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Lewis and language

The man. The myth.

Postby carol » 21 Apr 2007, 06:11

Scholars in the past used Latin as a common spoken and written language between people of different countries. Documents and laws were written in Latin, church services were spoken in Latin, and knowledge of Latin showed you had education.

But by the early 20th century, Latin and Ancient Greek were being taught as written languages only, with very little speaking. They were taught as a means to study "the classics", and as a useful background to understanding one's own language.

In my early high school years I had three years of Latin, most of which I have forgotten, but which I found to be useful in understanding English, French, German grammar, and also New Testament Greek which I studied six years after I finished Latin. But we seldom spoke Latin, only read it aloud, which is very different.

I think that Lewis could have quoted and remembered plenty of the Latin and Greek he'd read, due to his having an amazing memory, but I cannot imagine him sitting conversing [eg with the Inklings at the pub] in Latin or Greek!
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Postby Paul F. Ford » 22 Apr 2007, 01:51

From 1961 through 1967 I was blessed to have been taught to read, write, undestand, and speak Latin. From 1963 through 1969 I also was taught to read and write Greek. I cannot imagine my scholarly life without this background.

Blessings,
Paul
Paul Ford—self-appointed president of the "245-3617 Club" and proud member of the "245-6317 Club"; author of the Companion to Narnia and the Pocket Companion to Narnia.
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Postby Mornamoice » 03 May 2007, 01:18

That Lewis was so well-versed in languages amazes me. My major during my undergrad years (1988-1992) was Classics with an emphasis on ancient Greek. I also studied Latin in high school and continued it into college. In addition, I've studied German, Italian, and Russian, and possess a very small smattering of French, Spanish, and Ukrainian--the only foreign language in which I can claim fluency is German). Now my 7-year-old is after me to teach him Latin, so I have to dust off my books (figuratively, at least... they're all at home in California and we're in Ukraine) and figure out how to adapt them to his abilities.

I have read (and it's probably mentioned elsewhere on this site, but seems to fit here) that he and Joy would play Scrabble by their own rules, allowing words from any known language, as long as you could prove they were real words. I would not have dared to compete against either of them in this game, even with my own background of language study! After all, they could probably both whip me soundly even if we just stuck to English.
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Postby Ste-vo » 03 May 2007, 16:01

I think I shall learn Greek once I finish my Drama course. Half of me is Greek so it seems only fitting that I know both languages of my bloodlines. Also I'd be able to speak the native tongue on my first ever visit to my homeland, Cyprus.
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Postby mgton » 05 May 2007, 02:19

My first Latin class is about a month from now. I would actually like to learn ancient Greek, but it's really tough to schedule my classes to where I could sneak it in, especially since I must hurry up and take intro level classes in order to have time to take the upper level classes in the future. I guess that's what inspired me to start this thread about Lewis' ability with languages. Any suggestions from you Latin folks on getting started?

And for the people that know Greek, is it a particularly hard language to learn? I ask because my adviser, who knows Latin and French, was talking about how hard he found it, how he had to give it up in frustration.
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Postby Anne Elk [Miss] » 05 May 2007, 16:55

Greek is going to be harder if you don't know Latin. Unless you've previously learned an inflected language (one where you change the precise function of a word in a sentence by changing the ending), starting the two together might be rather difficult. Greek has a rather similar format to Latin, as it's also inflected, but there are even more inflections to learn - there's a middle voice in addition to the active and passive, an optative and a subjunctive where Latin uses the subjunctive to cover both, etc. Also, there's simply the added barrier in Greek of learning to use a new alphabet, although honestly that goes away after the first month or two.

That said, if you wanted to learn <i>just</i> New Testament Greek, that changes things somewhat, because it's much simpler to learn than classical Greek. If you're taking regular Greek courses, however, it's likely you'll start with classical so that you can do either later on.

