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Speaking in Latin, or why I need an introduction to Boris Johnson

Along with the the survey of Latin literature comes the instruction in speaking in Latin or as the experts put it, ‘oral Latin.’  My lack of knowledge will instantly be demonstrated when I reveal that my first reaction to the exhortation to speech was “How do they know?”  Of course, it was swiftly pointed out by friends (Jo again) that there are still Latin Masses.  And, Latin was spoken on a regular basis until relatively recently, historically-speaking.  As the language of a community, it was probably spoken last in the 7th or 8th century:  but then again I have seen other sources that say 300 AD.  Also, medieval scholars and the clergy used it.  It seems to depend on what type of Latin is referred to–classical, vulgar–and among whom it was spoken.

Even though there are a number who are confident in pronunciation, there is  some disagreement regarding the usefulness of oral Latin in the classroom.  My search for Latin as a spoken language has lead me to many interesting sources, among them John Piazza, a teacher of Latin and author most recently of The Essential Marcus Aurelius  (http://www.johnpiazza.net/home).  Nancy Llewellyn from SALVI*, in her defense of  teaching spoken Latin, observes that there are probably only about 3000 speakers of Latin in the world (Boris Johnson, the London mayor, among them.  Not that she is likely to know that.).  However, the value of speaking Latin lies not in being able to “order a caffe latte in some trendy cafe”  (apparently, des mihi quaeso caffeam cum lacte, which I’m sure Boris already knows), but in ” mastery of the language, to the greatest extent it can be achieved”.   Speaking helps students ‘internalize’, especially as our first encounters with speech are through hearing and then speaking ourselves, whereas “reading is, by comparison, a very high-level, abstract skill.”   (http://www.johnpiazza.net/defense) In other words, speaking creates an active imprint of the language that is more readily retrieved than the passivity involved in  reading.  I know that this is not an entirely accurate summary of her meaning.  But I think what she is trying to communicate is somewhat related to ‘body memory,’ that concept in sports, dancing, or any other physical activity, where the memory of movement is retained by the body to the point where it can take over from memory gained by intellect.

Of course, it is helpful to be able to speak inLatin if ever at  a cocktail party with the mayor of London.  Or, indeed, if you work for or with him, if the current comedy series about the lead-up to the London Olympics, Twenty Twelve, is anything to go by:  Sally, the PA to the Head of Olympic Deliverance, regarding a call from Boris:  “It was a lot of gosh and piffle, and I think the end might actually have been in Latin.”  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00yw1t9)

As I am making my way through Latin on my own, and have no one with whom to speak, maybe I should give Boris a call…

*Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatus Vivae Institutum on whose site I found that my name in Latin would be pretty much what it is in English.  A little disappointed.  http://www.latin.org/


One thought on “Speaking in Latin, or why I need an introduction to Boris Johnson

  1. I think he’d seriously appreciate any contact in Latin!
    About Boris: http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/boris-johnson
    Contact Boris: http://www.london.gov.uk/contact-us/city-hall

    Posted by Jo | March 30, 2011, 3:54 pm

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