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How To Learn Greek and Latin (2). Some Inspiration From Penates, And Here We Go!

CONSTANTINO MAXIMO SPQR ARCVM DICAVIT QVOD ‘INSTINCTV DIVINITATIS’ DE TYRANNO REM PUBLICAM VLTVS EST

The Greek alphabet is hard only at first

My Latin and Greek classes are starting but I need some inspiration. Bits of the said languages will appear from now on over a gradual and mild crescendo. I might be didactic now since my mind is drained a bit.

The inscription on the Constatine’s Arch above (315 AD) I made it shorter. It is symbolic of the entire story I am about to narrate [see a big image of it]

And do not to worry if you don’t understand all the words, just carry on! I have learned languages with the natural learning method – see this post – ie through non formal practice. It’s the way babies learn. It proved effective at any age, with me and many other people.

Tomes and Sibyllae

I can hear readers crunching popcorn (one at least) which is good for a mind journey although I don’t know the direction we will take. I have so much confusion in my head for a task bigger than myself, for stress I have accumulated and for something terrible (but auspicious) that happened a few days ago:

I have finally retrieved my grandfather’s tomes, my Di Penates or Patron Gods, I could say [Di = Gods, Deus = God.]

Minerva amomg the lemons on my terrace. May the goddess (and limoncello) inspire us

It’s not the commercial worth of tomes that range in any case from the Renaissance until the 1940s. It’s their valore psicologico especially, plus their content, archaeology and humanities mostly.

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I had been looking for them since years. 2-3 weeks ago I chanced to say a few words to one of my two senseless sisters I seldom see but plan to fix that, one day or another:

“Hey donna [domna, domina ] it’s AGES I don’t see them, grandpa’s books. Does anyone know where the hell have they gone for Chrissake??”

Sibyl, by Francesco Ubertini, 1525. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien

Sometimes my voice gets pretty peremptory, I’ll admit. With such powerful sibyls so hard to handle - Sibyllae: the Romans had few since Σίβυλλες were Greek mostly - male verbal force is a weapon I use once every 15-20 months possibly :-)

My new family – Fatum decreed – is again a sibyllina familia composed of a wonderful wife, 2 gem daughters, an ol’ Philippine woman, a sancta about to defeat gravity I’m sure – and Lilla dulcis in fundo, our female Bolognese dog, greatest Sibyl of them all I have little doubts.

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In any case as if by miracle days later while I was opening the condominium attic door I much to my horror saw the tomes all scattered in messy piles and ALL SOAKED with WATER!!

My rage starting to surge in waves – I cannot believe it, leaking water was a known problem in that room! – I began barking so loud my wife, the Philippine and two workers happened there by chance ran worried (for my health) to the place and helped me carry the tomes down to my study-room, to THAT moment a tidy, quiet place for writing and reflection.

Well, look at my refugium NOW!

(From the left) Cicero (1559) Horace & Pliny (XVIII) drying themselves on the heater

A protector deity in our home

My paternal grandfather’s tomes, I said. He is the genius of our family, in both the modern and the ancient sense (the latter at least to me, my sisters having my father instead as their genius: see a Roman genius below.)

My father’s side means the North-West Italian alpine region of Piedmont – ie part of Gallia Cisalpina and Gallia Narbonensis – a totally different universe I’m ignorant of except for what was transmitted to us by dad himself – no small thing in any case.

Head of a genius (protector deity) worshipped by Roman soldiers in Vindobona, a Roman-Celtic Donau settlement, 2nd century AD

I never met grandpa. He died of leukemia 2 years before I was born. I’ll say we are somewhat black sheep (oves nigrae?) compared to him – my dad and I.

He lost the fortune he had created from scratch because he firmly believed in his country, in Mussolini (since he had saved Italy from communism), but most of all he had (together with my father) a sort of feudal adoration for the Piedmontese King Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, which is understandable although a bit blind since this king was no big deal plus he basically betrayed us all also by cowardly fleeing from Rome when the Nazis arrived, which resulted in extra havoc – one reason, among many, why the Savoia lost their throne and we now are a Republic.

V. Emanuele II when still a crown prince. Ca 1890/93. He looks almost decent, but he was awfully short

Fulvia [an outspoken Romana Venus with South titbits, one reason possibly she abhors anything North of Rome, even just Tuscany:]

Oh how interesting! I thought we were going to have language classes, pupus.

