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Speaking Latin (psyche.co)
119 points by neonate 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 89 comments

The Vatican has a web site in Latin, but it looks like their site doesn't respect the "Accept-Language: la" header.


This is exactly as a Latin language website should look. My heart swells.

A Latin language website from 2004.

They could have done lickable buttons and did not. A true retvrn to tradition. Art.

Mirabile dictu!

(p.s., don't bother looking this up in Google translate. It's terrible on Latin.)

Romanes eunt domum

"Romanes eunt domus" was the original sentence, corrected to "Romani ite domum."

I studied Latin in high school and did well in JCL competitions.

I’m skeptical that “active” is the way to teach beginners Latin. My daughter took 4 years of Latin in high school with this method, and they never got around to covering all the grammar (which is normally covered in two years).

Spending too much time on the conversational stuff means less time actually being able to read the classics, which is, IMHO, where the real value of Latin is.

Similar experience in my daughter's high school. In her case I think it was a defect of the teacher rather than the method.

Having learnt Latin through the Cambridge Latin Course I really struggled with reading the classics. That said, I could understand all but three words on the Bayeux tapestry so Cambridge Latin Course was reasonable.

What do you think of reading an English translation of the classics instead of the original?

I think it is like any translation: you get much of the understanding. Still, it is important to understand the social and cultural background of the author, and reading it as the author wrote it is part of that.

It's kind of like reading anything in translation. Goethe loses a lot in English. Shakespeare in German is the same.

Edgar Poe earned a lot in translation to french (translated by Baudelaire).

Thanks, I need to check that out. It's conceivable that Baudelaire made a few improvements. It's certainly not unheard of. Fitzgerald's translation of Omar Khayyam is by some accounts close to an original work. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam

Yle, the Finnish national broadcasting company used to have news in Latin. It ran for many years before being retired in 2019.

Details about the broadcast: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/yle_ends_latin_news_servi...

Broadcast archive: https://areena.yle.fi/audio/1-1931339

This is awesome. Thanks so much for sharing!

As somewhat alluded to in the article, there is a similar movement within the study of Classical Greek. In some ways this is even more interesting for classical Greek epics because there is good evidence that they were traditionally sung. There are a number of interesting recordings of the Iliad and Odyssey in the original Greek [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI0mkt6Z3I0

This couldn't be more timely. I've been wanting to get back into learning Latin. I took it in high school but faked my way through unfortunately. Does anyone have any recommendations for good resources to learn Latin outside of the obvious language learning apps/sites like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone?

There's 2 lively Latin Discord servers. One for general Latin and the other for everyone learning Latin using Lingua Latina per se Illustrata, a popular book for self-guided learning. Once in the community you'd easily discover resources like YouTube channels, Twitter accounts, podcasts etc. It's amazing how large and niche the community is at the same time!

LLPSI Discord: https://discord.gg/uXSwq9r4

Latin Discord: https://discord.gg/latin

I love LLPSI. The approach of just building up without requiring translation into another language really feels like how we're supposed to learn - naturally, incrementally, through immersion.

One thing commonly recommended is the textbook Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. It uses illustrations to help you learn only in Latin.

Is there a name for this kind of book? I have one, titled "Mein Erstes Buch", that, in one small and slim volume, takes you from "Dick & Jane" and "See Spot Run" levels, to an ~3rd or 4th grade reading level, entirely in German. I picked it up because it looked neat but tried reading it one day, made it about a third of the way through, and sure enough, I could follow along. Doesn't teach you pronunciation and it doesn't replace focused practice & drilling, but it was pretty damn cool. I'd like one in French, especially, but I don't know what term to search for. "The Natural Method" from that link yields some promising results, but are there other terms?

(just checked archive.org, and sure enough, they've got a scan of the book I have, but it's a limited preview: https://archive.org/details/meinerstesbuch0000unse/mode/2up)

Here's a website with a list of such textbooks for various languages:


This is amazing, thank you!

