Requesting in a letter: context, syntax and the choice between complements in the letters of Cicero and Pliny the Younger


  • I am deeply indebted to Eleanor Dickey for allowing me to use the data on rogo that she had collected and classified (using the Teubner database). I am grateful to Eleanor Dickey, Jim Adams, and the anonymous referees of this journal for their critical and very useful comments. An earlier version of this article was read at the fifteenth colloquium of Latin linguistics (Innsbruck, 4–9 April 2009).

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This article addresses the question of how the choice between two complements is determined in the case of Latin rogo‘I ask’. When rogo has the meaning ‘to request, to ask a favour’ (as opposed to asking a question), it is usually followed by a (final) complement clause that either is or is not introduced by the conjunction ut (the subordinate predicate is always in the subjunctive). Traditionally, the difference between these two constructions has been attributed to a register difference, the variant with ut representing formal/written language, and the variant without ut representing informal/spoken language. It is argued that a register distinction is not the decisive criterion for the choice of complement in this case. On the basis of an analysis of all occurrences of the verbal form rogo‘I request’ in the letters of Cicero and Pliny the Younger, an alternative factor influencing the choice of complement is identified. It is suggested that the syntactic context, most importantly the distance between the governing and subordinate verbs, plays a role in the choice of complement. The question is thus linked to the manner of syntactic composition and style, and only indirectly to issues of formality.