people has little interest for us because it is not the recognized literary medium. These two reasons have prevented the average man of cultivated tastes from giving much attention to the way in which the masses speak, and only the professional student has occupied himself with their language. This is unfortunate because the speech of the common people has many points of interest, and, instead of being illogical, is usually much more rigid in its adherence to its own accepted principles than formal speech is, which is likely to be influenced by convention or conventional associations. To take an illustration of what I have in mind, the ending _-s_ is the common mark in English of a plural form. For instance, “caps,” “maps,” “lines,” and “places” are plurals, and the corresponding singular forms are “cap,” “map,” “line,” and “place.” Consequently, granted the underlying premise, it is a perfectly logical and eminently scientific process from the forms “relapse” (pronounced, of course, “relaps”) and “species” to postulate a corresponding singular, and speak of “a relap” and “a specie,” as a negro of my acquaintance regularly does. “Scrope” and “lept,” as preterites of “scrape” and “leap,” are correctly formed on the analogy of “broke” and “crept,” but are not used in polite society.
So far as English, German, or French go, a certain degree of general interest has been stimulated lately in the form which they take in every-day life by two very different agencies, by the popular articles of students of language, and by realistic and dialect novels. But for our knowledge of the Latin of the common people we lack these two all-important sources of information. It occurred to only two Roman writers, Petronius and Apuleius, to amuse their countrymen by writing realistic stories, or stories with realistic features, and the Roman grammarian felt an even greater contempt for popular Latin or