Note (2013)

In the year 1903, Giuseppe Peano (Cuneo 1858 – Torino 1932) published the article “De Latino sine Flexione. Lingua Auxiliare Internationale, in the journal Revue de Mathématiques. The article begins in classical Latin, and gradually gets rid of several inflexions (first of declension, then of conjugation), until ending in a simplified Latin.

In practice, Peano took the nouns in the form of the ablative singular, yet some exceptions were allowed (1903, §1):

« Sumimus nomen inflexibile sub forma simpliciore, quae est ablativus, vel nominativus, vel alia. »

Such a rule was not very clear, as Peano might doubt between the nominative and the ablative: in his article, Peano writes sometimes flexio, sometimes flexione. For a long time he used to write nomen according to the nominative and the accusative, until one fine day he decided to use nomine instead, thus giving up to the ablative singular for all nouns.

More trouble happens to the adjectives, since those from the 3rd declension have a special ablative ending –i, but Peano preferred to give them the ending –e of ablative nouns. This would imply that nouns and adjectives are essentially the same to Peano.

As for the 1st & 2nd declension, adjectives and participles are given the final –o of the masculine and neuter ablative. So, the nouns from the 1st declension (ending –a) would remain in disharmony with the idea that nouns and adjectives are essentially the same. For instance, while we speak of latina in Latin (from lingua latina), Peano's arrangement may cause a problem: must we take latino as an adjective, or latina as a noun?

Gode's Interlingua (1951) goes a step further and gives the ending –e to all participles (and most adjectives), both from the 3rd (–nte) and the 1st & 2nd declensions (–te). A number of adjectives are given no final vowel, i.e. latin. So, we still have to deal with a complex morphology with two specific patterns for nouns and adjectives.

Peano used a number of grammatical particles to express the Latin cases:

« Indicamus genitivo cum de, dativo cum ad, ablativo cum ab, ex, … ».

According to Grandgent (“An Introduction to Vulgar Latin”, 1907), such an arrangement was parallel to the classical Latin case system:

« The genitive, little by little, was supplanted by other constructions, generally by the ablative with de (which occurs as early as Plautus) » (§88). Both prepositions ab and ex were eventually replaced by de (§77).
« We find (…) a tendency to replace it [the dative] by the accusative with ad (…) as the dative, in the singular of most nouns and in the plural of all, was identical in form either with the ablative or with the genitive (…) » (§90).

A new combined case accusative-ablative was formed:

« The use of prepositions became really necessary in the late spoken language, because, after the fall of final m [of the acc.] and the loss of quantitative distinctions in unaccented syllables, the ablative differed little or not at all from the accusative in the singular of most words: causăm causā, donŭm donō, patrĕm patrē, fructŭm fructū, diĕm diē. It is likely that before the end of the Empire the ablative plural form was generally discarded , the accusative being used in its stead (…) » (§94).

The declension system finally collapsed among the common people (not among the clerics), resulting in a system of only two cases:

« By the end of the Vulgar Latin period there probably remained in really popular use (aside from pronouns and a number of set formulas) (…) only two [cases], a nominative and an accusative-ablative. » (§100).

As for verbs, Peano states the rule of the imperative (§4) :

« Sumimus ergo nomen inflexibile, per persona, modo et tempore, sub forma magis simplice, qui es imperativo, activo et passivo. »

The imperative does not follow the ablative rule, since the classical ablative verbs were the gerund, the participle (at the ablative absolute), and the supine. But the infinitive replaced the gerund in vulgar Latin (Grandgent, §104), so: ad –are replaced ad –andum; de -are replaced –andi, etc. Deponent and semi-deponent verbs soon became active in vulgar Latin (Grandgent, §113), so a regular infinitive is available for every verb.

The Latin language has a kind of indirect sentence, where every verb is an infinitive free of inflexions (the perfect and future infinitives eventually disappeared); the names are accusative, both subject and object. This infinitive + accusative construction was avoided in vulgar Latin (often replaced by a clause introduced by quia, quod, etc.), but it might be a good model for a simplified Latin with no inflexions.

Peano itself provides an example («De Latino sine Flexione», § 4): “Amicitia inter malos esse non potest”, turning it into an indirect “(Verum est) amicitiam inter malos esse non posse”. Then Peano proposes to take the raw imperative, yet he does not provide the due translation of the example, that might be: “amicitia inter homines malo non pote es”.

