Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Luis Unceta Gómez, La Petición verbal en Latín: estudio léxico, semántico y pragmatico. Bibliotheca Linguae Latinae, no 6. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 2009. Pp. 241. ISBN 9788478826483. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, University of Exeter (E.Dickey@exeter.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

[The full table of contents is at the end of the review.]

This work on requests in Latin, based on a Madrid doctoral thesis, was published several years ago but has so far remained largely unnoticed in the English-speaking world. Such neglect is unfortunate, as the work contains a wealth of insight and useful information. 1

The book attempts a complete coverage of the different ways of expressing requests in Latin, their meanings, and the circumstances of their use. It takes a linguistic perspective, situating Latin requests within the field of pragmatics, and uses the frameworks of Speech Act theory and of structural semantics. In this respect it resembles the only other book-length work on this topic, Rodie Risselada's 1993 Imperatives and Other Directive Expressions in Latin, which provides a linguistic analysis of Latin usage based heavily on Speech Act theory. In other respects, however, the two works are very different. Risselada concentrates on imperatives, subjunctives, and other constructions that convey a request without containing a specific word meaning 'ask', while Unceta Gómez devotes more of his attention to requests that do contain such a word; this difference is due in part to his focus on requests, as opposed to Risselada's concern with commands, though both authors deal with both types of directive and neither would claim that there is any clear distinction between commands and requests in Latin. Risselada also focuses exclusively on actual directives, while Unceta Gómez considers not only requests themselves (e.g. sentences with peto 'I ask') but also third-person reports of requests (e.g. sentences with petivit 'he asked'), which of course are much more common in many genres of Latin literature. Another difference from Risselada is that this book has more of an etymological perspective, taking into account the cognates in other Indo-European languages of words and forms under discussion in hopes of understanding how they developed in Latin.

Also, Risselada gives detailed attention to particular problems, bringing extensive evidence and argumentation to bear on solving them, and pays relatively scant attention to other issues, while Unceta Gómez offers a broader and less detailed overview of types of requests. Risselada's study is based on a sharply-defined and relatively small corpus (selected works of Platus, Cicero, and Pliny), which is mined both for examples and for statistical evidence, while Unceta Gómez's work is wide-ranging and explicitly attempts blanket coverage of Latin usage. Of course, no- one could collect a corpus of all the requests in extant Latin texts, so this book has no statistical basis: assertions are supported by plentiful Latin examples, but readers are left uncertain how frequent such examples are and, more worryingly, how frequent the counter-examples are. The sources of these examples are diverse, in keeping with the author's aims: Plautus and Cicero feature most prominently, but attention is also paid to passages from Apuleius, Augustine, Caesar, Cato, Catullus, Columella, Ennius, Gellius, Horace, Isidore, Juvenal, Lactantius, Livy, Lucretius, Macrobius, Martial, Ovid, Petronius, Pliny the elder (the letters of the younger Pliny, interestingly, are among the few texts not represented here), Propertius, Quintilian, both Senecas, Statius, Tacitus, Terence, Tertullian, Tibullus, Valerius Flaccus, Varro, Virgil, and other writers including jurists, grammarians, and commentators, as well as inscriptions.

The book begins with an explanation of Speech Act theory (chapter II), paying particular attention to indirect directives, that is, expressions that convey a request without actually stating it (such as saying 'It's awfully cold in here' as a way to get someone to turn on the radiator, or 'Is there any salt over there?' as a way to get someone to pass the salt). Such expressions are very tricky for any analysis of requests in a particular language, as their existence completely de-couples meaning from linguistic form: any words whatsoever can be part of a request in the right context.

The work then proceeds (chapter III) to an analysis of the different linguistic forms that are more predictably used to express requests in Latin: the present imperative (e.g. da 'give!'), the future imperative (e.g. dato 'give!), the subjunctive (e.g. des 'may you give'; English speakers have long tended to assume that the Latin subjunctive is by its very nature politer or softer than the imperative, though Risselada has demonstrated convincingly that this is not the case, and Unceta Gómez (pp. 46-8) further nuances the issue by suggesting that although Risselada's generalization holds for the majority of passages, the subjunctive conveys a softened request in a minority of them), questions (e.g. quid cessas dare 'why don't you give?'; these are not necessarily polite), the present indicative (which could occasionally be used instead of the imperative, e.g. paratis 'prepare!'), the future indicative (which is more commonly so used), and auxiliaries such as potes 'can you?', volo 'I want', and necesse est 'it is necessary'. A brief discussion of the parenthetical use of obsecro, quaeso, and amabo for 'please' follows (chapter IV).

Chapter V discusses the linguistic theory of structural semantics, following the work of Eugenio Coseriu. This discussion provides a preliminary to the following chapter on specific request verbs, as it analyses the contexts in which such verbs are found: their aspects (divided into continuous and discontinuous, each with further subdivisions), objects, complements, accompanying prepositional phrases, etc.

Chapter VI, the heart of the book, considers specific verbs of asking, both as they are used in the first person to make an actual request, and as they are used in other persons to describe such a request. As Unceta Gómez stresses, the 'illocutionary' use of verbs such as peto, in which they are used to make a request, is the exception; therefore if one wishes to understand the full force of these verbs it is useful to look also at the way they are used to describe requests (though of course such usage is not necessarily the same, and in particular the speech act involved is completely different). The words are treated in groups based on their lexical similarity (see table of contents below), and attention is paid both to how the usage of words of one group (e.g. those based on the pet- root) differs from that of another (e.g. those based on the posc- root), but also to the distinctions between different verbs based on the same root (e.g. the intensifying meaning produced by preverbs such as ex- and de-). The chapter concludes with a table classifying all the verbs discussed according to whether they intensify a request, whether they are used in situations where the speaker has acknowledged authority, whether they are used to equals or superiors, etc. The results are not, of course, fundamentally different from what one would expect from the normal English translations of the Latin request words, but nevertheless they offer a useful level of detail and precision.

