Latin in the News.

For someone who’s never been much of a Latinist, I’ve posted a lot about the language, from 2004 (“Latin Today”) and 2008 (Nicholas Ostler’s Ad Infinitum) to 2016 (a passing poke at a dumb video that somehow got 244 comments) and 2017 (on the best way to learn the language), inter alia. Herewith two more links:

1) A.Z. Foreman’s Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: The Real Issue With Mary Beard’s Latin. It starts off thus:

Not long ago, Mary Beard graced us with a bit of honorable honesty in the Times Literary Supplement, in which she confessed to what is a bit of an open secret among most classicists. She can’t sight-read a complex Latin text all that well. Most classicists can’t. This admission — from someone like Beard — is good to have out there.

What irritates me is that — again like most classicists — she treats this as a self-evident fact to be just accepted rather than a problem to be dealt with, as if nobody could hope to actually read Cicero with ease. It always strikes me as bizarre and a bit embarrassing to see classicists insisting that it is impossible to acquire fluid or fluent command of Latin or Greek, that “we” can never do this. It’s not just that this assumption would be news to people like Galileo, Kepler or Descartes. It’s that people do actually acquire this kind of competence. Today. Anyone who pokes around at, say, the Paideia Institute, will find proficient Latin-speakers as readily as Zeus finds incestuous booty-calls.

What follows is a detailed and convincing analysis of why “nobody could hope to actually read Cicero with ease” is a dumb idea, and I’m surprised Beard (who I deeply respect, as does Foreman) would subscribe to it. Of course, it’s partly a matter of specialization; as he points out:

People whose scholarly work depends on dealing with medieval or Renaissance Latin texts have to have a better command of Latin than the kind Mary Beard describes. I don’t just mean reading the pared down language of the Res Gesta Francorum or even Jerome’s Bible. I mean reading Cicero’s letters, alongside Petrarch’s ciceronian response to them. I mean reading Virgil alongside Walter of Châtillon. I am talking about the kind of reading proficiency that allows one to skim hundreds of pages of text in order to find material relevant to one’s research. If Peter Godman couldn’t read new, unfamiliar and often abstruse Latin texts, he could not do the research he does. Medievalists and Renaissance scholars — even those taught by painfully ineffective traditional methods — get practice dealing with texts on their own in a way that classicists almost never do.

Anyway, read the whole thing, and I hope Beard takes it to heart.

2) The Local (an Italian site) informs the world New Italian TV show to tell story of Rome’s birth… in Latin:

Work has begun on Romulus, a new TV drama that will tell the story of Rome’s legendary founder – in an early form of Latin. The series, which is being produced by the same studio responsible for modern-day Italian hits Gomorrah and Suburra, will air on Sky Italia with an international release likely to follow. It will be directed by Matteo Rovere, an Italian film director who has already told the Romulus story once before in his movie epic The First King, which was also scripted in archaic Latin.

I am impressed, amused, and mind-boggled; I have no idea how he thinks a script can be written in archaic Latin, or why anybody is willing to fund such a project, but I’d be mildly curious to see at least some of the result. (There’s a minute-long video clip, but it includes no Latin.) Thanks, Trevor!

Addendum. In the comments, Bathrobe linked to Tom Keeline’s Is “Reading” Latin Impossible? at Latinitium, which is very relevant to the Foreman/Beard controversy; here is the conclusion:

You wouldn’t try to read Dante today without first learning modern Italian, or Shakespeare without first learning contemporary English. Latin literature is our equivalent of Dante and Shakespeare, and Active Latin is the closest thing we’ve got to “learning Italian” or “learning English.” But the ancient Latin texts that we read are not, by and large, “level appropriate”; we’ve got nothing except the ancient equivalents of Dante and Shakespeare. We’ve got texts that were written at the highest level of sophistication for an elite audience of supremely well-educated contemporary native speakers. They weren’t written for us. Do I think these texts are eminently worth reading? Of course—I’m a classicist! But we shouldn’t delude ourselves or our students: the gap between us and those ancient native speakers is never going to be fully bridgeable by waving any magic wand, whether it’s labeled “Active Latin” or anything else.

If the final destination of this journey is to “read” ancient Latin the way we read our native language, we may never get there. I’m certainly nowhere close. Should we just give up then? Well, I don’t think so. As with geometry, there is no royal road to Latin, but I think I’ve made a lot more progress by embracing Active Latin than I would have otherwise. I’ve definitely had a lot more fun. If reading ancient Latin the way I read English remains an elusive goal for me, getting meaning from Latin texts with ever-increasing ease and pleasure is a completely reasonable goal that I make progress towards every day—well, let’s say “most days”! If we begin with such a goal in mind, then we can constantly strive for a perhaps unattainable perfection while still enjoying every step of the journey. And this, I think, is the realistic promise of Active Latin.

Makes sense to me.

Comments

  1. Christopher Culver says:

    I watched the Msgr. Daniel Gallagher video linked to, and I didn’t find it difficult to follow. The problem here is that Gallagher – like so many aficionados of contemporary spoken Latin – basically speaks Latin as if it were a more familiar Romance language, albeit with a case system, and on a conversational level, not a deep literary one. That means you won’t hear the most knotted syntactical constructions you can find in the more difficult Latin prose authors like Tacitus.

    So, even learning Latin through an active, spoken method does not necessarily prepare one to sight-read just any Classical text. It is just like a person can reach a good conversational level in Greek, have no problem reading the easier authors such as Xenophon, and yet be totally stymied by Thucycides.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Foreman overstates the case somewhat in denying Mary Beard’s entirely valid point that Tacitus (for example) would not have been straightforward even for L1 Latin speakers. It’s just silly to maintain that he’s no harder than Caesar just because he does sometimes deviate into plainness.

    It makes you wonder a bit about how familiar he actually is with Tacitus.

  3. So, even learning Latin through an active, spoken method does not necessarily prepare one to sight-read just any Classical text.

    Of course not. The only thing that helps with that is a lot of time spent reading Latin, and the more you read, the less you need crutches and the more it automatically makes sense. This has been my experience with Russian, and (more to the point) it was my experience with Ancient Greek back when I was into that — I bought several OCT volumes of Plato and Lucian and started plugging away. I didn’t keep at it long enough to get any good at it, but even so I could feel myself getting accustomed to sentence structure, common constructions, idioms, etc. If I’d kept going as assiduously as I have with Russian, I’d be reading fluently. All it takes is time and practice.

  4. “She can’t sight-read a complex Latin text all that well. Most classicists can’t…

    People whose scholarly work depends on dealing with medieval or Renaissance Latin texts have to have a better command of Latin than the kind Mary Beard describes.”

    if this is true, how good are most classicists at their job, the study of Latin and/or Greek culture and civilization? Wouldn’t medievalists make for better classicists if offered the opportunity? Is the current classicist cohort second-rate compared both with their medievalist colleagues and their predecessors?

  5. SFReader says:

    Victor Mair once shocked me with his claim that most Sinologists Just. Can’t. Read. Chinese.

    Now we learn that classicists cant read Latin.

    Who is next?

    Can we trust anyone anymore to know their job?

  6. It’s ignoramuses all the way down!

    Actually, I think it’s more that classicists don’t need to read Latin or Greek fluently, since they’re mostly dealing with a limited number of much-analyzed texts and their job requires them to come up with new approaches to those texts — why would they need to read fluently?

  7. Israelis can read the Old Testament, but poorly, and they get much of it wrong, despite studying it from 2nd grade on.
    A very controversial translation of the OT into Modern Hebrew came out a few years ago. By various accounts it is an utter blasphemy, or an utter necessity. (I just don’t like it.)

  8. minus273 says:
  9. SFReader says:

    Another problem with Chinese – I’ve heard that even though there are millions of ethnic Chinese in the US, the generation born in America also can’t read Chinese (even if they still speak their native dialect at home).

    Apparently nothing short of a Chinese school torturing kids with memorization of thousands characters for years and years can make a child literate in Chinese. And they just don’t have them in America.

  10. Some 50-year-old thoughts from James Willis are very pertinent here, quoted at length by Laudator Temporis Acti six years ago. The third paragraph is probably most pertinent, but it’s all worth reading. It’s the second half of an article whose first half is a detailed textual discussion of various passages of Statius’ Silvae, a work whose text is based on a single manuscript in Madrid, copied by a scribe called by the man who hired him (Poggio Bracciolini) “ignorantissimus omnium viventium” (I doubt anyone here really needs a translation for that). Willis argued that previous editors had left far too much obvious nonsense unemended.

