The sneaky roundabout way to reintroduce a knowledge of Latin into every school

Monday, February 22, 2010

Let's begin with a note on mutual comprehensibility or mutual intelligibility, whereby two languages resemble each other enough that one language is understandable to a speaker of another language with very little effort. Due to the distance English has from other languages, English is in a bit of a no-man's land of its own, as English is a language with a Germanic base but a huge influence from French and Latin, placing it in an area where other Germanic languages look familiar at times (German Wasser and Dutch water) but unfamiliar at others (German Unabhängigkeit and Dutch onafhankelijkheid for the word independence), whereas Romance languages like French look quite foreign at times (in French Je crois qu'il y a une chose que vous avez pas compris (I think there's something you haven't understood) there isn't a single word except maybe vous that an English speaker would recognize out of hand) but very familiar at others (French c'est est un château de styles principalement Renaissance et classique, or It's a chateau/castle principally with Renaissance and classical styles).

Speakers of many other languages, however, will often interact both in real life and online without having to learn each other's languages. This can be seen in particular among the Scandinavian languages of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Mutual comprehensibility, of course, works best when two speakers want to communicate with each other. That is, learning Norwegian will not allow a person to magically walk into a bar in Denmark and follow what a group of people are saying amongst themselves in a rapidfire conversation between friends, but if you put a Dane and a Norwegian in a room with a task whereby they have to communicate with each other to solve a task only using their respective mother tongues and with a prize of 100000€ if they do it in ten minutes, then they would certainly have no problem in doing it.

Alongside mutual intelligibility also exists something on a less impressive but still important scale: simple passive understanding. A speaker of Spanish may be able to muddle through a document written in Italian or even French, for example. Though these languages are not 100% recognizable from the start, a speaker of one of these languages is well prepared to learn one of the others in a fairly short time.

Now let's get to the subject of Latin revival. Latin has actually been enjoying a modest increase over the past decade or so (see here, here and here for example), and with a proper strategy focused on areas where enrollment is relatively high, it may even be able to become a spoken language again. The ultimate goal of many Latin revivalists is the reinstitution of the language as a common language between peoples as was the case during the Middle Ages to the 17th century or so. After this French spent some time in its place as the language of international communication and diplomacy but failed to achieve a final victory, and since the beginning of the 20th century English has taken its place. Here's a newspaper from the early 20th century on the subject.

In the early 1990s when the Internet first became widely used, it looked for a while like English had achieved a kind of final victory as well, as the Internet at the time was largely English, multilingual support was hard to find, and the American economy was stronger than it was now (remember this from 1999 when the US was on track to pay off the debt by 2015?). Since then, however, other languages have shown surprising resilience and an increased presence both in real life and online. Miami has switched from a primarily English city into a primarily Spanish one and is continuing to do so, Trinidad and Tobago (official language English) is aiming to be fluent in Spanish by 2020 (also see here) and Brazil plans to increase the numbers of those that speak Spanish from 5 million to over 40 million, among other examples. English remains in the dominant position for now and no other language is poised to take its place, but neither is English just one step away from becoming the world's second language, and a language on the brink of doing so would not be ceding so much linguistic territory right in its own backyard.

We appear to be headed for a linguistic deadlock.

Back to the revival of Latin: the proponents of such a revival usually have two reasons for this:

- Practical and modern reasons - Latin has a long history of being used as a neutral second language, and can do so again. Even now it is sometimes used to solve linguistic disputes in a way that no other language can.
- Aesthetic and historical reasons - Latin's usage over 20+ centuries makes understanding it a necessary prerequisite to understanding history. Being able to read documents of the past in their original tongue is one of the best ways to retain this.

Reason #1 is shared by proponents of constructed languages such as Esperanto who argue for a common second language that has been created to be easy to learn, but reason #2 is specific to Latin only. The establishment of a language such as Esperanto would result in a common second tongue, but Latin would remain as dead as ever.

There is a language that can accomplish both of these goals, however; that is, a planned language that is both easy to learn, as well as one that provides a tie to the past in Latin. The name of that language is Occidental, and it was created in 1922. But before we take a look at that language let's look back to mutual intelligibility and passive understanding. Why exactly do advocates of a revival of Latin support the idea? Do they do so because it is strictly necessary that we begin to talk as ancient Romans wrote? Certainly not. What is most important for them is that we retain a link to this past, an ability to understand the writers and thinkers of old in the words they themselves used, the ability to understand our own history in the way it was written. This stretches from Roman times to fairly recent history, as even the first encyclopedia on Canada was written in Latin for example.

Back to Occidental: in order to demonstrate what the language looks like, let us first take a look at a very important document originally written in Latin, Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (The mathematical principles of natural philosophy). Here's the first paragraph in Latin, followed by English.

