Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

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Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:53 pm

I have been reading Latin; or the Empire of the Sign by Francoise Waquet. http://www.amazon.com/Latin-Empire-Sign ... 883&sr=8-2.

It is basically about Latin usage in Europe since 1600. I have found out a lot of things I did not know. For example, Oxford had it on the books until 1854 that students were to speak nothing but Latin. I also did not know that the 19th century was itself a century of decline in Latin. I always saw the 19th as the height of Latin abilities and influences. I do not necessarily think this way anymore since Spoken Latin basically died in this century.

Anyway, the point of the post is the following. Waquet seems to make the point, ad nauseam, that most people are not capable of learning Latin. It is her belief, it seems, that all of those years training kids in Latin were a waste. This is not because she sees Latin as a waste. I think she just believes that kids failed to really learn anything because it is too hard. After one chapter in particular, "Written Latin," I started to feel guilty as a Latin teacher, as if I am perpetrating some type of fraud on my students. In her Conclusion, she says that Latin study in the future should be done by a small group of specialists. Her quote: "One can only hope that Latin will become a specialty in the full sense of the word. ... the study of latin should be reserved for professionals of humanist literary culture." This, to me, is so out of left field that it makes me question the rest of her book. Latin is on track to beat out German as the third most studied language in Secondary Schools. (I do have some questions about her analysis, but that is not what I want to focus on. No need to refute what no one is reading.)

My issue......Is Latin really that hard? I have always seen it as more or less on par with other languages in that you get what you put in. I took two years of Spanish in High School with roughly the same results Waquet claims most Latin students have: I forgot everything. But what does one expect from 2 years? I say, immersion excepted, it takes 5-10 years to know a language well. I have always put squarely on my shoulder any problems I have with Latin after all of my years of study. In fact, I do not find the grammar all that difficult. Personally, Vocab is always the issue. With my students, I have always found this to be the case as well. So am I crazy? What do you all think?

The only place I can see latin being difficult is retention. One has to be really motivated to retain it since one is left with very dry texts only, whereas with French or Spanish there is a world of resources.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by thesaurus » Wed Nov 25, 2009 7:36 pm

I read part of that book a year ago and found it very interesting. I don't remember the details, but I definitely agree that Latin owes its prestige to its historic association with high class, social status, and education (rather than to some inherent quality of the language).

I don't think the issue is that Latin is difficult per se, but that people never really attain any ability with it because of the way it's learned. Granted, I don't remember anything from the three years of Japanese I had in high school, and most can say the same thing for Spanish or what-have-you, but there are certainly many people who devote themselves to the language and go on to become fluent/competent speakers of these languages. On the other hand, there's a good chance that the guy who has studied Latin for eight years (high-school through university) is still very middling when it comes to reading the language (not to mention speaking/hearing it). If he had done the same thing with any living language, you'd expect a very high level of reading/writing/speaking. This is likely a result of non-living-language pedagogy that has dominated the last few hundred years. If you want to learn a very difficult language for an English speaker, like Arabic, you could probably achieve spoken and written competency in it faster than Latin, merely because you'd practice it as a living language by talking with people.
Horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. Quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus. --Cicero, De Senectute

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by adrianus » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:18 pm

paulusnb wrote:Waquet seems to make the point, ad nauseam, that most people are not capable of learning Latin. It is her belief, it seems, that all of those years training kids in Latin were a waste. This is not because she sees Latin as a waste. I think she just believes that kids failed to really learn anything because it is too hard.
"Incapable" given the methods and contexts, therefore a waste of effort and an abuse. I agree with Thesaurus. She argues that most pupils were incapable of learning by the methods used to the levels that were systematically and deludedly expected with those methods. It exposes myths, false expectations and abuses in Latin teaching. I really liked Waquet's book.

