Why Classical?

By Nooj, in 'General Latin Chat (English)', Nov 15, 2011.

  1. Nooj Civis Illustris

    Sydney, Australia
    Why not o optissime? Was he not a native speaker of his language? Didn't he (and indeed the illiterate farmer from Padua) know his language just as well as Cicero and Caesar?
  2. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    It’s not the kind of language we aim at. :noclue: Following generations sticked to Cicero and Caesar’s standard, Plautus doesn’t fit into it. I don’t understand the problem.

    (Although I don’t doubt Plautus’ proficienty in colloquial Latin, he is an Umbrian, and I doubt if Latin was his mother tongue.)
  3. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    Nooj, I understand that we talk like ‘Why Classical Latin is standard and Vulgar Latin is not? — Because Classical Latin is standard and Vulgar Latin is not.’ :D It’s just for the sake of formalisation. I think we can finally come to sound conclusions. :)
  4. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    Cygnea, Gena
    Plautus' Latin is artificial as well, even if it features a number of colloquial expressions.

    There used to be a time when more than just one style would be practiced at universities, but that doesn't really change the assertion that Cicero's Latin was the cleanest and most appealing standard.
  5. Nooj Civis Illustris

    Sydney, Australia
    Doing linguistics has made me realise how prescriptivist a tradition Latin teaching is. We're shown very little variety in Latin, and these towering titans of Classical Latin prose are the exemplars. Some people take it to the extreme and say that only one particular form of Latin is the correct one. When I started learning Latin, I didn't realise I was signing an implicit agreement that I would follow in that tradition.

    Aurifex said we follow Cicero and Caesar because of auctoritas, but they only have auctoritas because we give it to them. Would you judge me if I used cattus instead of felis, virdis instead of viridis, numqua instead of numquam, indicatives in indirect questions or present tense to mean future tense (dico = dicam)?
  6. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    Cygnea, Gena
    that's nonsense. A linguist's scope goes far beyond Classical Latin. I don't really know what you're getting at there.

    Yes, that's the defiinition of auctoritas
  7. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    I think you take it absolutely right. This is the difference of a living language and a literary standard: the notions ‘right/wrong, correct/incorrect’ have no sense in terms of the former and are essential for the latter.

    As for your question, certainly I’ll judge you. You wouldn’t be able even to establish an alternative norm. Having collected all the inscriptions and reconstructions (without respect to difference to time and space) and arranged the material into a conlang, you still wouldn’t have enought material to write a book. The matter is even more complicated since no one ever consciously wrote in Vulgar Latin: everybody tried to use the bookish style according to the level of his education.

    If you write in Classical Latin, you contribute to the body of Latin literature. If you write in Vulgar Latin, you fake historical documents. :D
  8. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    Why don't people study the dialect of English spoken in eastern Oklahoma, where "ideal" means "idea", and "were" is entirely replaced by "was"? Or the dialects that produce "I ain't got no money" or "no one on the corner have swagger like us"? Wouldn't it make more sense for modern and future students to learn the literary standard and leave the vulgar dialects to linguists?

    Surely there wasn't just one vulgar dialect of Latin, either. If there were, it would probably have been the standard. Simply using all of the historically most common words together would probably give us a dialect far more artificial than the classical standard, because we wouldn't be taking regional differences into account.

    Ah, you know us. We'd laugh and point and make faces at you. Because we are such a mature and sophisticated crowd.
  9. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    Nikolaos, [IMG]
  10. Nooj Civis Illustris

    Sydney, Australia
    Well, Petronius did have some of his characters in the Cena Trimalchonis speak in Vulgar Latin (or something approaching it).

    That is a good point. Maybe we could aim to be bi-dialectal as best we can?

    It's hard to believe that the educated guys spoke in CL all the time. Cicero must have known something of the everyday language, even spoken it, outside of the written context. As Latinists, shouldn't we try to know as much about Latin as possible? Looking at the evidence from the Egyptian papyri and the inscriptions gives me a thrill: here is an entirely different side to Latin that I had no idea even existed. Latin literature is massive, but it is limited to a certain group of people. That's frustrating. More than a philosophical text, I want a document that transcribes how ordinary people talked, how slaves talked, how women talked. I know we can't do that fully, but even the little bit we do know is fascinating.

    Because the vulgar dialects don't have a lot of literature or because the standard dialect is the only one worth learning?

    Some non-standard dialects of English have considerable literature of their own, so maybe they're safe from Vulgar Latin's fate. In 2000 years time, I'd certainly recommend that future students learn African American Vernacular English in order to understand hip-hop and rap.

