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A natural history of Latin

had a great in¬‚uence. But today it is English which is the most in¬‚u-
ential language, and, in some respects at least, it has other ways of
dealing with Latin words.

Latin and English

English was a written language already in the seventh century, but
the oldest English texts cannot be understood by someone who only
knows modern English. One of the reasons is that the vocabulary
was very different. In the beginning English was a purely Germanic
language, and contained very few loans from other languages. Many
of those old Germanic words have now disappeared, or have changed
so much that it is no longer possible to recognize them.
After 1066 the situation changed completely. William the
Conqueror and his French-speaking Normans occupied the country.
The only written languages they used were Latin and French, and
they took over important functions in society including the owner-
ship of most of the big estates. For several centuries French was the
common spoken language among all the rich and powerful people
in England (and to a lesser extent in Wales and Scotland). English
was the spoken language of the masses, but it was hardly used in
writing at all.
By the ¬fteenth century English had once again become the spo-
ken language for almost everyone, and it had broken through as a
written language in many domains. But during the centuries when
French was dominant, English had changed radically. Among other
things a large number of all kinds of words were adopted from
French, both learned words that had come quite recently from Latin
and ˜popular™ words. Furthermore, English borrowed lots of words
directly from Latin, which was the language of the learned even in
Britain. Learned loans from Latin and Greek continued to enter the
language in the following centuries, with the result that English has
gradually developed a very large vocabulary. The Germanic words,

Latin and Europe

which have been in the language since the beginning, are now just a
small minority of all the words in an English dictionary. The words
that come from Latin or Greek, either directly or via French, are the
great majority. Estimates vary between three quarters and nine
tenths. At most the original Germanic words constitute no more
than about twenty per cent.
English is a Germanic language which mainly consists of words
that are not Germanic. Certainly the most common words”such as
have, sister, come, and go”are usually Germanic and resemble the
corresponding item in German or the Scandinavian languages. But
the majority have been borrowed during the last thousand years.
This state of affairs has many advantages. One of them is that there
are many opportunities to vary the language with synonyms and to
express ¬ne distinctions with different words. Quite often there is a
Germanic and a Latin or a French word for approximately the same
thing.We have pairs such as the following, where the ¬rst is Germanic
and the second is Latin: get/obtain, come/arrive, warder/guard,
hug/embrace, and many more. The implications of this circum-
stance should probably not be exaggerated, since there are other
ways of creating words with similar meanings in languages like
French and German; but there is no doubt that English has ended up
with a very rich stock of words as a result of its history.
Sometimes the learned words from Latin are identical in their
written form in English and French (although the pronunciation is
almost always more or less different). In both languages we have
in¬‚uence, from a medieval Latin word, in¬‚uentia, which has exactly
the same meaning as the English and the French words. This in turn
is made up of in- ˜in™ and ¬‚uere ˜¬‚ow™, so an in¬‚uence is something
that literally ¬‚ows into one place from another.
However, for the most part the French and the English forms
differ to some extent. The French word importer, for instance, corre-
sponds to English import. This re¬‚ects a general difference: the
English verbs do not have an equivalent of the Latin ending and are
therefore shorter than the French ones. We ¬nd permit and inform
in English, but permettre and informer in French beside permíttere

A natural history of Latin

and informáre in Latin. This difference derives from the fact that
French verbs are conjugated in many forms precisely as in Latin and
to a large extent with endings that have been inherited from Latin.
˜We permit™ for example is nous permettons in French, with a verb
form which is relatively similar to the Latin equivalent permittimus.
In English there are many fewer verb endings, and they have nothing
to do with Latin. In other words, when English borrows, it borrows
the stem but not the ending.
The English words that come from Latin obviously belong to
several word classes. Latin has a verb admirári, which becomes admire
in English. The adjective admirábilis becomes admirable, and the
noun admirátio becomes admiration, and it is easy to see that the
Latin adjective and noun have been formed from the verb. In English
there are thousands of adjectives and nouns that have been formed
in a similar way. That applies to most of the words that end in -ion
and -ble. Some random examples are presentation, combination,
delegation, probable, considerable, notable.
These patterns have become so common in English that an ending
like -able can now be added to other stems than the Latin ones.There
are words like likeable, which has been formed from the English like
and the ending -able. There are even instances where -able has been
added to a whole phrase, as when we say a novel is unputdownable
or a place is ungetatable. Such words cannot be called loanwords,
since the stem is English, but they are not domestic either since the
ending is from Latin. They represent a new resource which English
has developed through its numerous loans, which have created
a model for the indigenous words to follow.

Latin and us

The ¬rst part of this book deals with Latin as the native language
of the Romans, a function which it served for slightly more than a
millennium. It became the vehicle of a culture which in various ways

