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De Figuris Plantulus et Planetula! Iterum!

"De Figuris Plantulus et Planetula! Iterum!"
"About the Forms Plantulus and Planetula! Again!"

In my long De Figuris Plantulus et Planetula post, I talk about the problems that arise in the creation of nounal diminutives from nounal primitives having genders and terminations that do not seem to match up according to the common assigment. The word that was specifically brought up as an example is the masculine, first-declension noun planeta, "planet," because some contributors at Vicipaedia were thinking of a diminutive for it.

My post includes a section wherein I point out that in the formation of diminutives from primitives of the first two declensions of nouns, two methods were employed in the treatment of the terminations: Definitive Gender Terminations (DGT) and Gender and Termination Retention (GTR). DGT ignores the termination of the primitive and uses the fixed gender-termination assignment (-us for masculine, -a for feminine, -um for neuter), while GTR has the primitive and diminutive share common genders and common terminations.

I also pointed out that the problem with DGT is that it forces a gender-termination assignment that does not actually apply to Latin nouns. There is nothing making -us the definitive "masculine termination" among nouns. This especially becomes clear when we are dealing with nouns that specifically do not follow that fixed gender-termination assignment: planeta (masculine), vannus (feminine), and so on. DGT basically insinuates that primitives do not have to obey that fixed gender-termination assignment, but diminutives do. The diminutives have then a morphological straitjacket that is non-nounal.

Not long after I made that post, I began to think about what is up with DGT in its treatment of nounal diminutives as something other than nouns. After some more thought, I realized this:

DGT, in the creation of nounal diminutives, treats the suffixes -ulus, -ula, -ulum as if they were regular second-, first-, second-declension (2-1-2) adjectival suffixes like -osus, -osa, -osum and -anus, -ana, -anum, instead of nounal suffixes.

When the adjectival suffixes of this type are added to nouns to form new adjectives, they use a fixed gender-termination assignment that has no bearing on the morphology of the said nouns. Once the new adjectives are formed, the use of the terminations that they take is in accordance with the genders of whatever nouns with which they are in agreement.

Likewise, according to DGT, the adjectival-ized suffixes -ulus, -ula, -ulum are added to nouns, using a fixed gender-termination assignment that has no bearing on the morphology of those nouns. The new words thus made that are technically adjectives. But there is an extra step. The diminutives of the nouns must be nouns, and they must take a gender. And so these adjectival diminutives are used substantively, taking the gender of the primitive noun, but taking the termination that is in accordance with that fixed gender-termination assignment.

Thus, I can show why it is the case that while a diminutive takes the gender of its primitive, the -us will always be a masculine termination, -a will always be a feminine one, and -um will always be a neuter one.

According to DGT, diminutives have a formation pattern like this:

  • servus, -i, m.servus + -ulus, -ula, -ulumservulus, -a, -umservulus, -i, m.
  • filius, -i, m.filius + -olus, -ola, -olumfiliolus, -a, -umfiliolus, -i, m.
  • verna, -i, m.verna + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumvernaculus, -a, -umvernaculus, -i, m.
  • puella, -ae, f.puella + -ulus, -ula, -ulumpuellulus, -a, -umpuellela, -ae, f.
  • filia, -ae, f.filius + -olus, -ola, -olumfiliolus, -a, -umfiliola, -ae, f.
  • pratum, -i, n.pratum + -ulus, -ula, -ulumpratulus, -a, -umpratulum, -i, n.
  • ostium, -i, n.ostium + -olus, -ola, -olumostiolus, -a, -umostiolum, -i, n.

This works for primitives of the other three declensions:

  • rex, -egis, m.rex + -ulus, -ula, -ulumregulus, -a, -umregulus, -i, m.
  • merces, -edis, f.merces + -ulus, -ula, -ulummercedulus, -a, -ummercedula, -ae, f.
  • corpus, -oris, n.corpus + -ulus, -ula, -ulumcorpusculus, -a, -umcorpusculum, -i, n.
  • artus, -us, m.artus + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumarticulus, -a, -umarticulus, -i, m.
  • anus, -us, f.anus + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumaniculus, -a, -umanicula, -ae, f.
  • cornu, -us, n.cornu + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumcorniculus, -a, -umcorniculum, -i, n.
  • dies, -ei, f.dies + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumdieculus, -a, -umdiecula, -ae, f.
  • spes, -ei, f.spes + -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulumspeculus, -a, -umspecula, -ae, f.

