I am a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. I am currently writing a book on Plautine language. Plautus (ca. 254-184 BC) left us twenty more or less complete comedies and a number of fragments.
Latin and English are the two languages that have been given most attention by linguists. So you may wonder what the point of yet another book on Latin is. I first got interested in this subject when I attended classes on prose composition and syntactic analysis taught by Fritz Heberlein. It is Fritz who showed me that there is usually a rationale behind what may at first sight appear to be random variation. Since most of the standard grammars tend to present the material without much explanation, readers often cannot see what is behind a certain synchronic pattern or a certain diachronic change. Grammar then turns into something unpleasant one has to learn rather than something interesting one can understand and appreciate. My aim is to explain why certain patterns exist and why certain changes take place. I hope that this will make readers look at Latin syntax as what it really is - a beautifully clear system of functionally motivated rules.
So far I have written three chapters of this new book. One is on pronoun ellipsis in the accusative and infinitive construction. Scholars used to claim that such ellipsis is colloquial, but I think I can show that this is not the case and that there are good reasons why pronouns are sometimes omitted. I also provide an explanation for why such omissions are more frequent in some tenses and voices than in others. Another chapter deals with what I call double perfectum forms, that is those periphrastic passive forms in which the participle is combined with a perfectum form of the copula rather than an infectum form. Again there are functional motivations for using the perfectum form of the copula in some tenses, but as soon as this pattern is grammaticalized, it spreads to other tenses, and eventually the whole passive system gets remodelled; we can see the beginnings of the Romance passive as early as Plautus. The third chapter is on voice attraction. In Early Latin passive infinitives dependent on phasal aspect verbs or verbs of epistemic modality often cause passive morphology on these finite verbs as well. I can demonstrate that the occurrence of such passive morphology on the finite verbs is not random, but follows certain restrictions, and what is more, these restrictions can be explained relatively easily.
At the moment I am writing a chapter on finite subordinate clauses without subordinators, and more chapters are in preparation. Although this book is only on selected problems, I hope that at some point I can write a complete grammar of Early Latin that will replace Bennett's outdated collection of material which he published almost a century ago.