The work ends with a brief general conclusion, full bibliography, and several appendices. Readers without prior background in linguistics will find the reference glossary of linguistic terminology (XI) particularly helpful. All readers are likely to appreciate the glossary of Latin request verbs (VIII), which summarizes the findings of this book for each of the 43 verbs it covers. In short, this book will be useful to anyone interested in Latin requests, commands, or linguistic politeness. It is also well produced and remarkably inexpensive.

Table of Contents

Prólogo de Benjamín García-Hernández
I. Introducción general

II. La petición, acto de habla
II.1. Introducción
II.2. Los pioneros
II.2.1. John L. Austin: 'Cómo hacer cosas con palabras'
II.2.2. Émile Benveniste: Los verbos delocutivos
II.2.3. John Searle: La teoría de los actos de habla
II.3. Posteriores aplicaciones de la teoria
II.3.1. La 'hipótesis performativa'
II.3.2. G. N. Leech: la falacia de los verbos ilocutivos
II.3.3. El análisis conversacional
II.4. El problema de las expresiones indirectas, su carácter convencional y la cortesía lingüística
II.4.1. Los actos de habla indirectos
II.3.2. Los estudios sobre cortesía verbal
II.5. El acto de habla directivo

III. La expresión de la directividad en la lengua latina
III.1. Introducción
III.2. La directividad en el plano gramatical
III.2.1. Enunciados imperativos
III.2.1.1. Imperativo presente
III.2.1.2. Imperativo futuro
III.2.1.3. Subuntivo
III.2.2. Enunciados interrogativos
III.2.3. Enunciados declarativos
III.2.3.1. Presente de indicativo
III.2.3.2. Futuro
III.2.3.3. Otras formas verbales
III.3. La directividad en el plano léxico
III.3.1. Verbos facultativos
III.3.2. Verbos volitivos y desiderativos
III.3.3. Verbos deónticos
III.3.4. Otras formulaciones léxicas
III.4. Conclusiones

IV. Marcadores parentéticos de petición
IV.1. Introducción
IV.2. Obsecro
IV.3. Quaeso
IV.4. Amabo
IV.5. Conclusiones

V. La petición, proceso lexemático
V.1. Introducción
V.2. El método lexemático
V.3. Análisis del campo
V.3.1. Estructura actancial
V.3.2. Análisis de los actantes
V.3.3. Relaciones intersubjetivas e intrasubjetivas
V.3.3.1. Yuxtaposición de procesos
V.3.3.2. Relaciones complementarias
V.3.3.3. Relaciones secuenciales
V.3.4. Peticiones específicas

VI. Análisis de los lexemas verbales de petición
VI.1. La expresión léxica de la petición
VI.2. Le teoría del campo léxico
VI.3. Configuración estructural del campo. Consideraciones previas
VI.4. El archilexema del campo. Petere y su grupo lexemático
VI.4.1. Petere
VI.4.2. El grado no-resultativo (appetere, expetere, y expetesso)
VI.4.3. Competere
VI.4.4. Repetere
VI.5. La dimensión coactiva
VI.5.1. Exigere
VI.5.2. Poscere y su grupo lexemático
VI.5.2.1. Poscere
VI.5.2.2. Apposcere
VI.5.2.3. Deposcere
VI.5.2.4. Exposcere
VI.5.2.5. Reposcere
VI.5.3. Postulare y su modificado
VI.5.3.1. Postulare
VI.5.3.2. Expostulare
VI.5.4. Flagitare y su grupo lexemático
VI.5.4.1. Flagitare
VI.5.4.2. Efflagitare
VI.5.4.3. Reflagitare
VI.6. La dimensión no-coactiva
VI.6.1. Rogare y su grupo lexemático
VI.6.1.1. Rogare
VI.6.1.2. Abrogare
VI.6.1.3. Arrogare
VI.6.1.4. Corrogare
VI.6.1.5. Interrogare
VI.6.1.6. Obrogare
VI.6.1.7. Perrogare
VI.6.1.8. Subrogare
VI.6.1.9. Rogitare
VI.6.2. Orare y su grupo lexemático
VI.6.2.1. Orare
VI.6.2.2. Adorare
VI.6.2.3. Exorare
VI.6.3. El aspecto intensivo
VI.6.3.1. Implorare
VI.6.3.2. Supplicare
VI.6.4. Lexemas caracterizados por la carencia del agente
VI.6.5. El léxico de la plegaria: los uerba precandi
VI.6.5.1. Precari y su grupo lememático
VI. Precari
VI. Apprecari
VI. Comprecari
VI. Deprecari
VI. Imprecari
VI.6.5.2. Testari, obtestari
VI.6.5.3. Venerari, ueniam petere
VI.7. Recapitulación

VII. Conclusiones generales
VIII. Índice analítico de los lexemas verbales de petición
IX Bibliografía
X Index locorum latinorum
XI glosario de términos lingüísticos


1.   The reviewer particularly regrets her own recent ignorance of this work, as displayed in not one but two pieces she has published this year ('The rules of politeness and Latin request formulae', in P. Probert and A. Willi (edd.), Laws and Rules in Indo-European (Oxford University Press 2012), pp. 313-28; and 'How to say "please" in Classical Latin', Classical Quarterly 62.2 (2012), pp. 731-48). She apologizes both to the author of this work and to the readers of those pieces, as she would certainly have used this work in both of them had she been aware of it earlier.

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