Non capaces eâ ratione exercitationum docendi et aliarum rerum, quâre erat jactura conatûs et fraus. Cum Thesaure concurro. Ea dicit, modis linguam latinam docendi, magnam discipulorum partem ad gradus qui systematicè requirebantur discere non potuisse. Auctor injurias atque spes falsas fraudesque in exercitationibus linguae latinae docendi indicat. Ille liber de Waquet mihi benè placuit.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Wed Nov 25, 2009 10:39 pm

Three points:
(1) I can partially agree concerning the difficulity of learning the language. If I had to rely solely upon a Latin grammar I would die but I am thankful for authors who have reduced the grammars to bite-sized pieces.
(2) To say that 'X' is reserved or should be learned only by a select group is elitist at worst and snobbery at best (see current administration for examples). If that were the case for selected subjects we would all become idiots and soon would become slaves to a ruling class.
(3) "... think she just believes that kids failed to really learn anything because it is too hard"
Do we just quit because things are too hard?
My gosh, if you mother decided that having children was too hard you wouldn't be here!
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by thesaurus » Thu Nov 26, 2009 12:02 am

dlb wrote:(2) To say that 'X' is reserved or should be learned only by a select group is elitist at worst and snobbery at best (see current administration for examples). If that were the case for selected subjects we would all become idiots and soon would become slaves to a ruling class.
I didn't mean to imply that this is the way that it ought to be. Rather, the author discusses how Latin has been given a special, classy reputation because of its historic involvement with the ruling classes/wealthy in European society. Because it was the domain of the elite for so long, by analogy people came to attribute special qualities to the language itself, arguing that it was elite and better than other languages. Of course we know now that Latin is just a language like any other, and it used to be spoken by all classes of society. Although many people want to study Latin because of its class associations, I think that democratizing the language is important to teaching it and its survival. Divesting Latin of its "special" veneer might mean that it isn't as impressive, but it also means that we can approach it more pragmatically, like we would any other less rarefied language--a way to communicate, get direct access to important historical/literary documents, etc.
Horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. Quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus. --Cicero, De Senectute

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:42 am

thesaurus wrote:I don't think the issue is that Latin is difficult per se, but that people never really attain any ability with it because of the way it's learned.
adrianus wrote:"Incapable" given the methods and contexts, therefore a waste of effort and an abuse. I agree with Thesaurus. She argues that most pupils were incapable of learning by the methods used to the levels that were systematically and deludedly expected with those methods. It exposes myths, false expectations and abuses in Latin teaching. I really liked Waquet's book.

Waquet does not argue that the wrong methods were used. She claims that all methods fail.

"Most of the children made to learn Latin never reached a very advanced level. This was not through any lack of effort on their part. Nor was it through deficiencies of devotion or ingenuity of their masters. Techniques of every sort were tried, and "recreational" methods had proved no more effective than traditional themes and versions. Perhaps genuine success was not really possible." p 151

"Such was the fate of an irremediably dead language that moreover, through the whole of the modern era, had hardly risen above the most mediocre level of oral practice." p 171

"Here we think, not without compassion, of the generations of children who struggled and groaned under the weight of a Latin too bulky for their young shoulders, while their masters added insult to injury by viewing their generally mediocre output in terms of profit and loss... The suppression of compulsory Latin did put an end to much pointless suffering and fruitless effort" 271


I think that Waquet is exaggerating the mediocre ability of Latin abilities in the modern era. One intellectually dishonest trick I found she kept pulling was to judge Latin competence on the writer's ability to speak classical Latin, even though she claims in the conclusion that limiting Latin to classical latin is a needless humanist prejudice that destroyed latin. But she does not mind assuming that prejudice to score a point.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:55 am

A further point......

I am slightly uncomfortable judging a subject's worth solely by student competence. I have forgotten most of the things that I have been taught. Does that mean that those things are a waste of time? I mean, I have not really had use for Math beyond the 7th grade level (and I scored very respectably in Math throughout school), and, as a result, I cannot remember most of what I learned past Middle School. And I would say I know more math than your average bear. Does that mean we get rid of math? No. Every Math teacher knows, if they are not deluded, that Math teaches thinking first and content second. The content is not as important as the mental exertion.

While on the subject of Math......Latin was replaced by Math and Science. Harvard dropped the Latin requirement for Physics. Latin used to have the role in education that Math and Science have today. Latin taught kids to think. So, to judge based purely on students ability in Latin misses the point a little.

Lastly, it is said that Socrates claimed to teach virtue, but many of his students were bad human beings. Does that make Socrates a bad teacher or the study of virtue pointless and impossible? I guess I should feel happy as a teacher if I do not create an Alcibiades.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:04 am

thesaurus wrote:On the other hand, there's a good chance that the guy who has studied Latin for eight years (high-school through university) is still very middling when it comes to reading the language (not to mention speaking/hearing it).
I do not know that I have met such a creature. Most of the students I knew in college that studied Latin seriously in High School knew the language very well. I knew a freshman who could read Homer without a Dictionary (Greek and Latin are both equally dead). I sat in a Latin graduate seminar at Notre Dame filled with bearded medievalists whose Latin was put to shame by a short 18 year old girl in flip flops.