Extropian: Fulvia, MoR means his grandfather is like an inspiring guide to him.

MoR: My nature is shallow compared to his. I mostly like he mastered maybe 8 languages – both modern and ancient – and despite being a pioneer in aeronautics plus an hydroelectric engineer entrepreneur, the day he sold his company and retired (all his money in treasury bonds fallen to dust, pulvis, because of the war) – he dedicated his last years to the study, or studium, of the Etruscan language.

Mario: Lingua Etrusca hodie exstincta? Per Hercules, why not Roman or, better, Greek stuff? C’mon pupus meus!

MoR: Stop with this pupus you moron. According to my father who seldom spoke about grandpa he adored mysteries and, well, the Etruscans are a mystery.

Flavia: Sempre co’ sti napoletani eddagli a Mario! (always with these Neapolitans etc.)
[Naples comes
from Νεάπολη id est Νέα Πόλις id est Nea Polis id est ‘New City’]

Weren’t these Tusci a great non Indo-European folk coming from some unknown place of the valde arcanus Oriens? I love all esoterica!

Etruscan civilization map. See the 12 League cities (Arretium is among them …)

MoR: Not much esoterica here Flavia, basically a big enigma, or αίνιγμα. The Romans, it has been said, called them Etrusci or Tusci (thence Tuscany.) The Italian Greeks Τυρρήνιοι, Tyrrhenioi (thence the Tyrrhenian Sea.) But they called themselves Rasenna, or the shorter Rasna.

Their language not yet well deciphered, their civilization not yet well understood, one additional reason is Rome possibly embodied them into herself.

Ψ

Pausa nunc. Non Chia vina aut Lesbia but some simple tuscum de Caere vinum (see Caisra in the map above, Cerveteri hodies), a light red Fontana Morella, good for a small snack with bits of cheese, or caseus. Lots of laughing, moronities. Pausae finis.


Why now Calabrian Κρότων (Crotone)?

MoR: Rome and all Westerners are a bit Tusci – also the British or the Swedish with their aurora borealis eh Fulvia? ;-)

Fulvia: Mwaaahh! Those pale ghosts from the North pole sleeping with polar bears? Oh Oh OOHH Giorgio – she bellowed – you’re totally nuts!

[*much appropriately, she – vacca nostra – adjusted her bust, id est her gorgeous mammae she unfortunately knows how to impress men with … well, only the silly men easily to get impressed, of course*].

[To Italian readers. Vacca – Latin for ‘cow’ – if possibly evocative, it’s not derogatory]

MoR: Fulvia, ehm, you forgot the Latin alphabet the Swedish (or the Brits) took from Rome owes a lot to the Rasna alphabet. As simple as that.

Embodied … one might say Calabrian Crotone, Κρότων, disappeared in much the same way. Such a great city, Κρότων from Magna Graecia, which is coastal Southern Italy. And Crotone surely a key place in our whole story. Oh you’ll be VALDE suprised, VERY obstupefacti, I am sure.

Magna Graecia or Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς in 280 AC

Flavia: *puzzled look in her deep black eyes* [a mixture of Minerva & Juno, extremely brilliant at school; Fulvia? Well, Fulvia was and is a shameless Venus] 

I don’t know where you’re aiming at. Magna Graecia – Big Greece or Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς – didn’t possibly correspond to Southern Italy only. The Greeks perhaps meant by Μεγάλη all the Greeks scattered over the coastal Mediterranean.

Besides, Crotone and the Etruscans, which connection …

MoR: Little in fact, but I mean, Crotone, so great and influential, what was left of her today? Same fatum as with Rasna, ie few remnants. And I might agree with Magna Graecia.

Κρότων continued to live in the centuries and seamlessly became today’s Crotone. Same happened to the Rasna folk. On a much larger scale same thing happened to Graeci-Romani Gentiles, id est Pagani. They were embodied – Paul Costopoulos pointed it out well -  so we don’t see them. But … postea, later.

Extropian: Actually they are haunting us, one can feel their animae even in the new frontiers of physics! I so hope you’re taking us where I suspect you’re taking us. Ego expectans atque VALDE sperans, pupus de Roma meus ;-)

Mario: Maro’, I knew we’d get back to the Greco-Romans, un bravo pupo sei. But just one thing, the gladiators: I’ve heard they came from the Etruscans.