    Tangentially, I wish I could remember who it was, but I once shocked an eminent classicist by telling him my own research methods. I read the work in Latin or Greek, consulting all available line-by-line commentaries and (if really stuck) plain prose translations, come up with whatever interesting ideas I can, whether large- or small-scale, and only then see what others have written about the work as a whole. I then find that most of my ideas have been anticipated in full, or decisively refuted, or (quite often) both, but there’s always a residue of 10-20% that have not been – mostly small-scale, emendations of the text or reinterpretations of details, but sometimes large-scale. I usually don’t even read the introductions to the commentaries before reading, just turn straight to the first note on line 1. It works for me. I wonder if anyone else does that. Or does everyone else first read widely on what a text means, or rather what the current scholarly consensus is on what it means, before actually reading it themselves?

  11. David Marjanović says:

    I’ll join the chorus: reading Cicero’s speeches (full of poetic games played with syntax and vocabulary, so not exactly prose in the first place) is one thing, reading the Aeneid is another.

    One does not simply read Classical Chinese. Well, certain kinds of it at least. On top of the burden that the writing system already puts on the memory for modern written Chinese, there come a few thousand rare to ultra-rare characters (e.g. for personal and place names), an unbelievably abbreviated style, and so many literary allusions that you have to know all the classics already to make sense of it…

  12. SFReader says:

    I wonder if anyone else does that.

    That`s how heresies are generated – people reading the Bible in original tongues and forming their own opinions what it all meant…

  13. t’s just silly to maintain that he’s no harder than Caesar just because he does sometimes deviate into plainness.

    But he’s not saying that at all. He says (emphasis added, since it seems to be needed): “History, as a Roman genre, was prone to some amount of archaism, and Tacitus’ rhetorical habits can get a bit mystifying at times, especially when he himself seems to be a bit sick of what he’s writing about. But a lot of Tacitus isn’t all that much more difficult than Caesar.” Note: a lot, not all. The point is not to claim that Tacitus is easy reading but to refute the idea that he’s supremely difficult.

    I’ll join the chorus: reading Cicero’s speeches (full of poetic games played with syntax and vocabulary, so not exactly prose in the first place) is one thing, reading the Aeneid is another.

    So? One thing is not another thing, so what? Foreman says:

    More to the point, Beard’s implication that “the classics we have to read” challenged the comprehension skills of native speakers in their own time makes so little sense that I have trouble accepting that she really believes this. Just consider any of the “classic” texts which we know were composed for oral delivery or performance.

    That is irrefutable; anything meant to be delivered orally was expected to be understood, even if subtleties might be missed.

  14. Stephen Carlson says:

    That is irrefutable; anything meant to be delivered orally was expected to be understood, even if subtleties might be missed.
    Orally delivery has a lot of prosodic support behind it. There are speeches today that look like word salad on the page but still comprehensible when heard. The problem with modern readers is that the texts don’t really give the prosody (modern punctuation is syntactic not prosodic), and they haven’t read enough to develop an internal model of the prosody of their own.

  15. Stephen Carlson says:

    On the Gallagher video, he switches between ecclesiastical and classical pronunciation. It’s a little jarring. I suspect he’s used to the ecclesiastical but intended to do the classical for this class and only partially managed to pull it off.

  16. Christopher Culver says:

    “Anything meant to be delivered orally was expected to be understood, even if subtleties might be missed.”

    They may have been expected to be understood, but were they meant to be understood instantly? There are epigrams of Martial, for example, where the syntax is intricate beyond most poetry in modern languages that have grammatical case. I have wondered if when Martial recited one of his poems, it took a moment for the audience to really “get it”, and such delayed understanding, a dawning realization, might have been part of the humour of his poetry.

  17. Stephen Carlson says:

    Actually, I think it’s more that classicists don’t need to read Latin or Greek fluently, since they’re mostly dealing with a limited number of much-analyzed texts and their job requires them to come up with new approaches to those texts — why would they need to read fluently?
    Certainly true in my field (New Testament). On the other hand, they will have re-read the same text so often that they are fluent with that particular body of texts. But that kind of textual fluency just doesn’t generalize well.

  18. and they haven’t read enough to develop an internal model of the prosody of their own.

    Exactly.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    The fact that highly sophisticated audiences were expected to understand literary Latin works read aloud (which is certainly true) doesn’t by any means contradict the idea that they would not have been easy to follow for a typical L1 speaker. Gaius Publicus was not invited to such events and wouldn’t have enjoyed them if he had been.

    Even familiar classical metres must have taken a fair bit of literary training to hear properly when transplanted from their native realm of Greek into the rather different native prosody of Latin. I think Mary Beard is essentially right on this part of the matter.

  20. Stu Clayton says:

    Is there today anything resembling highly sophisticated audiences expected to understand literary works read aloud ? Do lonely singles plugged into their audio books count as audiences ?

    What’s gone by the board is public sophistication, it seems. People still go to movie theaters, I’ve heard, but the film Cloud Atlas (for example) is probably best puzzled out at home.

    Edit: I forgot about the theater, and performances there in the original Shakespeare.

  21. SFReader says:

    What is a typical L1 Latin speaker?

    In Cicero’s time (and till the end of empire) most Latin speakers even in Italy were actually L2 speakers. (even ancestors of people who gave us Italian language still spoke Etruscan)

    The minority of native speakers were actually speakers of what is termed Vulgar Latin which is related to real Latin about as much as Tok Pisin is related to English (maybe I exaggerate, but not much)

    I don’t know if L1 Classical Latin speakers existed in Cicero’s time, but if they were, then they surely were comprised of the highly educated elite just like Cicero himself and would have understood him or Tacitus just fine.

  22. Even familiar classical metres must have taken a fair bit of literary training to hear properly when transplanted from their native realm of Greek into the rather different native prosody of Latin. I think Mary Beard is essentially right on this part of the matter.

    Of course it takes a fair bit of literary training! The whole point is that you should undergo that training, not say airily that oh well, nobody can read Latin easily.

  23. I myself spent years trying to get classical meters under my belt; they were so alien to the stress-based prosody I was used to it was extremely difficult. But finally it sank in, and I could even read Pindar with confidence in my metrical awareness. It takes work, but put in the work and it works.

  24. Stu Clayton says:

    A sense of accomplishment is its own reward. I too used to feel that, until I discovered that certain accomplishments are more remunerative than others.

  25. Oh well, if you worry about remuneration you’ll never get anywhere in this life.

  26. anything meant to be delivered orally was expected to be understood

    True on the whole, but I once heard an eminent Hellenist speculate that the reason Pindar lost a commission to another poet was that no one could understand what the hell he was on about. Some styles do seem to prize opacity, even in oral performance.

    I’m not sure Beard believes that “nobody could hope to actually read Cicero with ease” — her examples are Tacitus and Thucydides. Neither of these is consistently as hard as they’re reputed to be, but when they’re hard, they’re damn hard. I suspect both might have been a bit miffed at the idea that some of their most studied concoctions should be immediately transparent to the average reader.

  27. @Stephen Carlson: Lots of public speeches today do indeed seem like word salad in written form. In plenty of instances, they are quite comprehensible as spoken performance works, but even then not always. Especially when a speaker is not very experienced with the format, it is easy to produce an utterly incomprehensible pronouncement.

    My favorite example of that genre was Michael Jordan’s speech that was intended to announce why he was retiring (for the first time) from basketball. He opened with a statement confirming that he was there to explain why he was doing that, and then talked a very emotionally about his career and his family, without giving any clear indication of what the actual reason was. Looking at the transcript of his speech was no help; the answer was just not in there. However, the bizarreness of this incident has since been pushed down the memory hole. Fifteen or twenty years later, I remember a major sports journalist (Bob Costas, most likely) talking about how clearly he remembered Jordan’s speech and the reasons that it gave for his retirement. In fact, in the immediate aftermath, all the journalists who commented on the speech were quite flummoxed, although in their immediate reactions, they naturally tried talk around this fact.

    Of course, Jordan and his publicists subsequently clarified what he had meant to say and what his actual motivations for retiring were. This makes me wonder whether, in earlier times when in-person speeches by men like Cicero were a crucial medium for political communications, there actually had to be another layer—of people who would provide the correct interpretation of a speech to people who had missed it or not understood it. The prospect of doing this kind of interpretation in real time has been famously parodied multiple times—for the Sermon on the Mount in The Life of Brian, and by Key & Peele with Obama’s “anger translator.”

  28. I suspect both might have been a bit miffed at the idea that some of their most studied concoctions should be immediately transparent to the average reader.

    But nobody’s saying their most studied concoctions should be immediately transparent to the average reader; the point is that the more practice you have reading difficult Latin (or any language), the less difficult it becomes, though of course difficult authors are always going to be difficult. Pindar is very difficult, but the more you read, think about, and absorb Pindar, the less impossible he seems.

  29. SFReader says:

    Who said anything about average reader?

    We are talking about classicists, people who are actually paid to be able to read Latin, because that’s their profession.

    If they can’t read Cicero in the original, then surely the end times are near.

