The -issima Phenomenon

For whatever reason, the use of superlative -issima and its related forms have been the greatest thing since sliced bread in this year’s Latin classes. Comparatives and superlatives are featured prominently in Olianna et obiectum magicum, which we read Week 4 back in September, so –issima has been heard, read, and even spontaneously spoken, nearly the entire year.

But what makes it compelling?!

When a student says they’re tired, my instinct is to ask “fessa, an fessissima?” It’s true that some students are like “naw, just tired,” and so I seek more with “OK…fessula?” but that diminutive hasn’t caught on. Does the superlative have something to do with the tendency to exaggerate (e.g., naw I’m not tired, I’m wicked tired!)? Whatever the reason, this little inflection is getting us a lot of mileage with basic questions. Since questions are posed as an either/or “just tired, or super tired?” that can double, and even triple the input when the student’s response is then restated to the class as a confirmation. In terms of language development, the input also contains this key feature of Latin (i.e., because all words contain grammar when used in context), thus, creating a fuller mental representation of the language.

I’m still boggled, though.

Every class I use gerunds, but can’t say students have been excited to use them. Perhaps it’s in the personalization. In fact, we had one student celebrating being “gayissimus.” My hunch is that it’s the questioning, therefore interaction, that leads to this personalization. And that’s important. This would support the “input & interaction” idea of what’s best for acquisition (though recognizing that interaction need not require verbal responses from students—don’t confuse interaction with students speaking). This is also a convincing reason why although speaking Latin in the classroom isn’t necessary to provide input, it’s really a lost opportunity. If any teacher can triple the amount of Latin input just by asking questions, that’s gonna support reading.

So, have you had a similar experience with some other feature of Latin?

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