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Roman Republic: Res publica Romana • View topic - Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Was Latin ever a spoken language?

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Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Thu Oct 27, 2016 1:36 am

Salvete magistri linguae Latinae!

The topic of this thread seems odd, but it is a serious question that I have often asked myself. Was classical Latin actually a spoken language at any point of history?
We know it was the language of poetry and literature and Cicero read well prepared speeches in the senate in this language. Many centuries later ecclesial Latin was also spoken as lingua franca of clerics and scholars from different parts of Europe.
Nevertheless we also know that the spoken language of the classical time of Cicero and Caesar was not the Latin we learn in school, but the so called sermo vulgaris, which is closer related to modern Romance languages. It might still be possible that patricians or other members of the upper class (senators, knights) in fact spoke classical Latin, but is there any evidence for it?
Perhaps the Latin that we know is nothing but an artificial ceremonial language for formal use only, a language that was never really alive, and the ancient Romans never spoke anything else than they speak today, which is Italian (or variants of it like Spanish).
In Rome I could see how both language are still in parallel use, e.g. one sign stating "SVBVRA" (the Latin name and another one "SUBURRA" (in Italian). If today both languages exist alongside each other, one only in written form and the other one written and spoken, it could have been the same in ancient Rome with Latinum and sermo vulgaris (= early Italian) both in use, but the former one only in written form.
This is something to think about in our ambition to be authentic.

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Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Lucia Horatia Adamas » Thu Oct 27, 2016 10:34 pm



L. Horatia Adamas C. Florio Lupo fautoribus linguae Latinae S.P.D.

Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Cicero or his contemporaries, ;-) but methinks that the issue here is not that classical Latin was not a spoken language, but that the oratorical version probably was not spoken by the Roman in the street. In any language, there are registers of speech, differing levels of formality for various situations. Latin was no different. To be sure, Plautus and Terentius wrote conversational Latin--but it is also the archaic conversational Latin of presumed illiterates, is deliberately comical, and differs substantially from the speech of Cicero, Caesar, and their contemporaries. One may find a more conversational Ciceronian style in his letters, many of which have been preserved for us. Tully pulled out all the stops in his orations, but I don't think he did that sort of thing in his epistles, certainly not in the ones I have read.

Educated English speakers also use registers of speech. Some of us realize that one should not use street language or sloppy vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation when attending religious services, in school, or when involuntarily visiting a courtroom. There is a register of educated conversation, too, one perhaps a bit less formal than that above, but still far from extremely colloquial speech, the latter of which is filled with slang and does not eschew sloppiness of grammar and pronunciation. When it comes to Latin, we have to rely on literary evidence and that of phonological changes; we don't have any contemporary recorded testimony for these matters. Many of us wish we did.

I seriously doubt that the Romans spoke Italian…it is telling that the first Romance language to break off from Latin was not Italian, but French, a language which is not very conservative in its retention of Latin grammar. Spanish, on the other hand, is very conservative. Italian may be in the middle somewhere. To this day, Romanian has a case system, and some vocabulary is clearly Latin, just decorated with odd endings replacing those of the Latin known to us. Latin was a spoken language, spoken for hundreds, if not thousands, of years--just not spoken in its oratorical register. No doubt the illiterates didn't reach even the educated conversational level, but that is not exactly a situation confined to Latin, or to highly inflected languages. Plautus and Terence reflected the speech of these folks, not the Senate.

One may find more information on the history of Latin in [A Natural History of Latin, by Tore Janson, a work very easy to read and very entertaining. We hope to offer a course on this subject second semester.

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Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Fri Oct 28, 2016 5:19 pm

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Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Lucia Horatia Adamas » Sat Oct 29, 2016 8:14 am

L. Horatia Adamas C. Florio Lupo fautoribus linguae Latinae S.P.D.

'Vulgaris' means 'ordinary, common, routine,' in Latin; it does not carry the sense of the English word 'vulgar.' Thus it does not refer to slang or to the right-brain vocabulary, the one that is activated in Tourette Syndrome.

The text you cite from the wikipedia looks a lot more like Spanish than Latin. Some of the words (ayuda, for one) are either pure Spanish or would become so if they lost their final vowel (podere, sabere). This looks rather artificial to me, quite honestly. I feel compelled to point out that even by the late classical period, the au diphthong was moving toward monophthongization as o: Claudius / Clodius; causa / cosa; caupo / copo, etc., but this text, which claims to be late Latin, still uses 'causa.' One sees these changes even in Petronius. While I am no expert on Romance linguistics, I know enough to think that there is something fishy here; this text does not seem to follow the known phonological changes between Latin and the various Romance languages. Note, too, that the Romance languages as such appear several centuries after classical Latin; the dates vary, but sometime between the fifth and eleventh centuries [some say around the 8th century] C.E., languages emerged from Latin which were not mutually intelligible, although for a long time the speakers of these variations on late Latin referred to their tongues as 'Latin.' In a population where there was no need to be understood by the folks in the next town, and where hardly anyone was at all literate, changes occurred very rapidly.