In LLPSI's marketing materials, they call it the "natural method." (I've also seen "nature method.")

Another term is "comprehensible input" -- but I am not certain precisely how the two relate to each other. But hopefully they're enough for you to go on.

Yes, the terms I've seen are "natural method", "comprehensible input", and "extensive reading."

The latter two refer more to a large volume of simple reading materials which let you work up on your own, practicing and slowly learning more grammar and vocabulary.

For French I liked https://www.amazon.com/Mon-premier-dictionnaire-Roger-Pillet... which I picked up after some basic grounding with Duolingo. It's not a textbook but it is all in French yet for second-language learners.

That and Wheelock's Latin are the main book recommendations. Other than that, there are a bunch of subreddits and a large discord which might be nice if you want to get some daily active practice in (including voice chat). Or just see if there are any courses running near you - active training can be handy, but the style of course is very country-specific - every country has their own tradition for teaching Latin (or multiple), and the style/goal may not suit you.

It's super low-effort, but I had fun with the (modern) light novellas by Andrew Olympi and kin - in some sense they're too easy above a certain level and made me over-confident in a way that was damaging to my confidence when I looked at actual classical latin texts, on the other hand it's nice to just be able to pick up a small book and read some beginner-level Latin without requiring any effort/strain.

[ note: I've only been learning Latin for about a year, with very mixed success - I'm very much a beginner still and can't read any classical texts with any fluency/comfort, nor write without a dictionary to help with inflections ]

What's interesting is that the book is 100% Latin - you need to figure everything out from context and examples. It's almost a logic puzzle, and learning Latin is a side effect.

I really tried but ultimately found it frustrating - I think I honestly do learn best with a good amount of structured tables, going through grammar etc. Certainly that's how I've been learning Hindi (via Wiktionary & Snell, supplementing Duolingo) in which I've progressed far beyond where I ever got to with Latin via LLI.

Just hit too many blocks where I sort of have the understanding of what it must mean, but I want to ask someone 'why is it inflected in this way here but different there?', and of course there's no explanation of that. (By design, I just don't like it.)

Perhaps my ideal would be something like LLI but interspersed with grammar-oriented explanation between chapters.

It's just not a grammar book, it's a language book in the sense that it teaches how the language is used rather than "constructed".

I always recommend people learn the use of a language before the grammar at the beginning, and then transition into much more intensive grammar study later, likely exactly at the point when you got frustrated is when introducing grammar would be perfect. This is especially true when the written grammar of a language can look very different than the sound of a language (especially if written differences are hidden by identical sounds in the language, like in French).

Yes exactly, but I think the trouble is that it's too popular to say 'people learn by immersion, not by grammar and tables, immersion is how we learnt our first language after all'; when actually, some people do prefer (or at least benefit from additionally) such rigid grammarian teaching.

I've learnt so much more from studying conjugation/declension tables on Wiktionary than I have from trying to converse with fluent/native speakers, who can't explain to me why or tell me how to spell it (sounding/typing it in the English alphabet).

Is it even possible to learn exclusively by immersion as an adult? I was under the impression that roughly around puberty, we lose a good part of our ability to just pick up languages and a combination of study and experimentation was required afterwards.

Is this a sensible approach to learning any language from a book? Or does it only make sense with a "dead" language that we mostly know from literature and inscriptions?

It does make more sense with Latin, because while Latin has always been and still is spoken, much of the value of the language comes from its literature (of which 90% has never been translated).

BUT, the natural method plays well with extensive reading/comprehensible input, where you just read a lot at a simple, pleasurable level, allowing it to ramp up gradually.

This is how I learned much of English as a native speaker, after all!

So I intend to use this approach with other languages in the future as well.

This graphic novel could be fun, it is based on the writings of Julius Caesar who was said to write in a fairly simple style.

Caesaris Bellum Helveticum: Scriptores Antiqui Romani Imaginibus Ornati by Karl Heinz Graf Von Rothenburg


there are latin versions of the asterix comic published in germany. they are supposed to be of high quality.


