Latin, the motivation, the progress and some tips

2021-11-06 @Languages

I’ve now devoted several months to the gradual acquisition of Latin. Lingva Latina - Per Se Illustrata has served as my predominant resource, which I’ve combined with occasional readings of bits and pieces of ancient Roman materials, and the yet rarer YouTube content.

My overwhelming motivator is the ability to read; not to speak, nor listen, nor necessarily write (though in the process I effectively end up transcribing a major portion of Lingva Latina by hand). These will develop to some extent, but the dichotomy will show.

Even now I can somewhat read parts of Seneca’s epistulae, yet if you were to ask, I’d struggle to speak basic phrases, or even ask for your name, though I can interpret myriads of written variants of the same.

The dichotomy is indeed amazing, and something most language practitioners probably don’t consciously acknowledge. You can become masterful in one language aspect, yet be useless in another.

Or perhaps not so surprising: is that not the case when, say, a Brazilian Portuguese speaker, accustomed to hearing and interpreting Spanish (the extent of the ability varying far and in between), fails to pronounce a sentence without falling back to the Portuguese lexicon and phonetics?

Or take my case with the Belorussian language that I couldn’t articulate to save my life. Given the proximity to Polish and Russian, I can listen and interpret it without too heavy an effort. But to speak, my vocal chords wouldn’t know to render a ‘hello’; not without guessing and inadvertently regressing into one of the other two Slavic languages.

The purpose of the Latin is clear. And granted, to read effectively, we need at least an approximate notion of how to pronounce. Mine is far from optimal, but I’ve studied enough to respect the classic Latin phonetics with some due diligence. And considering one of my ultimate ambitions to read the poetry, proper phonetics are indispensable.

For those unaware, as Latin evolved, so had the pronunciations, varying from the Classic Latin, by way of intermediary stages, to the modernized Italian pronunciation (aka the Church Latin). I’m mostly concerned with the former, the classic texts and culture of most interest, though fascinating literature abounds through the Middle Ages and beyond.

What has most challenged and intrigued me are the cases/declinations. With five cases, Latin contains more than German, though less than Russian and the Slavic languages. Nevertheless, it’s enough to confound any learner not versed in some case-based language.

For the record, the Romance languages (derivatives of the vulgar dialects spoken across the Roman empire), all eliminated the cases, many noun/adjective forms derived from one chosen case - from what I’ve observed, mainly (and perhaps contrary to intuition) the accusative or the ablative, though sometimes the very nominative.

English, likewise, though 40% Latin derived - from the heavy French and effectively Latin infusion since the Norman conquests, lacks cases.

And with the cases, I can’t help but often compare the Latin phraseology to Russian, the two becoming lexically compatible. Sometimes that enables me to make sense of a construct otherwise lacking a counterpart in any non-case based language I speak. But I mainly find this a slippery slope. My intent, and the righteous way is to develop the language (any language) independently, as a child, without drawing parallels or appealing to translations.

Another curious component involves the tenses which belong to no language known to me. Example: the multiple variants of the infinitive corresponding to the present/past/future. However, the big picture considered, it’s all trifles. Think of the 80/20. We’re not aspiring to become professors.

One final remark. If you ever opt to learn Latin, the process and the duration can heavily vary based on your background. The more Romance (vulgar Latin) languages you command, the more familiarity you’ll have with the roots of many words. Per what I gather (and as intuition would suggest), Italian is the closest, but any helps.

Speak some case-based language, and you’ll gain yet another edge.

Having a rich English literary background also grants you a major advantage, as the Latin component of the English language is especially pervasive across literature, poetry, and even more so across the older.

Then depending on how strictly you adhere to some ‘program’, or how aggressively you experiment with multiple and parallel forms of Latin exposure, can severely impact the duration of your journey.

Thus irrespective of what you may read or hear, and based on my hitherto progress, the time you devote to obtain the level of Latin you seek can vary drastically from a few months to a number of arduous years, all the above factors considered, along with your constancy. Vale.

Questions, comments? Connect.