The speaking/hearing would come with practice. I took a French for graduate reading course, and by the end I could read Camus but I could not speak a lick. Of course, I forgot it all after 3 months.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Thu Nov 26, 2009 1:44 pm

paulusnb wrote:I knew a freshman who could read Homer without a Dictionary (Greek and Latin are both equally dead).
I can personally account for more that a dozen men that I know directly who read and write Greek. I think that Greek is more alive
than Latin but wish it was the other way around.
The Greek language is more prevalent than one would imagine, especially in certain circles.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Fri Nov 27, 2009 2:24 am

Another book you may want to look into, which may be more positive & historical, is,
"A Natural History of Latin", by Tore Janson.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Fri Nov 27, 2009 4:40 am

dlb wrote:Another book you may want to look into, which may be more positive & historical, is,
"A Natural History of Latin", by Tore Janson.
Thanks for the rec. I read it a few years ago. I remember liking it, but I do not remember much else. Latin; or Empire of the Sign is stock full of good info. These posts are for me to think out loud about some of Waquet's opinions. I recently started a Latin program in a Middle School and Waquet brings up some valid challenges to that decision. I have responses to "Latin is pointless," but I do not fully have an answer for "why bother when most students will never be any good at Latin at all." Latin in this Middle School has been an uphill battle. I have been dragging some of the parents and students along kicking and screaming. As a result, I have not really been experiencing the successes I have been used to in the past. I almost have to wholly divorce my conception of self worth from student performance. With that said, things are getting better. I have 7th and 8th graders that will go into high school pretty much knowing the 5 declensions and the 6 tenses active indicative. We should be through chapter 20 in Lingua Latina by the end of the term. Some of the students, especially the Hispanic ones, are really good with Lingua Latina. Some, however, are just killing time until they go home and watch tv. We will see when NLE (national latin exam) time comes.

P.S. I also have Ad Infinitum on order. I will see if that is any good.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by paulusnb » Fri Nov 27, 2009 4:55 am

dlb wrote:(2) To say that 'X' is reserved or should be learned only by a select group is elitist at worst and snobbery at best (see current administration for examples). If that were the case for selected subjects we would all become idiots and soon would become slaves to a ruling class.
Yeah, I found Waquet's support of this kind of odd too, but not because it is snobbery or elitist. So who are these professional humanists that learn Latin? When are they chosen to learn it? On what basis? Do we wait until they are 20 and past the age of learning a language well? It could be that she simply means that Latin will be merely academic like hieroglyphics or Old English. Is she saying that we need to pull Latin out of the schools altogether and save it for college? Will it be like the violin? People will learn it who come from families interested in it. In other words, it will sort itself out. Is she just trying to help classicists come to terms with the death of Latin? But how dead is it? Like I said earlier, in a few years, more people will be studying Latin in high school in the US than studying German. That is a big deal.

I have yet to meet someone who took latin in high school and now says it was a waste of time. They may not be great at the language, but they claimed to get something special out of Latin. I have met lawyers who dream of retiring and becoming Latin teachers. An engineer friend of mine used to spend all of his electives on latin and Greek. Today, he says they were his favorite classes. Why? I cannot discount this. There is something there.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. ~Swift

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by ptolemyauletes » Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:10 am

This is a tough call, and I am a Latin teacher! To give some perspective, I am a Canadian who has fled my native homeland because of the complete and almost total absence of Latin as a school subject and the monopoly held on those few positions by lifelong teachers who handpick their own successors. I have taught now in England for 6 years. Latin is still fairly widespread here but mostly in Private schools and the more academic state schools. It is seen in the older private schools as a sign of prestige. In my school, however, the students and their parents are fairly unimaginative and most see school as a means to a career (yeah right). Latin may be fun for a while, but most do not take it far, even, frustratingly, those quite good at it. We make all the year 7 students take it, but by A levels (ages 16-18) there are very few left. This Year I have 2 doing the Upper A level course, and 3 in the lower. Next year there will only be one doing it at all at A level. Depressing. 'I am going to be a vet.' 'I am going to be a doctor.' 'I need to take sciences, maths etc.' We are raising a generation of trained robots, without any grounding in humanities. sigh.
My own experience of teaching uses the Cambridge Latin series, a much more child friendly approach than the dreary Ecce Romani or many of the others I have seen. We keep a focus on the reading for most students, and teach the grammar along the way, for those who are interested/capable. They will have enough later on so that we can really teach it at A level.
Can most of the students do Latin? I honestly don't know. Many can do it, but are more interested in I-pods, Twitter, celeb magazines and X-factor. I also get a regular contingent of Year sevens who genuinely struggle with the easiest stages of the Cambridge series. There are those who can, and those who can't. Some do struggle as they get higher up, and it is a difficult subject without a doubt. Is it too hard, or do they give up because it is hard and giving up is easy?
In any case, most have fairly happy memories of the subject, even if that is after a few years of distance.
I get many students coming up to me saying 'Caecilius est in horto!' The funny thing is, he was never in the garden, yet they all say that.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by ptolemyauletes » Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:19 am