The continual omission of an initial sentence is possible in the Latin infinitive + accusative construction. See A Latin Grammar, p. 84 (James Morwood, OUP 1999):

« Indirect statement can continue from one main clause to another. The main verb does not need to be repeated as long as its subject remains unchanged (…) :
« Dixit se (...) iucunde uiuere ; in animo habere (...) manere » [Translation: « [She] said that she (...) was having a pleasant time ; (... that she) planned (...) to stay »]


In 1904, Peano wrote the text “Il latino quale lingua ausiliare internazionale” (in Italian), to introduce a new project for a “Latino Minimo” (based on the Chinese language):

« si arriverà a determinare qual è il minimo numero di parole, affissi e suffissi, sufficienti ad esprimere ogni idea, cioè a costrurre il latino minimo. Questo metodo è un’applicazione della Logica matematica [...]. Il latino sine flexione allo stato attuale, come pure il latino minimo, quando sarà costrutto, o meglio calcolato, è conseguenza di soli teoremi logici. »

Still in 1904, Peano applied his logic analysis to a “studio de grammatica rationale” inside the new Vocabulario de Latino Internationale. Comparato cum Anglo, Franco, Germano, Hispano, Italo, Russo, Graeco et Sanscritowith about 2 600 words.

This work was the first time Peano considered to express the plural with the suffix –s (§16):

« Numero grammaticale es inutile post numero arithmetico: uno ore, duo aure, decem digito. (…) Idem, post « aliquo, omni, plure, multo, nullo... » (…) Romani ... = Populo Romano ... (...) Si nos judica difficile ce eliminatione de plurale in omni casu, nos pote conserva aliquo suffixo de plurale. Suffixo magis internationale es AFH -s ».

This rule was rather ambiguous, having as a consequence the general use of –s for the plural, even after a number. The meaning of –s may depend on the context: either more than one, or all in general.

Still in the same work, Peano proposed an article (§4): « Me introduce articulo sub forma de thema latino: to* = isto – is; A. the; D der, das; G to; S ta; R to; E to. ». The word tum (= A. that time) originally is the probable accusative of the theme to*. Peano was also considering a system similar to the Greek one: o, ē, to (§17): « o, masculino; a, feminino; to, neutro ». In practice, the article to was used by Peano to express the infinitive: « Vocabulo « to » habe quasi valore de vocabulo anglo « to », que responde ad vocabulo « ad » ».

Edward Sapir did note a possible relation of the particle to with the Latin suffix -t :

« (…) a form like “agit” is roughly the psychological equivalent of a form like “age is”, “act he”… Ultimately, also historical, say “age to”, “act that (one)”. » (Language. An Introduction to the Study of Speech, 1921)


In 1909, Peano had been elected director of the new “Academia pro Interlingua” (ApI). In the ApI magazine “Discussiones” (1909 to 1913), people were writing in Latino sine Flexione and a number of similar dialects eventually receiving the name “Interlingua” instead of Latino sine Flexione. A new “signo de Interlingua” was adopted in 1911 by the Academy.

The magazine had an article by J. B. Pinth in December 1912, in a new dialect looking quite similar to the later standard by Alexander Gode:

  1. « (...) In adjectivos de declination secunde latin, finales -o et -a de ablativo fi mutate ad il finale neutrale -e, que es litera final de vocativo latin. Vice mee, nos scribe mie (...)
  2. Adjectivos de tertie declination recipi semper il fìnal -e de ablativo.
  3. Ut numero de finales -e non fia nimis grande, uno pote omitter iste final in substantivos et adjectivos, si, post omission, vocabulos fini per un de liquide consonantes -l, -m, -n aut -r, et tunc habe un vocal tanquam litera penultime. » (“Res Grammatico”, Discussiones, 1912, p. 195).

Here I show the main morphological mutations of Interlingua (“Latino sine Flexione” in 1903):

Peano (1903/1909) Michaux (1912) J. B. Pinth (1912) Gode (1951)
lingua lingue (sed femina) lingua lingua
oculo ocule (sed masculo) oculo oculo
secundo adj. secundi adj. secunde adj. secunde adj.
parte parte parte parte
nomen / nomine nomine nomine nomine
declinatione declinatione declination declination
finale finale n., final(i) adj. final final
caso / casu case casu caso
die die die die

Note that Michaux’s dialect (also called Romanal) was highly similar to Novial, the auxiliary language by Otto Jespersen (1928).

