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 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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quendidil
Diglot
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Singapore
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 Message 1 of 33
07 October 2007 at 2:50am | IP Logged 
Dr Arguelles, how would you recommend starting on literary languages with little to no audio recordings? Would you start with bilingual texts or go through the traditional grammar-translation method?
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 2 of 33
08 October 2007 at 8:35am | IP Logged 
It obviously is possible to learn to read and analyze a language, particularly an older literary language, without ever giving the slightest thought to how it might really be pronounced. However, I find this to be very inefficient. In order to really learn a language, you have to make it come alive in your mind, which means it must have some sort of a voice. It is obviously preferable to have as authentic a voice as possible, but any voice at all is preferable to your own normal pronunciation. Which particular languages interest you?

If you cannot get any decent, e.g., Sanskrit audio, I would recommend at least learning the rhythm of Hindi or another living Indian language. Likewise using straight Modern Greek might be preferable to some of the attempted reconstructions I have heard of Ancient Greek. I think it would be perfectly acceptable to use contemporary Icelandic for Old Norse. Having used audio resources and learned something different and at least in the direction of the target, try to use that and not your native language as a basis for attempting to apply any of the descriptions of phonetic rules that may be given in your manuals. Then, record yourself reading both traditional grammar-translation exercises and bilingual texts aloud in the literary language and listen to these recordings in the background at other times so as to bring the tongue to life by allowing you to hear it as well as see it.

It is easier to find Latin audio than it is to find audio for most other literary languages, but it is frankly rather hard to track down something read with anything sounding remotely like the actual rhythm of a real language. The recordings for G.D.A. Shapley’s Beginner’s Latin (Teach Yourself Books 1997) are the most authentic sounding commercially available Latin of which I am aware. You can edit the English out of the 120 minutes of audio material to get about 70 minutes of good straight Latin, which is a good start, but not enough to really give it a shape of its own.

In this precise respect, perhaps I can offer something beyond mere advice. Over the years I have worked very hard at my own Latin pronunciation and if I do say so myself I can read it quite naturally. As a core element of my regular study routine consists of reading Latin aloud anyway, I could easily make recordings of myself doing so and share these with others if someone else could handle the technological aspects of the undertaking.


Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:03am

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Marc Frisch
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 Message 3 of 33
09 October 2007 at 4:06am | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles wrote:
Likewise using straight Modern Greek might be preferable to some of the attempted reconstructions I have heard of Ancient Greek.


If you're a very visual learner and have no problem memorizing the shape of a written word, that might work for you. But for people who memorize words as sounds, pronouncing Ancient Greek like Modern Greek makes vocabulary acquisition and correct spelling much more difficult (and unnecessarily so). I don't know much Greek, but if I remember correctly, certain vowel sounds can indicate different verb forms in Ancient Greek but have the same pronounciation in Modern Greek, such as Omega and Omikron.

More importantly, Ancient Greek poetry is not based on stress or rhyme but on the alternance of long and short syllables. In Modern Greek this distinction does not exist. I can't really say if that would make reading poetry less enjoyable, but I think it's very likely. Imagine reading Shakespeare with a different pronunciation such that the stress becomes irregular and the verses don't rhyme any more!

Edited by Marc Frisch on 09 October 2007 at 4:10am

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qwing
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Singapore
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Studies: Latin

 
 Message 4 of 33
11 October 2007 at 6:31am | IP Logged 
"I could easily make recordings of myself doing so and share these with others if someone else could handle the technological aspects of the undertaking."

Well there are a number of ways to distribute the recordings: first, via torrents; second, via a site like latinpodcast that already aggregates recordings.

About actually learning it, since textbook Latin can be so different from "real" Latin, what would you suggest to tackle this problem, Prof Arguelles? In short, how does one bridge the gap between, say, Wheelock's or its equivalent and real Latin authors like Caesar or Tacitus? Your method, in particular, advocates reading texts of which one can understand 80% of the words: how does one get so much of the requisite vocabulary for real Latin, along with grammatical practice, in?

