What is the most appropriate translation for 'folk music' in Latin?
I have encountered the following possibilities:
- pleb musicorum
- musica pagana
- musica vulgaris
- musica plebis
- musica popularis
Latin Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, teachers, and students wanting to discuss the finer points of the Latin language. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
"Folk music" as a category is a very recent concept, so we're not going to find an attested term in the Classical corpus and will have to come up with our own.
We can dismiss pleb musicorum out of hand: pleb isn't a Latin word, and even if it were the phrase would mean "[pleb] of musicians".
Paganus means "rural" or "rustic", which is not really the right semantic sphere to look in; plebs has fairly overt class connotations, which also aren't necessarily appropriate; populus, to my mind, refers more to a specific group of people than to the concept of the people, if that makes sense. So I'd go with vulgaris; the antecedent of Vulgar Latin as sermo vulgaris seems to me to be in the same ballpark.
I'm not sure about musica, actually—to me, that's a learned word (borrowed from Greek) that evokes a connection with the Muses (μουσική could refer to any of the arts associated with the Muses, not just music) and therefore high art. I'd be more inclined towards carmina, though it comes with baggage of its own. It's obviously a plural count noun rather than a mass noun, but I don't think that's really a problem.
My suggestion is carmina vulgaria.
(I should note that the Latin-language Wikipedia called its article musica vulgaris.)
The problem with carmina is that it specifically refers to sung verse - first Saturnian verse and then hexameters - with connotations of ritual and mystery about it. It can also refer to popular verse like English limericks and Russian часту́шки. It does not, however, refer to instrumental music - that is referred to with modī or mūsica or modī mūsicī. Cantus can refer to any melodic performance, but it designates a process. Symphōnia (mūsica) stands for instrumental, especially band music, but I'm not sure how popular the word was. Being Greek doesn't automatically exclude it from being wide-spread, because the bulk of music terminology was at least calqued from Greek - any way, the native Latin equivalent is concentus, and it seems to signify an organised performance. Finally, cantilēna is what best describes East European folk music :-), especially female group singing - it can refer to an instance of musical harmony, a melody or a music piece.
Now to the problem of the adjective, foreign-language Wikipedia page names are instructive. As the user hobbs notes, most modern languages are forced to borrow "folk" directly, because the literal translation of "folk music" refers to a traditional phenomenon that has basically been eradicated from English-speaking countries; what we're trying to describe is a modern commodification of what 19th century peasants did when they got bored herding their pigs. In the US the commodification has been so complete that even the term itself has been commodified; in other countries they are for the most part kept distinct. Of the European ones, I see that in Serbo-Croatian and in Icelandic they use direct translations, and I think this is because the phenomenon I'm describing hasn't properly reached them and I doubt it will in a hurry, likely because in these countries traditional music is being incorporated into the general culture in a more immediate way, and American folk music isn't very popular.
With that in mind, if the necessity came up to describe that phenomenon in Latin in a conversation, and somebody said folcu/imūsica (like Alcu/imēna), I wouldn't at all think this out of place. If they said mūsica trālāticia, I would expect them to mean authentic traditional music; mūsica volgāris I would understand as "pop music", because that's what it literally means: "popular, common, mundane". mūsica populāris is "of the people", so in the direction of vernācula, "home-grown". Rūstica is specifically non-urban, with the connotation of dialectal, pāgāna is probably "small-town, provincial", and gentīlis is closest to "local-people", as in Italic tribes - its Greek equivalent is ethnica. All three of the latter have strong cultural connotations (see their Christian use), and could be used to mean "ethnic, world, tribal-like music". Cantus populāris, Batavulus' proposal, seems to me very fitting to describe a traditional type, technique of singing, but could hardly express the phenomenon in question.
So I will dare suggesting that you use folcumūsica and point any gasping mouths either towards this reply, or to mouse over all the "Language" links in the Wikipedia article (also Wiktionary).
Here's Lexicon mūsicum Latīnum mediī aevī if anyone wants to give it a try :3