Novum lingua

If the title to this post is incorrect, it’s Google Translate’s fault. I freely admit I don’t know what I’m doing. But this will change: I am studying Latin this year.

The desire has been building for a while. (Quite a while: my high school offered Latin, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule.) Every now and then, something I’m interested in will involve Latin, or at least Rome.

  • I’ve had a lifelong interest in Greek mythology, and they always mention that the Greek gods and goddesses had Roman equivalents.
  • I minored in linguistics in college, and I was especially interested in how languages change and develop. Latin was the ancestor to two languages I’ve already studied: Spanish and French.
  • For years, I’ve enjoyed a mystery series set in Rome, and while I certainly didn’t need to know Latin to read it, it piqued my interest in Roman culture.
  • My recent interest in Stoicism has led me to read some of Seneca’s works. My library carries the Loeb Classical Library editions, which have the original Latin on the left page and the English translation on the right. I’d start cross-checking the English with the Latin, trying to guess which was equivalent to what, and would lose sight of what Seneca was actually discussing. Oops.
  • One of the kinds of music I like is modern renditions of older songs. Some of those songs are old enough to have been written in Latin. I’d like to know what the lyrics mean without having to search for translations on the Internet.
Latin inscription on a well in the UK.

Someday, I will understand this.

But I’ve been reading these books and listening to this music for years, so why study Latin now? I think the impulse was triggered about a year ago by finding a copy of Complete Latin by Gavin Betts at a used book store. It insisted on coming home with me, then hung around on a bookshelf the way so many of my purchases do, waiting for the right moment in which to be read. Meanwhile, it exerted a small gravitational pull. By now I’ve got a DVD set, an instruction book, two quick study guides, and a grammar summary. My growing Latin section has probably reached critical mass.

I have made it through the first lesson. It starts gently, with a short history of Latin followed by basic pronunciation. I expected my Spanish and French would be useful for this. And they’re not useless: I’m well aware that English vowels are not like the vowels of other European languages. But oddly enough, it helps to have studied Japanese, even though Japanese has no linguistic relationship to Latin at all. But when I read, “Ideally, repeated consonants, as in pellō (pel-lō), reddō (red-dō), should both be pronounced, but this is difficult for us as it only occurs in English in compounds such as book-keeper,” I remember that repeated consonants are fairly common in Japanese and that I’ve practiced them. At least I don’t have to learn a new writing system for Latin.

My immediate goal: learning to say my alma mater’s motto correctly. (It’s not a pun if I use a common Latin phrase there, is it?) Apparently one does not pronounce the last two words of Natura et revelatio coeli gemini as “seely gemini.” I wonder if they told me that when I was there.

Photo credit: andrew_j_w via photopin cc


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