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Lingua Latina July 12, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Language, Language Study.

Fascinating language, Latin.

I have always thought Latin to be one of the most beautiful languages. Due to the fact that it was not a living, breathing, evolving language anymore that it was once, learning lingua Latina has not become a priority for me for a long time, whilst remaining a language I flirted with, in quotes only.

veni vidi vici (middle school history class)
cogito ergo sum (first heard it in junior high school)
noli nothis permittere te terere (from one of my favourite blogs)
gaudium de gaea (the joy of gaea, I made this up as a name for my blog)

Later on, however, as I was increasingly exposed to different languages I found out that Latin was not just a dead and buried language. It has evolved into several other languages, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian to name a few. Many countries, including Turkey, have adopted its alphabet. Have a look at this map, it shows the distribution of Latin alphabet in the world. And although English is a Germanic language by origin, majority of its vocabulary is from Latin.

And while it might not be the spoken language anywhere in the world, apart from being the official language of Vatican, Latin in my opinion lives on in many different ways.

Latin terminology is used in abundance when it comes to science; biology, zoology, medicine as well as philosophy and law. It is used to add weight and formality to documents, articles, academic papers, even blog posts. You always see abbreviations of Latin terms in various scientific and literary publications, ad lib, ad hoc, et al, per se, etcetera, etc. Horticulture students sweat over genera of plants. Scientific names for organisms are chosen from Latin most of the time. Latin terms can be seen everywhere in technical context. Various groups, organisations use their motto’s in Latin for a bit of added effect of antiquity, seriousness, formality as well as a bit of romance, perhaps nostalgia.

Latin alphabet evolved from Proto-Canaanite and Phoenician, then Greek and Old Italic.

Proto-Canaanite Phoenician Value and name Descendants
ʼ ʾalp “ox” א Α A
b bet “house” ב Β B)
g gamlthrowstick ג Γ CG
d digg “fish” ד Δ D
h haw / hll “jubilation” ה Ε E
w waw “hook” ו
z zen /ziqq “manacle” ז Ζ Z
ḥet “courtyard” ח Η H
ṭēt “wheel” ט Θ
y yad “arm” י Ι IJ
k kap “hand” כ Κ K
l lamd “goad” ל Λ L
m mem “water” מ Μ M
n naḥš “snake” נ Ν N
s samek “fish” ס Ξ
ʻ ʿen “eye” ע Ο O
p piʾt “corner” פ Π P
ṣad “plant” צ ϻ
q qup “monkey” ק Ϙ Q
r raʾs “head” ר Ρ R
š/ś šimš “sun, the Uraeus ש Σ S
t taw “signature” ת Τ T

There is renewed effort in Latin’s resurrection, possibly with the increased religious emphasis. It is also offered in the universities, in programs not only to teach reading and writing for the purpose of translating old text into modern languages, but also to teach how to speak it, converse using it. If this is not an effort to resurrect it, I don’t know what is.

It has always been a source of sadness for me, to imagine that a language is no more. Latin, however, is far from being a dead language, a fallen star, which has disappeared altogether as if it has never been. On the contrary, it is a language that influenced in one form or another many others, still influencing many aspects of written form of languages and life, even if not spoken as it was once.

The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that I would one day like to learn Latin. The complexity of grammar does not phase me. For those interested, there are online programs such as the Cambridge Latin Course.

Lingua Latina would also be a valuable asset to those who are set out to learn one of the Romance languages which evolved from Latin.

For a bit of an online read about Latin you can check out Wikipedia here.



1. Primal Sneeze - July 12, 2008

My Pakistani neighbours when pointing out my house to visitors say het.

I wonder does the word derive from the Phoenician root.

I must ask if bet is a word too. (That they would say courtyard/yard/property and not house might be explained by the fact the house is on a parcel of land of about 0.3Ha. As theirs is. In English they refer to it as their property not house).

2. Gayé Terzioglu - July 12, 2008

It is interesting, this word is referenced as khet or kheth…H̱et (also spelled Khet, Kheth, Chet, Cheth, Het, or Heth) is the reconstructed name of the eighth letter of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, continued in descended Semitic alphabets as Phoenician , Syriac, Hebrew‎, Arabic. I found this on a website when I had a hunch about the spelling and I tried Khet. Check out http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Kheth
I was trying to find some kind of connection to “het” in Turkish also but not successful so far. Of course Turkish comes from a different lineage. It shares roots with Korean, Hungarian and Finnish.
I would like to find out about “bet”.
Thanks for dropping by AND sharing some thoughts on this.

3. Jess - July 13, 2008

I think Latin can never be dead language as it influences so much of our own language. It is sometimes easy to forget just how much latin we encounter even in our daily lives. Latin is still full of life.

The truely lost languages are those that are neither spoken nor remembered by anyone alive. Often those passed down verbally, not in written form such as the countless lost Aboriginal languages.

Thinking about Latin class always reminds me of that scene in Monty Pythons Life of Brian.

What is this then? Romanes eunt domus, “People called Romanes they go the house”?

4. Gayé Terzioglu - July 13, 2008

Jess ~ That’s exactly my point. I am tired of hearing that Latin is dead and buried. I think it’s beautiful and still pretty much out there even though you can’t see two people at a cafe chatting in Latin over a coffee.

That scene is hillarious, then again Monty Pythons everything is too funny. By the way correct version of it should have been “Romani ite domum”

5. Nick - July 14, 2008

I spent years learning Latin at school and I must say it seemed to me a pretty clumsy language. And it’s effectively dead if nobody actually speaks it, even more so than Irish which is spoken and regularly used by a pretty small number of Irish people. It seems more sensible to learn languages that are very widely used such as Spanish or Chinese.

6. Gayé Terzioglu - July 14, 2008

Then again Nick, have you ever heard me claim I was sensible? Never!
I adore it and I will learn it. 🙂
I think in one of my posts I was saying my Spanish classes start in August, so yea perhaps there is a bit of sensible in me. I will learn Latin which in return, I hope, will help me ease into the Romance languages.

7. Conan Drumm - July 14, 2008

Great post, Gayé. My long ago leaving cert Latin has stood to me greatly in Italy and Spain, both aurally/verbally and reading signs. I’m usually about 80% accurate and never studied either language!

My greatest language jump was from Romanian to Irish… the Romanian word for either up or down (I can’t recall which it was) sounds very close to the Irish ‘suas’ or ‘sios’!

8. Gayé Terzioglu - July 14, 2008

That’s fantastic Conan. I am hoping that it will have a similar use / benefit for me.
How do you pronounce “suas”? I looked up “up” in Romanian and it is “sus”. I find it quite interesting to find words in completely unlikely languages.
When I was in Hungary and listening to people speak Hungarian around me, I didn’t understand any of the words but I felt like I should because sounds, intonations, the flow of the language sounded so much like my own native language. It was an interesting experience.
Ta for dropping by.

9. Conan Drumm - July 15, 2008

Suas is pronounced su-us, with the stress on the first syllable.

10. Gayé Terzioglu - July 15, 2008

Hi Conan, do you mean it is pronounced like soo-ahs?
It is different but then again thousands of years do exactly that to languages. The evolve and change.
That’s what I love about languages, dynamic, organic, forever changing.

11. Conan Drumm - July 16, 2008

Yup, ‘sue’ and then the ‘as’ is soft and a little sibilant. As if in English you said Sue-uss.

12. Gayé Terzioglu - July 17, 2008

Ok thanks, that helps!

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