Now let's take the first four sentences from those, match them up (the English version is a bit more detailed because it's a translation of a later Latin version) and then add a translation in Occidental.
Aer duplo densior in duplo spatio quadruplus est. Idem intellige de Niue et Pulveribus per compressionem uel liquefactionem condensatis. Et par est ratio corporum omnium, quae per causas quascunque diuersimode condensantur. Medii interea, si quod fuerit, interstitia partium libere peruadentis, hic nullam rationem habeo. Hanc autem quantitatem sub nomine corporis vel Massae in sequentibus passim intelligo.

Thus air of a double density, in a double space, is quadruple in quantity. The same thing is to be understood of snow, and fine dust or powders, that are condensed by compression or liquefaction; and of all bodies that are by any causes whatever differently condensed. I have no regard in this place to a medium, if any such there is, that freely pervades the interstices between the parts of bodies. It is this quantity that I mean hereafter everywhere under the name of Body or Mass.

Aere con un duplic densitá in un duplic spacie es quadruplic. Li sam cose es inteligibil sur nive o polve compresset o condensat per liquification, e sur omni córpores, queles per qualcunc cause es diversimen condensat. Sur un medie, si un tal cose existe, quel líbermen permea li intersticies, yo have null regarde. Sur ti quantitá, sub li nómine córpor o masse, yo va intenter in omni loc in li sequent partes.
Comparing the three, one can see that Occidental is much more similar to Latin than English is. Let's take a look at the areas where this is the case.

(Latin - Occidental - English)

nive (nix) - nive - snow
pulveribus (pulvis) - polve - dust
corporum (corporeus) - córpore - body
omnium (omnis) - omni - all
quae - queles - which
per - per - by
quascunque - qualcunc - any
sub - sub - under

In addition to this there are many places where the English word is similar to the Latin one, but Occidental more resembles the original Latin (nómine for name, null for none, sequent instead of the English following).

Another example comparing Latin with Occidental and English comes from a post here, translating a simple Latin fable into both languages.

Latin Occidental English
In scholā nostrā linguam Latīnam discimus. Nunc in fābulā Latīnā dē rānīs discimus. In nor scole nos aprende li lingua latin. Nu in un fabul de latin nos aprende/discurre pri ranes. In our school we learn Latin. Now we learn about frogs in a Latin fable.
Incolae Graeciae saepe deās vident, quod deae saepe in silvīs Graeciae ambulant. Interdum Lātōna in silvīs ambulat. Fēminae Graeciae Lātōnam, deam pulchram, amant, quod Lātōna est fēminīs benigna. Grec habitantes sovente vide deessas, proque deessas sovente promena se in grec silvas. Quelcvez Latona se promena in forestes. Grec féminas ama Latona, li bell deessa, proque Latona es afabil (benigni) a féminas. Greek inhabitants often see goddesses, because goddesses often walk in Greek forests. Sometimes Latona walks in forests. Greek women love Latona, the beautiful goddess, because Latona is kind to women.
Nunc Lātōna in silvā ambulat. Cum Lātōnā sunt īnfantēs Diāna et Apollō.Nu Latona se promena se in li silva. Con Latona es li infantes Diana e Apollo.Now Latona walks in the forest. With Latona are the infants Diana and Apollo.
Agricolae Látōnam et īnfantēs spectant; deam timent. Dea agricolās videt; itaque agricolās vocat. Aquam ōrat. Lātōna aquam nōn dēsīderat; sed īnfantēs aquam dēsīderant.Farmeros specta a Latona e li infantes; ili time li deessa. Li deessa vide li farmeros; dunc ella voca li farmeros. Ella demanda aqua. Latona ne desira aqua; ma li infantes desira li aqua.Farmers see Latona and the infants; they fear the goddess. The goddess sees the farmers; therefore she calls the farmers. She asks for water. Latona doesn't want the water; but the infants want the water.
Est aqua in lacūnā, sed agricolae Lātōnae aquam dare nōn dēsīderant. Itaque in lacūnā ambulant; nunc aqua nōn est bona. Lātōna est īrāta quod agricolae sunt in aquā.Es aqua in li lago, ma li farmeros ne desira dar li aqua a Latona. Dunc ili se promena in li lago; nu li aqua ne es bon. Latona es iritat proque li farmeros es in li aqua.There is water in the lake, but the farmers don't want to give the water to Latona. Therefore they walk in the lake; now the water is not good. Latona is angry because the farmers are in the water.
Dea īrāta clāmat.Li deessa, iritat, clama.The angry goddess shouts.
Nunc agricolae sunt rānae. Nunc agricolae in casīs nōn habitant; in lacūnā habitant, quod sunt rānae.Nu li farmeros es ranes. Nu li farmeros ne habita in domes; ili habita in li lago, proque ili es ranes.Now the farmers are frogs. Now the farmers do not live in houses; they live in the lake, because they are frogs.

