Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventures in Conversational Latin

Years ago (I mean, like twenty years ago) I took part in a Colloquium Latinum experiment of sorts with other like-minded classicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Basically, we just got together, every Thursday afternoon, as I recall, and we disciplined ourselves to speak only Latin. We conducted this at the Terrace of the Memorial Union on the Madison Campus, and the fact that pitchers of beer were invariably involved at least made us fearless. 

And, the fact is, we got better at it as we proceeded.

Yesterday, for the first time in twenty years, I spent an hour speaking only Latin with an intrepid and gracious Latinist whom I met on Twitter.

And what did we discover? Well, most importantly, we were certainly able to make ourselves understood and discuss a
wide variety of topics. Latin really is a language! One can follow its rules and produce a grammatical sentence that another scholar of Latin will understand well enough for Latin to be a communicative tool. This might seem obviously true, but when you've spent decades focusing on just reading and translation, it's important to revisit that aspect of the language. 

Now, what else did we learn? Well, we were certainly circumlocuting plenty around words we simply didn't know. But one can learn new words. (Especially when you discover in a conversation exactly which words you needed.)

I immediately detected that my conversation partner was more fluent than I in some key constructions. And by the end of the conversation, I had improved in my Conversational Latin abilities simply by one hour interacting with her.

I personally found that, to my delight, I am actually capable of forming an Indirect Statement construction straight out of my brain in a spoken sentence. That really demystifies grammar!

As I was making things up as I went, I was surprised how Spanish was a bigger help to me than Romanian. Given Romanian's highly conservative grammar and phonology, I would have assumed it the greater assistance. I think the general similarity in word order between Spanish and my native English, coupled with its Latinate vocabulary, made it much easier for me to pretend to speak Spanish and just translate it into Latin as I went.

Anyway, we are planning to open up a Conversational Latin Google Hangout. If you would like to participate, email me and I will add you to the hangout and send you information about the time and topic of the next session. Email me at: keith[ at sign  ]keithmassey[ dot.]com.

I've also added to my website a Latin language version of my five phase vocabulary-based language learning program. It's a free download, complete with audio files of me pronouncing the words.

Our Colloquium Latinum Interretiale is open to people of all levels, however people are able to participate, we can all learn from one another! Spero me tecum dicere Latine mox!