The syntax of Peano’s Interlingua was conservative enough to not favour a definite word-order. An adjective might be placed after the noun, or before the noun. As the inventor of Interglossa Lancelot Hogben stated (1943, p. 11):

« The fact is that no pioneer of language-planning –least of all Peano– has undertaken the task of investigating what rules of word-order contribute most to intrinsic clarity of meaning and ease of recognition. »

By looking at any handbook of classical Latin (e.g. Assimil Le Latin), we see that the sentence follows a certain pattern based on the essential sequence nominative + accusative + verb. E.g. servi mensam ornant, ‘the servants decorate the table’. So, if a genitive is added to the nominative, it would be placed before it, so not to interfere with the essential sequence: gen. + nom. + acc. + verb. E.g. Marci servi mensam ornant, ‘The servants of Marcus decorate the table’. Similarly, if the nominative includes an adjective, it would go before: adj. (nom.) + gen. + nom. + acc. + verb. E.g. Magna servorum pars mensam ornant. ‘A great part of the servants decorate the table.’

However, this essential sequence is not always followed in classical Latin, and any free variations might be allowed. Beyond classical Latin (in vulgar Latin, late Latin, and so on), this sequence ceases to be essential. (For more info, see the second additional note).

Time to relax our eyes with a funny Isotype picture to illustrate some prepositions (written in Peano's Interlingua):

Uno homine sta intra domo ;
uno sta supra domo ;
et duo sta ante domo ;
tres homine sta extra domo.
Arbore sta post domo.

In 1909, Peano published “Vocabulario Commune ad Linguas de Europa”, where every adjective from the class –is –is –e had the suffix –i according to the ablative singular, for example: aequali, decimali, diurnali, generali, ideali, morali, neutrali, originali, plurali, reali, tali, etc. As told above, in the subsequent vocabulary of 1915 he did reject –i in favour of –e.

By the other hand, Peano insisted to reject the article: « Articulo non existe in LR [Latin and Russian]. Omni elemento de grammatica, et omni regula, que non existe in uno lingua, non es necessario, et pote es suppresso. »

In 1913, Peano published the work “100 Exemplo de Interlingua”, which was partly a translation of J. B. Pinth’s “Die internationale Hilfssprache Interlingua” (1911).

In the year 1915, despite of the world war, Peano managed to publish “Vocabulario Commune ad Latino-Italiano-Français-English-Deutsch”, his largest dictionary. I have done a first phase of transcription, of the essential vocabulary (including every word from “a” to “acuto”.) Peano’s 1915 vocabulary provides a systematic translation from Latin to several modern languages (Italian, French, English, German), and often Spanish, Portuguese, Russian. In addition, it provides many etymologic data, and many definitions. On the contrary, it provides not many words from late Latin, mediaeval Latin and modern Latin; and no vulgar Latin at all, despite the latter is an important bridge from classical Latin to the Romance lexicon.

Peano states a kind of Anglo-Latin principle: « Academia adopta vocabulario internationale, et in modo plus præciso, omni vocabulo latino scripto in vocabulario etymologico de anglo » (p. xx). Therefore the essential vocabulary of IL may contain every Latin word adopted by English (for example cognatus, which gave cognate), or adapted by English (for example consuetudine, which gave custom through old French *costudne). Peano surely preferred the Anglo-Latin vocabulary in order to simplify the practice of IL. In order to select the Anglo-Latin vocabulary, I would encourage to use the Online Etymology Dictionary, which includes copious data on late and mediaeval Latin, and on many Anglo-Latin cognates having a common Indo-european root.

Note that the new Interlingua of 1915 mutates the rule of cases, giving up to the ablative:

« Omni vocabulo es thema latino (...) Ex accusativos latino rosam pedem sensum diem, resulta que -m es suffixo de accusativo. Illo suppresso, nos habe thema: rosa pede sensu die, que es ablativo. Ergo, in generale « ablativo es thema de nomine » ».

Besides, Peano takes the suffix –s as the normal expression of plural: « Plurale es indicato per suffixo -s ». Therefore, the new basic rules of Interlingua are: the thematic root from the ablative, and the plural in –s (which is possible only to the ablative cane, tempore ..., not to canis, tempus ...)

Peano had several ways to express the verbal tenses (see §9). As for the past: “jam” (already, which basically means before now), and others: e, in præterito”, etc. This could properly take the sense of the Latin perfect tense. Peano stated that the context usually makes clear when the action occurred: « si phrasi jam indica tempore, suffixo es inutile. » And he gave some examples: L. « heri scribebamus » = IL. « heri nos scribe ».

As for the future tense, Peano also had several ways:

« Interlingua « habe ad scribe » (...) « vol scribe, debe scribe » (...) « vade ad scribe, i ad scribe, i scribe » (...) »

Grandgent states (1907):

« The Latin future was not uniform in the four conjugations (...) These causes or others made the future unpopular » (§125) ; « Classic Latin had some circumlocutions, such as facturus sum, delenda est, habeo dicere, which approached the meaning of the future. (...) Velle and posse + infinitive were frequent. (...) Debere + infinitive was another substitute. (...) Vadere, ire, venire + infinitive were used also. » (§126)

Peano was offering probably too many ways to express the verbal tenses. But he showed a certain preference to express the future by the particle vol (like Romanian voi and English will).

