The Ablative Absolute in Latin

Just kidding.

 

And yet I do wonder. Come on, hang in here for a minute or two.

 

What are we to make of the fact that the Latin language had no exact equivalent of our English expression having something-ed (the so-called perfect participle), as in “Having made my lame joke, I feel obligated now to write an entire post on the ablative absolute.”

 

Don’t pity the poor Romans too much, though.

 

After all, they did have the infamous ablative absolute (mirabile visu!) for exactly this situation. Julius Caesar, assuming any of his jokes ever fell flat (doubtful, to say the least), could only have said, “The lame joke having been made by me, I feel obligated …”

 

So it’s not a question of being unable to communicate. I communicate daily with my younger son, despite the fact that to his mind and ear, I speak only the Old Fart dialect of his native tongue.

 

So you might be thinking: perfect participle, ablative absolute, what’s the diff? (You’re doing great. Stay focused: almost there!)

 

Well, if your mind works the way mine does (viz., very oddly), then here’s what you wonder:

 

  1. Why did it happen that one hick town in central Italy eventually subdued and controlled for centuries and centuries so many of the peoples of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa? (By the way, how is a lot easier to establish than why.)
  2. And why were the Romans so insistent that every war they ever fought was a defensive war, i.e., “Well, they started it.”
  3. I mean, that’s kind of weird, right? That the bully who lives down the street spends so much time sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and muttering things like: “Everybody’s always picking on me … What did I ever do? … I’m so misunderstood!”
  4. Yeah, it’s weird. Weird, too, that a nation of doers had so few words like “doer.” That is, so very few “agent nouns” like the English words admirer, consumer, borrower, cheater, developer, juggler, and so on ad infinitum. You’d think that a bunch of busybodies like the Romans would have had plenty of those, especially umpteen versions of conqueror, crusher, oppressor, ruler, pacifier, builder, tax-collector and so on (or et cetera, as a Roman would say).
  5. Put it this way: you’d never expect people who acted so actively (if you will) to think so passively.
  6. Wait a minute, though. That makes a strange kind of sense. (Do I need to spell out why? I think not.)

 

So maybe it does make a “diff” whether we have a perfect participle or not, because maybe language shapes (determines?) the way we see the world and our place in it? This is called linguistic relativity or sometimes the (Sapir-)Whorfian hypothesis.

 

On the other hand, if Julius Caesar and I can agree that these two lines look like they’re different lengths even though we’re told that they are the same length, then even if you accept the hypothesis, there are limits to how much our languages affect the way we “see” the world (this is called the Müller-Lyer Illusion):

 

muller

 

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