  30. I suspect that a lot of modern English-speaking people would be baffled by nineteenth-century English poetry. Consider Keats:

    O for a beaker full of the warm South
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
    And purple-stained mouth;
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

    And Longfellow has it too:

    No purple flowers,–no garlands green,
    Conceal the goblet’s shade or sheen,
    Nor maddening draughts of Hippocrene,
    Like gleams of sunshine, flash between
    Thick leaves of mistletoe.

    The Hippocrene is a fountain on Mount Helicon in Boeotia, sacred to the Muses, fabled to have burst forth when the ground was struck by the hoof of Pegasus. Also, its waters, which were supposed to impart poetic inspiration.

    I suspect that a lot of ordinary people in the 19th century would not have been able to follow this sort of stuff either. It requires the sort of minute knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology that only came with an elite education in those times. However, if one had access to some reference material, at a library perhaps, one could puzzle it out. You’d also need to know Dante, Le Morte d’Arthur and some other books. However there were working-class people in this time who learned to appreciate such literature.

    An interesting novel from this point of view is Such Is Life: Being Certain Extracts From The Diary of Tom Collins by the Australian author Joseph Furphy (1903). Furphy describes his times traipsing about the Australian outback in the company of bullock drivers, small farmers, cattle dealers and the like. It is peppered with erudite allusions to all sorts of highbrow literature. Furphy earned his living working for his brother, who manufactured water tanks, but spent much of his spare time reading voraciously. It is available at Project Gutenberg.

    Nowadays we don’t really have this kind of literature accessible only to the educated elite. We expect everything to be instantly comprehensible. But that’s the way it was until fairly recently.

    (Although to be honest I just recently read a review of a work featuring someone gnawing on the head of Margaret Thatcher, a la Ugolino. Unfortunately I can’t remember the details.)

  31. Stu Clayton says:

    I can’t imagine how maddening draughts of Hippocrene could flash between leaves of mistletoe. Someone’s had one too many.

  32. AJP Crown says:

    What about the man from the other day? Frankel was it, stoats? I bet he could read Latin and that was only 50 years ago. All my Latin teachers at school could translate as they read. I know people in other trades who can do so. I think this is rubbish. I’m quite sure Mary Beard, my contemporary, can translate Latin & Greek texts that she doesn’t already know as she goes along. She would have learnt that at school. But do note that she’s Professor of Classics at Cambridge, she’s not in a dept. of Linguistics. She teaches and studies history, historiography (traditionally Thucydides etc.), philosophy, art & architecture and archeology. These are at least as interesting as the language and nowadays because of current technology some are more open to research. The idea that compared to Jowett, Mary Beard isn’t up to the job is ridiculous (not to say sexist).

  33. @maidhc: Ugolino was right here: http://languagehat.com/moolvees-and-quennets/

    There is a statue of him and his sons in the lobby outside the Faculty Club at Indiana University. It creeps me out whenever I am there.

  34. Stu Clayton says:

    “Crown Beards Cavillers”. I agree.

  35. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks, Brett!

  36. Elessorn says:

    I have to agree with Foreman here. My own experience as a Latinist manque leaves me very personally sympathetic to many of the objections here in line with Beard’s gut instinct that classical literary texts are not to be considered on a par with, to use an example she does not, even the more self-consciously literary edge of novelists in today’s book market. Even if by a smaller audience, the latter still have to be (to make themselves) understood.

    But I still think she’s wrong, and Foreman right.

    At the very least a whole history of large numbers of very fluent Latin readers (and writers and speakers!) in the West should bias us to be up-front extremely skeptical of her claim. It might be the case that so many people of such intelligence were led to produce reams of Latin prose (and verse!) out of rash enthusiasm or regrettable contemporary encouragement rather than simple confidence both in their own fluency and its comprehensibility to others—it might be the case, but again, we should be skeptical.

    It also tracks my own experience with Japanese. I cant’t imagine how you could get data on this without raising a scandal, but If collection of such data were possible, I think we would be shocked to discover how little Japanese is actually read on a daily basis by even specialists in the field. There’s also no need *at all* to begin imputing this to laziness, either; it is simply that, as anyone even passingly familiar with the foreign-language academic humanities can readily attest, the reading of actual texts is a scandalously small part of the work required, and the sort of broad, deep, constant swimming in texts both conducive to and only possible with truly high competence is not required at all. (It is probably literally not require-able without massive changes to the structures and incentives that such departmental programs today universally depend upon.) These habits of course carry on after the PhD, at least as a rule.

    But setting aside the institutional aspect, I think we also might be more precise about what makes a “literary” text in a foreign language so difficult. Specifically, I don’t think literariness is an actual language feature per se, but merely a verbal gesture at a bunch of the difficulties that texts we call literary typically contain. Of these I think grammar is probably the least difficult. Much, much harder is vocabulary, and something like vocabulary that I can only think to describe as a certain corpus of language-typical idioms and expression-habits that one can only acquire through truly massive reading experience.

    I mean, think of Shakespeare: that language is 500 years old, but I feel absolutely certain that the ability to understand an unfamiliar Shakespeare play fairly fliuenty at first hearing is quite widespread among highly literate native speakers. The case is not analogous to non-natives studying a language without native speakers, but the basic insight that it’s less of a different case than we tend to assume it is is, I think, essentially correct.

  37. Elessorn: Very well said.

    The Hippocrene is a fountain on Mount Helicon in Boeotia, sacred to the Muses, fabled to have burst forth when the ground was struck by the hoof of Pegasus. Also, its waters, which were supposed to impart poetic inspiration.

    I have drunk from it! When I visited Greece I filled my cupped hands and took a swig, risking God only knows what diseases. Alas, I have written no poetic masterpieces in the ensuing decades.

  38. Dave Wilton says:

    I’m a medievalist whose Latin proficiency would seem to be about the same level as Beard’s—sight-reading a complex passage is difficult for me. And many of medievalists I know are in the same boat. Of course, I also know some who are completely fluent. A lot depends on your area of specialization. For me, it’s rare that I need to read a Latin text for which an English translation is not available. The Latin I have to deal with are literary and philosophical texts that were in circulation in early medieval England: Virgil, Augustine, etc. But hand me a legal document and I’m often at a loss.

    So I think when it comes to medievalist’s proficiency with Latin, Foreman is generalizing just as much as Beard. But his point about it not being impossible is dead on.

  39. Good point, but as I know from extensive personal experience, it’s very hard not to overgeneralize and overstate when trying to make an argument!

  40. Bathrobe says:

    Strange that just as this is being discussed at LH, Victor Mair had a post on Why Literary Sinitic is so darn hard, which referred to the difficulty of Latin:

    Difficulties similar to those I’ve outlined for LS apparently also abound [in Latin], and there are differing opinions among the professoriate on how to approach them:

    Is ‘Reading’ Latin Impossible?“, by Tom Keeline, Latinitium

    What a tour de force blog post this is, all focused on a single difficult word, inuleo, in one of Horace’s Odes, 1.23.

    Joe Farrell, comments: …The “nature method” approach to Latin has been gaining ground, to the point that some people have blogged that people who have been taught Latin the “classical” way are the only ones who can’t actually read it. Keeline’s blog (I think) is meant to be an implicit rebuttal to that point of view.

  41. SFReader says:

    I am starting to wonder how many Russian and Slavic studies specialists can actually read Russian fluently.

  42. “Is ‘Reading’ Latin Impossible?“, by Tom Keeline, Latinitium

    That’s an excellent piece, and I’m adding it to the post — thanks!

  43. I am starting to wonder how many Russian and Slavic studies specialists can actually read Russian fluently.

    I just had an interesting experience in that regard. I’m reading Anna Karenina, and I’ve just gotten to the passage at the start of Part 3 where Levin, even though he’s always glad to see his half-brother Koznyshev, finds himself impatient to get to the work needed to keep his farm running properly: “Но Константину Левину скучно было сидеть, слушая его, особенно потому, что он знал, без него возят навоз на неразлешенное поле и навалят Бог знает как, если не посмотреть…” [But it was tiresome for Konstantin Levin to sit and listen to him, especially because he knew that without him they would put manure on a неразлешенное field and heap it up God knows how if there was nobody to oversee…] What the devil was неразлешенное? I thought it might be a typo for неразрешенное, but no, all the editions had it. I finally found разлешить in Dahl, defined as разбить на лехи ‘to lay out in strips of plowed field,’ and then of course I saw that the verb was based on леха ‘то же, что гряда, борозда,’ and all was clear. But there’s no way I could “just read” that sentence without having done the research; what consoles me is the thought that most Russians probably wouldn’t know what it meant either. So “reading” is a complicated business no matter how you look at it.