In 1926, the new “Instituto pro Interlingua” of prof. Nicola Mastropaolo started to publish a new magazine on Interlingua: “Schola Et Vita”, until the year 1938.

Finally, here is a comment on Peano’s Interlingua by the author Hubert Kennedy (Peano. Life and Works of Giuseppe Peano, 2006: 185):

« In the beginning, Peano used the term ‘Interlingua’ generically, but he soon began to limit its use to the language he saw evolving from the Academia Pro Interlingua.
« Already in 1910 the Academy adopted ‘Rules for Interlingua.’ There were three: (1) Interlingua uses every word common to English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Russian, as well as every Latin word with English derivatives. (2) Every word, which exists in Latin, has the form of its Latin root. (3) The suffix -s indicates a plural. These rules were, of course, only advisory and no one was obliged to follow them. They represented a majority opinion, however, and in fact most of the articles published in the Discussiones resembled Peano’s Latino Sine Flexione. »

After the second world war, A. Gode & H. Blair, the last directors of the IALA association, reformed the grammar of Interlingua:

  • They added some verbal suffixes: -r to the infinitive; -va to the past; -ra to the future; -rea to the conditional.
  • A final -e to the adjectives & participles of the class “-us, -a, -um” (against the final –o of Peano). View the article by J. B. Pinth “Res Grammatico” (1912).
  • The article le (contracted, al and del);
  • They collected a number of proto-romance words, through the new method of the “prototypo commun le plus recente”. They kept the majority of the vocabulary of Peano’s Interlingua, because the common prototype usually leads to the Latin ablative. Accordingly, the very name Interlingua was kept, yet a distinct abbreviation was adopted: IA instead of IL.

Ric Berger states in his article Le Latino sine Flexione (in Interlingua IA):

« Sin dubita on demandara: Proque dunque IALA dava a su lingua, in 1947 le mesme nomine jam seligite per Peano pro su projecto? (...) Proque le lingua de Peano habeva un altere nomine, illo es Latino sine Flexione, le termino era applicate pauc a pauc exclusivemente al lingua de IALA. »

In this text, four out of five names: lingua, nomine, projecto, termino, agree with the Latin ablative; dubita is the only proto-romance name.

The year 2008, the Università di Torino published a number of CD-Roms on Peano. The interlinguistic works are covered by “Le Riviste di Giuseppe Peano”. (See an index at “RivistePeano.pdf” below).


An additional note on the sequence substantive + adjective and the sequence nominative + genitive in Latin:

By looking at the Latin science nomenclature (from the etymologic samples provided by Hogben in Interglossa), a pattern substantive + adjective appears to be the modern norm: aurora borealis, canis lupus, equus asinus, felis domesticus, gallus domesticus, homo sapiens, homo neanderthalensis, thea sinensis, Ursa Maior, Ursa minor, to quote only the most popular.

Some etymologies are provided by Peano itself (1915): apis mellifera, bos taurus, camelus dromedarius, canis familiaris, canis femina, canis mas, citrus aurantius, cofea arabiga, equus caballus, fagus silvatica, felis cattus, formica rufa, lepus cuniculus, linum usitatissimum, mus musculus, ovis aries, and some others. Most of this comes from the modern biology nomenclature by Linnaeus in Systema naturae.

The Christians are praying a wide sample inside the Pater Noster debita nostra, debitoribus nostris, nomen tuum, panem nostrum quotidianum, pater noster, regnum tuum, voluntas tua.

A brief essay on the main Latin titles (taking a sample from the book Le latin est mort. Vive la latin! by Wilfried Stroh) may show that the sequence substantive adjective is the norm in Latin, yet the inverted sequence is also current (the ratio is over 2 to 1).