Still, I wouldn't recommend trying to start both Greek and Latin together. It's simply a ton to memorize, and you have to get used to the idea of an inflected language. Once you've moved to the level in one of reading a text and looking up vocabulary, rather than spending all your time on grammar and vocab, that's when I'd start the other.

But you asked about suggestions for Latin specifically. Hm. I found getting a musical rhythym in my head that I could fit strings of endings to worked well. You're going to have to mutter endings and principal parts to yourself a lot before they stick; putting them to a tune helps them stick a little better.

Also, the subjunctive is your mortal enemy for the first few weeks you're trying to understand it, and then eventually it becomes just as easy to use as the indicative mood. Really.

Good luck! It's always nice to see fellow classics enthusiasts. :)
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Postby Karen » 05 May 2007, 17:05

[motherly aside]Hi sweetie. :smile: [/motherly aside]
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 06 May 2007, 15:17

Wow. Two posts in a row by the Karen clan with nary a BR reference. Must be some kind of record string.

I mean, after all, Karen could have at least easily replied with something obvious like "show me the inflections -- let me exp-p-plain them to you."

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Karen » 06 May 2007, 21:21

Bridey...I mean, Stanley...don't be so Jesuitical. ;)
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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Postby carol » 08 May 2007, 09:42

Greek grammar is the basis of Latin grammar, since the Romans had no ideas of their own - they borrowed their mythology, their stories, their religion, their grammar, etc.... and probably their laws too, from Greece.

It's worth reminding any aspiring tourist/scholar that Greek as it is spoken today is a lot different from the Classical Greek (which was also somewhat different from Biblical Greek, which was a sort of common trade language version known as Koine "coy-neigh"). But good luck, and persist, and you will be pleased with your results in the end!
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Off Topic

Postby interloper » 08 May 2007, 21:08

Anne Elk [Miss] wrote:This post was made by Sarah. All the ideas expressed therein are original to me, except when they are not.
(Karen's daughter).

Hi Anne Elk [Miss]!

It was not actually the epithet in your signature that caught my eye, but the fact that you are Karen's daughter. I see you joined over two years ago, where have you been hiding? I know your Mama a little from exchanging PMs etc, and it's good to see you joining in the forums. I'm trying to persuade my daughter to join too, but no luck so far.

The other thing that interests me is your forum name. It has always intrigued me that Monty Python was such a hit in America (I'm English, don't you know), but it's even more intriguing to see second generation American Monty Python devotees!
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Postby Anne Elk [Miss] » 09 May 2007, 12:19

Interloper, it wasn't so much that I joined the forums as that I heard so many Wardrobe stories, was called downstairs to read threads over my mom's shoulder, etc., that I basically had to create my own account in self-defense. :wink: So ocassionally I show up and read things, but pretty much I have this account for all those times my mom emails me and is like "You have to comment on this thread!"

As to the Monty Python, well, I don't really know where that started, but I think it goes back to when I was about 11 or 12. Monty Python (tv show and movies both) was pretty much the funniest thing I had ever seen at that time, and most of my friends agreed - I don't know how many times we must have watched Holy Grail. I still think it's brilliantly funny.

Now, in an homage to the original subject of this thread, I must be off to take my Greek exam...
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Postby Karen » 09 May 2007, 13:09

carol wrote:Greek grammar is the basis of Latin grammar, since the Romans had no ideas of their own - they borrowed their mythology, their stories, their religion, their grammar, etc.... and probably their laws too, from Greece.


Ahem. I beg to differ. Not about the grammar, but the "had no ideas of their own". The Romans invented concrete and, most important of all, the book, in the form of a codex rather than a scroll.

No, they weren't the most purely inventive civilization, but their innovations in the fields of architecture and engineering, while based on earlier examples, were extraordinary.
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Postby Guest » 09 May 2007, 13:28

Plus, how great is that Times New Roman font? That's innovation on a stick!
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Postby Karen » 09 May 2007, 14:43

Heh. :smile:
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