Speaking Latin

HT: Daniel Pope.

While Matthew Keil’s Latin is pretty paratactic and sometimes takes the wrong stresses, speaking Latin on the fly is certainly an ability I should like to have as well. In my high school days I hoped, and I still hope, to be able to speak Latin with my kids. To such an achievement there are two advantages: first, that we all can be conversant in a language whose synthetic and nonconfigurational structure can stimulate our use of other, more analytic languages; and second, that we will be able not only to learn Romance languages more easily but also to interact with the intellectual tradition of Western Christendom on its own terms.

In Western civilization, Latin’s claim to fame is that it can, like Classical Chinese, be said to belong to everyone and no one. Latin as the language of scholarship stands against the nationalistic impulse to identify oneself first as English or French, because in Christendom we are Christians first and citizens second of our earthly homes. This catholicity suits it to the role of an international language in Western Christendom, as the language is native to the ethos of Christendom but doesn’t impose anything from current speaker to current speaker the way that English does: without linguistic imperialism, Latin demands only respect for the past, not obeisance in the present.

A good sign for my own Latin ability is that I can understand most of what Keil’s saying as I listen. Perhaps some day I can be comfortable enough with Latin to speak in a style more sophisticated and hypotactic than the one that (presumably) necessity imposes on Keil, a style that makes elegant use of ablative absolutes and more periodic syntax. If the British delegates to the Synod of Dordt brushed up on their spoken Latin in order to be able to debate well, I may well do the same.


2 responses to “Speaking Latin

  1. Hi Lue-Yee!

    If you are interested in speaking Latin, you might consider Father Reggie’s Latin Summer in Milwaukee. I’m sure you already know about him, but he is (dare I say) the greatest living Latinist today. And his summer program is completely free! I will be there this summer, though I doubt I will become as fluent as Mr. Keil!


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