A New Perspective on Verbs, II

salvēte iterum, amīcissimī!  As promised, today we’ll experience the (rather terrifying) first story in which both normal and deponent verbs appear together.  Yesterday, we talked about the introduction of deponents (and normal verbs of both transitive and intransitive or actīvus et neuter varieties), and we considered some advantages of this rather unconventional approach to verbs, where we began with third-person singular forms, moved rather quickly to a “standard” dictionary listing, and then moved back.

Another advantage of learning about “standard” dictionarry listings and principal parts, it seems to me, is that we already “know” first-person verb forms (and infinitives) even without a formal introduction.  So we can very quickly add first-person verb forms to the “mix” of things in a Tres Columnae story … and, as a result, we can introduce first– and second-person forms in different Lectiōnēs.

In my face-to-face teaching life, as you know, I use one of the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks, quem nōmināre nōlō, and am very fond of it. But I find that my students, especially the weaker language learners, often struggle with first– and second-person singular verbs when they’re first introduced. It’s not usually an issue of comprehension; they can certainly understand a first- or second-person verb in a story. But they have a lot of trouble deciding which form to use in productive activities. All of a sudden, there are three verb choices instead of just one!  By contrast, that same reading-method textbook introduces one new noun form at a time, so there’s only one new choice for students to work with at a time.  As a result, my weaker students usually find nouns less bothersome than verbs.

Since I want Tres Columnae to work well for all kinds of different learners, it makes sense to me to avoid potential problem spots, and it seems to me that introducing one new verb form at a time is a good way to do that.  Hence the deliberate separation of first– and second-person forms.  In a way, there’s more than one new thing going on in this Lectiō, since we’ll see some infinitives and some first-person forms in the stories.  But we won’t have to work with them in a formal, productive way until later.  As for faster learners, they can progress quickly to the next Lectiō, if they’d like, so they’re not being held back by the needs of the slower, more deliberate learners.

quid putātis, amīcī?  Does that make sense?  It’s obviously difficult in a “traditional” factory-model classroom, but in a self-paced environment like Tres Columnae, it seems quite natural to me.

Anyway, let’s imagine the illustrations that would accompany this story, and imagine the audio narration:

prīmā hōrā Lollius ē lectō surgit et togam induit. “valē, uxor,” inquit. “hōra prīma est. ad domum patrōnī festīnō.”

Maccia “valē, marīte,” loquitur. Maccia in cēnāculō cibum parat. Lollia, fīlia Lolliī et Macciae, quoque cibum parat. Cāius in cēnāculō cum mustēlā lūdit. Cāius pilam iacit, sed Celeris mustēla pilam nōn īnsequitur. “mūrem pinguem, nōn pilam sordidam īnsequī volō,” Celeris sēcum putat. “mūrem pinguem cōnsūmere volō.”

Cāius nihil intellegit.  “mustēlam ignāvam habeō,” Cāius sēcum loquitur.  “cūr Celeris pilam īnsequī nōn vult?”

intereā Lollius per iānuam cēnāculī ēgreditur et ad viam dēscendit. Lollius per viam celeriter prōgreditur. maxima multitūdo in viā est. “cūr tanta multitūdō in viā est?” Lollius sibi loquitur. “hōra prīma est!” exclāmat cīvis Herculānēnsis. “patrōnum meum vīsitāre volō!  patrōnus meus sportulam prōmittit!  patrōnus meus sportulam optimam pollicētur!”

in īnsulā proximā vir pauper cum uxōre contentiōnem habet. “panem cōnsūmere nōlō!” exclāmat pauper. “panem optimum parō!” exclāmat uxor. “panis est foedus et pessimus!” exclāmat pauper īrātus. “nōnne māter mea panem optimam –!”

subitō uxor īrāta panem et catillum per fenestram cēnāculī conicit. ligulam quoque per fenestram conicit.  “mātrem tuam quoque cum pane et catillō conicere volō!” exclāmat uxor.  “mater tua certē est foeda et pessima!”

panis cum catillō et ligulā per fenestram volat.  panis ad terram dēscendit.  catillus ad terram dēscendit.  ligula gravis ad terram dēscendit.  ēheu!  panis caput Lolliī percutit! catillus quoque caput Lolliī percutit. ligula quoque caput Lolliī percutit.  catillus frāctus caput Lolliī secat, et sanguis ē capite fluit.

“vae! vae! ō caput meum!” loquitur Lollius trīstis et perterritus.  “quis ligulam et panem et catillum conicit?  quis est auctor inūriae meae?”

pauper cum uxōre ad fenestram cēnāculī festīnat. “heus!” exclāmat pauper. “cūr tantus clāmor prīmā horā in viā est? cūr sanguis ē capite hominis fluit?”