  44. J.W. Brewer says:

    How long ago was it that living scholars of classical Latin literature stopped writing their own original scholarly articles and monographs in Latin, at least some of the time? Maybe different in different places, but did it fade out in the 19th century? Earlier or later than that? (I have a vague and maybe unreliable sense that well into the 20th century newly-published editions of classical Greek texts sometimes came with notes and critical apparatus in Latin, because that would make them within the relevant target audience more widely usable than an edition with such notes in any one modern language, whether English or French or German etc.)

  45. Incidentally, I have no idea why Tolstoy keeps calling him Konstantin Levin in that chapter: “Константин Левин был очень рад… Константину Левину было в деревне неловко с братом… Для Константина Левина деревня была тем хороша… Такое отношение к народу не нравилось Константину Левину.” A couple of times he just calls him Константин, but never Константин Дмитриевич, even though his half-brother is Сергей Иванович throughout. Anybody know what that’s about?

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    The Keeline piece is good, but let’s ask the modern parallel. It would not surprise me (although it’s an empirical question and I’m just speculating) that only a very small percentage of non-native speakers of English know the word “faun.” Even the most fluent ESL speakers generated by the school systems of Sweden or what have you may well not have encountered it in their school vocabulary lessons or in the sort of English texts they read for work or for pleasure. But into the modern era it has remained a word that poets like to use — I just did a quick search and turned it up in poems by Pound, Wilde, Plath, Robert Graves, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. How easy or hard do we think it would be for such a reader sitting in a park w/o access to reference books to figure it out from context in the first stanza of the Plath poem?* [EDITED TO ADD: NOTE HOW I, A FLUENT NATIVE SPEAKER, MUDDLED UP “FAUN” AND “FAWN,” TREATING THEM AS VARIANT SPELLINGS OF THE SAME NOUN WITH ONE BIOLOGICAL SENSE AND ANOTHER MYTHOLOGICAL SENSE, WHICH MAY NOT ACTUALLY BE ACCURATE — BY CONTRAST TO PLATH’S USE OF “FAUN,” THE MILLAY “FAWN” POEM IS BORINGLY LITERAL ENOUGH THAT IT EXPLICITLY SPELLS OUT THE MEANING OF THE WORD IF YOU WAIT LONG ENOUGH.]

    *Haunched like a faun, he hooed
    From grove of moon-glint and fen-frost
    Until all owls in the twigged forest
    Flapped black to look and brood
    On the call this man made.

  47. SFReader says:

    I can’t imagine a European language which didn’t have this word. Russian certainly does, I think I’ve encountered it in Pushkin’s poems.

    It is quite easy to recognize its English cognate too (it’s favn in Russian).

    I am not sure what kind of education standard Russia has nowadays, but in my times people who didn’t know what ‘favn’ was would be regarded as nekulturny

  48. But what about неразлешенное?

  49. John Cowan says:

    I suspect that a lot of modern English-speaking people would be baffled by nineteenth-century English poetry.

    “Oh, limpid stream of Tyrus” shows how baffling it can really be, even to the educated.

  50. J.W. Brewer says:

    See, in English it’s much easier to muddle together faun and fawn than it is in Russian to muddle together фавн and (checking google translate …) желтовато-коричневый!

  51. „But there’s no way I could “just read” that sentence without having done the research“

    Well, I did „just read“ it years ago, without knowing what неразлешенное meant. In context it is clear enough that it is a specialized agricultural word, and your elucidation is helpful but honestly adds (for me) no particular new insight into the novel or Levin‘s particular situation. I am of the school that doesn‘t think you need to understand every word to successfully „read“ a document. In fact our German teacher would scold us if we spent too much time looking up every word in a text.

  52. SFReader says:

    A fluent Russian speaker would, I think, just tentatively read “nerazleshennoe pole” as “nerazmechennoe pole”/”unmarked field”/ and would go on reading without even stopping.

    Certainly one unknown word with a meaning which can be easily guessed from the context in no way hinders or even slows reading for a native or fluent speaker.

    Technical texts where can such words abound will be baffling and incomprehensible, but that goes for all languages.

  53. J.W. Brewer says:

    Texts will vary, both semi-randomly and perhaps systematically by time/place/genre, as to how easy v. hard it is to work around not knowing a particular word, with part of that being how easy it is to get an approximate sense (such as “something agricultural”) which may be good enough to get through the passage without any more specificity. Sometimes when you don’t know a language, the common ones you can figure out successfully are not actually the crucial ones. So e.g. I have found while traveling in countries where I don’t know the language and looking at political graffiti that being able to determine that a particular spray-painted slogan is saying “DOWN WITH [X]” is of limited use when you haven’t the foggiest what X is, since “something someone dislikes enough to write political graffiti about” doesn’t narrow down the field very far.

    Of course, even common words can have opaque specialized meanings that may require considerable understanding of cultural context. How would the average English-fluent foreigner do with “the tigers are playing the tide in the iron bowl next weekend”? Would using standard capitalization (“The Tigers are playing the Tide in the Iron Bowl next weekend”) help by being a signal that the usual meanings of the words are probably not what’s meant, so at least the peculiar-seeming “literal” meaning is probably off the table?

  54. SFReader says:

    And you don’t need to go far to find sentences incomprehensible to majority of native speakers.

    I suspect close to 100% of Russians would need to consult at least a technical diagram to make sense of a sentence like

    “prover’te radial’nyy zazor mezhdu kolenchatym valom i posadochnym otverstiyem v maslyanom poddone”

    to average Russian it reads like “check some kind of space between some kind of piece of machinery and some kind of hole in some kind of oil container”

  55. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Native speakers of English who know the word ‘faun’ probably met it first in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – I don’t know if that’s something non-native speakers commonly read.

    (Although I’ve read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Norwegian!)

  56. In fact our German teacher would scold us if we spent too much time looking up every word in a text.

    Well, for better or worse, that’s the way I read. Not technical manuals — “check some kind of space between some kind of piece of machinery and some kind of hole in some kind of oil container” would be good enough for me — but in actual literature, where authors have carefully chosen the words they use to make a point, I want to know what those words mean. Of course it’s not essential to the Tolstoy passage to know exactly what неразлешенное means, “a specialized agricultural word” is enough to get the gist, but for my purposes I want to know more.

  57. And you’d be surprised how often some weird word I looked up in one author has later turned up in another, giving me a sense of the lexical threads interconnecting all literature.

  58. SFReader says:

    I attempted to translate that sentence into English:

    “check the radial clearance between crankshaft and fitment bore in the oil pan”

    I am sure it makes every sense to people who like to tinker with their engines, but how well an average English speaker can understand it

  59. Yes, it would mean just as little to me in English as in Russian.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Gaius Publicus

    Publius Publicus, surely?

    (Would also give us P. P., like A. A. and N. N., Aulus Agerius & Numerius Negidius…)

    Even familiar classical metres must have taken a fair bit of literary training to hear properly when transplanted from their native realm of Greek into the rather different native prosody of Latin.

    The classical metres ignore stress, so to my mind they actually fit Latin (where stress is predictable) much more easily than Greek (where stress is phonemic).

    I myself spent years trying to get classical meters under my belt; they were so alien to the stress-based prosody I was used to it was extremely difficult. But finally it sank in, and I could even read Pindar with confidence in my metrical awareness. It takes work, but put in the work and it works.

    I can’t do that with Greek, which after all I’ve never studied. But in recent years, long after school, I’ve happened to come across linguistic explanations of the relevant concept of syllable length. Now it works; now I can use at least some of the meters to detect vowel length in Latin.

    The minority of native speakers were actually speakers of what is termed Vulgar Latin which is related to real Latin about as much as Tok Pisin is related to English (maybe I exaggerate, but not much)

    I don’t know if L1 Classical Latin speakers existed in Cicero’s time, but if they were, then they surely were comprised of the highly educated elite just like Cicero himself and would have understood him or Tacitus just fine.

    For Cicero’s time, that is greatly exaggerated. The difference was more like that between Shakespeare’s English and what we’re writing here.

    Lots of public speeches today do indeed seem like word salad in written form.

    The LL posts about Trump make pretty clear that to write his speeches down in an actually readable form, you need either a lot of punctuation or a lot of line breaks. The intonation is really important.

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – I don’t know if that’s something non-native speakers commonly read

    No. Its cultural background really doesn’t survive translation.

    Anyway, I’m more likely to conflate a faun with a satyr than with a baby roe deer… the homophony really is just an English coincidence.

  61. In Bulgarian “леха” is a garden patch of several “бразди”. But “бразди” generally refers to the lines in a field that is dedicated to intensive agriculture and not gardening. If I knew enough about Russian morphology, I could have interpreted “неразлешенное” as forbidden to be divided into garden patches, but it would have sounded like a portmanteau or a pun. “Не разрешено да се разделя на лехи?” Нелехоразделяемо (and you have to fit in “разрешено” somewhere in there)? If you could use apply Bulgarian roots to Russian morphology, but utterly absurd. Is that how Russian morphology works? It’s very Germanic-esque. 😀 Bulgarian can’t fit in so many morphemes in one word there.