In spite of all the struggles, there are successes. I have had a few students go on to do Classics at University, though most not with Latin or Greek as part of the course, but I did have a student two years ago go off to Oxford for Classics! Pretty rare for us, but a good feeling. Almost every student who has taken A levels at my school has achieved an A at Latin exams. This tells me that a non-grammar heavy approach at younger years, focussing more on vocabulary, can pay off, and that Grammar can be intensively taught at the very end. They can do it, and the brighter ones have been picking it up all along.

What would Latin become in our school if we didn't force them all to take it from the beginning? I suspect it would simply die out at the school, and we would never have even sent one student to Oxford. Should Latin become like Sanscrit, forgotten by all but a very few academics and interested parties? I see no objective reason why it shouldn't suffer this fate. I do agree Latin has taken on a role that is, perhaps, out of touch with its reality. But I like that role, and in many ways it is fitting, for the Language has been very important to European civilisation, far more so than any other European Language. I think it deserves to be a subject at schools, and is useful beyond the language itself, and if we need to force feed it to all of them in order to eventually get a few who study it seriously, then so be it. In the meantime we can all keep rehearsing our answers to the question 'What is Latin going to do for me?'
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Fri Nov 27, 2009 3:37 pm

"why bother when most students will never be any good at Latin at all."

Here is my humble opinion:
Do you favor shops being open on Thanksgiving and/or Christmas day ?

Yes?

No?

If you answered 'Yes' then you lack principals.
If you answered 'No' then you have principals.

Do you see the analogy?

Studying Latin (or Sanscrit or Midevil English or ...) is the principal.

Do you only value your "return on investment" or do you see the investment of your time as a means to further understanding of the broader, less pragmatic institutes of development of your self as a well rounded person AND the development of your character to handle the challenges of what life will throw your way?
Do you only want immediate rewards and will not participate in learning that fails to produce those?
Do you get impatient that the microwave is not fast enough?
Last comment:
Any subject of study may be a gateway to latent interests and someone, somewhere hopefully will awake those and Latin just may be the key. Besides, a fatalistic view of success or failure will certainly lead to a life of depression and reading comic books!
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Fri Nov 27, 2009 10:06 pm

paulusnb wrote: I have yet to meet someone who took latin in high school and now says it was a waste of time. They may not be great at the language, but they claimed to get something special out of Latin. I have met lawyers who dream of retiring and becoming Latin teachers. An engineer friend of mine used to spend all of his electives on latin and Greek. Today, he says they were his favorite classes. Why? I cannot discount this. There is something there.
I found this quote for you. Perhaps it will help in some small way:

I have never read Latin for pleasure and should now be hard put to compose a simple epitaph. But I do not regret my superficial classical studies. I believe that the conventional defence of them is valid; that only by them can a boy fully understand that a sentence is a logical construction and that words have basic inalienable meanings, departure from which is either conscious metaphor or inexcusable vulgarity. Those who have not been so taught — most Americans and most women — unless they are guided by some rare genius, betray their deprivation.
-- Evelyn Waugh
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Nooj » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:05 am

dlb wrote:
I have never read Latin for pleasure and should now be hard put to compose a simple epitaph. But I do not regret my superficial classical studies. I believe that the conventional defence of them is valid; that only by them can a boy fully understand that a sentence is a logical construction and that words have basic inalienable meanings, departure from which is either conscious metaphor or inexcusable vulgarity. Those who have not been so taught — most Americans and most women — unless they are guided by some rare genius, betray their deprivation.
-- Evelyn Waugh
That's his opinion. But one could equally get an understanding of grammar (as he appears to have done) from another language. I know for a fact that many people (including me) read Latin for the pleasure of the literature.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:59 pm

Latin is a language that once upon a time had native human speakers, most of whom were mere mortals, not linguistic supermen. Not only that, but "barbarians" learned Latin after Romans conquered their lands, and these "barbarians" had less well-developed teaching tools available (not to mention books were very expensive). I can't buy into the theory that the current generations have devolved so much in their mental capacities. Therefore, I have to conclude that Latin is not too hard for most people to learn -- at least not any more so than any other foreign language that's not closely cognate to their native one.