Good, so we've established that Occidental vocabulary is closer to Latin than English. But what about grammar? Well, first bear in mind Latin grammar actually doesn't resemble either English or even other modern Romance languages a great deal: Latin uses no articles (English and all Romance languages have articles), and it has a great deal of declension (only Romanian has kept some of this) as well as three grammatical genders (once again only Romanian still has three), causing its grammar to more often resemble Slavic and Baltic languages than Romance or Germanic languages, except for German itself and of course Icelandic. So to attempt to create a planned language that resembled Latin in these ways as well when the large majority of those in Europe and North America are used to using languages with articles and without cases would probably be going a bit overboard.

However, Occidental does use derivation that comes from Latin, in something called De Wahl's Rule (De Wahl was the creator of the language), an interesting way to retain regularity while still giving the language a naturalistic character. The rules go as follows:

  1. If, after the removal of -r or -er of the infinitive, the root ends in vocal, the final -t is added or the final y is changed into t: crea/r, crea/t-, crea/t/or; atiny/er, atin/t, atin/t/ion
  2. If the root ends in consonants d or r, they are changed into s: decid/er, deci/s-, deci/s/ion
  3. In all other cases, with six exceptions, the removal of the ending gives the exact root: duct/er, duct-, duct/ion.
These six exceptions are
  1. ced/er, cess-
  2. sed/er, sess-
  3. mov/er, mot-
  4. ten/er, tent-
  5. vert/er, vers-
  6. veni/r, vent-

This rule shows how Latin words are derived from verbs. ducter to duction is what gives reduction from reduce, and decider to decision is what gives decision from decide. Due to the large influx of vocabulary from Latin, English speakers have an unconscious understanding of how this derivation works most of the time.

And of course, being a constructed or planned language, Occidental is laughably simple to learn. Here are some examples.

Verbs do not conjugate by person:

yo ama, il ama, tu ama, noi ama (I love, he loves, you love, we love)
yo amat, il amat, tu amat, noi amat (I loved, he loved, you loved, we loved)
yo vole amar, il vole amar, tu vole amar, noi vole amar (I want to love, he wants to love, you want to love, we want to love)
yo ha amat, il ha amat, tu ha amat, noi ha amat (I have loved, he has loved, you have loved, we have loved)
yo ha esset amat, il ha esset amat, tu ha esset amat, noi ha esset amat (I have been loved, he has been loved, you have been loved, we have been loved)

Comparative is formed with plu, superlative with max or maxim:

grand - plu grand (big - bigger). Li max grand libre - The largest book.
inteligent - plu inteligent (intelligent - more intelligent). Li max inteligent presidente - The most intelligent president.

Adverbs are formed with -men (originally from Latin mente):

rapid - fast, quick. Il furtet li diamant rapidmen - He quickly (rapidly) stole the diamond.
lent - slow. Il lentmen consciet que il hat devenit un object de rision - He slowly realized that he had become a laughing-stock.

To see a complete grammar of the language, see here (or here on Scribd). Even languages that are simple to learn need a comprehensive grammar to show exactly how they work. Don't believe anyone that claims the grammar of a language can be explained in a single page.

Occidental could probably best be explained as a streamlined and standardized Western European, and it is one of the few constructed languages that is capable of 1) being understood by a large number of people at first sight, and 2) disguising itself as a "natural" language. Point #2 is very important, as the uncanny valley found in robotics seems to be present in languages as well, as often the idea of a constructed language is met with revulsion or ridicule, while languages that are capable of disguising themselves in the way Occidental can usually result in a pleasant surprise when the reader realizes that the language he has been reading with little difficulty isn't some obscure Romance language, but rather a constructed language less than a century old.

Finally, what about a user base? Do people actually use Occidental? Certainly. Here are a few quick examples: here's a site run by a user of the language, here's another one, and another one, another user of the language is here, a blog in the language is here, here are 17 users on Wikipedia that know the language, the language has its own Wikipedia, and just yesterday a user wrote about how impressed he is by the language. Many more examples of the language in use are easy to find. Occidental doesn't have a huge community, but it does have a stable and active one.

And how does one say Romanes eunt domus in Occidental? Romanes, ea al dom.

What would a world with Occidental as a common second language look like? This video of Barack Obama's first YouTube address with Occidental subtitles gives some idea.

Thus concludes the basic presentation of the language and the idea behind it. Please leave any questions in the comments section below.


* Mutual intelligibility: there actually is one language that is quite mutually intelligible with English, namely Scots (see their Wikipedia here). The Scots Wikipedia is a pretty good example of what languages like Danish look like to Norwegians, or the other way around. And as always, written languages are much easier to understand than spoken. The Scots Wikipedia is easy to follow, but stumble across two people chatting in Scots and your average North American wouldn't have a clue.

