Lauda me!

Well, contra my previous post, I've decided to take the first tentative steps in learning Latin. I justify this on the grounds that we use a lot of Latin in law school, learning the intricacies of Latin grammar will help me with English composition, and I'll be able to use it to read Classical and Medieval texts in their original language.

So I went to the Butler Library the other day and checked out the second edition of Wheelock's Latin. Interesting side note: It's published by Barnes and Noble. That is, this isn't a recent "Barnes & Noble Edition" tied to the brick-and-mortar bookstore chain. Before they were a chain, Barnes & Noble was a small book publisher and had a large store here in New York. Frederic M. Wheelock had his Latin primer published by them in the mid-50s. So, yeah. I suppose when I said this sidenote was "interesting," I meant it in the Mark Twain Date Game/Historical Term of Art sense of "Interesting."

Dianna has commented previously that one of the joys of learning Sanskrit is that the practice sentences tend to revolve around war and death. So far Wheelock's Latin seems similar. Wheelock draws upon classical sources for practice sentences and passages. This makes sense for teaching ancient languages, and I imagine Dianna's Sankrit books do the same. People don't learn Latin for travel purposes; there's seldom a need to invite somebody over for a party in Latin, nor do you need to tell somebody, in Latin, that the bureau next to the bookcase belongs to your Uncle Raoul. Since there's no practical conversational need for ancient languages, the assumption is you're using it to read ancient literature, so why not dive in to that and have you working with ancient literature from the start? This excites me because my absolute favorite parts of German were the (all too rare) times when we actually read German poems or pieces of literature. I believe this may have happened twice in my three years of German.

So Wheelock works with ancient texts. I think I was sold on learning Latin the moment I started the first chapter and discovered that the first verbs I would be learning to conjugate, in fact the first words of Latin I would learn at all, were laudare (to praise) and monere (to advise). The Latin practice sentences, thus far, seems to be focused on politics and stirring oratories, which suits me well. Labor me vocat (Work calls me), Mone me si erro (advise me if I am in error). Laudas me; culpant me (You praise me; they blame me).

Interesting thing about Latin (so far): At least for the present active indicative form of verbs, the subject and the verb of a sentence are rolled into one word. That is, when I say "laudo" it means "I praise" all by itself. There's no need for the pronoun I. So when you conjugate a verb you're including the subject with it. I make no representation for other tenses, voices, or modes, and I'm well aware that Latin is a tangled mass of tenses and declensions, so it's quite possible that this rolling-the-subject-into-the-verb thing doesn't apply universally, but I still thought it interesting.

Also interesting: We tend to vastly mispronounce Latin. By cross-referencing it with Greek, we have a pretty good idea of how Latin is pronounced, and most people pronounce it incorrectly. T is always hard, it never makes a "sh" sound as in "Caption." "V" sounds like a W, always. There's no such thing as the modern English V sound. C is always hard, as in "Caption." There's no soft "C," as in "Ice," "CH" is pronounced kh, not ch as in "Ratchet," and CC is pronounced as two Ks in a row, not ch as in "Focaccia." "AE" is pronounced like the English word "Eye." "I" at the beginning of a word before a vowel is pronounced like an English consonant y. Some implications of this: Cicero, often pronounced "sis-er-oh" was actually pronounced "Kee-kehr-oh." Iulius Caesar (his name was spelled with an I, not a J) would have said his name "Yoo-lay-us Kai-sahr" (and now you know where the German Kaisers got their title from), and when he spoke of his conquest of Gaul, he would not have said "Vay-nee Vee-dee Vee-chee," but rather "Way-nee Wee-dee Wee-kee." Finally, when you appeal to the Supreme Court to review your case, you file a writ of "Kayr-tee-oh-ra-ree" (Certiorari) not, as lawyers now pronounce it, "Shur-shoor-are-eye."

And that's enough Latin nobbling for now!

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 20, 2005 2:37 PM.

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