Whichever it is, remember, from a .sig on ancient posts by Vassil Nikolov:

LEGEMANVALEMFVTVTVM (Ancient Roman programmers' adage.)

[ For the curious : this is some kind of overly-literal rendition of RTFM "lege - manvualem - fututum", where the grammar appears somewhat strained, but a detailed analysis would be not appropriate on YCOMB for several reasons... ]

You might like this youtube channel:

ScorpioMartianus https://www.youtube.com/c/ScorpioMartianus

In addition to whichever dictionary and textbook you use, as you get deeper in, an Allen & Greenough grammar reference is really handy. Because Latin word-order is looser than English, there are some a-ha! moments where it starts to click, "Oh, this entire clause is acting as the direct object, and it's here because Cicero wanted to emphasize this and this." Quickly being able to look up common constructions and how noun cases are used helps with that.

The word ordering stuff gets really wild, compared to my native English. I wonder about languages that have more flexible word order, do their speakers have greater ability to retain information in working memory?

keep in mind that most of the latin you end up reading in school is rather formal/complex. it's hard to parse in a similar way that charles dickens is harder to parse than casual/informal english. stuff like de bello gallico and some new testament books (greek) can be very straightforward.

it is definitely hard to get started with latin/greek when your native tongue is a highly positional language like english, but I don't think it is intrinsically harder. the same information is there, it's just encoded in word endings rather than order. in english, the word order is only really important within individual clauses. you can still write very complicated (and syntactically correct) english sentences with clause orderings that are very hard to parse. I'd argue this requires just as deep of a mental "stack" as latin/greek.

anyways, that's just my two cents as someone who studied, but never fully mastered, latin and greek in college.


For spoken Latin, there are Corderii colloquia, which are also made into an audio book.

The Latinum Institute provides a lot of audio material for their Patreon subscribers.


This one is an excellent resource for language lovers: https://lrc.la.utexas.edu/eieol

I found Cambridge Latin Course (which I used at school) quite good, and it was engaging and interesting as well.

Wheelocks would be my goto, you learn by reading authors, in the original translation.

You could use a textbook specifically designed for adult learners like the Wheelock.

I would recommend some combination of Lingua Latina and Wheelock's Latin. That's what my Latin tutor used and they complement each other very well.

European Union should switch to Latin as an official language. That would be natural choice and will keep the language alive.

At least it will create some intellectual barrier for policy makers.

Mi ankoraŭ esperas ke Esperanto estu uzata tiele. (I am still hoping that Esperanto be used for that purpose.)

Ankaux mi!

Why not to old norse ?

this reminds me of polýMATHY channel, look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYYpTfx1ey8 and at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDhEzP0b-Wo for some "real world" latin usage

When I was at Oxford in the mid-nineties, there was a lady (a post-grad? not sure) who organised latin-speaking tea parties for interested parties across the university.

I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed Latin as much at school though had I had to speak it. I found something calming about doing translation. But perhaps I would have learned it more thoroughly.

Seems like a good place to point out that during the pandemic John Linnel of They Might Be Giants recorded an EP called Roman Songs entirely in Latin. It's available on Spotify (you'll have to check other streaming services yourself).

I'm happy for all those who enjoy Latin, but I loathed learning it. I was subjected to six years of mandatory Latin, and I hated every minute of it. Not to mention two years of classical Greek. I was more interested in science. I argued for learning a more useful language like German or Spanish.

I had Dutch (my native language), English, French, German, and Latin in high school. I actually live in Germany now but I mostly get by with English. My German is too broken to be of much more use than having simplistic conversations with people that don't speak English. I sound like a complete idiot when I need to speak German. And my job is (mostly) not sounding like an idiot so, I avoid professional situations where this is a thing.

Getting my German to the same level I understand and speak English (or Dutch) is such a massive project that I've never really bothered making time for it. I always have more interesting things to do. And if I don't there's work. Learning a language is a big time commitment and the in between state where I can't really use it without sounding like an idiot just isn't that useful to me.

