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Out of optimism, stupidity or both I am attempting to translate Alice in Wonderland into Latin.

I just came across this bit:

“Well!” thought Alice to herself, “after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (Which was very likely true.)

Looking at the book I'm learning from there's a bit about how our conditional might be tackled in Latin. Imperfect subjunctive is probably involved (Non dixerim nihil de illo, etiam si ceciderim in tecto domus? This seems like it must surely be wrong because obviously a speculation about the future is involved). I just can't find any close enough "template" on which to base any attempt.

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  • Just a note, the forms dixerim, ceciderim are perfect subjunctives, not imperfect.
    – TKR
    Mar 15, 2023 at 23:29
  • Yup. Malus meus. Mar 16, 2023 at 9:41
  • Dicerem nihil or Non dicerem ullum, but don't use a double negative.
    – Figulus
    Mar 17, 2023 at 21:01
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    @Figulus Thanks, I'm very low level in Latin so would have not confidence about that kind of thing: useful to be pointed in the right direction. Mar 17, 2023 at 22:57

2 Answers 2

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I would use a future less vivid conditional. This type of conditional talks about something that might happen in the future, but probably won't, and often corresponds to conditionals with the word "would" in English. Alice doesn't think it's especially likely that she's going to fall off the top of the house, once she returns to her normal life, but she's talking about what would happen if she did.

Now, how do we use a future less vivid? It's just the term the grammarians have invented to describe conditionals that use the present subjunctive. I'm not sure what words capture this idiom best, but using the ones you've chosen, it would be dicam and cadam. This is slightly unfortunate, since these two forms look exactly the same as future indicatives; if you want to avoid that, you can replace one or both of them with synonyms in a different conjugation (like narrem, which must be subjunctive; the future indicative would be narrābō).

The general principle behind these conditionals is that the subjunctive generally means something is unlikely to be true, while the indicative means the opposite. But for historical reasons, different names are given to each of the tenses: subjunctive conditions in the past are contrary to fact, for example, while in the future they're less vivid.

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I agree with Draconis's answer that a future less vivid conditional is the best choice here, but I think the specific subtype of future less vivid that's most appropriate is the type with a perfect subjunctive in the protasis, rather than a present subjunctive.

In both types of future conditions (future more vivid and future less vivid), the protasis can use a perfect tense to show that the action described in the protasis is complete before the action described in the apodosis, rather than being simultaneous with it. In a future more vivid, this yields a future perfect indicative, while in a future less vivid it yields a perfect subjunctive.

Here is Allen and Greenough's discussion (516c):

If the conditional act is regarded as completed before that of the apodosis begins, the Future Perfect is substituted for the Future Indicative in protasis, and the Perfect Subjunctive for the Present Subjunctive:—
sīn cum potuerō nōn vēnerō, tum erit inimīcus (Att. 9.2A. 2), but if I do not come when I can, he will be unfriendly.
sī ā corōnā relictus sim, nōn queam dīcere (Brut. 192) , if I should be deserted by the circle of listeners, I should not be able to speak.

This use of the perfect doesn't seem to be a hard-and-fast rule but more of a tendency or authorial choice, but it seems apt in your case, since Alice would first fall of the top of the house and only then say or not say anything about it. So I would use ceciderim in the protasis and dicam in the apodosis (which also makes it clear that this is a future less vivid condition since it gets around the issue Draconis mentions of cadam, dicam both being identical with future indicatives).

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  • I think I get the gist, and it also seems to be logical, although ever so slightly odd to be using the perfect "I may have fallen" for a future event in a Latin language (I tend to think of French, Italian, etc. as less permissive in this regard than say English, although they obviously have nice, fit-for-purpose conditionals). By some unlikely fluke, I therefore put the right inflection for the protasis even though, as you pointed out, I failed to use the imperfect (which seemed to be my intention). There's probably a fitting Latin expression covering that sort of thing. Mar 16, 2023 at 19:20
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    See also my previous question on the use of present vs. perfect subjunctive. Mar 16, 2023 at 20:36

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