Posted by: vikingsinspace | March 18, 2010

IV.06. Learn Latin

Date Accomplished: Summer 2007 / ongoing  

One of my Latin worksheets

When preparing to write this up, I realized I had made a mistake here.  Learning Latin shouldn’t be categorized under Lifestyle / Personal Improvement (nor should any of the other language goals I have listed).  This is a goal which should be under Academic / Professional!  Since I am studying to be a medievalist, and the language of almost all written documents in the middle ages is Latin, this can be nothing but a professional skill for me.  Oh well, I already have it categorized under Lifestyle / Personal Improvement and so it shall remain there.  

I have been making attempts to learn Latin for quite a while.  As an undergrad in 2002 I took my first Latin course, but never advanced beyond level 1.  In 2005, before starting my Masters the next year, I took that same course again to brush up and get going again.  It wasn’t until I started my Masters Degree and had to take a Latin class for that that I began making progress.  I don’t regret the previous classes however, since the masters course was quite intensive, and a few of the students who previously had no familiarity with Latin lagged behind the rest of us, and were having trouble grasping some of the concepts.  Latin ain’t easy!  

Charter of Duncan II of Scotland (1093/4)

In addition to this course, we also had to take a Palaeography course to learn how to actually read medieval handwriting.  Admittedly, before starting my masters this was an aspect I had always taken for granted.  The idea that the forms of letters could change over the years is something I never really dwelled on (although I was aware of it, being familiar with the long form of ‘s’ that looks a bit like an ‘f’), so it was a little strange to be going back and learning letters.  And not just a different kind for each one, but the different forms letters have taken over many years, and certain circumstances where they may take on a different shape (the one that always sticks out to me is that an ‘r’ would often look like a ‘2’ when following an ‘o’)!  Early letters tended to look like what we use today, but they changed over the next 800 years or so until the humanist revival and the proliferation of the printing press.  The printing press regularized the form of letters, and the humanist revival meant those printing wanted to use an older form of handwriting to emulate the classical forms of Rome (but they ended up using Carolingian letter forms and not Roman…).  So yes, all these letters you are reading on this web page are actually retrogrades from the early middle ages, and have come to us against the tide of evolution!  But I digress…  

I saw my goal to learn Latin is ongoing, as my vocabulary can always do with improvement.  I can’t speak Latin, but that was never the goal.  For the languages I want to learn, I only need to read a level in which I can read it comfortably.  I could still be at a higher level with Latin (I would be hard pressed to read a whole novel in the language), but I am comfortable enough to read administrative documents well enough to understand the point being put across.  

Recipt for the Loan of a Book (1304)

The photos of these documents come from the Durham Cathedral Muniments and can be viewed at this website.

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