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View Diary: Tossing My Mitre into the Papal Ring (61 comments)

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  •  Latin (2+ / 0-)
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    ybruti, sawgrass727

    I was just discussing Latin in schools with some international friends yesterday. One of them, from Italy, had studied Latin nine years because it was obligatory in Italian schools back when he was a schoolboy. Today, he can understand the gist of most spoken Latin, such as the Pope's resignation speech. But he was the only one who had been required to learn it. Another person, a Guatemalan, said she went to many a Latin mass as a girl, but that she never understood a word.

    I had four years of Latin in school, two in Jr High, two in high school. I was really bad at it. I never made the transition to being able to read a text, filling in unknown words by context. It's a transition I've made in several other languages, but Latin defeated me.

    Today, almost no one studies Latin, even among people who are quite scholarly in other ways. And it's a shame.

    Why is it a shame?

    Because for hundreds of years, virtually everything that scholars, scientists, lawyers, and academicians of every stripe wrote, was written in Latin. This made the work of every scholar accessible to ever other scholar, and even to the educated layman (because everyone learned Latin in school, like my Italian friend did).

    Today, it is rare that a scholar includes work done before the 19th Century in any kind of a review of the literature. Yet, there are often some quite wonderful correspondences in old writings, that would not only provide an alternate perspective on modern work, but would also make a connection with human beings with shared interests who lived centuries ago.

    Sure, this can be done in translation, but not everything is translated; in fact, most things are not.

    A few years ago I personally was writing a book chapter on semantic memory which included a review of the origins of the concept, and discovered (in translation, of course) St Augustine's famous musings on the nature of human memory, from 1,600 years ago. Some of his metaphors sound reasonably in accord with the network-based, meaningfully-organized models of memory we have today. I would love someday to explore other ancient discussions of human memory, but I will always be limited by my lack of Latin to works already translated and therefore already well studied. (And Greek, but that's another story.)

    Today, English has become something very close to what Latin once was. Many foreign scholars publish routinely in English and there are many times more places for them to publish in English than in any other languages. Just think: if the tide turns and some other culture becomes dominant to the extent that English is now, or that Latin once was, will all of our work be lost to future scholars, who will be able to approach it only in translation?

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