Extropian: The Etruscans had many mores (Latin) they transmitted to Romanis, not that I am that big expert or valde expertus.

And the women or mulìeres Giorgio? Being expertus in just math and physics, can you give us one reason why Fulvia is impudens, or even impudentissima? ;-)

MoR: Ah ah ah! Well, as far as I know the Roman mulìeres were freer than their Greek counterparts since the days they mixed with the Etruscans, but I should check that better.

Flavia: Oh, I’m more experta! I once read a wonderful fabula about this girl from Rome when Rome was so ancient she was zero compared to the Etruscans. She chanced to marry to this Rasna boy and went to live in Arrētium, Tuscia (see the Etruscan map above and ceramics below.) Many things happened to her but what hit me were her rasna sister-in-laws, the way they were mocking her: to their eyes she was …provincial, stupidly decorous and restrained.

Ceramics from Arretium, the biggest pottery centre ever in Etruscan and Roman times (Maecenas was possibly born there.) Piece found at Arikamedu in India (1st cent. AD), evidence of Roman trade with India through Persia during Augustan times.

MoR: Arezzo was more powerful, ancient & refined than Roma. Titus Livius wrote Arretium was one of the 12 capitals, or Capitae Etruriae, said also Dodecapolis (δώδεκα, 12, + πόλeις, cities).

Fulvia: *giving Extropian her old mischievous look * Impudentissima?? Ah adulescentulus meus, you just wait and see!
*To MoR*
THAT is in fact much less fastidiosus, less boring.

MoR. Back to our points amici mei!

*Looking at Fulvia casually* My NORDIC grandmother used to kid his husband:  “Tusci are  just a bad copy of the Greeks also in the arts.” Nothing but a jest, though when grandpa died in 1946 she – nicknamed carrarmato di piume (tank disguised with feathers) – exerted her ‘feathers’over my poor dad who had TOTA his father’s vast materials and studies collected and revised by experti.

Among them, an advanced Etruscan grammar, according to grandma. In the end tota were given Piedmont-like to Fatherland, ie handed over to Massimo Pallottino, the scholar about to become number one in world Etruscology.

Whether my grandfather’s materials were of any help I cannot say. I never heard my grandfather mentioned anywhere in any scholarly paper about the Rasna …

Mario: *Looking at my grandfather’s photograph* You have his same face, MoR, and your eldest daughter too. Amazing.

Fulvia: Let me see .. you talked earlier of India, reincarnation: had he reincarnated in you, he must have been very unethical in his life despite his achievements .. ;-)

MoR: You are certainly right, and believe me, you’re damn lucky I am not in the mood of explaining what your next reincarnation will be!!

Ψ

Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass but luminous, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.


Everybody left, except Flavia. We went to the kitchen and had a drink.

“Listen G – she said softly – we know each other since high school. I’ve heard you don’t see many friends after your retirement and that this research is what you care for more than anything else. Is it true?”

“No Flavia – I replied – I care infinitely more for my family. Yet, true, it’s taking me away from the present and reality and, while having me plunge deeper and deeper into Orphism & the ancient religions, it’s making me lunatic a bit and progressively isolated, sort of getting dangerous for my inner balance. But please don’t worry, I have spine, but most of all, I have the love of my wife and daughters and, of some dear old friend, I hope.”

“You surely have” she said, her eyes shining a bit. After another drink in silence she left.

Ψ

Related posts:

The Human Mind is Like a Museum (very much to the point)

How To Easily Learn Ancient Greek and Latin (1). Poems Assemblage

The Day Paganism Yielded To Christianity. Has India Anything To Do With It?


How To Easily Learn Ancient Greek and Latin (1). Poems Assemblage

Modica, a comune in the Province of Ragusa, Sicily. It was the original Greek polis of Μότουκα. It's my picture. I give it to the public domain (the next one too)

[I asked Mario and Extropian for some fun. They helped me to write what I was too lazy to write]

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Along We Are, Together On A Journey

I often try to learn and teach to myself and to others. I’ve always been a teacher.

“A misguiding one” Mario and Extropian are telling me now.

