Thursday, July 7, 2016

Juergen Leonhardt Is Alright

We can see that this kitten

is helping someone to study Latin -- possibly an Italian person.

Juergen Leonhardt in not Italian, but German. He said this:

"Although Latin still had a presence [after 1800], the future belonged to the new national languages, and the proportion of Latin texts went into steady decline. It is understandable that scholars would be more interested in the waxing of literatures in the vernaculars than in the waning of Latin. The invention of the automobile in the late nineteenth century provides us with a similar example in that the horse and buggy continued to play an important role alongside the car for more than fifty years. Nevertheless, the wider public tends to be more interested in early automobiles than late horse-drawn carriages." -- Latin. Story of a World Language, 2013. p 6.

The comparison of recent Latin to recent horse-drawn carriages sort of blew my mind. It was the first thing I've read which helped me to understand the recent decline of Latin as a result of anything other than stupidity. Leonhardt mentions other causes which I would describe as straight-up stupidity, and which he also does not describe as unadulterated genius.

Maybe Latin is dead in some ways. Leonhardt describes it not as dead but as "dead," because some of the criteria which are generally thought to indicate that a language is dead apply to Latin, while others do not. Anyway: it's a really cool book, and at the end of it Leonhardt does not speak of Latin as "dead" even in quotation marks, but urges the reader to treat it "as if it were a living language", and does not seem devoid of hope that it will revive in some ways. (p 292) So: yay.

In between pages 6 and 292, Leonhardt agrees with me (and with many of his academic colleagues who are fans of the Latin language) that Charlemagne was really cool. It seems to me that it would be hard to be a fan of the language and not think that Charlemagne was cool. Leonhardt also has a lot to say about how Latin was used as a real live living language, spoken not just by priests and poets but also by lawyers and diplomats and others who traveled a lot in Western Europe, for a good thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. (Christopher Columbus never had a lot of formal education, but was described as a good Latinist. He's not mentioned in Leonhardt's book but I'm just saying.) And when Leonhardt was making that comparison of Latin after 1800 and horse-drawn carriages made after cars had begun to be made, one point he was making is that there is an awful lot of Latin which was written after the Classical period. 10,000 times as much as what has survived from the Classical era, in fact (p 2), and that scholars have barely begun to scratch the surface when it comes to studying Neo-Latin, which is from about 1500 to now.

In conclusion, France is a land of many contrasts.

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