Friday, May 24, 2013

Lingua Latina Vivit

Brent Rosenstein is a graduate student in the UIUC European Union Center’s interdisciplinary Master of Arts in EU Studies program. He composed this blog entry in the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ (PS 418) course in the spring of 2013.

by Brent Rosenstein

“Latin is a dead language, it’s dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me!” This schoolyard rhyme has rung true for many students of the Latin language over the years, often wondering why they subject themselves to the intricacies of a language that no one really speaks anymore. However, Latin is not really as dead as it may seem. Certainly, the language suffers from a distinct lack of native speakers, a necessary trait for a language to be “living” in the traditional sense. However, that is not to say that no one speaks Latin anymore. In fact, it is still widely used by people all around the world everyday.

The two primary uses of the language come from the two sectors that most people tend to associate with Latin: religion and academia. The ecclesiastical usage is probably the largest domain for “everyday” Latin today, with Roman Catholic officials in the Vatican using the language for regular operations, press releases, and even casual conversation and joking around.1 The academic world, by contrast, puts little emphasis on the conversational usage of Latin, focusing more on the ability to read and interpret various historical sources, from Roman times until the present. Given that the best way to read something is to do so in its original language, Latin continues to be invaluable to the study of Europe’s past. Learning the lingua latina has also been shown to improve the grammatical understanding of other languages, including English.2 This gives it a much broader application, making it useful for anyone who speaks or works in English or a Romance language.

Screenshot of CNN.com, "Pope Joins the Twitterverse"
Since the above domains are the most commonly thought of usages of the language, Latin is not usually thought of as having a less formal side. While the language has always had more commonplace usage, more casual Latin has been revitalized by the rise of modern media. This has taken multiple forms. For instance, there is at least one radio station that holds regular broadcasts in Latin.3 However, perhaps the largest benefactor of modern Latin has been (unsurprisingly) the Internet. Various websites and online news sources have sprung up over the years to help promote the use of the language, and one of the most entertaining examples is probably Vicipaedia, the Latin-language Wikipedia. While some of the articles are seen as being of questionable grammatical correctness, things like the tendency to Latinize people’s first names give it a rather charming quality overall. A particularly brilliant example of this the article on the Harrius Potter series, describing the adventures of Harrius at the Schola Hogvartensis.4 While the overall educational quality of Vicipaedia may be somewhat lessened by its community generated nature and sometimes questionable grammar, it can still be a useful tool in playing around with the modernization of the language, and can potentially bring more interest to the subject.

"Romans Go Home" iPhone case
Social media has not been cut off from Latin either. There is, of course, the much-publicized Papal Twitter account, bringing Latin to the masses in one hundred forty characters or less.5 However, as is probably less well known, Latin has been a usable language on Facebook since at least 2009.6 This means that people now have the ability to share pictures, status updates, and likes entirely in the language of the Romans. This suggests that Latin is still alive and vibrant, at least in some circles. To be fair, though, the Facebook example may not be the best, given that the site also lists “Pirate” as a usable language.

Finally, there is what may be the single most important usage of the Latin language in the modern world: understanding Monty Python skits - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8.



1Robin Banerji, “Who Speaks Latin These Days?,” BBC, February 12, 2013, sec. Magazine, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21412604.

2Ibid.; “CSU Foreign Languages & Literatures | Latin,” accessed March 31, 2013, http://languages.colostate.edu/languages/latin.

3Banerji, “Who Speaks Latin These Days?”

4“Vicipaedia,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, March 31, 2013, http://la.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pagina_prima&oldid=2403593; “Harrius Potter,” Vicipaedia, March 26, 2013, http://la.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harrius_Potter&oldid=2489787.

5“Pope Benedict Sends First Personal Tweet,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/12/world/europe/vatican-pope-twitter/index.html.

6“Latin Becomes a Living Language on Facebook,” accessed March 31, 2013, http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=145923442130.

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