The Romance language articles descend from 'ille' and its various forms. Not sure if Romanian has articles, or if they follow that pattern, but French, Spanish, and Italian do derive their definite articles from 'ille.'

It is not I who think that Italian is farther from classical Latin than is Spanish--it is the experts in Romance linguistics! Italian clearly has a good bit of Latin vocabulary, but the grammatical forms seem quite different. Spanish even retains the Latin imperfect tense marker, '-ba-,' albeit only in the first of the three conjugations, and has a lot of obviously Latin vocabulary. Modern Greek also is conservative in such matters; the pronunciation has changed markedly due in large part to itacism (many of the classical vowels and diphthongs are pronounced like English 'ee' rather than than their distinctive classical forms, and some of the consonants have changed as well), but overall the cognoscenti deem modern Greek very conservative, and make the same assessment about Spanish.

During the Roman kingdom, it is questionable as to whether anyone could in fact write…and there is nothing strange about having various registers of speech for different purposes. It's just that we don't think about such things; they are perfectly natural, and only a course in linguistics would point out that such differences exist. To be sure, there were a lot of peregrini, and probably more during the Empire, but as was, and is, the case everywhere, there is strong pressure to assimilate enough to manage the local lingo. Romans did not have a high opinion of those who knew neither Latin nor Greek.

There is an interesting tale cited in the textbook for the spoken Latin courses, in which Augustine's [Aurelius Augustinus'] acquisition of Latin by a natural method (he was not a native speaker) was contrasted with his loathing for Greek, which was forced upon him.

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Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Sat Oct 29, 2016 2:31 pm

The text in the Wikipedia article is not an original source. The original was in Proto-Romance and from the time of Charlemagne. It was then translated into Sermo Vulgaris as it was supposed to have been in the 5th century for comparison. I am not sure, which sources the grammar and vocabulary they used for the translation was based on, but I assumed they knew what they were doing.
There are very few sources for reconstructing Sermo Vulgaris and it changed permanently.

In some way therte is a huge advantage and beauty in the use of a "dead language", or let us call it a language without native speakers, because it does not change. It is frozen in time. It will still be understood in 100 or 1000 years. This is not true for English, which is heavily changing at an accelerating speed.
Some people would today have problems to understand the "Pater noster" as I learned it in English:
"...Thou art in heaven. Thy will be done..." Few English speakers are still familiar with the 2nd person singular or forming a question by changing the word order instead of inserting "to do".
And in one or two generations people who will be used to spell like "How R U?" will not understand our English anymore.
Therefore if one wants a text still to be understood in 100 years, it is better to write it in Latin. The Church with its 2000 years history knows this only too well. They think in centuries and millennia, not in 4-year election terms.
Therefore I would wish a bigger role for Latin in our Republic, if we want to last longer than a few years.
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Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?

Postby Lucia Horatia Adamas » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:53 pm



C. Florio Lupo fautoribus linguae Latinae L. Horatia Adamas S.P.D.

Then this is not a genuine text…but a translation into an artificial language. I am not so sure that the author(s) did know what he / she / they were doing, if for no better reason than that I can cite the case of a Latin textbook written by a professor who knows less about Latin paradigms than I did when I was about 15 years old. I know a lot more about them now, but she has the degree without the knowledge upon which it should be based.

Indeed, there are very few sources for recreating the common speech, and fewer for the development of the Romance languages. Those few who could write wrote in Latin, not the vernacular, and wrote Latin that could be understood over a wide geographic area, not any local dialect.

I would never refer to Latin as a dead language. Ancient Egyptian is a dead language. No one uses it for communication, not even Egyptologists. Latin is used all the time for communication among people who have no other common language, and is far from dead. With luck, I shall be able to paste below a very relevant example from today's offerings in the Grex, the international Latin mailing list.

