Introducing Participles, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As you may recall, on Saturday I promised that we’d return to “core” Tres Columnae stories and concepts today, with a series of posts about participles and infinitives. One thing you’ll notice in the mature and complete project is that present, perfect, and future participles show up quite early, but they show up as vocabulary items, not a grammatical concept. For example, in Lectiō IX we’ll see this little sequence, from the boys’ first day at school. Quintus Flavius turns out to be the son of Flavius Caeso, owner of Sabīna mustēla, whom we met in the story of the disastrous dinner party. As you might imagine, he is a firm believer in old-fashioned Roman discipline, even if he does (shockingly!) recline at table with his wife! Mirabile dictu, young Quintus Flavius is even more annoying and ill-behaved than Cnaeus!

As we pick up the story, Q. Flavius’ paedagōgus has just told him to behave because teachers normally beat bad little boys, and Fabius the lūdī magister has just greeted the students and invited them to enter the school:

Quīntus Flavius attonitus, “quid dīcis, mī magister? nōnne puerī in lūdīs vapulāre solent? nōnne magistrī sunt dūrī et crūdēlēs? nōnne etiam plāgōsī?”

paedagōgus attonitus Quīntum Flavium prēnsat et, “nihil audīs, nihil cūrās, nihil pārēs!” exclāmat. “nōnne tē crūciāre dēbeō quod tantum īnsolentiae ostendis?” Fabius tamen manūs paedagōgī exclāmantis prēnsat….

There’s no need to have an extended grammatical lecture (or even a quid novī? explanation) about present participles at this point. We’ll gloss exclāmantis (in a way that I’ll explore later this week, or possibly early next week) and move on. The most we might do with it is to check for understanding with a question like this:

Fabius manūs paedagōgī exclāmantis prēnsat.

quis exclāmat?

Fabius / paedagōgus

If a learner chooses Fabius, we’ll have a brief reminder about adjective agreement:

Take a closer look at exclāmantis. cuius cāsūs est?

  • cuius cāsūs est Fabius?
  • cuius cāsūs est paedagōgī?
  • quis igitur exclāmat?

Our only grammatical concern, at this point, is that the learners can tell that exclāmantis describes paedagōgī; our concern with comprehension is that learners can tell that the paedagōgus was shouting, and that Fabius grabbed his hand before he could beat poor little Q. Flavius. He turns out to be a very energetic, wild little boy who speaks first and thinks later (usually ‘way too late) … if at all! As you might imagine, he and Sabīna mustēla do not get along! 🙂

We take the same approach to perfect participles at this point: our only concerns are with adjective agreement and with comprehension. For example, just a bit later on the same Lectiō, we see this:

tum Fabius, “nōnne vōs intrāre dēbētis? nōnne multum discere dēbēmus?” inquit, et iānuam lūdī aperit. puerī avidī et timidī per iānuam apertam intrant.

Here, we’ll ask this question:

quid Fabius aperit?

iānuam / puerōs

I highly doubt we’ll need an explanation for wrong answers! 🙂 I hope it’s obvious that he didn’t open the boys!

We’ll continue to see participles in this way for quite a while before we pay “formal” attention to them around Lectiō XXIV. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Participles are, after all, verbal adjectives (or, as a Roman would say, verbal nōmina). We want to separate the two functions – verb and adjective – and address each one individually.
  • As vocabulary items, participles aren’t difficult. sedēns, sedentis means sitting, and is a nōmen dēclīnātiōnis tertiae (since Romans didn’t distinguish nouns from adjectives in their grammatical terminology). apertus, aperta, apertum means open. No problem!
  • Participles are all about aspect, as we noted in last week’s post. We want our learners to have a good grasp of aspect in general before we talk formally about this.
  • Once you have a good grasp of noun-adjective agreement and aspect, participles are simple! They’re also a convenient review of these two (or, actually, more than two) large concepts.
  • Like any concept, participles can be made to seem easy or hard depending on how … and when … they’re presented to learners. We prefer to make them seem easy, since our learners are more likely to be successful if we do so.
  • Participles are a critically important feature of the Latin language, and Latin participles are very different from their English equivalents. We want our learners to see them, but not worry about them, early on, and we want to build up the concept gradually.

quid respondētis, amīcī? Do you think we’re on the right track, or should we introduce participles a lot earlier … or a lot later? And do you agree or disagree with the way we’ve separated the adjective agreement issue from the aspect issue?

Next time, we’ll begin to look in more detail at the formal introduction of participles … and at some sad cases of unrequited and impossible love (or, at least, infatuation) among our primary characters as they grow up. Roman marriage customs are also an area that’s vastly different from the experiences of most of our potential learners, and we want to address them carefully. Many Tres Columnae subscribers will be teenagers (and a bit “over the hill” for marriage by Roman standards), so we don’t want to break their hearts unnecessarily. But we also want to paint a realistic picture (or as realistic as possible) of the patriarchal, arranged-marriage society that the Roman Empire was. We’d really like your input on how well we’re doing, as these Lectiōnēs are still in a preliminary draft state, and we can make significant changes to them if you, the community, think we need to.

In the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus! And please keep those comments, emails, and Trial Subscription requests coming!

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