Re-Reduplication in La-Latin

In previous posts, I’ve written about the idea of stems and its importance for Latin. Simply put, the stem of a Latin noun, adjective or verb is an intermediate stage between the root (the meaningful part of the word) and the grammatical endings that make the word complete.

In the second of the two pieces on stems, I presented a selection of common ways that Latin forms the perfect stem – the form of a verb that Latin uses to build the perfect, pluperfect and future perfect tenses. This variety of processes, each one fascinating, is the result of many prehistoric changes, chief among which is the merger of two ancient tenses (or technically, aspects): the perfect and the aorist.

This collision and fusion of forms and meaning is why the Latin perfect tense can be translated as two tenses in English; for instance, perfect-tense amāvī can be either ‘I loved’ or ‘I have loved’. It left the Latin perfect stem like a linguistic graveyard, full of relics of processes that had lost their vitality by the time of Classical Latin, but which we can recognise in other contemporary languages, alive and well.

For example, sometimes the perfect stem is formed by the addition of an affix at its end. In the verbs amāvī ‘I loved’ and cōgitāvī ‘I thought’, the affix that creates the stem is -v-. In verbs like rēpsī ‘I crawled’ and xī ‘I said’, the perfect stems (rēps– and dīx-) are made by adding -s- to the roots. This -s- is itself a relic of the old aorist tense, a very productive bit of grammar in Ancient Greek.

The point of this short piece is to expand on the fourth type of perfect stem on the list: reduplicated stems. And why? Honestly, just because I just love it and want to tell people about it?

Reduplication is a very old process within the Indo-European language family. As its name suggests, it involves a doubling of something – in this case, the first sound of the root. To aid pronunciation, a vowel is then placed between the two consonants. This creates a perfect stem, to which the desired tense endings can then be added. Like the aorist -s-, reduplication is very productive in Ancient Greek. For example:

  • lúō ‘I loose’
  • gráphō ‘I write’

The roots of these Greek verbs are lu– and graph-. To put them into the perfect tense, reduplication of l and g has to take place. This creates the stems lelu– and gegraph-.

  • léluka ‘I have loosed’
  • gégrapha ‘I have written’

This process goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, and so, as another daughter language of PIE, we can expect to find reduplication in Latin too.

However, as mentioned, in Latin things progressed differently. When the perfect and the aorist tenses merged and muddled at a prehistoric stage, reduplication became only one available method among several for forming the perfect stem. It is still present in the language, but has become a shadow of its former self, found in a limited group of verbs. Because it’s not productive or actually important for the business of translation, reduplication is usually left undiscussed in Latin lessons, and so remains an oddity of the grammar.

What I’d now like to offer are some examples of Latin verbs that show reduplication in their perfect stems, along with some explanatory notes. This is not an exhaustive list, but is intended to demonstrate what reduplicated stems can look like. Some of these verbs are very common, so hopefully it might clarify some otherwise mysterious morphology for the Latinists out there!

currere ‘to run’
Root: curr-
Present stem: curre
Perfect stem: cucurr
Example: cucurreram ~ ‘I had run’ (pluperfect tense)

mordēre ‘to bite’
Root: mord-
Present stem: mordē
Perfect stem: momord– (or memord-)
Example: momordit ~ ‘he has bitten’ (perfect tense)

cadere ‘to fall’
Root: cad-
Present stem: cade-
Perfect stem: cecid
Example: cecidimus ~ ‘we fell’ (perfect)
Notes: we see here how reduplication can alter the vowel of the original root, as cad- becomes cecid-.

pēdere ‘to fart’
Root: pēd-
Present stem: pēde-
Perfect stem: pepēd
Example: pepēdisse ~ ‘to have farted’ (perfect infinitive)

stāre ‘to stand’
Root: probably sta-
Present stem: stā
Perfect stem: stet-
Example: steterō ~ ‘I will have stood’ (future perfect)
Notes: reduplication does not double clusters of consonants. Here the initial st- of the root sta- has been reduced to just -t- in the perfect stem.