  62. George Grady says:

    See, in English it’s much easier to muddle together faun and fawn than it is in Russian to muddle together фавн and (checking google translate …) желтовато-коричневый!

    My Russian is not very good, but that translation of fawn seems to be referring to the color*, something like yellowish-brown. The animal, a young deer, would presumably be either детёныш оленя or оленёнок, based on the word олень, deer, but I don’t know which one is actually used (exactly which kinds of deer this refers to, I don’t know either).

    * That Wikipedia page prefers color to colour 15 to 4 if I counted correctly, including the link name.

  63. SFReader says:

    First make that “lekha” into a verb (let’s say it’s “da lekham”), form neuter past passive participle (“lekheno”?), insert negative (“nelekheno”) and lexical prefix “raz” – nerazlekheno pole, same morphology as in nerazdeleno pole

  64. Stephen Carlson says:

    I have a vague and maybe unreliable sense that well into the 20th century newly-published editions of classical Greek texts sometimes came with notes and critical apparatus in Latin,
    Well, the apparatus I’m writing today is in Latin.

  65. I looked for examples of tough English syntax, and this article provides. Would an educated speaker of American English be expected to breeze through Emily Dickinson’s On a Columnar Self? I can read it, and figure out the syntax and thus the meaning, but it’s slow going.

    On a Columnar Self—
    How ample to rely
    In Tumult—or Extremity—
    How good the Certainty

    That Lever cannot pry—
    And Wedge cannot divide
    Conviction—That Granitic Base—
    Though None be on our Side—

    Suffice Us—for a Crowd—
    Ourself—and Rectitude—
    And that Assembly—not far off
    From furthest Spirit—God—

    Unlike the highbrow classical Latin writers, she wasn’t trying to impress anyone with difficult language.

  66. Stephen Carlson says:

    The Keeline piece is very good. Thanks for sharing that.

    As for the Foreman piece on Mary Beard, I think he gets it wrong when he says that she “confessed” that “she can’t sight-read a complex Latin text all that well.” I find no such admission in her piece. Only that certain texts are difficult “after even 10 years at the language.” Beard, of course, is not talking about herself now since she has well more than 10 years at the language. She’s talking about her colleagues, perhaps colored by a memory of her learning experience.

  67. David Eddyshaw says:

    Publius Publicus, surely?

    “Gaius” seemed to me, as the most generic of possible praenomina, to be the best equivalent of “Joe.”

    However, on reflection, Gaius Publicus must in fact be upper class, because “Publicus” cannot be a gentilic, so he must really have the trina nomina. I expect he’s secretly C Quinctilius Publicus, and an eques at least if not an outright nobilis; at the very least he would pretend to enjoy public literary recitals.

    I rebaptise my Roman yob as C Plebeius. Much more suitable.
    (Gens Plebeia continues to flourish even in our day.)

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    Unlike the highbrow classical Latin writers, she wasn’t trying to impress anyone with difficult language.

    Oh yeah ? – then
    Why did she –
    Her trap – did ope
    If not – with dashes
    Dire, to dash –
    All hope
    Of suss ?

    [from Ode to a Gimmick]

  69. Rodger C says:

    The classical metres ignore stress, so to my mind they actually fit Latin (where stress is predictable) much more easily than Greek (where stress is phonemic).

    Once again, David, Ancient Greek had a pitch accent. That’s why it had quantitative meters that easily ignore the accent. In Latin, and also in Byzantine Greek, these meters are constantly pulling toward stress meters. (Look up “Political Verse,” which doesn’t mean at all what it sounds like.)

  70. Stu Clayton says:

    Cruise control poetry:

    # It is also called “ἡμαξευμένοι στίχοι” (imaxevméni stíkhi “like-a-chariot-on-a-paved-road”) verse, because the words run freely like a chariot on a good driving surface. #

  71. Rodger C says:

    Regarding Dickinson–she wrote–all her poetry this way–and her letters too!–and published almost none of them–in her lifetime.

    Her first editor normalized her punctuation, and those were the versions we were still learning in school in the 60s, though a proper edition had come out in the 50s.

  72. Stu Clayton says:

    Huh. I know nothing about her personally. She’s dead after all. Like as not I would have got along with her. It’s the hoopla that chaps my donkey.

  73. My point is just that the syntax is hard to follow, even more so than in, say, Virgil.

  74. Stu Clayton says:

    Of course I understand that. I just felt that the point was unnecessarily obscured by speculation about motives: “she wasn’t trying to impress …”

    Who knows “why” anyone does anything ? The notions behind this question are very productive of jaw-jaw, though. I surmise that is a functional explanation of their eager adoption. When your mind draws a blank, talk about motives. Never a dull moment.

  75. Dickinson was not eager to publish, and published little in her lifetime. I don’t know if she had any particular readers in mind at all. In contrast, Tacitus published in his lifetime, to an upper-class audience, as did Virgil and others.

  76. J.W. Brewer says:

    That example is harder to follow than a lot of other Dickinson pieces which, even if oddly punctuated, have pretty standard word order and minimize enjambment.

  77. David L says:

    On a technical note, I take issue with the notion that a Lever cannot pry a Columnar Self. As Archimedes said, give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.

    The susceptibility of the Columnar Self to Leverage depends, among other things, on its height-to-width ratio and the depth of its foundation. It’s a shame Emily D. didn’t make a little sketch to go with her poem.

  78. January First-of-May says:

    The animal, a young deer, would presumably be either детёныш оленя or оленёнок, based on the word олень, deer, but I don’t know which one is actually used (exactly which kinds of deer this refers to, I don’t know either).

    The latter (оленёнок) is the actually used form; the former would sound about as ridiculously scientific in Russian as something like “juvenile deer” would in English, if not more so.

    I’m not entirely sure which kinds of deer this refers to either; my immediate response would be “all of them”, but for all I know there might actually be some animals for which “deer” would be appropriate but олень would not (an example in the other direction is the Roosevelt elk, or, in Russian, олень Рузвельта – this is apparently because Russian taxonomists have yet to accept the news of Cervus canadensis not being the same thing as Cervus elaphus).

  79. Incidentally, I have no idea why Tolstoy keeps calling him Konstantin Levin

    I have no idea either, but maybe using the patronymic felt for Tolstoy as strange as calling himself Lev Nikolaevich

  80. It shouldn’t be a problem for a reasonably well-educated speaker of Swedish to figure out the meaning of faun without a dictionary. The trick is to realize and always remember that faun is strictly reserved for the satyr-like creature and fawn, for the young deer. Otherwise, you risk finding ambiguity when there’s none, sometimes embarrassingly. Consider the lines, “You yet may spy the Fawn at play,” and especially “She shall be sportive as the fawn,” from Wordsworth’s Lucy poems.

  81. The OED says that faun and fawn are unrelated (from Faunus and foetus, respectively). However, the early attestations show that both spellings were used for both words. Given the similarity in their meanings, it thus seems probable that people have been confusing these nouns for as longs as they have been in use in English.

  82. And you’d be surprised how often some weird word I looked up in one author has later turned up in another, giving me a sense of the lexical threads interconnecting all literature.

    I totally respect that. As I have gotten older I have shifted more and more towards that camp, and in all honesty this blog has helped move me in that direction.

  83. For Cicero’s time, that is greatly exaggerated. The difference was more like that between Shakespeare’s English and what we’re writing her

    What Cicero are we talking about here? My sense is that the Phillipics, for example, would have been easily understood by any L1 speaker born within 100 miles of Rome and probably were not particularly hard for L2 speakers whose native tongue was Oscan or Umbrian. A lot of English speakers seem put off by “waiting for the verb to come around” but if you have ever learned Turkish or Japanese, (or even to some extent if you speak German) Cicero’s syntax doesn’t seem particularly forced or unnatural. I would suspect his language bears the same relation to spoken native Latin that an eloquent State-of- the-Union speech, back when we had eloquent American Presidents, bears to normal educated English.

    Obviously some constructions come up a lot in written Republican Latin that presumably were rarely used in daily speech – ablative absolute constructions for example. I have always wondered if Caesar’s heavy reliance on that was basically the Roman equivalent of military jargon (it’s a very useful construction for dictating reports) and would have had an effect on his Latin contemporary listeners/readers similar to the effect that “securing the perimeter” and “rapid deployment” has on a modern American speaker.

  84. In any case, Caesar is considered as being so easy to read that excerpts from De bello Gallico are normally the first texts from a classical author students are given to read, after the initial diet of carefully constructed textbook pieces, at least in the German tradition of Latin instruction.