“nesciō,” respondet uxor. “fortasse homō stultus est.”

“sine dubiō, uxor,” pauper loquitur.  “estne puls in alterō catillō?  estne ligula altera?”

“certe, mī marīte,” respondet uxor.  “et nōnne pultem optimam parō?”

“ō uxor mea,” inquit pauper, “puls tua est optima!  puls mātris meae est pessima et foeda.”

“ō marīte,” susurrat uxor, “tē amō.”  “tē quoque amō,” respondet pauper.

Lollius tamen trīstis et īrātus, “causam sanguinis plānē cognōscō!” exclāmat. “quid per fenestram tuam volat? unde panis cum catillō cadit? quis est auctor iniūriae meae?”

nēmō respondet, quod nēmō prope fenestram nunc stat. Lollius īrātus per viam ad domum Valeriī prōgreditur.

Of course you can imagine the comprehension questions that we might use, and I’m sure you can imagine the writing prompts and the Continuing Virtual Seminar possibilities, too.  Sadly, Lollius’ troubles are not over, as he will also have a painful encounter with Sabīna, his patron’s neighbor’s mustēla, before he arrives at the salūtātiō.  vae Lollium!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Does it seem strange to use deponent verbs so early in a learner’s Latin career?
  • Even if it’s strange, does it seem reasonable?
  • Do you find the explanations helpful, or confusing?
  • If they’re confusing, are we trying to do too much – or not enough?
  • And what do you think of the story?  My head is aching in sympathy, I must confess! 🙂

In a recent email comment, our faithful reader Laura G suggested two different types of grammatical explanations: one “for mastery,” which gives all the details, and one “in passing,” which gives a preliminary explanation for something that will be dealt with, in more detail, at a later point in the course. In these terms, I think we’ve had an explanation “in passing” for first-person verbs and infinitives and a “mastery” explanation of third-person singular forms.  Should we aim for a “mastery” explanation of deponents here, or would a “passing” one be sufficient?

Tune in next time for the very early Lectiō in which Tres Columnae participants will encounter the inpersōnālis. For as long as I’ve known about them, I’ve always been very fond of impersonal passives – and of supines, too, which will also make an early appearance. In both cases, I think, it’s because they’re so … Latin! So un-English! You could translate them, after a fashion, if you really wanted to … but they’re so much better in their un-translatable but perfectly understandable Latin form! 🙂

In the meantime, thanks again for reading, and please keep those comments and emails coming.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think this approach to presenting deponents may be a lot less confusing than introducing them later, particularly given how many deponents have clear synonyms which are active verbs students have already encountered.

    I myself have been learning Latin for nearly twenty years, but still find grammar snags in my own mind! Most particularly, I wish I knew more vocabulary well! Some of the words used in this story (pilum and ligula) were confusing for me because the meaning I know didn’t make sense in the context, but I imagine the illustrations would make them clear to the readers of the final product, though. (Somehow I don’t imagine the mustela is playing with the pilum of a miles — it must be some other meaning I don’t know!)

    Gratias tibi ago!

    • Elizabeth,
      Thanks so much! If you’ve been following the recent discussion about deponents on Latinteach, you may have been surprised (I was!) to discover that the deponent is actually older, linguistically, than the passive. I knew that was true in Greek, but hadn’t made the connection to Latin.

      I know the feeling of grammar snags! Even after almost 30 years of learning Latin, and nearly 20 years of teaching it, I still run into them at times. Sorry about the vocabulary confusion, too. Where it says pīlum, it should say pilam … Celeris is a smart little weasel and would certainly not chase a javelin :-), but she doesn’t chase Caius’ ball, either. I’ll make that correction, both here on the blog and on the actual site. As for ligula, it can be a tongue-shaped ladle or spoon as well as the “tongue” of a shoe or sandal … and, in this case, it’s a ladle. Poor Lollius! 🙂

      Grātiās tibi maximās agō!

  2. I’ve been away from reading your posts for a while, so I’m just catching up with everything. I love the idea of using deponents very early on. It makes LOTS of sense to me. And I was unaware that the Latin deponent antedates the passive! I’m thinking about teaching differently now (even though the idea of “deponent” doesn’t appear until Stage Thirty-something).

    • Randy,
      Welcome back! It’s great, as always, to hear from you. Glad you like the idea of the early introduction of deponents. Apparently the deponent preceded the passive in Proto-Indo-European; it’s hard to know whether the Romans knew this consciously or not. Anyway, I’m glad this has been so helpful to you.

      ut valeas,

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