** Interlingua: Many readers will know about this language, a constructed/planned language that looks quite similar to Occidental and also claims to be a modern Latin (Latino moderne). Why not support Interlingua instead of Occidental? There are some good reasons for this:

- Interlingua is quite easy to read, but in writing can often be long and cumbersome. I had been there is Io habeva essite illac (Occidental: Yo ha esset ta), He played happily is Ille jocava felicemente (Occidental: Il ludet felicimen), and You can read this course, preferably with other people as if you had a conversation with them is Vos pote leger iste curso, preferibilemente con altere personas como si vos habeva un conversation con illes (Occidental: Vu posse leer ti cursu, preferibilmen con altri persones quam si vu havet un conversation con les).

- Interlingua has an irregular accent that is not indicated. Suddenly in Interlingua is either subitemente or subito, but subito has the stress on the first syllable (súbito). Kilometre (kilometro) is stressed on the second syllable (kilómetro), but as with English (e.g. I presént you this présent, and a photógrapher takes phótographs) the accent is not indicated. In other words, even Spanish is easier to read properly than Interlingua. Occidental indicates irregular stress with an accent.

- Interlingua vocabulary is based on a model whereby any word that is present in at least three of the source languages is considered to be Interlingua. This often results in users of the language creating their own vocabulary based on their personal preferences. The word for I is io, but one can see it written as ego, yo, or even eu. Interlingua is both so naturalistic and lacking in a strict formula that users will often not only make up their own vocabulary but also use irregular verbs as well, such as illes son (they are) instead of illes es, or era for the past tense instead of the regular esseva (esser + past tense -va).

In short, Interlingua feels like a natural language to the student, but without the benefits of a large community of users.

*** Would Latin revivalists really support a language like Occidental? Latin users differ from IAL (international auxiliary language) supporters in that many of them are simply interested in the language itself; they like Latin and Roman history and perhaps are not as eager to promote the language to others because they are aware of how much of an investment learning the language is. With all the time and effort it takes to properly learn Latin, the idea of lending support to another language is simply not possible to most. However, given the similarities in vocabulary and derivation between the two one would assume that a Latin revivalist would prefer a world in which everyone spoke Occidental as a second language to the current situation, as that would give everyone a leg up on both understanding and learning the language they love.

**** What about people of a non-European linguistic background, like Chinese or Uzbek? Occidental isn't immediately comprehensible to them, nor is Latin a part of their history. Both true points. However, nobody is stopping Turkic language speakers from making their own pan-Turkic language, and Occidental would be a smashing success even if it was limited to being the second language of the European Union. Also bear in mind that people in Asia and other parts of the world already learn Western languages in spite of their difficulties, and in that sense a language like Occidental is actually more respectful in recognizing the effort that has already been put in to learn them.

***** Hasn't the idea of a constructed/planned language already failed? The easiest way to explain the idea of a constructed language is to compare it with something like Linux, or perhaps the Dvorak simplified keyboard. The user base is smaller, but those that use and promote it swear by it and see it as a better and more efficient solution to the status quo. New and more efficient ideas are not always doomed to failure either: the metric system is used officially in nearly every country throughout the world. Of course, the difference between these and a language like Occidental is that Occidental is an auxiliary language, and thus is not meant to replace natural languages but rather is meant to be used between two people that would otherwise have no way to communicate. No IAL promoter advocates natural languages being replaced with a planned language; on the contrary, one advantage to a language that is easy to learn is that it protects other languages given that 1) being a neutral language, speakers are on a more even playing field, and 2) being easy to learn, students do not need to spend years abroad in order to learn it.

****** Can languages that aren't spoken as a mother tongue really be revived or brought to life? Certainly. Hebrew did it. "The process of Hebrew's return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a language devoid of native speakers becoming a national language with millions of first language speakers." Latin can be revived, and Occidental can be turned into a living language. All that is required is will and a sense of necessity.

******* Would learning Latin really be that much easier in a world where everyone spoke Occidental as a second language? Certainly, and here are four examples (here, here, here and here) of what a Latin textbook in Occidental would look like. Also keep in mind that Occidental would be a second language, so the knowledge gained by knowing it would be in addition to any other language(s) students would know.


cafaristeir said...

Good article Dave !

About non-Europeans: a simple argument is simply to say that Occidental is no less international than Esp. or LFN... Otherwise, one can try Sambahsa, LdP or the like...

You should add the pbworks opened by Valdo, from Poland:

It has preserved some precious materials from Hartwig's webpage that has unfortunately gone down.

"Chakobsa" Olivier

Vivaldi said...

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