  85. David A says:

    I hope it might be interesting (and not just intrusive) to compare language reading with music reading. I sight-read music well enough to play in an informal gathering, but many people – including many who play better than I do – don’t sight-read well enough to feel comfortable in that situation. I attribute the difference to just one thing; I have over time ended up in a number of situations in which I had no choice but to continue playing, despite any mistakes I might make. I’ve had to learn (somewhat against my nature) to ignore any detail that would cause me to interrupt the flow. I would never have learned this without the social pressure of being watched by a conductor or soloist or group of performers, knowing that they were counting on me to keep up with their tempo and to get the basic elements of the music recognizably right.

    Being under pressure to “produce” – and not by Friday at noon either, but right here, right now, without preparation, and the speed being at someone else’s discretion – is a very different experience from working on your own, even if you’re normally a hard worker.

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have always wondered if Caesar’s heavy reliance on that was basically the Roman equivalent of military jargon

    I don’t think so. The absolute king of the ablative absolute is Tacitus, “the most unmilitary of historians”, at least according to Mommsen (btw the picture of Mommsen on Wikipedia is just wonderful.)

    The hypertrophy of the absolute absolute in literary Latin is probably (counterintuitively) a Graecism: it’s a dodge for getting round the fact that Latin hasn’t got active past participles (except with deponent verbs.)

  87. David Marjanović says:

    Once again, David, Ancient Greek had a pitch accent. That’s why it had quantitative meters that easily ignore the accent. In Latin, and also in Byzantine Greek, these meters are constantly pulling toward stress meters. (Look up “Political Verse,” which doesn’t mean at all what it sounds like.)

    Oh yes… I have a dim memory that we’ve talked about this before, and indeed I’ve been to the Wikipedia article on political verse before. Pitch accent certainly helps with that; and did I wonder last time if that might explain a thing or two about singing and even children’s rhymes in FYLOSC, which also ignores stress a lot?

    The hypertrophy of the absolute absolute in literary Latin is probably (counterintuitively) a Graecism

    But then, securing the perimeter and rapid deployment aren’t terribly frightfully Anglo-Saxon either.

  88. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I find it interesting that Keeline gives rubus ‘bramble bush’ as one of the impossibly obscure words – I don’t really know any Latin (or very much botany), but might have managed to dredge up that brambles (and raspberries) are called Rubus something-or-other. Just depends what you use Latin for, I suppose.

    Although it’s also interesting in the sense that I didn’t realise that any of the ‘Latin’ botanical names were actually (based in) Latin as spoken by Romans, rather than Latin as spoken by 18th century scientists!

  89. David Eddyshaw says:

    In “Mommsen – the Movie”, Klaus Kinski would have been a shoo-in for the part. Too late now, alas.

    I’ve no doubt Kinski could have done a mean Mary Beard too. Classical historians are just that awesome. Aguirre, Shmaguirre.

  90. AJP Crown says:

    Ribes, the name for blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries etc. (blackcurrant is rips in Norwegian), is possibly from

    the Arabic name ribas “acid tasting, sorrel, rhubarb”; see Carl Linnæus…

    It says so here (p. 2314).

  91. and in all honesty this blog has helped move me in that direction.

    Another victim!

  92. John Cowan says:

    Julius Caesar! Why everybody knows he couldn’t write! They use his Gallic War as an elementary Latin text for foreigners! All very well for the skin-clad barbarian, who through the gloomy fastnesses of the northern forests pursues the sanguinary boar and horrid bear. But for cultivated men like ourselves — I ask you, my dear young man!

    —Cornelius Anicius, a (fictional) 5C Roman would-be author

    Horrid probably has the sense of horridus ‘bristling’, at least in part.

  93. AJP Crown says:

    blackcurrant is rips in Norwegian

    Solbær. I mean redcurrant.

  94. You can still find Rebecca Mead’s article at web.archive.org.

  95. Can you provide a link? I just searched and couldn’t find it.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    Currant, black taken as the default, is Ribisel in southeastern German; this has been blamed on the Romance substrate there, though I don’t know any further details.

    the sanguinary boar and horrid bear

    Fun fact: the cognates of boar and bear have fallen together in German as Bär (ä unetymological either way). In the meaning “boar” it is now extinct, except you can occasionally find the clarified Saubär “boar; particularly disgusting/repulsive person”.

  97. Owlmirror says:

    @languagehat: All one does is to go to https://web.archive.org and copy and paste the URL into the box. It will show a list on top of all the archived versions made. A shortcut is to prepend https://web.archive.org/*/ to the URL in question in the URL bar.

    Note that in many cases, the most recent version is not the one you want! In the case of Rebecca Mead, the archives from 2016 are of a 404 Not Found page. Note that the circles of archived versions made are pale orange/peach-coloured. Go to a year in which the circles are blue, in this case, 2008. And Viola (or possible Cello)!

    https://web.archive.org/web/20080703081124/www.rebeccamead.com/2001/2001_09_17_art_italy.htm

  98. Many thanks! I’ll add it to the earlier post.

  99. Stu Clayton says:

    Saubär is kinda sweet, and new to me. I don’t think anyone in NRW will mind if I use it as a term of mildly reproachful endearment.

  100. Graham Asher says:

    The statement “You wouldn’t try to read Dante today without first learning modern Italian” strikes me as bizarre. Why on earth not? I tried, and am trying, to read Homer without learning modern Greek, and I think that’s entirely legitimate. Sometime’s it’s helpful to know a modern language before studying its ancestor, but it’s not essential.

  101. Well, those are two different cases. You can certainly try to read Dante without first learning modern Italian, but modern Italian is at least of considerable help. For reading Homer, on the other hand, modern Greek is actually a hindrance.

  102. SFReader says:

    I thought Dante WAS the modern Italian, he is the founder of literary Italian.

    It helps that he is more readable to Italians than Shakespeare to English speakers.

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    Some of us attempt to read Old Irish without knowing modern Irish; but I’m not sure that anything helps when it comes to Old Irish.

    I wonder how many scholars could sight-read a previously unfamiliar Old Irish text?
    (Gey few, and they’re a’ deid.)

  104. When I went to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (Institiúid Ard-Léinn Bhaile Átha Cliath) to study Old Irish, I was told that it would help a great deal to study the modern language as well, with a cautionary tale about how the great Rudolf Thurneysen could not reliably distinguish when you use is and when (both ‘is’) because he didn’t know Modern Irish. I have no idea whether that’s true, but it convinced me to take a course (taught by the exellent Mícheál Ó Siadhail).

  105. AJP Crown says:

    Bembo’s words:
    “Ille hic est Raphael timuit quo sospite vinci
    rerum magna parens et moriente mori.”

    ‘Here lies the famous Raphael, during whose life the great begetter of things feared lest she be overcome, and at whose death Nature herself feared lest she die with him.’

    In English, the epitaph lost its fluency and nuance

    It’s not English that’s at fault. There’s nothing wrong with English. It’s the translation.

  106. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t think anyone in NRW will mind if I use Saubär as a term of mildly reproachful endearment.

    NRW
    We are a Welsh Government Sponsored Body. Our purpose is to ensure that the natural resources of Wales are sustainably maintained.

  107. John Cowan says:

    Fun fact: the cognates of boar and bear have fallen together in German as Bär (ä unetymological either way).

    In MHG, the ursine word had a short vowel, the porcine word a long one, which makes me wonder if at least some dialects have maintained the distinction.

    The “God’s crazy bear” mistake, based on failing to recognize OE bar ‘bore’ as cognate to G gebiert ‘gave birth’ (now often, says Wikt, regularized to gebärt).

    You can certainly try to read Dante without first learning modern Italian

    With the exception of a few words that are now literary or archaic (and of course the heavy matter of topical references, which are many) Dante’s Italian just is modern Italian. This is because Standard Italian was in the deep freeze from Dante’s time to the 19C, used for literature only, and so did not change as living languages do. Quora answer with examples and commentary.

    https://web.archive.org and copy and paste the URL into the box

    Better yet, put https://web.archive.org/29292929292929/ followed by the original URL into your browser’s address bar instead (that’s seven 29s) and you will be brought to the latest available copy: for example, https://web.archive.org/29292929292929/http://languagehat.com will bring you to the copy as of 20190516100233 (more conventionally 2019-05-16 10:02:33).
    If that version is an error page (404 or whatever), click on the blue left-pointing triangle near the top to jump directly to the previous version; you can repeat this until you get to a good version. (Anything other than 29 will do as long as it’s greater than the two-digit current century, but 29 is particularly easy to touch-type, or if you don’t, to put the index finger of each hand on.)

    Sometimes you will be told that the page is not in the archive but is available on the Web. You should always reject this option unless you are behind a corporate firewall vel sim., as it will cause the original error page to be archived. If you are behind a firewall, then accept this option, as it gives you and others a good chance of bypassing the firewall, unless it is smart enough to look for Internet Archive URLs and block them too.