I think the main problems are:

1) the way Latin is taught. I don't necessarily think that inductive methods are the best, but that's just because I don't learn well from inductive methods myself. I need to have things spelled out for me to be able to learn them, when it comes to languages. But learning Latin as if it were a living language, to be spoken and written, would help immensely. Learning only to read a language goes only so far; it's too passive.

2) lack of interest. Most kids just don't care to learn Latin. It *is* a fairly useless skill, from a quotidian point of view. After all, it won't help you get a (normal) job, make money or get laid. So why invest all that time and effort. I was the same way in high school in my Spanish class. I was living in rural Ohio; what did I need Spanish for? I learned enough to pass the required language classes, and then forgot it.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:06 pm

dlb wrote: If you answered 'Yes' then you lack principals.
If you answered 'No' then you have principals.
What does it matter whether your school has an head administrator or not? :? :wink:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Iulia » Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:36 pm

I think the main problems are:

1) the way Latin is taught. I don't necessarily think that inductive methods are the best, but that's just because I don't learn well from inductive methods myself. I need to have things spelled out for me to be able to learn them, when it comes to languages. But learning Latin as if it were a living language, to be spoken and written, would help immensely. Learning only to read a language goes only so far; it's too passive.
Quite a few teachers and professors agree with you, Lex! The oral/spoken Latin movement is growing quite respectably -- there are now at least four or five university-associated conventicula in the U.S. each summer and a number of small groups that continue to meet throughout the year to converse in Latin. The goal is to do exactly as you suggest -- to make Latin a living spoken language, and to apply more active methodologies to the teaching of it. I myself have found my own vocabulary improved tremendously by the few conventicula I have managed to attend, and they have given me a number of great teaching ideas for the classroom too. As well as being a whole lot of fun...

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Tue Dec 01, 2009 1:56 pm

Lex wrote:
dlb wrote: If you answered 'Yes' then you lack principals.
If you answered 'No' then you have principals.
What does it matter whether your school has an head administrator or not? :? :wink:
From Websters 9th New Collegiate Dictionary,
Principal: "2. a matter or thing of primary importance."
Principle: "3a. an underlying faculty or endowment."
Choose your poison :wink:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Tue Dec 01, 2009 2:03 pm

Lex wrote:2) lack of interest. Most kids just don't care to learn Latin. It *is* a fairly useless skill, from a quotidian point of view. After all, it won't help you get a (normal) job, make money or get laid.
Romani quidem artem amatoriam invenerunt. :D
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Tue Dec 01, 2009 6:21 pm

dlb wrote: Choose your poison :wink:
My point was that I think you are using "principal" where you should be using "principle".
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Wed Dec 02, 2009 2:57 am

Lex wrote:
dlb wrote: Choose your poison :wink:
My point was that I think you are using "principal" where you should be using "principle".
10-79 Good Buddy :shock:

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Wed Dec 02, 2009 3:08 am

dlb wrote: 10-79 Good Buddy :shock:
I had to look that up. Does that mean "Notify Coroner", as in, you have just chosen and taken your poison? If so...

BWA'A'A'A'A'A'A'A!!! (That's a cross between a Dr. Evil-ish MWAHAHAHA!!!! and llama-ish bleating, BTW. The apostrophes are glottal stops.) Yet another dirty ape down! Soon llama-kind will rule the world! :twisted:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Wed Dec 02, 2009 2:01 pm

Lex wrote:
dlb wrote: 10-79 Good Buddy :shock:
I had to look that up. Does that mean "Notify Coroner", as in, you have just chosen and taken your poison? If so...