Specifics would be appreciated. Would you, for example, endorse reading a paragraph of English translation, then the real Latin; and then once one can read most of the Latin naturally, refer to commentaries?

I find myself beset with 2 bad habits: translating automatically sometimes into English and parsing ("oh this is a dative and that's a gerundive, so erm, since you have est in too, it must be one of those necessity things"). Will longer periods of reading -- so as to immerse oneself in the language, though admittedly finding texts of suitable difficulty is hard -- solve this?
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 5 of 33
14 October 2007 at 6:40pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Frisch, I fear you misunderstood me. I did not mean to say that one should simply use Modern Greek pronunciation for Ancient Greek and have done with it, but rather that one should apply phonetic rules posited for Ancient Greek to a base of Modern Greek in preference to a base of German, English, or any other language. What I also meant to say was that all of the performances or demonstrations that I have ever heard using posited reconstructions of supposed Ancient Greek pronunciation have struck my ears as falsely unconvincing and indeed even ludicrous. Under these circumstances, I do not think it would be so bad to use Modern Greek pronunciation for Ancient: you are quite right, many diphthongs have fallen together and both grammatical clarity and poetic quality would suffer, but the diachronic continuity of the language would be stressed and the more immediate access it would give to the living form of the language would propel one’s overall Hellenic studies forward. This would certainly be preferable to using a ridiculously implausible reconstruction of the lost tones, or to ignoring the problem altogether by pronouncing Ancient Greek as if it were German, English, French, etc.

Mr. Gwing, I believe you already know the answer to your own question. There is no question that years of reading easier texts is the only way to work up to reading more difficult texts. It is easy to lose one’s perspective with Latin, for school teaching of the language really does push the notion that you should somehow be able to go straight from Wheelock to Cicero. Indeed, that was very literally my experience as an undergraduate at Columbia University, where the first thing we “read” after finishing Wheelock was Cicero’s In Catilinam I & II in Gould & Whitely’s annotated edition. I put the word “read” in quotation marks because what we really did was hack the text to pieces so we could analyze the dissected words. The natural result of this is exactly the formation of the two bad habits of which you yourself complain: compulsive parsing for its own sake and translating in one’s read rather than thinking directly in Latin.

Because it is the etymological fountainhead of Western Civilization, Latin seems more transparent than it really is. Cicero’s use of language has always been considered the golden standard of Latin, but precisely because of that it is something that one should only expect to read fluidly after many years of practice. This is hardly a revelation. Read progressively more difficult texts for an hour a day, every day, for the foreseeable future, and over the next horizon you will one day attain your goal some years down the line. We are very far away from the golden age of Latin letters, so it will take us some time to swim back to it through the centuries.

You will need to undo your bad habits, which will naturally be difficult. I recommend that you obtain both volumes of Hans. H. Orberg’s excellent Lingua Latina per se Illustrata (very recently taken over by a new publisher so I do not want to list the one from my volume). The teaching narratives they contain are didactically constructed, as the title says, so that the language illustrates itself. I think that if you read these aloud systematically, you should begin to learn to think straight in the language.

After that, finding easy material to read for Latin is itself quite easy. The goal should be to develop reading fluidity by reading in a natural fashion, i.e., paying attention to the narrative and following the story, thereby slowly but surely internalizing the structure of the language and its vocabulary. The ideal texts are lengthy connected prose narratives.

Here is the comprehensive input / extensive reading resources for Latin online site where you can find historical and mythological narratives culled from beginner’s textbooks and put together as continuous reading courses: http://www.johnpiazza.net/comprehensible_input

Many other texts designed specifically for easy reading are readily available online, such as Ritchie’s Fabulae faciles and Lhomond’s De viris illustribus and Epitome historiae sacrae.

Many modern classics of children’s literature have been translated into Latin: Robinson Crusoe, Pinocchio, A Christmas Tale, Alice in Wonderland, the Wind in the Willows, the Little Prince, Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner, and now the first Harry Potter book have all been translated into Latin. You may have to swallow quite a bit of pride to read such texts when you are aspiring to Tacitus, but precisely because of the simpler nature of these narratives, they are extremely conducive to the continuous and connected reading practice that you need in order to ultimately achieve your goal, and I would recommend availing yourself of them.