I've also forgotten most of the French I knew even though I was getting quite good at it by the time I dropped the subject 30 years ago. I chose science heavy classes instead of language heavy classes (the Dutch system makes you choose). So German, Latin, and French were out. The endless & mind-numbing memorizing of words, grammar, etc. was a big contributor to that choice. And I also enjoyed other classes a lot more generally. However, I had English until the end (six years) and was actively reading English books, watching BBC, etc. by the time I entered university. In university some of my books were in English. A lot of online content was English. Immersing yourself like that is what needed to master a language.

English has kind of taken the place of Latin. It's the world's most popular second language. Without it you are a bit marginalized to specific areas or groups of people.

But we might not need it much longer if translation tools keep on improving. The key moment will be if you can have an intelligent conversation with somebody without having a single language in common. Even if it is just in written form, it would matter a lot.

I've heard from someone who teaches Norwegian to newly arrived expats that they simply don't get any Dutch students since these pick up the language in a matter of weeks without help. Between Dutch and German this should be even easier. Simply pick a social activity (choir, dancing, whatever) that's intended for locals, go drinking with friends, etc. If you want, of course.

I've neglected my German and French since school, but found that I could still get to a basic level of conversation later in life by just trying when I was on holiday in those countries while still living in the Netherlands. YMMV.

I lived in Sweden for a while; basically the same language as Norwegian (they share the same standardized grammar). It's easy to pick up but hard to master. Which is the same problem I have in Germany. I can get by but it's not pretty. BTW. Swedish, Norwegian, or Danish all share the same simplified grammar and are pretty easy languages to pick up if you already speak another Germanic language. Also, I did my taxes in Swedish while I was living in Finland (second language there, way easier to parse than Finnish). But I never even came close to being able to having an intelligent conversation in Swedish.

I guess I have the opposite experience.

I do well in German and Swiss German, so I can sometimes parse other Germaninc influenced languages, but it is a matter of luck which words are used.

I went to a mediocre high school, where Latin ended after the second year. But even that much helped with high school German, college French, and subsequent experiments with other Romance languages.

Strangely Latin was the third Romance language I learnt (and the first two helped with Latin) but Latin taught me to properly think about grammar and proper sentence construction more than any other language.

A lot of that learning experience depends on context- I had a nerdy, young (early to mid 20s) high school teacher teaching classic and not liturgical, many had strict Catholic school nuns.

How come you didn't get any choice in this?

I was enrolled in the 1960's in an antiquated system called "Cour Classique" in French. We had a strict curriculum, designed to produce priests, doctors, lawyers and notaries. The system spanned eight years, high school and college. We were given no options until the last two years. I got my B.A. at 19, and promptly joined the Canadian Peace Corps (CUSO), learned Spanish in two months, and taught physics (in Spanish) in South America.

Maybe his school scheduled classes so it was impossible to do a language and a science subject at the same time. For example I dropped History and also Geography in school because they clashed with Science subjects.

See also Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler:

> The history of language is the history of politics, society and religion - and in the case of Latin it is a story of incredible staying power, the tongue sturdily outliving the Roman empire. As Nicholas Ostler points out, by the end of the first millennium AD Latin was the language of religion from Iceland to Sicily, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from Poland to Portugal; and 500 years later it was still the language of organised life throughout western Europe.

* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/dec/08/featuresreview...

I had two letters to the editor of the Daily Illini in the 5 1/2 years I was there, and they were both about the foreign language requirement. I hated it. Lately I got the Rosetta Stone course in Japanese, and I hated that, too. But if you like languages, you're lucky. I'm sure it's great for the brain.

Lastly, "By the mid-19th century, however, the increasing dominance of national languages over Latin was causing alarm to some readers" stuck out for me. Johannes Brahms wrote his breakthrough hit (as it were) with his German Requiem right about then. Prior to that, requiems were always in Latin. Having sung that, I'm really glad it's in German.