BWA'A'A'A'A'A'A'A!!! (That's a cross between a Dr. Evil-ish MWAHAHAHA!!!! and llama-ish bleating, BTW. The apostrophes are glottal stops.) Yet another dirty ape down! Soon llama-kind will rule the world! :twisted:
I believe that means, "Call for a wrecker."
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Wed Dec 02, 2009 10:16 pm

dlb wrote:I believe that means, "Call for a wrecker."
According to this site, that would be 10-78.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Wed Dec 02, 2009 11:16 pm

Lex wrote:
dlb wrote:I believe that means, "Call for a wrecker."
According to this site, that would be 10-78.
According to this site, there is no 10-78.
According to this site, there is no 10-78 or 10-79.

They vary according to location and custom :roll:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Wed Dec 02, 2009 11:25 pm

The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. :wink:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Interaxus » Thu Dec 03, 2009 1:43 am

I just noticed this debate and speaking as a ‘crumbly’ who has dabbled in languages most of his life I have to concur with the Waquet verdict that Latin is just plain hard to learn. By comparison, I found learning a little Arabic was child’s play.

Nobody so far seems to have mentioned a certain ‘structural’ (or ‘systemic’) reason for the problem. The fact that Latin is so ‘totally inflected’.

Sure, French, Spanish, German, etc, are also highly inflected compared to English. But they also depend heavily on word order and offer a plethora of prepositional signposts.

To get ‘Romam’ to mean ‘to Rome’ means integrating a completely alien linguistic system into one’s mind, where word endings glow like burning cigarette ends.

As we all know, Latin CAN be learned. But unless some genius comes along with a novel way of installing that alien Latin system software in the mind of learners at the start of the learning process, I fear Latin will remain largely beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

However, Comenius, Waldo Sweet and Oerberg have set some balls rolling, so who knows…?

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Lex » Thu Dec 03, 2009 4:31 am

Interaxus,

I guess it depends on what your native language is, doesn't it? If it's Tsez, which has somewhere in the neighborhood of 64 cases (depending on how they are categorized) and a "rich verbal morphology with many categories" (according to Wikipedia), then the inflection system of Latin maybe doesn't seem all that bad.

Let's face it, though, learning *any* foreign language that is sufficiently different from one's native language is going to be quite a challenge. Not everyone is up to it, and among those who are, not everyone cares to try. I would wager a bet, though, that if Latin were only taught as an elective course, so that those who don't care to try are eliminated from the statistics, the percentage of students who managed to learn Latin would rise dramatically. I would also bet that teaching Latin as an actively written and spoken language, instead of just a passively read language, would help.

Having said all that, I do agree that the inflections do make things difficult for a speaker of a less-inflected language like English, that depends more heavily on prepositions and word order. I gave up trying to learn Homeric Greek a while ago, partly because I couldn't wrap my head around the verbs, and there aren't enough learning tools that spell them out for Homeric Greek (like "501 Homeric Greek Verbs, Fully Conjugated"). I must admit that part of this is because I kept trying to learn *every* conjugation of a given verb, not just the ones I needed at a given time. It's just the way my mind works. I'm not good at learning things piecemeal; it's either all or nothing. (I was also a late speaker as a toddler, but when I did start speaking, I did so in simple but grammatically correct sentences. *shrug*) The funny thing is, I've decided that when I have time to devote to language study again, I am going to switch to Latin because it looks easier than Homeric Greek! :shock:
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by thesaurus » Fri Dec 04, 2009 6:53 pm

ptolemyauletes wrote:'I am going to be a vet.' 'I am going to be a doctor.' 'I need to take sciences, maths etc.' We are raising a generation of trained robots, without any grounding in humanities. sigh.
I can't blame anyone for choosing to focus on practical disciplines instead of Latin. Society needs more doctors than classicists. Plus, Latin is not equivalent to the humanities; you can study them in your native language. You could also be a trained robot of sorts who has been taught how to read Latin well, but has no appreciation of the humanities.
Do you favor shops being open on Thanksgiving and/or Christmas day ?
Yes?
No?
If you answered 'Yes' then you lack principals.
If you answered 'No' then you have principals.
Rather, "you have different principles." There are many good reasons for having shops open on these days. In terms of Latin, I think we are justified asking what the outcomes/practical value is of studying the language. The outcome doesn't have to be money: we could say "critical thinking skills," "a deeper artistic understanding," etc. If we want to become well rounded people, we should pursue the most effective way to become so. I don't think studying Latin makes you a better person or helps you in any major way besides allowing you to be able to read and appreciate Latin texts in the original language. Studying classical literature may help you develop your aesthetic appreciation and critical thinking skills, but you can attain this goal by reading in in translation (or reading literature in your own language).
I believe that the conventional defence of them is valid; that only by them can a boy fully understand that a sentence is a logical construction and that words have basic inalienable meanings, departure from which is either conscious metaphor or inexcusable vulgarity. Those who have not been so taught — most Americans and most women — unless they are guided by some rare genius, betray their deprivation.
I don't think Evelyn Waugh knows what he's talking about. A boy can understand the logical nature of language by studying his native language or by studying any other foreign language. I don't know what he means by words having "basic inalienable meanings," but I think he misunderstands how language functions. Words have many levels of meaning that change over time and place and aren't inalienable. Besides, if this were an inherent feature of words, I don't know why Latin would help someone understand this more than English or Spanish. The last sentence isn't worth comment.