All living languages change, and change more quickly at certain times. From my perspective, change occurs more rapidly when large elements of the population are illiterate, but clearly there are other circumstances which produce this effect. I hope that English is not altering its form rapidly, but unfortunately current English teachers, raised on television viewing, do not know English grammar even such as it is, which is not very extensive. However, those who do not recognize the archaic second person pronouns and cannot form questions with the normal auxiliary verb 'do' should perhaps consider another career. Supposedly teachers have to have a masters' degree, and the M.A. in English used to require not only modern English, but also an acquaintance with Old English (incomprehensible unless one has had a couple of years of German) and a better one with Middle English. When my mom was in high school, she had to read Chaucer in the original; we had to read a good-sized chunk of it in that form. With luck, the English teachers had to do at least that much instead of concentrating on that bored (and boring) fellow, Holden Caulfield.

I agree that writing in Latin is a wonderful idea, and that more people should learn to do it. In all honesty, it took me several years to achieve some fluency in that, and arrived only after being indoctrinated in modern Latin and practicing it for some years. My previous instruction obviously helped, for the bones were there, but the rest had to be wrapped around them, and that required effort.

Gingritus fugiendus et fortasse vetandus est; Twitter is to be avoided and perhaps forbidden.

Below I shall try to paste a letter from the Grex. A new member and a longtime veteran, both excellent Latinists, are discussing certain locutions, and touch upon the history of Latin, registers of speech, and such matters as we have been bandying about.

===

Victorius Marco Hymnatori legentibusque s. p. d.
.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
----- Original Message -----
From: Marcus Hymnator
To: grex@man.torun.pl
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2016 4:12 PM
Subject: Re: [grex] "Inscientia Altior"

Marcus Victorio coram Grege s.p.d.

Responsi mei respectu, tibi deest bene intellegere quia mihi deest bene scribere. Punctum. Sicut “nox terram caligine texit” (Lucr. 6.853), ita scriptionis meae
sensum stylus infacetus videtur caligniose obumbrare, quare ex te stylum maxime facetum habenti profunda cum humilitate peto ut mihi ignoscas viro silvarum
et indocto. De re simplicissima scripssise te affirmas, quae est utrum Latine dicere et scribere “ex me quaero” liceat necne. Altero sensu vere simplex, altero
sensu haud simplex res est.

Quia de philosophia "inscientia alterior” appellata non liquide loquebar antehac, iam simpliciter ex te quaero cuius momenti sit locutionem illam apud Noctes
Atticas invenire? Quo modo quave methodologia soles uti ad locutiones legitimas confirmandas?

Exempli gratia hoc adduco. Ut passim intellegitur, apud litteras Romanorum sermones stratave quae inter se differunt invenimus. Stratum quasi altissimum exprimunt
opera Caesaris Ciceronisque et ceterorum. Alium stratum exprimunt epistolae atque satyrica et cetera, quod stratum a philologis appellatur “sermo cotidianus”.
“Sermo Plebeius” invenitur in Cena Trimalchionis et in versibus Plautinis.

Abhinc multos annos investigavimus T. Maccium Plautum, poetam comicam, cuius in versibus inveniuntur, sicut tu ipse scius, permultae locutiones quae a sermone
Caesaris Ciceronisque et ceterorum sunt diversa. Fortasse in nostra investigatione hoc maxime notabile erat, quod post verba dicendi, praecipue post verbum “aio”,
in subsequenti "oratione obliqua" omittitur subjectum accusativum, si subjectum verbi dicendi atque orationis obliquae persona eadem est. Valeas
.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Victorius respondet:
Tu, Marce, bene scribis, ut mihi quidem videtur; sed fortasse rationem seu logicam sequeris a mea diversam, saltem quoad ipsa logica ratiove
ad linguam Latinam spectet. Quoniamque ex me quaeris «quo modo quave methodologia» uti soleam «ad locutiones legitimas confirmandas»,
necesse est ut iterem quae saepissime aperueram, scilicet: A) huiusce sodalitatis particeps sum non ut orationes Philippicas componam, sed ut
linguam Latinam discam et colam; et cum dico “linguam Latinam”, non tantummodo eam intellego, quam procul dubio eximie tractarunt Caesar et
Cicero et alii eiusdem aetatis 'aureae' vocitatae ab hominibus metallorum peritis , verum etiam eam linguam Latinam dico, quae saeculorum decursu
a permultis adhibita est scriptoribus. Ex hac "methodologia" mea rationaliter logicissimeque sequitur ut plane et plene adsentiar
1) Paulo Kangiser adserenti (die 14 Iun. 2005, in ep. 'Cur Latinae vivae studemus') hoc: «Latinitas colenda est eadem de causa qua historia colitur;
si historia apud viros doctos adhuc valet, idcirco viget Latinitas; si historia non valet, vae nobis!». Quorum verborum sensum tu aliique recusare potestis,
etiam quia hoc in foro amplior libertas viget: etiam libertas negandi <bis bina fieri quattuor>. Sed si quid obicere velis, te hortor ut et sententias supra
relatas et eas, quae mox sequentur, legas attente, quaeso, ne responsa des- certe fide bonâ inductus- quae cum iis sententiis et cum sequentibus
minime congruant. Quo clarior sim, referam tibi sententias quasdam a nonnullis gregalibus hoc in commercio epistulari scriptas; dicamque quid etiam
de illis sententiis censeam:
2) Quod ad 'sermonem cottidianum vel plebeium' attinet, atque ad genus scribendi in quo etiam ei sermones usurpentur, Aviti (sodalis Hispani
Londiniensis, qui nunc ni fallor in India vitam degit) sententiam refero hanc: «Res personalissima stilus!», quae cum aliis sententiis memoratu dignis
('dignis', videlicet, me iudice) leguntur in eius epistula c. t. 'DE LATINITATIS VIIS ET RATIONE' (ita, litteris maiusculis, erat illius epistulae titulus,
die 4 Nov. 2002 missae).
3) «Omnes imitandi, nemo imitandus», est titulus epistulae, quam die 24 Mai. 2006 scripserat Agricola (qui per aliquot annos huius Gregis
moderator fuit); Agricolae prorsus adsentior scribenti haec:

# Equidem puto, quod ad tirones attinet (et quis inter nos non tiro?):

Sunt imitandi omnes, imitandus et est tibi nemo!
Quomodo quidque probe dicatur, ab omnibus aufer,
Nilque recusatum tibi sit, quod vincere posse
"In"que "potestatem redigebam" dicere nondum
Audes; nam fieri ut cuncti nec ut unus eorum
Sit tibi propositum, nil non effabile restet!
Omnia ad effandum sollers non omnia dices:
Scribere cum et fari valeas Romanus ut omnis,
Denique et, ut sentis, poteris tua volvere verba. #

4) Quarta sententia, quae meam de lingua Latina persuasionem seu visionem seu rationem seu methodum penitus continet, est haec: «Illos autem
Ciceronis Caesarisque manes […] violare nolim eorum monumenta contemnendo. Tantummodo nego scripta eorum esse unicam linguae formam,
in qua omnes cogitationes nostras fundere debeamus», quam die 16 Aug. 2004, h. 15.28, scripserat Carolus Prieto in ep. ‘Forsan recta dormitum
ire via praestabit'. Potius quam mihi, his gregalibus supra memoratis respondeas oportet; non autem Carolo: quoniam hic sodalis anno praeterito
mortuus est. Si haec testimonia, quae mea facio, tibi non sufficiunt sicut responsa aptiora ad maximam partem sententiarum tuarum, te humillime
hortor ut epistulam totam legas meam, quae inscribitur '<De Latinitate sicut 'oblectamento' aut 're necessaria'>; quam die 28 Apr. 2008 cuncto
Gregi scripseram.
5) Et quoniam 'melius abundare quam deficere', addo: fuerunt hoc in foro viri doctissimi eidemque 'Ciceronianissimi'; quos inter eminuit Volfgangus
Jenniges, qui die 16 Apr. 2003, dum disputatio acrior habetur eum inter et Avitum, in epistula c. t. 'curae posteriores III: de rebus Hispanis', cum alia
tum scripserat haec:«Commune ubi deest fundamentum in divinis frustra disceptatur»; “in divinis” ille, recte procul dubio. Ego autem eius sententiam
ampliorem reddo adfirmans: de re qualibet seu de argumento qualicumque, “ubi commune deest fundamentum" sive ubi desunt communia principia,
"frustra disceptatur". Si v. g. tu egoque de lingua Latina non idem sentimus, cogitamus, putamus, omnino vanae erunt nostrae disputationes. Quare
illud exemplum Gellianum mihi satis superque est ad licitam reddendam locutionem, quae est ‘ex me quaero’, etiamsi ipsa apud Caesarem, Ciceronem,
Varronem aliosque eiusdem temporis scriptores non inveniatur. Sciendum praeterea est in summo lexico, cui titulus 'Thesaurus Linguae Latinae', verbum
temporale, quod est 'quaero', et varias locutiones cum hoc verbo compositas, nondum contineri. Clara an obscuriora sunt, quae scripsi? Vale valeteque.

**********************************************************************************************
Vivitur ingenio, cetera mortis erunt (Andreas Vesalius).
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Victorius Ciarrocchi, Italus Pisaurensis.

====

Vale, et valete!
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