My father claimed once to have used clerical Latin as a common language talking to a priest somewhere in Europe. I don't think I'd have got far, despite it being one of my best subjects at school.

I only watched the first couple of minutes of the video, but it seems they pronounce Latin "v" more or less the same as English "v".

I was taught to pronounce it like English "w".

Am I wrong, are they wrong, are there different competing approaches to "correct" Latin pronunciation, or are the two sounds in free variation?

Latin "v" pronounced like English "w" is the old, original pronunciation.

During the evolution of the language, the pronunciation of Latin "v" has changed to that of English "v", so this is how all Romance languages pronounce it.

Actually the sound "v" did not exist in the ancient Indo-European languages, but only the English "w".

The change in pronunciation from "w" to "v" has affected most European languages, not only those descended from Latin, unless they have lost completely the original "w", like Greek.

English is an exception where the ancient pronunciation of "w" has been conserved, even if other sounds have changed more than in most languages.

The article touches on this point briefly:

> How should one pronounce the cae- in caelum (sky): kai, as it was in Rome of the 1st century BCE, or che, as used in Christian liturgy and modern Italian?

but then later concludes when discussing a meeting of students held in Latin:

> The meeting removed, however, any concerns I had about sound and style in speaking Latin actively. Differences of pronunciation and expression mattered as little as if I were conversing in English with students from Scotland, Germany or Japan. What mattered was that the language was intelligible, meaningful, accurate and alive.

So in short, if people understand you, that's what matters, and the differences can be thought of as differing accents.

There are different competing approaches to "correct" Latin pronunciation. Pronouncing the "v" as "w" comes from the Restored pronunciation - I think Ecclesiastical Latin pronounces it as an English "v".

I'm almost certain your right. Cicero would have used something like a "w"; Modern Latin which co-evolved with central Italian uses the "v".

IIRC spoken Latin is taught differently in continental Europe, so that it sounds much closer to modern Italian. The pronouncing "v" like "w" rule is mostly an American (or at least Anglophone) thing.

There's the old saw about how you pronounce Latin will depend on whether you were taught by Father Brown or Father Leary.

In areas where Catholicism has predominated, it's more likely that the ecclesiastical pronunciation will dominate. As I recall, the German exchange students I had in some of my classics courses used the classical pronounciation (their big weirdness was pronouncing θ as an aspirated t (like in Goethe) rather than a th sound.

As far as I have experienced, the "classical" (i.e. not the Italian-like ecclesiastical) pronunciation differs a lot by native language of the speaker. It was long ago, but I remember having had only very basic pronunciation guidance at my secondary school; we certainly used Dutch vowels (apart from the "u" of course) and the Dutch "v" which is very similar to the English "v". In a context like that academy I would have been understood, but with a very typical Dutch accent.

It evolved, so no need to worry.

Americans pronounce 'r' where British do not. Not a problem. There is no "correct" in a language which lived for centuries and does no more.

I've heard that "Vox Latina" is really good for classical pronunciation.


Lots of angst over the loss of 'unmediated' understanding of latin. But, of course, if you hear it then translate it in your head into your native tongue then its still mediated. What difference does it make? I'm not sure its as big a point as the article makes out.

Uh... is that how you think people understand non-native languages? 'Cause it's not.

If you are still at the point of translating in your head, you are not a competent fluent listener. Someone who is fully competent in Latin won't do that.

Some folks who have spoken a 2nd language for years, report they still sometimes translate in their head. The flat remark is not helpful.

Second language speakers do not translate words in their head. (In fact, if asked to do so, I often have trouble rendering English sentences in my native tongue, even though I understand them just fine.)

Doesn't unmediated in the context of the text mean without first translating into your native tongue?. If you need to translate it to any other language first, that to me means that it is mediated.

Exactly. And if that's happening in your head, learning to speak latin isn't changing the mediation.

Just two generations ago, teaching Latin by "the direct method" was not uncommon in the West:


Greek composition courses, too.

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