You can regain any lost self-respect at this point by reading straight through textbooks from the late 19th/early 20th century period in a scientific subject matter of specific interest to you. I myself revel in a Thomistic Elementa Philosophiae Scholasticae by Dr. Seb. Reinstadler from 1904. This kind of material should be rather immediately transparent to you by this point.

After you have read these naturally, you should be in a position to do the same with connected prose narratives of neo-Latin and medieval Latin, such as the Ludvig Holberg’s 1741 novel Nils Klim, Francis Bacon’s Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Regis Angliae, the Gesta Romanorum, and the Liber Kalilae et Dimnae. I mention these works in particular because they are all available as full texts from online sources. The same is true of hundreds of pages of the Historiae Alexandri Magni Macedonis, which brings you within centuries of the target of “real” classic Latin literature. Tacitus and Cicero and Seneca were masters of a consciously and deliberately refined and extremely high register of Latin. Each has his own style that inevitably requires a period of habituation after initial contact, but I think that if you have followed a course of continued and intensive reading backwards across the centuries such as the one I suggest here, you will find that your mind is by now fully alive to Latin and that it is thus now prepared to approach and wrestle with the most difficult masterworks on their own terms.

Edited by ProfArguelles on 05 November 2007 at 9:07am

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Iversen
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 Message 6 of 33
15 October 2007 at 4:40am | IP Logged 
I too remember my Latin learning as puzzle solving more than actual reading, and even though I got high marks at both the exams I took around 1970-75 I can hardly read a simple tombstone today. During 25 years of inactivity most of my languages got somewhat rusty, but none to the same degree as Latin, and the reason must be the foolish way that it was taught back then.

I have a couple of projects running right now, but when I get back to latin I'm going to apply as far as possible the same methods as I would for every other language, - i.e. word lists and grammar, but only as a tool to 'crack' the language and start thinking, reading and maybe even writing the language - there are so many genuine texts floating around that it doesn't matter that most of them are somewhat old. The problem of course is the spoken language, where audio sources are scarce and of doubtful quality.

Personally I don't think I will learn the language primarily for speaking to Roman Catholic clergy or Classical philologists, so it really doesn't matter to the outside world whether I choose to think or speak Latin with a 'Ciceronean' twist or as some kind of Middle Age Latin. Ideally one should switch between the kikero and the sisero type of Latin, but both could in principle be applied to Latin from any periode (please correct me if this is wrong). I was taught to pronounce with k- long ago, but I just might prefer the s- version next time, vulgar or not.




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qwing
Newbie
Singapore
Joined 5908 days ago

9 posts - 11 votes
Studies: Latin

 
 Message 7 of 33
16 October 2007 at 6:11am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles, I really appreciate your detailed post: thank you very much!
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quendidil
Diglot
Senior Member
Singapore
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126 posts - 142 votes 
Speaks: Mandarin, English*
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 8 of 33
17 October 2007 at 10:02am | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles, so leaving aside the issue of the availability of audio materials how would you recommend going about learning a "dead" tongue? Take Sanskrit for instance, let's say I have learnt how to pronounce the retroflex consonants and the sounds that don't appear in most non-Indian languages, if I am able to make recordings of myself reciting Sanskrit accurately, would you recommend going through a traditional grammar-translation method at least once or twice through before starting on bilingual texts or going straight into bilingual texts and trying to make the best of it?

Given a language as grammatically intricate as Sanskrit I don't think you'd recommend the second option but what do I know :), anyway, I read that William James Sidis taught himself Classical Greek and Latin this way, but then again, none of us can rival his intellectual ability.

EDIT
If you have time to answer this, just a short reply detailing the steps will do, if you please Professor. I don't wish to drain your time away from answering the many other interesting topics started here.

Incidentally, do you know of any monolingual Latin dictionary available online?

Edited by quendidil on 19 October 2007 at 1:40am



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