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Tue Oct 5, 2021, 01:23 PM

parsing the title of Newton's opus magnum

Newton published the most important book in the history of science in 1687. The title of this great book is

Philosophiĉ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

The usual English translation is "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy". Obviously the book is in Latin. What is the syntax of the title? I'm no Latin scholar, but here's my take on it.

The title is a noun phrase in nominative case. The word "prīncipia" is the plural of the neuter noun "prīncipium", which means "principle".

"Prīncipia" is modified by the form of the adjective "mathēmaticus" that agrees with "prīncipia" in case, number, and gender. "Mathēmaticus" is a regular first and second declension adjective meaning "mathematical".

"Philosophiĉ" is the genitive singular of the feminine noun "philosophia", which means philosophy. The phrase "prīncipia philosophiĉ" (which is the title of a 1644 book by René Descartes) is usually translated "principles of philosophy", but a more literal translation would be "philosophy's principles".

"Nātūrālis" is a third-declension two-termination adjective. Here it agrees with "philosophia" in case, number, and gender. The meaning is "natural", i.e., pertaining to nature.


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Reply parsing the title of Newton's opus magnum (Original post)
Lionel Mandrake Oct 5 OP
Igel Oct 9 #1
Lionel Mandrake Oct 9 #3
PoindexterOglethorpe Oct 9 #2
Lionel Mandrake Oct 9 #4
PoindexterOglethorpe Oct 10 #5
Lionel Mandrake Oct 11 #6
PoindexterOglethorpe Oct 11 #7

Response to Lionel Mandrake (Original post)

Sat Oct 9, 2021, 02:15 PM

1. Yup.

Except that in some heavily inflected Indo-European languages it's perfectly okay to put the genitive before the noun, and sometimes preferred. Same for adjectives--they usually follow. These things pattern a bit, with adjective-noun order and object-verb order typically correlated. (I think Latin's got it backwards, like English, but it's a correlation and not a requirement; mismatched systems typically result from language change. But in the case of Latin it's all written and more than a little archaic for the most part--even "speech" is stylized and written. Vulgar Latin in graffiti tends to be a bit different.)

Latin is traditionally labeled something like subject-object-verb, but it's best seen as being something like Russian: Word order depends on information flow so while there are common word orders a lot of things can be split up or flipped. (It does in most languages, but with inflexions it's easier to take that several levels higher.)

John quickly read Newton's opus magnum in English.

John quickly read Newton's o.m. in English.

Quickly and in English, John read ...

It was Newton's o.m. that John read--quickly and in English.

The o.m. that John quickly read in English was Newton's.

And so it goes.

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Response to Igel (Reply #1)

Sat Oct 9, 2021, 11:12 PM

3. Latin and Russian

are also alike in that they lack articles. Russians learning English often don't know how to use articles.

In Classical Latin it was considered elegant style to put words far apart in a sentence when the inflections indicated their relationship.

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Original post)

Sat Oct 9, 2021, 09:46 PM

2. Hah! That was a question at Geeks Who Drink

on Tuesday.

Another bit of trivia about Newton, although I suspect you already know this: When his university closed down because of plague, and he was stuck at home, he invented calculus. Clearly not a slacker.

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #2)

Sat Oct 9, 2021, 11:15 PM

4. that was around 1660

if I remember correctly. Newton understood that the study of motion required a new kind of mathematics.

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #4)

Sun Oct 10, 2021, 12:02 AM

5. I took one semester of a business based calculus.

Found it totally fascinating, and by the end of the semester I realized that everything I looked at could be interpreted as a calculus problem. Wow.

I have a phenomenally smart son who is in a PhD program in astronomy on the east coast, and as brilliant as I, his mother, thinks he is, I cannot begin to imagine him figuring out something like calculus.

I wonder what Isaac's mother thought.

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 11:04 AM

6. According to Wikipedia, Isaac's mother rejected him.

"When Newton was three, his mother remarried and went to live with her new husband, the Reverend Barnabas Smith, leaving her son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Margery Ayscough (née Blythe)."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #6)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 11:30 AM

7. Oh, my. I did not know that.

Perhaps in his case it's what made Isaac the brilliant and original thinker that he was.

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