For example, I want to say: Latīna placet mihi magis quam Graeca, quamquam in Graecā multō plūra et doctiōra dē philosophiā scrīpta sunt.

I've seen people claiming that this use is incorrect and that these adjectives, when standing alone, can only mean "Latin/Greek woman", never "the Latin/Greek language". Is this really the case? It's found in "Wheelock's Latin", it's the name of the language on all Wikimedia projects, Vicipaedia has a map full of such language names, and I've seen it elsewhere where the Latin language can be selected as an option.

Even supposing that these adjectives aren't lexicalised in this meaning and therefore don't appear in dictionaries, given the ease with which Latin employs ellipsis, I find it difficult to believe that shortening lingua latīna to just latīna wouldn't make sense to a Roman or a Medieval/New Latin speaker and considered ungrammatical. Why should that be? Surely we can't judge what's correct or not solely based on whether Cicero ever said it or whether it's found in a dictionary - that just seems like pretentious prescriptivism.

  • 2
    I share your skepticism of this usage. I've never seen the feminine used as a substantive, and even the masc/neut only in prepositional phrases. Sep 6, 2019 at 22:44
  • 3
    Take a look at What did Romans call their language? Perhaps you could relate your question to the observations made there. I think the only possibility of Latina as the name was a neuter plural, but that was no the main option.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 7, 2019 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


No dictionary I've checked lists such a usage. The closest to what I'm looking for is DMLBS listing a meaning "2.b (w. ellipsis of lingua)", but the two examples it gives display ordinary (in effect mandatory) syntactic ellipsis to avoid repetition - the adjective is not substantive, but unambiguously headed. It also gives 2.c "(w. ellipsis of litterae)", with the beautiful example "solempnem in ~is fuit sermonem" (unfortunate that I can't find the source). Thus it doesn't seem like they've been able to find an example even in Medieval British Latin. Though, apparently, Old Norse has a feminine latīna referring to the Latin language: "W.[=Weiterleben].: an.[=altnordisch] latīna, F., Latein, lateinische Sprache", and in Celtic languages it's also feminine - but so appear to be all other adjectival language names in Irish Gaelic, Welsh and Manx.

The three things that come to my mind when I see a standalone Latīna in a sentence are: 1. a Latin woman; 2. via Latīna; 3. porta Latīna. And as a bonus, 4. the modern Italian city of Latina. As a Neut.Pl., it would mean "Latin things". Gaffiot lists a contextual meaning "pl. Latina Cic. Arch. 23, les œuvres en latin", which to me seems like a simple switch-up of the written versūs and the unwritten carmina (that's what my brain told me, and it took me several reads to make sure there was in fact no carmina in that sentence).

Thus, to the best of my knowledge, Latin simply doesn't use Fem.Sg. or Neut.Pl. substantive adjectives as language names. When there's a need of conveying this with a single adjective, Neut.Sg. adjectives are found instead: vertere ex Graecō in Latīnum. Granted, I've yet to see an example of one used as a subject (*Latīnum mē dēlectat), but this seems accidental - and there are examples of non-prepositional use in DMLBS. Besides, the same form is found in the expression Latīnum esse "to be a Latin word or turn of phrase; to be Latin". This form is what looks to be continued in all the modern Romance languages without syntactic limitations (Italiano, Español, Français, Sardu) apart from Daco-Romanian (Română) and perhaps any related dialects.

I myself would like to find an example of this usage in anything that can reasonably be called fluent Latin, even if distinctly... medieval, this side of the 20th century. So far I haven't been able to, which makes me conclude that this usage is not only un-Ciceronian, or by chance hasn't found its way into the dictionaries, but is simply not Latin. In cases like this the reasonable thing to do is to simply accept the vast majority of speakers' opinion on how something is and isn't said in the language you're learning, even if the reasons why might not be readily explicable.

I don't believe that the unheaded usage "with lingua implied" is grammatical, nor that the use of standalone feminine adjectives to refer to language names is lexicalised in any sort of Latin. I'm all but certain that it's confined to the Latin of 20/21st century English speakers, in particular those who have been exposed to "Wheelock's Latin" where it's found in a sentence as hair-raising as the rest of that book - or to too much Vicipaedia.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.