For exactly how the diminutive takes the gender of its primitive, we can think of it this way: DGT forms these diminutive adjectives and then has them in agreement with their primitive nouns to form hypothetical noun-adjective phrases, thereby establishing the form of the diminutive to be used as a substantive adjective:

  • servus servulusservulus, -i, m.
  • puella puellulapuellula, -ae, f.
  • pratum pratulumpratulum, -i, n.

Thus, for planeta, DGT brings about the adjectival diminutives planetulus, planetula, planetulum, and then the substantive diminutive planetulus. This is the reasoning behind the planetulus form that the Vicipaedia article now cites.

However, the fatal flaw of DGT is the fact that the -ulus, -ula, -ulum suffixes, when used with nouns, are nounal suffixes, since they form nouns.

One notable point of superiority of GTR, as opposed to DGT, is the fact that it allows nouns to be nouns.

Morphologically, a Latin noun of any of the first two declensions, ending in any one of those three terminations, may:

  1. follow the "default" gender-termination assignment (-us for masculine, -a for feminine, -um for neuter),
  2. follow a word-specific gender-termination assignment (i.e. defined by the word itself), or
  3. do both (the "default" and the word-specific gender-termination assignments coincide).

Words like servus, puella, pratum do both. Their diminutives also do both, in that each follows the "default" assignment and has a word-specific gender-termination assignment whose nature is traceable to the primitive. The result is that the primitives and their diminutives have common genders and terminations:

  • servus, -i, m. [-usm.] → servulus, -i, m. [-usm.]
  • puella, -ae, f. [-af.] → puellula, -ae, f. [-af.]
  • pratum, -i, n. [-umn.] → pratulum, -i, n. [-umn.]

Words like scurra, verna, fagus, vannus do b. Their diminutives do b. also, where each has a word-specific gender-termination assignment whose nature is traceable to the primitive. Again, the result is that the primitives and their diminutives have common genders and terminations:

  • scurra, -ae, m. [-am.] → scurrula, -i, m. [-am.]
  • verna, -ae, m. [-am.] → vernula, -ae, m. [-am.]
  • fagus, -i, f. [-usf.] → faganellus, -i, f. [-usf.]
  • vannus, -i, f. [-usf.] → vallus, -i, f. [-usf.]
  • vannus, -i, f. [-usf.] → vannellus, -i, f. [-usf.]

When words of the other three declensions form diminutives, since they themselves and their first- and second-declension diminutives cannot have common terminations, cannot do b. or c. above, but must do a:

  • rex, -egis, m.regulus, -i, m. [-usm.]
  • cornu, -us, n.corniculum, -i, n. [-umn.]
  • dies, -ei, f.diecula, -ae, f. [-af.]

By now it is very clear that, consistently, the diminutives do attempt to emulate the morphological nature of their primitives in every applicable way. When commonality of gender and termination is possible between a primitive-diminutive pair, that commonality is, indeed, consistently expressed, and not ignored. This feature of the structure of citable morphological diminutives is well accounted for by GTR.

Two of the diminutive forms that seem to violate GTR and follow DGT (other than planetulus) are problematic:

  • Ficula: As I mentioned in the previous post, the Plautus passage that is cited as the source of the feminine diminutive ficula, from feminine ficus, actually shows ficulis, and not the nominative singular form, and therefore the nominative singular form could be either ficulus or ficula. (The derivative ficulnus does not indicate one way or the other, either.) Additionally, since both the gender and declension of ficus were disputed by even the ancients, we could just as easily say that ficula does not come from ficus as a feminine second-declension word, but as a feminine fourth-declension word, taking -ula instead of the regular -cula, much like how the diminutive cornulum comes from cornu and -ulum, instead of -iculum. Either way, ficula, itself, is not actually cited, and even if it were, it could be accounted for without calling it a violation of GTR.
  • Prunella: This has been called a diminutive of the feminine second-declension prunus, but does not seem to be the case. It could be a) an alteration of brunella, from brunus, "brown" (or one of its Germanic equivalents), and the diminutive suffix -ella (from the OED), b) a diminutive of pruna, "live coal" (from A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D.), a c) diminutive of the Late Latin word pruna (from prunum, where the nominative plural form pruna is reinterpreted as a feminine nominative singular), the etymon of English "prune" (from the OED), or d) a variant of prunellum, from prunulum, itself a diminutive of prunum (from Strodach's -Ello/A- and -Illo/A- A Study in Diminutive Formation and A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D.). At any rate, reliable sources showing that prunella is a diminutive of specifically prunus are hard to come by, and on the contrary, sources seem to indicate that prunella is a diminutive having more to do with prunum (or its later form pruna) than with prunus.

As it stands, I would say ficulis is for ficulus (according to the propensity of diminutives having common terminations, as seen above), and prunella is a diminutive of pruna (variant of prunum).

vernaculus, from masculine verna, seems to follow DGT, but there are problems here also. First of all, vernaculus is an 2-1-2 adjective, and yet has no diminutively adjectival force. The diminutive force arises when the adjective is used substantively, and by then, the masculine is vernaculus and the feminine is vernacula (from the Oxford English Dictionary). The word does not actually follow DGT because the -(c)ulus, -(c)ula, -(c)ulum, in the formation of the word, is seen as one forming an adjective first and foremost, and not a diminutive. It is almost as if the diminutive force of the word is an afterthought, and so the suffix here is not actually a diminutive suffix, even if it has a diminutive-suffix form. What seems to be the case, then, is that the word was reinterpreted as a diminutive form only after it had started being used substantively. The formation sequence would be so:

    verna, -ae, m. (noun) → vernaculus, -a, -um (adjective) → veraculus, -i, m. & veracula, -ae, f. (nounal diminutives)

So, while vernaculus is a diminutive of verna, it is not derived directly from verna in the way that diminutives regularly are. It does not seem particularly wise to present the formation of vernaculus as an example of the formation of diminutive words, unless we are also fine with the notion that nounal diminutives imply intervening, non-diminutival adjectives.

We may be able to find uses of the form planetulus from planeta, but we are not left with much in the way of precedent for such a formation. Not only does DGT have some conceptual problems (i.e. treating nounal suffixes as adjectival ones), but words that seem to behave as if they were formed according to DGT are either doubtful or uniquely irregular. At best, we could say that planetulus is a masculine noun that implies the non-diminutive adjectives planetulus, planetula, planetulum (in the way that vernaculus implies its own set of adjectives).

But why bother doing such a thing when scurrula and vernula should us that planetula is a perfectly legitimate form?

And, while we can show that planetulus has been used before, we can just as easily show that planetula was too:


The first one is notable because the source is apparently older than the source showing planetulus. The last one should be noted especially because it is from Nuntii Latini, which is a widely-recognized source, especially on Vicipaedia itself.

So, what to use: planetulus or planetula?

Well, this is what planetulus has going for it:


That is about it. And saying that its following DGT is an advantage is a bit of stretch, given the method's unwarrantedly rigid rules for nouns.

But this is what planetula has going for it:

  • It follows GTR (a regularity among nounal diminutives)
  • It has been used in the past (along with its grammatical forms: planetulae, planetularum, planetas), even by Nuntii Latini
  • It has two clear analogues (of the same gender, declension, and termination): scurrula and vernula

Not only does planetula have more going for it, but also a better case can be made with each advantage.

Now that I know that I have solid attestation, solid morphology, and solid analogy on my side, I am pretty thoroughly convinced that, since a better case can be made for planetula, the contributors at Vicipaedia should change planetulus back to the original planetula.

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Sailor Saturn/Hotaru Tomoe

November 2013

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