spondēre ‘to promise’
Root: spond-
Present stem: spondē
Perfect stem: spopond- (or spepond-)
Example: spoponderat ~ ‘she had promised’ (pluperfect)
Notes: the same thing as in stāre is happening here.

dare ‘to give’
Root: perhaps just d-
Present stem: da
Perfect stem: ded-
Example: dederātis ~ ‘you had given’ (pluperfect)

crēdere ‘to believe’
Root: crēd
Present stem: crēde-
Perfect stem: crēdid
Example: crēdideris ~ ‘you will have believed’ (future perfect)
Notes: this is my favourite example! It is strange at first glance, because it is not c- that undergoes reduplication. Crēdere actually comes from a compound of two words: the noun *ḱred ‘heart’ and the verb *dʰeh₁- ‘put, do’. That is to say, to believe is to put your heart in something. It is therefore in the verbal part that we see reduplication, as d- of the root becomes did- in the perfect stem. The same thing happens with other compound verbs, such as ēdere ‘to bring forth’, circumdare ‘to surround’ and vēndere ‘to sell’.

canere ‘to sing’
Root: can-
Present stem: cane
Perfect stem: cecin
Example: cecinisse ~ ‘to have sung’ (perfect infinitive)

tangere ‘to touch’
Root: tag-
Present stem: tange-
Perfect stem: tetig
Example: tetigī ~ ‘I touched’ (perfect)
Notes: Why is there an -n- in the present stem, but not in the root or the perfect stem? This -n- is actually a separate element that was once used to express an incomplete action, which we call the ‘nasal infix‘ It’s there in the present stem of lots of Latin verbs, like vincō ‘I win’ or pingō ‘I paint’. Because of its close association with the present tense, it’s not there in the perfect stem tetig-, which instead comes from the reduplication of the root.

ferre ‘to carry’
Root: fer-
Present stem: fer-
Perfect stem: either tetul- or just tul-
Example: tetulerās ~ ‘you had carried’ (pluperfect)
Notes: ferre is pretty irregular. For starters, its perfect stem has been borrowed from an entirely different verb. Because its present and perfect stems are so different, the original reduplicated stem tetul– is rather redundant, so the simpler tul- is also attested.

discere ‘to learn’
Root dic-
Present stem: disce-
Perfect stem: didic-
Example: didicērunt ~ ‘they learned’ (perfect)
Notes: like tangere, there is a sneaky separate affix within the present stem: -sc-. When added to the root, this resulted in the awkward *dicsc-, which then simplified to just disc-. Once again, the perfect stem didic- is a reduplication of only the fundamental root.

To end, I would like to mention two more examples of reduplication – though not one from Classical Latin. If we go back further in time and into Old Latin, it is reasonable to expect more reduplication, as these sources are chronologically closer to the merger of aorist and perfect, meaning that reduplication is not quite so moribund.

For example, we are taught that the common verb facere ‘to do’ has the perfect stem fēc– in Classical Latin, which comes from an old aorist stem. However, if you accept its authenticity, you can also see an alternative perfect stem for facere in the inscription on the Praeneste Fibula, widely believed to be the oldest Latin text. It reads:


‘Manius has made me for Numerius’

This reduplicated fhefhaked was once a productive perfect-tense form of the verb, but later yielded to fēc– as the way to form the usual perfect stem of facere.

The intriguing Praeneste Fibula. Image from here.

Finally, it is not only in Latin and Greek that we find reduplication. It is present across many of the earliest Indo-European languages, most notably Sanskrit, in which it’s alive and well as a process. Vestiges of reduplication can be seen elsewhere too, such as in the Germanic languages; there is, to the best of my knowledge, a single trace of it in Modern English. It’s the past-tense verb did.

This past-tense verb is the not the result of do + -ed (the regular system in English today); did instead comes from a reduplication of do. This therefore makes did a sister form of Latin fhefhaked and of the verbal part of crēdid-, since they all come from the reduplication of the PIE root *dʰeh₁-.

And that’s all I’ve got to say for now on Latin reduplication!


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