Monday, July 18, 2016

A Natural History Of Latin By Tore Jansen

Recently, I told you that Juergen Leonhardt was alright and recommended his book Latin: Story of a World Language. On p 8 of that book, Juergen mentioned some things which the book is not. For example,

"Its goal is not to recall the importance of Europe's Latin tradition or to review the treasures of classical, postclassical, and modern Latin literature."

Then Juergen lists a few titles which do exactly that, and one of those books is A Natural History of Latin by Tore Jansen.

While Leonhardt's Latin: Story of a World Language can be read with pleasure and profit by specialists and laypeople alike, Jansen book is definitely aimed more toward laypeople, toward people with little knowledge of the Latin language and its history. While Leonhardt analyzes relationships between Latin and other languages and society, going well beyond the boundaries of belles lettres to examine the roles Latin has played in diplomacy, law, commerce, science, math and elsewhere, Jansen concentrates mostly on literature, philosophy and and history -- belles lettres -- and mentions, mostly in chronological order, the most notable writers in the language, briefly describing their work and quoting many of them in Latin and then translating those quotations, from the earliest written examples of Latin which have survived down to the present day. Then there is a chapter about Latin grammar, a vocabulary list, a list of common Latin phrases, and suggestions for further reading.

Professor Jansen is slyly presenting an introductory Latin textbook here, disguised as a popular work about history.

Acquiring a second language almost always involves a lot of painful drudgery at first. There may be some people so gifted at language acquisition that they feel no such drudgery as they master one language after another. There are legends of such things among my people. I have never actually seen such a linguistic genius. I myself am not one. I go through the drudgery because I have learned that the rewards of getting past the first phase, getting to further phases where you can actually read and communicate in the foreign language, are wonderful.

It's not possible for me now to un-learn Latin and start over again with Jansen's book, but it seems possible to me that he has found a way around a great deal of the initial drudgery.

But don't be frightened: even if you're determined not to learn any Latin whatsoever, you can still skip the parts at the back of the book about grammar and vocabulary and further reading, and just read the English translations of the Latin passages in the main part of the book, and just possibly learn a lot and enjoy doing so, without learning Latin. Learning Latin from this book is optional.

If you're a layperson when it comes to languages and/or ancient Graeco-Roman history, and you know some weirdo like me, and you want to understand that weirdo better, A Natural History of Latin by Tore Jansen just might be very helpful with that.

And in conclusion, here's a picture of a kitten:

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