The Unbearable Light Verb of having: Urination, Defecation, Procreation and the Impossibility of a Syntax-Semantics Isomorphism in the English Light Verb—Herb von Pherb SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 1 Contents Things Not to Write on Your Funding Proposals—Part I—G. Reed, A. Varice, & M. Ammon

Hoity-Toity and Hurdy-Gurdy Romance in the Classical Period: An Overview

Llodio Q. Terenciano, Dottore di Ricerca

The state of Romance in the 21st century was one of flux. During the Classical Period, the Romance language underwent profound grammatical and lexical changes in all its dialects, but, unfortunately, these changes can only be guessed at indirectly.

Classicists generally divide the Romance of the Classical Period (1800–2200 CE) into two distinct, yet related, forms. One is what is known as Hoity-Toity Romance (HTR), which consists of the written Romance attested in Classical manuscripts and monuments. This form of Romance remained relatively stable over the centuries and exhibited little to no regional or sociolectal variation in the documents that have survived. The other form is known as Hurdy-Gurdy Romance (HGR), which is a term that refers to the colloquial register of Romance. HGR is attested only fragmentarily and often indirectly, as much of the evidence for various features of HGR does not consist of words or phrases in HGR itself, but rather comes from non-standard orthography or grammar that clearly reflects interference from the native colloquial register of the author. Though the evidence for many HGR features is fragmentary, the fact that regular and frequent patterns can be discerned in these fragments means that they provide reliable clues for determining the exact nature of HGR.

Much scholarly work has been devoted to analyzing specific aspects of the development of HGR during this period, but to my knowledge, there has been no attempt to synthesize this research. This article proposes to give a brief, general summary of various developments in HGR in the 21st century, as reflected in inscriptions found in various regions of the Romance Empire.


One of the most noticeable characteristics of non-standard HTR inscriptions is the frequent switching of the letters <b> and <v>, indicating that the phonemes /v/ and /b/ of pre-Classical Romance merged into a single phoneme /β/ in HGR.

Madrid (present-day Majrej): HGR inbece, Giobani, for HTR invece, Giovanni
Vigo (present-day W̰i): HGR bibacita, laboro, bita, puvlico, for HTR vivacità, lavoro, vita, pubblico
Bilbao (present-day Beɾbɨ): HGR bai bia, benerdì, for HTR vai via, venerdì

From these inscriptions, we can see that the merger of the two phonemes was complete, occurring intervocalically and word-initially, as well as in closed syllables.

Some have argued that the fact such inscriptions are attested only in the Iberian Peninsula shows this merger was a regional feature (Hardtschuch 4123). This view is, however, completely without merit. The number of inscriptions that have survived to the present day and contain or reflect HGR features is so small that it is very unlikely they constitute the whole picture. It is quite possible, and indeed probable, that this merger occurred throughout the Romance continuum, but left no traces in most regions because of the scant use of Classical Romance by Romance speakers with an imperfect command of the orthography of the standard variety.


Another HGR tendency that is reflected in HTR inscriptions is degemination. The following examples demonstrate not only such sound changes as tt>t and ll>l, but also occasional deletion of word-final vowels (e.g. ativ) and raising of word-final /o/ (e.g. tutu).

Città of Brest (near present-day Plish): HGR oto, dela, cavalo, for HTR otto, della, cavallo
Ghimarais (present-day Jĩ): HGR ativ, diretu, tutu, for HTR attivo, diretto, tutto
Caracal (present-day Caɾcar̥): HGR ogeto, tutavia, boca, mile, for HTR oggetto, tuttavia, bocca, mille

These inscriptions show that vernacular Romance had a tendency towards efficiency of communicationconstituting further evidence for the idea that vernaculars across the world optimize for efficiency, while formal registers tend to develop circumlocutory verbosity.

Indeed, Maɾḧes̈ (4172) has suggested that this feature of vernacular varieties (and HGR in particular) makes them an ideal alternative lexical base for programming languages. Where modern programming languages are lexically mainly derived from HTR (for example, the stamparef() and fort() functions in Sea--), which is an inefficient formal variety, Maɾḧes̈ argues that basing programming languages on vernaculars such as reconstructed HGR would lead to superior performance. Though this hypothesis is preliminary, it remains an intriguing area of future study.


Some inscriptions seem to indicate that /l/ was in the process of becoming /r/ in certain contexts, though this sound change is not as well attested. Most of the examples involve intervocalic l>r, but there is one instance of this shift in a consonant cluster (obrigato). That this sound change is so sparsely attested suggests that it may have at some point been interrupted and brought to a halt.