  108. AJP Crown: North Rhine-Westphalia?

  109. David Eddyshaw says:

    I know of an Englishman who has learnt Literary Welsh to a level where he proofreads it for money; he doesn’t actually speak Welsh.

    (For the three LH readers who don’t already know this: Literary Welsh remains in many respects the language of the 1588 Bible translation, which was fairly archaizing even at that time. It is much farther removed from contemporary spoken Welsh than even the most hifalutin’ present-day written English is from spoken English.)

  110. John Cowan says:

    “Most languages are dramatically underdescribed, and at least one is dramatically overdescribed. Still other languages are simultaneously overdescribed and underdescribed. Welsh pertains to the third category.” –Alan King

  111. David Eddyshaw says:

    Arabic is a similar case (and for similar reasons) although overall the Arabics are a good bit better documented than the Welshes.

  112. Alex M. says:

    Google is a godsend for deep reading. Botany and costume are areas where I am particularly weak and both tend to feature prominently in 19th century Russian novels. When an unfamiliar word is clearly from the context a flower or article of clothing I would in the past gloss over it as looking up the English would often leave me none the wiser. Now I simply use Google images to show me the item in question.

  113. Same here.

  114. SFReader: “nerazdeleno pole” in Bulgarian would mean “undivided field”. To get the meaning of “not allowed to be divided” you would have to start with “nerazdelyaemo pole” (undividable field) (and “pole” refers to land dedicated to intensive agriculture, not gardening, or, for that matter, viticulture (which would be “loze”)). And then, to get to the meaning of the Russian term, with some other morpheme that implies potential judicial enforcement — at least that is the impression that I got from the translation of the Russian term.

  115. Owlmirror says:

    Regarding web.archive usage: I have found that all too often, getting to the most recent archived page is actually undesirable because there can be redirects to another domain, like a domain parking site, and trying to go to earlier pages just goes to earlier archives on that domain.

    A more targeted way of doing it is to include the year. Thus, https://web.archive.org/2004*/ prepended to the URL will automatically jump to the pages archived in the year 2004 (which in this case is when the rebeccamead site was linked to), thus bypassing any domain redirects that might be in the system in later years.

  116. SFReader says:

    V:

    No, that’s not implied in Russian – it’s pretty ordinary past passive participle from a verb derived from that word lekh.

    An action was performed – division of a field into parts by use of these lekhs or wasn’t performed – that’s all the word says about the field.

    no permission modals in morphology of this word

  117. David Marjanović says:

    In MHG, the ursine word had a short vowel, the porcine word a long one, which makes me wonder if at least some dialects have maintained the distinction.

    If so, they’re probably Low German, because almost all of High German has lengthened the vowels of monosyllabic words that don’t end in at least two consonants (or a long one). And even without this, the ursine nominative singular might have copied the long vowel from all other cases (HG Bären) which got them by the lengthening of vowels in stressed open syllables – this lengthening started in Low German (and hasn’t reached Switzerland). This has in fact happened in Dutch, where Wikipedia tells me it’s beer (pl. beren); neither of the two Low German Wikipedias appears to have an article on bears.

    G gebiert ‘gave birth’

    That’s “gives birth” (and hardly ever occurs); the past is gebar.

  118. John Cowan says:

    Modern Standard Arabic is separated from its colloquials by a much greater time-depth, though. Literary Welsh looks more like Middle English to me.

    As I understand it, MSA:

    1) has to be learned by full-on language learning, you can’t just “pick it up”;

    2) is used for public speaking as well as writing;

    3) is the only written form, with the usual exceptions for an L variety (some poetry and songs, dialectology).

    Are any or all of these true of Literary Welsh?

  119. My impression is that the situation with MSA and the modern Arabic languages is like writing Latin and speaking Italian, Romanian, or Portuguese in daily life
    Saubär
    I didn’t know the background, I always had assumed it was just a combination of two animal names à la Schweinehund. I feel enlightened now.
    BTW, I’ve never seen the word applied as designation for an animal, only ever in the meaning “dirty person”, often with implication of the person having improper sexual desires. (So Stu should be careful whom he calls that name.)

  120. Stu Clayton says:

    I won’t be using it in southern Germany, only in NRW. Folk etymology rules here, as everywhere, and baby boars are much-loved subjects of ecopedagogy. Bärli and Mausi are considered unobjectionable in birthday greetings published in the newspapers, so an occasional Saubär is unlikely to excite comment.

    Most Germans still have nerves of steel, they don’t vote Democrat.

  121. David Marjanović says:

    often with implication of the person having improper sexual desires.

    Yes.

    (Also, only applied to men, as expected for a grammatically masculine insult.)

    Bärli and Mausi are considered unobjectionable in birthday greetings published in the newspapers, so an occasional Saubär is unlikely to excite comment.

    I doubt you’ll find people calling each other Schweindi, let alone anything based on Sau.

    Most Germans still have nerves of steel, they don’t vote Democrat.

    Not only did, until the Sunday before last, most Germans vote for the Christian Democratic Union or the Social Democratic Party, but these two parties correspond to the Democrats quite well: Obama, Biden, Kerry and both Clintons would feel quite at home in the CDU, and Sanders differs from the head of the Young Socialists, the first Kevin in German politics, mainly by his less dramatic rhetoric.

    It’s like that throughout most of Europe. Schwarzenegger still believes he’s a Republican simply because he’d fit into Austria’s conservative party – no wonder he consorts with Democrats and mocks Trump hard.

  122. @Stu: I am a speaker of Northern German and know the word, and so will other Northerners. But we all are the smiths of of our own embarrassment, so go ahead 🙂

  123. Stu Clayton says:

    Saubär Buntes Badevergnügen for children. The products are sold in dm drugstores, the 3rd biggest drugstore chain in Europe.

    # Saubär, Bär oder Bän ist ein Begriff im Oberdeutschen Sprachraum insbesondere im Schwäbischen, Bairischen und Österreichischen[1] #

    # Der Begriff wird auch im übertragenen Sinn für männliche Personen als Schimpfwort verwendet. Das Schimpfwort wird zumeist als gemäßigt heftig angesehen und angewendet. Als Steigerungsformen gelten hier Drecksau und Wildsau. #

    When I find a moment I’ll call PR at dm to ask whether Saubär products are banned from the shelves in Bavaria. If not, it’s not looking good for the consensus here about the dangers of the word.

    Edit: I called the Pressestelle. The woman who answered thought the idea was funny that anyone would object to Saubär (she had not even heard of the word in the sense being adumbrated here, area code Karlsruhe), and had not heard of any public outcries in Bavaria. As I spoke with her, I realized that there is an additional aspect: Saubär is a pun on sauber, as well as being a composite-animal word for kids.

  124. David Marjanović says:

    Actually, is it the loss of the pitch accent that killed the classical meters in Greek, or is it the loss of vowel length?

    I thought I’d just look up which happened when, but:

    In modern Greek the accent is for the most part in the same syllable of the words as it was in ancient Greek, but is one of stress rather than pitch, so that an accented syllable, such as the first syllable in the word ἄνθρωπος, can be pronounced sometimes on a high pitch, and sometimes on a low pitch. It is believed that this change took place around 2nd–4th century AD, at around the same time that the distinction between long and short vowels was also lost.[53] One of the first writers to compose poetry based on a stress accent was the 4th-century Gregory of Nazianzus, who wrote two hymns in which syllable quantities play no part in the metre, but almost every line is accented on the penultimate syllable.[54]

    Ref. 53 is this paper, which I’ll try to read next. So far, I had read that the written accent marks were invented in the 2nd century BC as a prescriptivist device, because the pitch distinctions had begun to collapse at least in Alexandria?

  125. David Marjanović says:

    Saubär Buntes Badevergnügen for children.

    Huh. It’s bear-themed, not only depicting a bear, but CamelCased as SauBär. Clearly, the intention is to but the bear in sauber “clean”. Perhaps washing pig-associated mud off is also intended.

    I wonder how well it sells, though. I’ve never seen it, and I have seen Irish Mist on sale in Germany.

  126. Stu Clayton says:

    I wonder how well it sells, though

    The argument resources in favor of embärassment seem to be drying up …

  127. Clearly dm are not aware that Saubär means a boar… boar/Bär seems to be attested in WGer only, which doesn’t prevent Kluge or etymonline from giving a PGer form; no Scandinavian bells are ringing for me, but maybe Trond finds a Norwegian dialect form as usual.

  128. Stu Clayton says:

    Clearly dm are not aware that Saubär means a boar

    Of course not. Only those who are aware of it are aware of it, and reach for the phone to call the propriety police. Everyone else goes their merry way. That’s my point – in NRW I expect no charges will be filed.

