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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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1.5 Word endings and word order

In addition to locating languages ‘genetically’ on a family tree, we can classify them ‘typologically’, on the basis of shared linguistic features – for example according to patterns in the way they use sounds, word endings or grammar. From this perspective too there is nothing special about Greek and Latin. Although both contain features unfamiliar to English speakers these can easily be paralleled elsewhere. Note, for instance, the following two points which set them apart from English (and which we will inspect in more detail later).

Word endings

Greek and Latin use a rich system of word endings to convey information such as the tense of a verb, the relationship between an adjective and the noun it describes, or the role of a noun within a sentence. This approach to conveying information would be recognisable to speakers of German, Russian, Finnish, or indeed any of a large group of ‘inflected’ languages, ‘inflection’ being the name given to a change in the shape of a word. English itself was originally more inflected than it is today, and still retains some examples, as we shall see later.

Word order

Where English says ‘Brutus murdered Caesar’, Greek and Latin prefer the word order ‘Brutus Caesar murdered’. Indeed they have the option of placing the words in any order without altering the meaning of the sentence. Again, we will leave the details for later. For the moment, notice again that this preference for placing the verb at the end, though different from English, can be found in other languages (like Turkish) as can the greater flexibility in word order.