Craiova (present-day Crov): HGR mere, pera, for HTR mele, pela
Lisbona (present-day Ri): HGR obrigato, nobire, for HTR obligato, nobile


The last notable feature of HGR phonology is L-vocalization, with /l/ realized as [w] intervocalically:

Coimbra (present-day Co): HGR mau, pau, for HTR malo, palo
Calafat (present-day Carfa): HGR nuou, uouo, boue, for HTR nuovo, uovo, bove

Because inscriptions suggesting the existence of both rhotacism and L-vocalization in HGR have been found only in the regions of Burdga and Mania, Apoliner (4165) argues that these features developed independently. This is an unconvincing hypothesis, however, as it is not very likely that the same two features happened to have developed only at opposite ends of the Romance dialect continuum. Rather, it is far more probable that these features were in fact widespread throughout the Romance-speaking world, but only left written traces in those areas as a result of the overall rarity of written attestation of HGR features in the Classical period.


When it comes to syntax, Romance inscriptions mostly conform to standard HTR norms, but there is some variance when it comes to grammatical gender. There are a number of instances of inscriptions containing nouns with non-standard genders:

Marsiglia (present-day Maɾs): HGR il lepre, la mare, for HTR la lepre, il mare
Galazzo (present-day Garaci): HGR il mela, la fiore, for HTR la mela, il fiore
Badaos (present-day Badscio): HGR latte calda, la sangue, for HTR latte caldo, il sangue
Castelo Blanco (present-day Casbrac): HGR il cometa, for HTR la cometa

Besides gender, there is another aspect of HGR syntax that is the matter of some debate and controversy. There is a 21st-century bracelet from the region of Bucarest which appears to show a post-nominal definite article in the phrase ragazzi gli. However, the total absence of such a construction in any other objects or inscriptions, as well as the lack of any known languages in the area with post-nominal articles that could have been in contact with Romance and hence caused such a syntactic shift, casts doubt on this hypothesis. Some argue that ragazzi gli is merely a botched inscription made by an absent-minded individual, while others argue that the inscription is in fact a forgery created to make Romance seem more syntactically diverse than it really was. In any event, these are all speculations that cannot be proven one way or the other. Perhaps evidence will be discovered in the future that will settle the question.


Despite the abundance of Romance inscriptions from the Classical period, non-standard deviations from HTR orthographic and grammatical norms in inscriptions and manuscripts are very rare. Indeed, the examples given in this short article constitute virtually the entirety of such attested non-standard deviations (Hardtschuch 4122). From this, we can conclude that HGR was in fact not as divergent from HTR as some would believe; if HGR had undergone significant change from HTR, we would expect speakers’ native colloquial register to have interfered to a significantly higher extent with their ability to produce standard HTR. That this is not the case shows the essential unity of Romance during the Classical period (though the Romance of later eras is, of course, a different subject).

On the other hand, archaeological work is currently being conducted in the region of Bindolanda that has unearthed a number of handwritten letters in HTR. Perhaps this excavation will uncover evidence for the contrary theory of HGR-HTR diglossia. In any case, as only a fraction of the Bindolanda site has been excavated, it is quite likely that it contains many more manuscripts yet to be discovered. Bindolanda is therefore a promising area of research for Romance scholars, and future work on the topic may finally answer some of the longstanding questions of Romance historical linguistics (and, indeed, other kindred fields as well).


Apoliner, Jiyõ. (4165). “Three New Hurdy-Gurdy Romance Inscriptions Found in Burdga and Mania.” Romance Languology, 125(4), 1117–1119.

Hardtschuch, Gohu. (4122). Vocalisms and other -isms of Hurdy-Gurdy Romance. Parts I, II, and VIII.b.α. Roma: Accademia delle Belle Scienze.

Hardtschuch, Gohu. (4123). About Sound Laws, Sound Decrees, and Sound Edicts. Against the Paleo-Grammarians. Roma: Accademia delle Belle Parole.

Maɾḧes̈, Andonio. (4172). “The Optimization of the People: Some Brief Remarks on Vernacular Computation Methods.” The Journal of Vernacular Studies, 52(2), 714–978.

The Unbearable Light Verb of having: Urination, Defecation, Procreation and the Impossibility of a Syntax-Semantics Isomorphism in the English Light VerbHerb von Pherb
Things Not to Write on Your Funding ProposalsPart IG. Reed, A. Varice, & M. Ammon
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 1 Contents