Thesis (53 titles): Antithesis (23 titles):
Ad poetas Germanos Clarorum virorum epistolae
Admonitio generalis De corrigendis adolescentiae studiis
Aristarchus sive de contemptu linguae teutonicae De libero arbitrio
Ars amatoria De optimo republicae statu, deque nova insula Utopia
Ars major & Ars minor De recta (latini graecique sermonispronuntiatione
Artes liberales De servo arbitrio
Asinus aureus De utraque verborum ac rerum copia
Astronomia nova De vulgari eloquentia
Biblia Vulgata Declamatio de falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione
Carmen perpetuum Divinae institutiones
Carmina Burana Epistolae obscurorum virorum
Chrestomatia Graeca Historia de duabis civitatibus
Colloquia familiaria In laudem philosophiae et relinquiarium artium
Corpus inscriptionum latinarum Lexicon recentis latinitatis
De arte poetica Naturalis historia
De arte versificatoria Philippicae orationes
De bello Gallico Poeticae institutiones
De consulato suo Progymnasmata scenica
De doctrina christiana Sidereus nuntius
De institutione feminae christianae Stultifera navis
De inventione dialectica Tusculanae disputationes
De lingua latina colenda et civitate latina fundanda Vera sapientia
De re publica Viva Camena
De revolutionibus orbium celestium
De septem artibus liberalibus
De simia Heidelbergensi
De viribus electricitatis artificialis in motu musculari
Discissitiones arithmeticae
Elegantiarum linguae latinae libri sex
Epistolae familiares
Epistulae morales
Expeditio polemico-poetica
Fabula atellana
Genealogia deorum gentilium
Grammatica latina
Grammatici Latini
Institutiones grammaticae
Iocus serius
Iter Brundisinum
Lingua mortua
Loci communes
Minerva seu de causis linguae latinae
Monadologia phisica
Navis aeria
Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum
Orbis (sensualiumpictus
Pater Noster
(Philosophiae naturalisprincipia Mathematica
Pinoculus Latinus
Theoria colorum phisiologica
Theoria motus corporum celestium
Thesaurus linguae latinae
Trias Romana

We should mention a special inversion formed by any adjective plus mente, which eventually mutated into a suffixed adjective acting like an adverb, as seen in the Romance languages.

As for a sequence nominative + genitive, it may be the norm in a similar ratio of 2 to 1:

Thesis (39 titles): Antithesis (16 titles):
Appendix probi Clarorum virorum epistolae
Aristarchus sive de contemptu linguae teutonicae De agri cultura
Ars versificandi et carminum Declamatio de ... Constantini donatione
Consolatio philosophiae De corrigendis adolescentiae studiis
Contra abusum tabaci De dei et mundi amore
Corpus inscriptionum latinarum De liberorum educatione
Corpus Juris De morum simplicitate
De civitate Dei De optimo republicae statu ...
De finibus bonorum et malorum De ovi mammalium et hominis Genesi
De institutione feminae christianae De recta latini graecique sermonis pronuntiatione
De natura deorum De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia
De officiis ministrorum De utraque verborum ac rerum copia
De revolutionibus orbium celestium Dialogus in quo litterarum studiosus cum beato ... loquitur
De vanitate mundi Elegantiarum linguae latinae libri sex
De viribus electricitatis artificialis in motu musculari Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum
Disticha Catonis Philosophiae naturalis principia Mathematica
Doctrinale Puerorum
Eclogae Nasonis
Encomium eloquentiae
Encomium Moriae
Epistulae heoridum
Genealogia deorum gentilium
Harmonice mundi
Historia Francorum
Introductio in analysin infinitorum
Lexicon recentis latinitatis
Minerva seu de causis linguae latinae
Orbis sensualium pictus
Pappa puerorum
Peregrinatio Egeriae
Principia philosophiae
Ratio studiorum
Regnum poetarum
Somnium Scipionis
Systema naturae
Theoria colorum philsiologica
Theoria motus corporum celestium
Thesaurus linguae latinae
Vita Karoli

Indeed the sequence nominative + genitive must be always the norm to Peano’s Interlingua, because the preposition de is used to introduce de genitive. (E.g. virorum epistolae must be turned into epistolas de viros). By the other hand, the function of both the adjective and the genitive is similar, so one might infer that the sequence substantive adjective should be always the norm. The moral is clear: the normal pattern for Peano’s Interlingua may well be substantive adjective.

When a certain genitive tends to go before a certain noun, the general rule might be to form a composite noun, as happened with the days of the week in the Romance languages from the late Latin Lunae-dies, martis-dies, mercurii-dies, Jovis-dies, Veneris-dies, Saturni-dies.

Equally, when a certain adjective tends to go before a certain noun, the general rule might be to form a composite noun, like has happened to a great part of our lexicon, specially of Greek origin (only for eu- ‘good’, we have eugenics, eulogy, euphemism, euphony, euphoria, eurhythmics, euthanasia, evangelical, and others.) When a certain adjective tends to get attached before any noun, it may end up working as a ‘prefix’, according to the dynamic ideas of Sapir:

« (…) a word which consists of more than a radical element is a crystallization of a sentence or of some portion of a sentence » (Edward Sapir, 1921: Language. An Introduction to the Study of Speech).

This page was last modified on 2 October 2013.

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Javier Abadia,
Oct 11, 2010, 1:49 AM
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