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Latin

 

2 August 2006

I went to the kind of school where they taught the Classics, Latin and Greek too. We merely got an introduction to Greek, after which it was optional. But everybody did Latin up to 'O' Level, at which I achieved a Grade 3. I didn't think much about why we were learning a dead language. I imagine we were told that Latin underpinned much of the knowledge of Western civilisation. I don't recall that they stressed the linguistic aspect but we were aware of it. The main point was that the study of Latin was an excellent discipline in itself.

It's hard to remember the specifics, it was so long ago. Odd fragments of learning linger in the brain, like those tiny bits of celery in your teeth despite all your vigorous brushing... hic, haec, hoc; hunc, hanc, hoc; huius all genders, huic all genders, hoc, hac, hoc... (though I bet some of that is wrong). Hmm, that teeth brushing simile makes it sound as if I want to get rid of it, which isn't the case at all. I remember not finding Latin at all easy, for two reasons. There were all those cases (good thing I hadn't heard of Finnish!) and conjugations. But then it was my first experience of heavy duty grammar. This was when I first began to get a grip on grammatical concepts. As you can imagine, it helped no end when it came to studying Italian, though Italian is a different kettle of fish. There's been the occasional slip up, like the other day in my Italian class when I came out with facere instead of fare.

The second area of difficulty was I'm afraid the deadness of the material. It was never at any point treated like a living language. You say that's because it isn't? But the point is, it's perfectly possible to do so, and these days that's what enlightened teachers do. You can generate new Latin - after all, that's what the Pope and his cardinals have to do. But back then in traditional Classics teaching, these ideas would have been considered irrelevant, because the corpus of Classical Latin texts was regarded as sufficient in itself.

Unfortunately, even though I wouldn't argue with the interest of learning about Ancient Rome, in language learning terms you end up with a very skewed take on the world, one in which soldiers set up camp and suppress barbarians. I think I'd have appreciated having access to some modern materials in Latin. So though I'm not a Harry Potter fan, I say three cheers for J.K. Rowling for getting out a Latin edition of Philosopher's Stone.

Each of these pages exists because I have studied these languages at some point. But there's also an implication that I'll be writing more entries in the event of further study. You might ask whether that'll happen in the case of Latin. I don't know if I'll study Latin again in an active way. But I'm allowing for more entries here because Latin just doesn't go away, and it remains so widely diffused in science, language and culture. And I've still got those all genders rattling around in my brain.

 

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