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Old 2020-02-28, 19:33   #23
ewmayer
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Originally Posted by Dr Sardonicus View Post
One thing I failed to find was any mention of the fact that a lot of older languages arose in pre-literate ages. Before written language was invented, people were, as one of my uncles liked to say, "just as smart and just as capable as we are today." But their living circumstances, and the fact the language was not written, in my opinion, caused them to think differently than we do today. Perhaps the kind of distinctions they needed to make were different than the kinds that are most useful to us today. And whether a language is written down surely influences its structure.
An excellent point ... and pre-literate ages were dominated by clan/tribal-social-group affiliations, which consisted of much smaller aggregations of people than modern cities, but I would argue possessed rather more complex social dynamics - knowing one's place in the tribal social hierarchy (and continually thinking on one's prospects for bettering it) was crucial. The gendering and formal/informal-speech aspects of the old languages reflect that.
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Old 2020-02-28, 20:43   #24
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But Latin has more grammatical cases than German. Never mind number and the tenses...
Modern French is descended from Latin but from the version spoken by ordinary people, not the version of Latin commonly taught today.
They used "habeo" to form the past tense, for example.
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Old 2020-02-29, 05:51   #25
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Modern French is descended from Latin but from the version spoken by ordinary people, not the version of Latin commonly taught today.
They used "habeo" to form the past tense, for example.
Yes, Vulgar Latin, that language of the common people, as xilman and I were discussing. All the Romance languages -- Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, Neapolitan, etc. -- descended from Vulgar Latin; in fact the only surviving Italic languages are Romance languages.
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Old 2020-02-29, 06:00   #26
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One reason often given for the prospects of a Latin revival being dim is, Latin grammar is complicated. And so it seems. I have heard people complain about grammar being difficult, and they were complaining about English grammar. As my education progressed, I developed the attitude that, if someone thought English grammar was complicated, I knew a sure cure: German grammar!

German is an "inflected" language, with declensions for four grammatical cases, three grammatical genders, singular and plural. And of course, tenses. Mark Twain, in The Awful German Language, complained that "It is as bad as Latin." But Latin has more grammatical cases than German. Never mind number and the tenses...

This got me to thinking: Why is it that older languages seem to have more complicated grammar than newer ones? A bit of searching on line turned up discussions on this topic.

One thing I failed to find was any mention of the fact that a lot of older languages arose in pre-literate ages. Before written language was invented, people were, as one of my uncles liked to say, "just as smart and just as capable as we are today." But their living circumstances, and the fact the language was not written, in my opinion, caused them to think differently than we do today. Perhaps the kind of distinctions they needed to make were different than the kinds that are most useful to us today. And whether a language is written down surely influences its structure.

I recall one of James Burke's PBS series (The Day the Universe Changed, "A Matter of Fact"). He described one of the consequences of the printing press by saying it "took away our memories." Before things were written down, he said, people remembered things by making series of unlikely associations. It is perhaps possible that languages which arose before writing contained features which reflected this way of remembering.
While I don't accept your premise that older languages are more grammatically complex than modern languages*, I think your thoughts about the different role of language in a mostly illiterate or functionally illiterate** population are insightful and striking.


* We shift the complexity around, but it's still there... for example, in English there's a great deal of nuance to be learned regarding word order and stress and how meaning can be completely be changed by them, but in Latin this is much freer because the functions that we fill in English by word order and stress is filled in Latin by grammatical markers.

** There are indications that workers, tradesmen, etc. in the Roman era may have had very basic literacy, just enough to do things related to their work. It seems that being literate was not thought of as a black-and-white issue but more as a spectrum, with the privately-educated wealthy being fully literate, officers less so, and so on down the line.
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Old 2020-02-29, 11:50   #27
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I really regret not knowing Latin although I had to investigate myself the origin of a few words since Portuguese is so tricky. Born in the 80's I can't recall Latin learning to be on education program in parallel with Portuguese, which certainly was and still is a system fault. Latin and Greek are fundamental.
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Old 2020-02-29, 13:47   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CRGreathouse View Post
While I don't accept your premise that older languages are more grammatically complex than modern languages*, I think your thoughts about the different role of language in a mostly illiterate or functionally illiterate** population are insightful and striking.


* We shift the complexity around, but it's still there... for example, in English there's a great deal of nuance to be learned regarding word order and stress and how meaning can be completely be changed by them, but in Latin this is much freer because the functions that we fill in English by word order and stress is filled in Latin by grammatical markers.
There's a book out entitled Eats, Shoots, & Leaves which illustrates the importance of proper punctuation (stress) in English. Take the commas out of the title, and you have a completely different phrase.

My all-time favorite in this department is, What's that in the road ahead? versus What's that in the road -- a head?

Also not without complexity is English word pronunciation. This has probably driven many ESL students 'round the bend. And vocabulary -- English seems to have an unlimited capacity for borrowing words from other languages.
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Old 2020-02-29, 21:24   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr Sardonicus View Post
There's a book out entitled Eats, Shoots, & Leaves which illustrates the importance of proper punctuation (stress) in English. Take the commas out of the title, and you have a completely different phrase.
There was a UK tabloid which once did a crass-yet-hilarious riff on that book title ... IIRC an inmate had escaped from a local mental hospital and went on a bit of a bender during which he sexually assaulted a woman at a laundromat, then fled. The tabloid advertised the lurid and shocking news via the headline Nut screws washer and bolts.
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Old 2020-02-29, 23:16   #30
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Perhaps this is a good time to review Monty Python's Latin grammar graffiti scene in the Life of Brian, where John Cleese corrects Brian's Latin grammar in some graffiti....Another of my favorites. I seem to have many Monty Python favorites.

Norm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3gNdGHsEIk
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Old 2020-03-01, 00:05   #31
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There was a UK tabloid which once did a crass-yet-hilarious riff on that book title ... IIRC an inmate had escaped from a local mental hospital and went on a bit of a bender during which he sexually assaulted a woman at a laundromat, then fled. The tabloid advertised the lurid and shocking news via the headline Nut screws washer and bolts.
That "Nut screws and bolts headline" story goes back a lot farther than that book. It's been a well-known joke since I was a kid, and probably a lot farther back than that.

A not-unrelated "Truth is stranger than fiction" item:

Title: Theory of screws: a study in the dynamics of a rigid body
Author: Ball, Sir Robert S. (Robert Stawell) 1840-1913
Published: Dublin, Hodges, Foster, and Co., 1876.

The study of Latin nowadays IMO would be mainly valuable WRT understanding word origins. It is for this reason I regret not having taken Latin when I had the chance.

The study of Latin grammar has the advantage that, Latin being a dead language, its rules of grammar are not going to change.
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Old 2020-03-05, 06:37   #32
LaurV
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Originally Posted by Uncwilly View Post
So is Klingon, for the same reasons.
BTW, Duolingo teaches Klingon and High Valyrian, if any of you got strange plans for the future... (beside of Latin, I mean, which is already quite popular with almost one million learners).
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Old 2020-03-14, 21:24   #33
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For quite some time now The Times has been printing a crossword for which all the answers are in Latin. The clues are a curious mix of Latin, English or a mixture of both. They may be either pure definition or of a very mild cryptic form.

Examples from today's are:

21D This, as do all of the others, leads to Rome (3).
11A Triceps apud infernos canis (8)

That pair I solved instantly.

Not yet worked out this one:

22A Wills: non nepos reginae Elizabethae sed "covenants" (10)

Unfortunately "testamentum" has 11 letters. I'll get there in the end.

Last fiddled with by xilman on 2020-03-14 at 21:31
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