Man, that curveball went straight past me and hit me in the back of the head!
So "Estne." Is it a fancier version of "est"? And "Urbs." I just don't get it, though I suppose that's the purpose of this exercise. . .
Let's start with "urbs." Working backwards, I understand its the root of "urban" and therefore means city. How is it related to "urbe"? Is it just the subject versus the predicate? As in, "ea in urbe est" (she is in the city) versus "urbs in Italia" (cities in Italy)?
Then there's "estne." Are there contractions in Latin? Is this just "is/are there"?
Repeat after me, "urbs" is singular, not plural.
I'll get there eventually. Speaking of, is there a plural of "urbs"?
You add "-ne" to the end of a word to turn a statement into a yes-or-no question: "Marcus domi dormit" means "Marcus is sleeping at home", but "Dormitne domi Marcus?" is "is Marcus sleeping at home?"
"Urbs" is like the basic form of the word for "city". "Urbe" is the same word, but is used after certain prepositions, like if you want to say "IN the city" or "FROM the city". A bit like how in English you have the word "he" but you have to say "in HIM" and "from HIM". Saying "in urbs" would be as wrong as saying "in he", and saying "urbe est in America" as wrong as saying "him is in America".
So, I was dubious about this, at least from an etymological standpoint, if not a usage one. By this I mean, it seems like, at least etymologically, it has to be derived from "is not," even if it didn't carry the same semantic meaning in actual usage that "is not" does in English. I have done a good deal of digging and arguing with people to try to figure this out and I've found this:
c. The particle -ne often when added to the verb, less commonly when added to some other word, has the force of nōnne
Meministīne mē in senātū dīcere? (Cat. 1.7) Don't you remember my saying in the Senate?
Rēctēne interpretor sententiam tuam? (Tusc. 3.37) Do I not rightly interpret your meaning?
Note 1— This was evidently the original meaning of -ne; but, in most cases the negative force was lost and -ne was used merely to express a question. So the English interrogative no? shades off into eh?
So it appears that this is, in fact, the original meaning, and was used in this way, but that over time the meaning shifted towards a more neutral one, which is what we're left with here.
This makes sense to me for a number of reasons. We do this in English, no? Adding a negatory to an affirmative statement effectively turns it into a question, and it makes sense that, in a language without question marks, this would be a tactic for formulating interrogatives. Make a statement and append a negating suffix, transforming it into a question.
I would also argue that "isn't" is not actually such a leading question. I would say that there's a sliding scale that we use in English to indicate the state of knowledge or belief of the questioner. Let's look at three formulations of the same question in English:
Is Tom coming home for dinner? Isn't Tom coming home for dinner? Surely, Tom is coming home for dinner?
All 3 are distinct. The first is flatly neutral. The second indicates that the questioner is predisposed to a particular answer, but open to receiving either answer. The third indicates a strong expectation of a particular answer. I have no expectations at all for the first question. I have some inclination towards one answer with the second, but by no means have I expressed certainty. I have a clear expectation with the third.
I'd argue that "isn't" occupies an intermediary space between neutrality and certainty in English usage. This makes sense. We don't think in binary. We have varying levels of certainty for any given proposition, and we tend to think of certainty as a spectrum, often measured in percentages, rather than a binary system, and we need ways to represent those varying degrees of certainty.
TL;DR: The usage eventually shifted towards neutrality, but the etymology and original usage indicate that it did, in fact, start out as "is not," with a similar indication of pre-existing belief as we see with "isn't" in English. This is evidenced by the sourced quotes, which are from Cicero, one of the earliest extant Latin prose writers.
A few reasons:
Duolingo does not look at punctuation. It cannot tell the difference between
There is a city in America
There is a city in America.
There is a city in America!
There is a city in America?
"There is a city in America?" expresses incredulity. "Is there a city in America?" is a simple request for information. They are not interchangeable. "Estne urbs in America?" is a simple request for information.
Latin works differently than English does. There are no articles, for one thing. Also, word order is a bit more flexible.
It's my understanding that since re-arranging the word order tends to change the focus of the sentence, "Estne urbs in America?" is probably a little closer to "Is the city in America?" and "Estne in America urbs?" is probably closer to "Is there a city in America?" But Duolingo isn't good at making those distinctions.
"Esse" is simply "to be".
|I am||ego sum|
|you are||tu es|
|he/she/it is||is/ea/id est|
|we are||nos sumus|
|y'all are||vos estis|
|they are||ei/eae/ea sunt|
When asking about the existence of something in English, we add a "there" for some reason. But the meaning is the same.
A city is in America.
There is a city in America.
Urbs in America est.
Is a city in America?
Is there a city in America?
Estne urbs in America?
It sounds weird without the "there", but the "there" is just an artifact of English.