For the record: I'm a big fan of Latin and the humanities--I study both intently. However, I take issue with a lot of specious reasons people give for studying classical languages, which are often just post hoc justifications for having been forced to learn them.
Horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. Quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus. --Cicero, De Senectute

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by dlb » Sat Dec 05, 2009 1:06 am

thesaurus wrote: A boy can understand the logical nature of language by studying his native language or by studying any other foreign language.
On the lighter side, I do believe that if all boys studied English attempting to understand the logical nature of it, they would all soon become babbling idiots. Maybe that is what is wrong with society - not enough Latin :wink:
Last edited by dlb on Sat Dec 05, 2009 3:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by Essorant » Sat Dec 05, 2009 6:46 am

The same laziness is also seen in poetry. Instead of studying and emulating the traditions of structure and meter, people today more and more ignorantly detach themselves and write a bunch of scratchy "free verse". People are too lazy to respect tradition and rules. It is easier just to pretend starting from the scratch in the present adds up to anything that was done in the past. In any case, as long they don't learn the past, they don't compare themselves to it, and therefore it is easier for them to pretend their manners and skills of language and using it, creating and thinking, is either always already equal or even superior to anything done before. And they are always eager to use their broomstick sayings such as "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "Everything is subjective" if you do show them their faults and direct their grammar and show them higher and superior styles and manners of using the language. It doesn't matter to them: as long as they can pretend they are just as good as any other language or stage of language, or style or structure, etc, they have no wish to study and emulate those of others. For them, they are automatically just as good, therefore there is little or no notion of "better" through studying Latin or studying grammatical rules and traditions of their own language, etc. to them, they are already "just as good", which is not "just as good", but simply too lazy.

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Re: Latin; or the Empire of the Sign.

Post by ptolemyauletes » Sat Dec 05, 2009 9:05 am

thesaurus wrote:
ptolemyauletes wrote:
'I am going to be a vet.' 'I am going to be a doctor.' 'I need to take sciences, maths etc.' We are raising a generation of trained robots, without any grounding in humanities. sigh.


I can't blame anyone for choosing to focus on practical disciplines instead of Latin. Society needs more doctors than classicists. Plus, Latin is not equivalent to the humanities; you can study them in your native language. You could also be a trained robot of sorts who has been taught how to read Latin well, but has no appreciation of the humanities.
Thesaurus, I am not denying any of what you said. What I am referring to is the drive that appears in young people (and their parents) to get a job. A job? What's the rush? Why do they all feel they need to study science, rush off to university, train to be a doctor, and start a career asap? Why not take a year or two off? I took ten! I have so many students who tell me they love Latin but have to drop it so they can study science because 'I'm going to be a doctor.' What's the rush? Study Latin while you have the opportunity, then take some time for yourself, then go study medicine and science. And I am not just griping about Latin. History, RS, Politics, and other interesting subjects that engage people in the world and in thinking about its problems are cast aside so that students can train themselves to be trumped up mechanics. Doctors and scientists are thought to be extremely intelligent, but most in my experience are simply good rote learners. They don't actually know much about the world outside their lab or office. I realise these are huge generalisations, but I am in a grumpy mood (ill) so let me have my rant.
School has perhaps never been about a love of learning, but why shouldn't it be? Should we not be concerned about our scientists and doctors being so specialized, from such an early age, and being disconnected from the world and its history?
The only thing we can guarantee when communicating via the internet is that we will be almost completely misunderstood, and likely cause great offence in doing so. Throw in an attempt at humour and you insure a lifelong enemy will be made.

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