Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 29 September 2012

Language



Last year I began to study Latin again, after a break of more than 30 years.  I’ve found it fascinating, not just in itself but for what it shows me about our own language.

Latin is so elegant compared with English.  Take, for example,
quo, moriture, ruis?
Which translates as ‘where are you rushing to, you who are about to die?’  Those 3 evocative words are so much more expressive than the unwieldy English sentence.  This make me want to examine my own use of language.

I will never, obviously, be able to write with that clear brevity, or in Latin (although the Harry Potter books were translated into it – perhaps I should go and see how it worked).  However, I do want to use this new insight I have to try and improve my use of English.  I want to concentrate more on saying exactly what I want to say, in the fewest and best words.

Poetry is one place where we have to concentrate on making every word count.  For example in Mary Smith’s short poem Graptolites we have

writing on the rock
stories of ocean life
aeons ago
(from Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith, Indigo Dreams Publishing)

So much is told in those few lines, each word counts for many.  I feel myself wanting to wander off into textual analysis but I don’t need to, because those few words do speak for themselves.  I need to get out of the habit of over-explaining.

Taking care like this doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m determined to try harder.  My sloppiness is, I fear, natural, but it can be overcome.  As they say in Latin – vincit qui se vincit (she conquers who conquers herself).

23 comments:

  1. What a fabulous post, although, alas, I've forgotten too much of my Latin to congratulate you in style. Enough comes back to me though to be grateful for that exposure to the language and to see its foundation in so much of the words we use today. What kind of course are you taking? I do admire you for getting back into it, it's one of those things I keep vaguely thinking I'd like to pick up but haven't had the discipline to start. O me miserum!

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    1. Thanks Chris. I'm doing the OU course - i did the first level last year and (sucker that i am) have signed up for apparently much harder 2nd level course this. But i do love it!

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  2. Me, too. I loved it, despite some very strange teachers, including one middle aged man (we thought he was very old) who wore purple ties and smelled. I have been grateful for it ever since, especially when coming across a new word which I can then trace back to its origins. Wish I'd done Greek, too.

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    1. Mmm, Greek. I never thought I'd be interested in that but quite a few of the people on my OU course are doing both and they do seem to enjoy it. But latin just makes so much sense to me and helps me with English, and I'm not sure Greek would do that.

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  3. Now I know why I can't write poetry! A very thoughtful post, Gill.

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    1. Thanks Gwen. And you can write poetry, you just don't do it very often!

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  4. Great post, Gill (and thanks for the book plug!). It's over 40 years since I studied Latin. Even so, although I would no longer be able to translate Virgil, much of what was drummed into us has stuck, particularly in terms of tracing a word's root and in spelling. Are you going to continue with your Latin studies?

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    1. I took the plunge into the new Latin course yesterday, which is probably where the idea for the blog came from.

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  5. Ah yes, Latin - I didn't get chosen to do it because I was a baby boomer and our year was just too big for us all to do Latin....so I got side-shifted to do German instead. This post has made me want to find a 'Teach yourself Latin' and do a catch-up! So, I think I will.....thanks for such a good post, Gill.

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    1. I'd really encourage you to, Linda! Even if you haven't time for e.g. the OU course, there are some good books around. Last year Mary bought me one called 'Amo Amas Amat and All That' which is a tongue in cheek look at Latin but an easy read and very informative.

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  6. I loved Latin too - did the 'o' level for pleasure, and because I loved languages, many moons ago at school! Great post, Gill, and I also have that tendency to over explain, and over analyse (personally)! Wish I'd also been allowed to study Greek

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  7. Thanks Rosemary. Maybe a few of us should attempt Greek next year... Or maybe not.

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  8. A very enjoyable post! Sadly, it was the Augustans(especially Pope)who, with their belief that the Classics were the source of 'proper' language, destroyed much of the colour of the English language and left us with some of the very convoluted modes of expression we have today.

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    1. Ooh Myra, tell me more. How did this happen? Is there a book I can read about it?

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  9. Ah yes, Latin... I only managed to pass my O level by learning the whole of Aeneid Book IX off by heart. But I do believe it has provided a really useful understanding of English, its roots and its structure. Also of French and German.

    I still remember how to decline my irregular imperative verbs: dic, duc, fac, fer, fi, i, memento. Dicite, ducite, facite, ferte, fite, ite, mementote.

    Am I ahead of you Gill, or behind?

    Good for you, for doing it again!

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    1. Definitely ahead of me with memorising! I'm at the stage of knowing these are irregular and hoping I recognise them when they come up. So much memorising to do.

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  10. Great post, Gill, you've made me want to study Latin too! (Although I don't have time, sadly ...) You're so right about brevity though, it's much better with just a few carefully chosen words, but oh so difficult sometimes!

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    1. Yes, very difficult if you're as naturally wordy as I am!

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  11. Great post, Gill. I took Latin up to first year at Uni, and I'm convinced it made my study of French and German more interesting (and easier! It also helps us to appreciate our own language at a deeper level.
    Lovely poem, Mary.

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    1. Thanks Joan. Does Latin also help with German? My German is v. rudimentary but I'd always assumed Latin wasn't that closely linked to it (although maybe it helps with cases?)

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  12. Gill, your post made me want to study Latin too and I so admire you for doing so. It was never offered in the sort of schools I didn’t attend! But how evocative and romantic a language!

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  13. Great to see so many people popping up to comment on this post, Gill - you must be thrilled....:)

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  14. Thanks Janice, and yes, Linda I am thrilled with the comments. And I'm still enjoying/excited by the new Latin course, although it is a stretch for my poor aged brain...

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