    By the way, you may not have read the first two paragraphs of the WiPe entry, which says bezeichnet das unkastrierte, für die Zucht bestimmte, männliche Hausschwein (Eber) … Das Wort wurde schon in der Oeconomischen Encyclopädie (1773–1858) von Johann Georg Krünitz beschrieben.[4] Es steht in etymologischer Nähe zu englisch boar [bɔːɹ], deutsch ‚Wildschwein, Eber‘ wie auch dem deutschen Wort Borg ‚geschnittener Eber‘. A Saubär is not now a Wildschwein, or at least not only.

    Sauborgs are of course familiar from science fiction.

    Clearly a Sonderkommando der Anstandspolizei will be required to clear up all these diachronic misrepresentations, if and where such may be.

  129. You’d think the Sau- part would guide people in a suine direction. But perhaps that’s obsolete in German too, at least for the farm animal — I’m pretty sure it’s been mentioned on here as pejorative for human females. Or as a slangy intensifier, but from the artwork on those chandlery product pages it’s supposed to be a very clean bear, not a bloody one. As DM said, the pun on sauber probably overrode all else in the AD’s mind. (Spot the hidden assumption).

  130. Stu Clayton says:

    (Spot the hidden assumption).

    Ha ha, it’s that the mind of an AD contains more than the moment !

  131. David Eddyshaw says:

    As I understand it, MSA:

    1) has to be learned by full-on language learning, you can’t just “pick it up”;

    2) is used for public speaking as well as writing;

    3) is the only written form, with the usual exceptions for an L variety (some poetry and songs, dialectology).

    Are any or all of these true of Literary Welsh?

    Yes, Only on extremely formal occasions, and Very much so until fairly recently.

    Literary Welsh differs significantly from the spoken language in morphology, and the whole verb system is quite radically different (to about the degree of Classical versus colloquial Japanese.) Individual literary-isms often do turn up in ordinary speech, but that is true with Arabic as well.

    It’s been a problem with keeping Welsh going that there is also a big gap between the various spoken dialects [though nothing like as much as in Arabic], so a common written colloquial would also have to be artificial; there was indeed such a project, called Cymraeg Byw, largely intended as a target for L2 learners. It’s pretty much dead, replaced by acceptance of the fact that learners should aim more or less at acquiring the local dialect.

    There are signs of a spoken koine emerging among younger speakers nowadays, though, and the phonological dialect differences are conveniently covered up by the conservative spelling system, which basically reflects Dafydd ap Gwilym’s language.

  132. John Cowan says:

    pejorative for human females

    I once read the story of a Jewish teenager who escaped from Berlin to Switzerland in the end-stages of WWII. He found a dead SS man and put on his uniform, made the more convincing by his blue-eyed blond-haired ‘Aryan’ appearance. Nobody suspected him of anything, but when he got into the South he got more and more dirty looks: not because he was a Jew, but because he was a Saupreuß ‘fucking Northener’!

  133. @Stu: Never seen the product before, but my times buying children’s bubble baths are long gone. Hilarious. Of course, the Pressestelle will tell you that there never was a problem, nope, until the day when they change that brand name or a shitstorm becomes so big that they can’t hide from it any more. But I accept that means that up to now there was insufficient embarrassment. So, go ahead, use the word, and it would be nice if you’d report back from time to time how it’s working out.
    As to Sau, I can’t vouch for the depth of agricultural knowledge of the average city slicker – I’d guess most people have an idea what a pig (“Schwein”) looks like, but there may be a not insignificant number of people who don’t know that “Sau” is the female and only know it as an epithet and as a pejorative element in compounds (e.g. Sauwetter is atrocious weather).

  134. Stu Clayton says:

    Saumagen sounds atrocious too, but I would probably like it, to judge by the look of it. I bet the stomach doesn’t have to be from a Sau either, hochdeutsch-wise. <* googles *>The WiPe says that in the “Palatinate” Sau is commonly used to refer to the domestic Schwein-an-sich. I can’t easily believe that is true without qualification, but …

    [What an oversized word “Palatinate” is, merely for die Pfalz]

  135. Oh, you know, in Rheinland-Pfalz they have Saumagen and then they have Remagen. 🙂
    (And I never had Saumagen, either, I only know that it was said to be former Chancellor Kohl’s favourite dish.)

  136. Stu Clayton says:

    Rehmagen. Poor Bambi !

  137. Bambi-lovers don’t need to worry, that was just a bad pun.

  138. Romanian {â} and {î} — they just randomly played some Romanian rap in a pub I was at and it sounded like an unrounded [ʊ].

  139. Yvy tyvy says:

    From the Willis article:

    He has won his Ph.D.; now surely he can apply himself to the serious business of his life, which is to become a truly learned man? Not a bit of it. He must find himself a job; and it is useless to go before a selection committee and say, “I have read the whole of Lucretius, Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, and I am halfway through Lucan.” He must show that he has published work to his name, and quite clearly and inevitably this published work must consist of articles. Alas, to produce an article he must do much the same as he did for his doctorate: he must find a sufficiently small subject, compile his bibliography, raise his hat on each page to the great names and mention the little names in his footnotes—again without ever reading continuously through any writing in Latin or Greek. The lamentable truth is that to read Greek and Latin authors is never useful and can even be harmful to the aspirant for more recognition and higher pay in classics.

    I have to say, when he mentioned “finding a job” after getting a classics degree, and contrasted it with becoming “a truly learned man”, I was not expecting him to go in the direction of classics-related employment.

  140. I was not expecting him to go in the direction of classics-related employment.

    A Doonesbury classic.

  141. I don’t even want to follow that link. But I will, because I have no impulse control (or rather my impulse control is too fine, and I can’t not do it). Also I hate Doonesbury.

  142. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW I guessed correctly which Doonesbury strip that was before clicking through. Which may suggest that Trudeau only came up with one classics-related-employment classic over the course of his cartooning career.

  143. I started reading the Doonesbury comics following the one in the link. They next story arc was about Duke and Honey getting into the drug smuggling business in the Caribbean. A couple weeks later, I came across this strip, which uses the word “troll”—forming what is now a double entendre, although it cannot have been meant as one by Trudeau in 1981.

  144. The unrelated fishing terms troll (drag a baited line) and trawl (drag a long narrow net) existing side by side is proof that life isn’t fair.

  145. @Y: The etymologies there are a real mess. According to the OED, there are at least three possible sources for the verb troll. In particular, the angling-related senses of troll may be an amalgam of older meanings related to movement (themselves of not entirely clear origin), together with the fishing sense of trawl.

  146. David Marjanović says:

    Ref. 53 is this paper, which I’ll try to read next.

    The paper is mostly about something completely different, a weird idea (“stress theory”) that claimed Ancient Greek had a system of predictable word stress that was completely independent of the pitches and vanished without a trace. That idea is thoroughly trounced.

    On pp. 136 and 137, mostly footnote 37, that evidence is briefly mentioned of stress gradually becoming more important in poetry from the -4th to the +4th century.

    On p. 148–151, the question of whether pitch or length was lost first is addressed by means of statistics of misspellings. In Attic inscriptions, lengthening of stressed short vowels (e.g. ει for etymological short ι, ω for etymological ο) is much more common than shortening already before 200 BC. This is interpreting as the stressed syllable attracting length because it had already acquired greater intensity from the loss of the pitch distinction, somehow. I’m not sure I can follow all the way. P. 150: “These results lend some support to the view that a stress accent developed before the loss of quantity contrasts and conditioned that loss.” The footnote that follows says length was probably completely gone by the +3rd century.

    You’d think the Sau- part would guide people in a suine direction. But perhaps that’s obsolete in German too, at least for the farm animal —

    Still current. Also used as an intensifier for metaphorical pigs, i.e. it’s a stronger insult than Schwein.

    Sauwetter is atrocious weather

    That may be where the use as a pejorative prefix (Saupreiß in Bavaria, Sauschwob in Switzerland…) came from: heavy rain is when the wild boars come out of the woods and dig up all your potatoes in impunity.

    Romanian {â} and {î} — they just randomly played some Romanian rap in a pub I was at and it sounded like an unrounded [ʊ].

    Ah, so the exact same thing as the Turkish ı.

  147. @J W Brewer
    As a Swedish speaker, I find that particular example especially unfitting. Not only is “faun” the same in Swedish as in English, but many (former) children will remember the faun Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is translated into Swedish and also has been showed on Swedish television several times. For me, faun brings up memories of a friendly goat-like man. Now, on the question of deers and fawns, I’m much more hazy.

    Latin:
    I don’t know Latin, but I have read a wonderful book with poems about 100 Swedish cities from the 17th century. The book was bilingual with the Latin on one page and the Swedish translation on the other side, however the most delightful part was the notes. The notes explained the mythological references as well as gave some historical context to the descriptions of the cities.

  148. David Marjanović: not exactly, the Turkish vowel in question is higher and backer in my impression. Definitely more back. But I’m only commenting on this specific Romanian rap band that I heard last night.

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