    I agree.
  11. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    Of course they didn't. It was commonly used only on formal occasions and in RBC (Roman Broadcasting Company) transmissions.

    I think we (I count myself a Latinist 8) ) shouldn’t. At least I’m quite comfortable with a neutral artificial standard that has some authority. Having no time machine at hand, we are restricted to fragmentary information on living Latin dialects. Of course, it’s all right to use them as a source of vocabulary (what’s the Latin for a wheelcart? — pabō, as is known from Isidore of Seville) and to use phrases from Terence in colloquial style (such as paucīs tē volō); but I think copying vulgar grammar leads nowhere.

    On the other hand, linguistics contributes to our knowledge of Classical Latin as well. For example, we can understand the vocabulary better if we know reliable etymologies, etc.
  12. Bestiola Praetor

    I'm not acquainted with the curriculum of other Universities, but we do have plenty of subjects related to development of Latin, and we do study beside the classical also archaic and vulgar and renaissance/baroque Latin as a part of translation practice. In fact recently on one of the Universities one department for translating renaissance/baroque Latin works have been opened - and some of my professors have earned their PhDs doing theses on renaissance Latin, one (and possibly only) area where Latin has present and future here.
  13. Cinefactus Censor

    litore aureo
    Not at all. When you start, you have to learn something, and the usual convention is the Latin of Caesar and Cicero, but that is only the beginning. You should most definitely branch out.

    Caesar called Terence a puri sermonis amator—his style is excellent. There is nothing wrong with Plautus either,- although you should be aware that he is writing very exaggerated comic poetry. You may not necessarily want to copy it.

    My apologies, I erred in conflating St Jerome's use of Greek and Hebrew features with Vulgar Latin. An common example is the use of the present participle, eg Luke 19:4 et praecurrens ascendit in arborem

    Gregory of Tours? Ista etenim atque et his similia iugiter intuens dici, pro commemoratione praeteritorum, ut notitiam adtingerint venientum, etsi incultu effatu... quod a nostris fari plerumque miratus sum, quia: 'Philosophantem rethorem intellegunt pauci, loquentem rusticum multi
  14. Quasus Civis Illustris

    Coimbra, Portugal
    Yes, this is notorious. In your example Hieronymus does not violate grammar rules, although you can perhaps reproach his style. Greek and Hebrew calques in his translation just indicate that he was not a perfect translator (or that he feared to distort the sacred text); for the most part they can be attributed to style. The grammar is mostly intact.

    Gregory of Tours wrote as he could. Vulgar Latin affected his writings due to the lack of education that he himself admitted (if I err not). No part of his Historia francorum was written in Vulgar Latin.
  15. simplissimus Member

    I once (about 1963) read an article in the Saturday Review about the influence of Roman “soldiers’ slang’’ on the Romance languages. The only example I can remember after so many years was that the French word for “head” derived, not from “caput,” but from the Latin word for “pot” (testum?). Apparently soldiers called themselves “jarheads” even then!

    If you substitute the phrase that the article used, “soldiers’ slang," for what has been used in this string of messages, “vulgar Latin,” the article was saying what many of you said: the Latin language as it has been preserved for us in the writings of the great Roman historians and essayists may have been significantly different from the language spoken by the bulk of the population, or, at least, by the portion that proved to be most significant in its further development.

    Do any of you know whether it is possible to find that article?
    Akela likes this.
  16. Akela viam inveniam

  17. simplissimus Member

    Thank you, Akela, but, no, I am sure that is not what I read. That is apparently a research article written in 1939, and, while it may have been a source for the Saturday Review article I read in or before 1964, I am quite certain that it was not that. I am pretty certain, too, that the author of the article traced the French word for “head” to a Latin word for jar or pot. That also makes more sense to me than having “tile” as a slang word for head.
  18. Nikolaos schmikolaos

    Testa can mean both "tile" and "pot", if that's the word referred to.
  19. Gregorius Civis Illustris

    I think we're missing an important factor here. Vulgar Latin is pluricentric. In order for any in-depth studies of it (i.e. systematic enough to enable original compositions) to be worthwhile, one would have to shift through the myriad of variants and create a semi-conlang to unify them all, which would be just as artificial in its own way as CL is.
  20. Imperfacundus Dictator

    Just imagine us learning Cockney, Scots English, Caribbean English-based creoles, etc. instead of the more uniform standard English and you'll get the idea.

Share This Page


Our Latin forum is a community for discussion of all topics relating to Latin language, ancient and medieval world.

Latin Boards on this Forum:

English to Latin, Latin to English translation, general Latin language, Latin grammar, Latine loquere, ancient and medieval world links.