Between Classical Latin and the Romance languages came Vulgar Latin, the Latin that was spoken and changed faster than the literary language. Since Vulgar Latin was spoken rather than written, we only have limited access to it.
Unpolished Latin in Cicero
In The Latin Language
, L.R. Palmer (1954) describes some of the tendencies of conversational Latin. In the orator and politician Cicero's informal correspondence, Palmer notes that sometimes instead of adverbs, Cicero uses adjectives. An English example would be the ungrammatical, "he done good." Cicero's informal writing also abounds with parenthetical and elliptical phrases (e.g.
"sed ubi eos? nisi forte se suspendit" [but them where? unless by chance he hangs himself] - ad Att. 13.40.1
[p. 151]), which make sense among friends, but can cause a translator to tear his hair out. A further trait of Cicero's sermo cottidianus
(everyday speech) is the use of picturesque words and frequentative verb
Sermo Plebeius in Petronius
In the Cena Trimalchionis
, Palmer says Petronius makes errors in gender and declension. There is debate over whether the "bad" Latin (sermo plebeius
) is used to show the broken Latin of Greeks. Against that is the fact that the "vulgarisms" of the Cena appear in glosses (parenthetical or explanatory notes made by scribes copying manuscripts).
Technical Manuals as a Source for Vulgar Latin
Other sources of non-literary Latin are Cato and Vitruvius who provide vocabulary for things not often found in literature, and the Peregrinatio Aetheriae
, by the nun named either Aetheria or Egeria, but like the letters of Cicero and the Cena, this technical and travel writing is not spoken Latin.
Gramarians on Vulgar latin
Grammarians of the third and fourth centuries and Isidore of Seville, in the seventh century, also provide a critical look at the faults in common speech. They also give translations of earlier Latin words into the contemporary Latin idiom, thus Classical Latin's "pulcra [pulchra] = bella" [p. 155], an adjective we find in modern Romance vocabulary.
Epigraphy as a Source for Vulgar Latin
Closer to spoken Latin is the Latin of inscriptions, like the curses at bath houses, funerary inscriptions, and Pompeiian graffiti where are found metatheses (switching around of letters, e.g. "lerinquas" instead of "relinquas"), the shift from the diphthong "ae" to "e" and the change from the ablative to the accusative case of nouns following the preposition "ex".
Source:The Latin Language
, by L. R. Palmer. University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. (Copyright 1954)