Latin and Europe

was superior to everything that had preceded it, and which still
fascinates many of us two thousand years later.
There are not many people left today who see the ancient Romans
as models, which is perhaps just as well, but in many ways they are
our immediate predecessors, both for good and for evil. At the same
time their world is so remote from ours that much of it remains
strange, even alien to us. Ancient Rome bears some similarities to
today™s New York, Washington, or Paris, but in other respects it is
more like the Tenochtitlán of the Aztecs.Yet we can trace most of our
institutions, ways of thinking, and cultural traditions back to Rome.
Like it or not, we will always have a link with antiquity, and it is pri-
marily the Latin language which allows us to investigate that aspect
of our heritage should we choose to do so.
The second part of the book is about the Europe which had Latin
as its common language. The language was no longer anyone™s
native language, but instead it acquired other functions. For several
centuries it was more than anything the language of the victorious
Christian religion, and it retained that status for a very long time.
But at the same time Latin represented a link back to antiquity and
its non-Christian world, which was a source of knowledge and skills
otherwise unknown in the later period. Little by little, religion and
the Church became less dominant. A new tradition of thinking and
literature and science developed out of what had been written in
Latin in antiquity, but that tradition gradually became more and
more independent and turned into the new European way of think-
ing, writing, and conducting research. In the beginning Latin was
almost the only language of that tradition.Writers gradually started
using the new national languages, at ¬rst in imaginative literature,
much later in philosophy and the increasing number of new
sciences. Even so, within certain areas, such as botany and zoology,
Latin is to some extent still used as a language of communication.
The history and cultural history of Europe after antiquity was
written almost entirely in Latin until the thirteenth century, there-
after decreasingly so. In this way the European states have a very
recent shared linguistic and cultural background. After antiquity

A natural history of Latin

Latin was the international language which made it possible for
western Europe to preserve and establish bonds right across the
Continent. Although people stopped using spoken and written Latin
in discipline after discipline, that did not mean that the language dis-
appeared completely. The useful words, of which there were many,
were transferred to the new languages. Their number is increasing,
and they exist in most European languages and now also in many
languages in other parts of the world.
Latin has, or has had, three distinct roles. It was the native language
of the Romans in antiquity; it was Europe™s international language
until two or three hundred years ago; and it is the language from
which the modern European languages have drawn the majority of
their loanwords. That means that there are three good reasons for
knowing something about Latin, and hopefully this book contains a
little useful information about each of these areas. Some of you may
even be inspired to go further and really learn the language. It takes
time and a lot of effort, but it can be very rewarding.
So far we have almost only looked backwards, which is natural, as
you mainly devote yourself to Latin if you are interested in history.
But what does the future hold? Will knowledge of Latin and anti-
quity die? Or will the interest be revived? Might people start using
Latin as a supranational language again? I have no answer to those
questions. Personally I do not believe that people will go back to
writing their memos or debating in Latin, even if it is not impossible
that someone might suggest the idea. On the other hand, I do not
believe either that interest in antiquity and the long history of
Europe will disappear. And anyone who is really interested in those
periods, which apart from a few centuries at the end constitute the
whole of our history and culture to date, will have to learn Latin too.
And that considerable portion of the world™s population who speak a
European language will have to use Latin words every day and every
hour for as long as one can see into the future. That is how Latin will
live on.

Part III
About the Grammar
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This part of the book offers a very brief survey of the grammar of
Latin,or rather of those parts of the grammar which are different from
English and present the English-speaking learner with dif¬culties.
The idea is that, if you are interested, you will be able to identify the
forms of the words that occur in this book and be able to understand
how simple sentences are constructed in Latin. Most space is devoted
to a short summary of the morphology of Latin, that is to say the
rules for building words and the regular patterns of in¬‚ection.
Inevitably many exceptions and irregular patterns, which do not
occur in the passages cited in this book, have had to be left out. I have
tried to make the treatment readable even for people who have not
done much grammar before.

Pronunciation and stress

We have already covered the pronunciation of Latin sounds in anti-
quity at the beginning of the book (pp. 4“6). In the section entitled
˜Speaking and spelling™ (pp. 107“15) we dealt with pronunciation
and spelling in the Middle Ages and after. Here I will look at some
points which were not covered in the earlier discussion.
Right from the beginning Latin had ¬ve simple vowels: i, e, a, o, and
u, each of which could be either long or short. By long and short we
mean just that: an extra degree of phonetic length coupled with a small
difference in the way the vowel is articulated, much as in the contrast
between bit and beat in English. Something similar existed in
Chaucer™s time for all the pairs of vowels in English too, but changes
since then mean we often apply the term ˜long™ to vowels which
have substantially altered their phonetic quality and have become
diphthongs. So people often talk of English mane having a long vowel
A natural history of Latin

and primary school teachers introduce their children to the magic ˜e™
which turns the short vowel in man into the long vowel of mane,
when in fact phonetically the difference is between a short vowel [¦]
and a diphthong [ei].
In principle the correct length has to be learnt for every vowel in
every word, so Latin dictionaries usually have a small sign over each
vowel.A small line over the vowel, technically called a macron (from
the Greek word for ˜large™), indicates a long vowel, e.g. a, e. A small
semi-circle or breve (from the Latin word for ˜short™) over the vowel
indicates a short vowel: a, e , etc. The word for ˜woman™ in the nomi-
native case can be written femina, while ˜woman™ in the ablative
case is femina. This notation, which is typographically rather
untidy, is often used in Latin dictionaries and word lists, not least
because pairs of words may difffer only as to the length of the vowel,
as with malum ˜apple™ beside malum ˜evil™ or edo ˜I give out™ beside
˜ do ˜I eat™.
There certainly are some contexts in which it is good to know
exactly which vowels are long and which are short, one being the
rules for assigning stress to Latin words.We have already mentioned
that most Latin words have the stress on the second last syllable,
which in Latin is called the (syllaba) paenúltima. But quite a few
words are stressed on the syllable before the second last syllable, the
(syllaba) antepaenúltima. The key rule is that the penultimate
syllable is stressed if it is long; otherwise the stress falls on the
antepenultimate syllable.
The rule then refers to the length of the penultimate syllable. If
the vowel in a syllable is long, the syllable is also said to be long, so
we need to know the length of the vowel. For example, the word
monstratus has a long vowel in the penultimate syllable and is


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