Well, my readers are adult and vaccinated and have supported this rogue of Rome. With only 139 posts to date (a book of 400 pages?) we’ve been engaged in conversations totalling more than 2,300 comments, many of which extremely long (a book of 1500 pages just the comments? More? Less?)

So dear readers, you surely have accompanied me on a mind journey mixing past and present and starting from the viewpoint of a homo medius de Roma. And mind: the journey has just begun.

Brushing Up Ancient Greek And Latin

Since its beginning my research assumed a brushing up of the Ancient Greek and Latin languages, among the rest. Of them I had knowledge albeit rusty and forgotten mostly, after 16 years of Information Technology.

Latin and Greek are important to understand the Greco-Romans.

The Ear of Dionysius carved out in Syracuse's limestone (Sicily). Dionysius I (432–367 BC) used the cave as a prison and possibly liked to hear the amplified screams of his prisoners. The Latomìe close by, made of the same limestone, were the horrible stage where the flower of the Athenian youth found its death.

Not that those who can’t read these 2 languages are not capable of understanding antiquity. I’m not saying that. As for my experience I understood enough of the Russians just by reading their great novels in Italian.

However, it is undeniable, the feel of a folk a language can provide is not only part of the fun of any journey, whether in space or time. Such feel also transmits deep experiences that, in a world increasingly shallow, are precious currency beyond any doubt – or so it seems to me.

Big Poems. Two, Actually

Mario [*exasperated*]: “You wanna defeat Latin and Greek at your age and MAKE US ALL CRAZY??? You wanna do that??? Tell us WTH is your dirty little secret for miracles then.”

MoR: Oh, my dirty little secret. I have a couple. So do me the favour to listen to me:

I propose the construction of two long gradual poems, one in Latin and one in Greek.

How? Via the assemblage of wisely picked passages from the two respective literatures.

With bits of motivation (and dogged spirit) Latin and Greek will be leisurely, leniently, delicately (and deeply) SHOT into our blood, electrifying it wholly.

Extropian: “WOW! Electricity into BLOOD! How stupid of me not having thought of that.”

Poetry is Music, Pure Magic

Muse with lyre, Musée du Louvre, Paris (ca 360 - 340 BC). Fair use

I like poetry immensely, also because it is so close to music. Months ago I met this blog of poems from a certain ‘Woman in a window‘.

“Wow – I said – this woman knows how to reverberate esoteric emotions through words. I adore her and want to write poems too.”

Not that easy, I can’t. And not just in this hyperborean language, but in my own native bastard Latin neither.

Collage game. So I invented the ‘collage game’. I did a little experiment with Walt Whitman, one of my favourite poets.

Every game has its rules. Here were mine:

Walt Whitman, US poet (1819 – 1892)

1) Collection of emotional verbal materials (CEVM). One randomly leafs through Walt Whitman’s (or any other poet’s) pages and when something strikes an emotional note one jots it down and continues until ‘emotional materials’ collected are enough to make her/him happy.

2) Assemblage of  collected (emotional) materials (ACEM). After collecting it’s due time for assembling. Lines get broken down to attain rhythms following our whims plus we add editing. That all should suit our mood & taste is crucial since, if we comply to CEVM and ACEM, the final outcome will magically reflect our feelings and result in sincere poetry expressed with gorgeous words.

COOL isn’t it? Poetry made easy through plagiarism.

Ψ

Extropian: “You will be caught.”
Mario (the Neapolitan):
“Caught? Everybody is stealin’ from everybody man. Go ahead!”
MoR:
“Whitman is long buried and won’t protest but don’t want to wrong him. It was only an experiment, 80% Whitman, 20% me. Emotions? Fifty-fifty possibly. I had pig flu so I was down. It influenced the tone making it all compliant with CEVM and ACEM btw.

BUT, the whole point is THE experiment, not the result (bad).”

Extropian: “Actually I don’t see the point of the experiment.”
MoR:
“Me neither, would I be Man on Roma if I did? Now shut that helluva mouth up and listen to my canzone.”

Ψ

I raise a voice to sing today
With foreign words
A song.

I would like to sing the amplest of poems
And to say of the moon that descends on the Capitol.
But I am no man, my strength is dried up.

“Lift up your head man.”
Oh my strength is dried up
And I am confounded,
My body in deep pain.

“Lift up your heart you man.”
Oh but I am a worm, no man, and
Who are you by the way
to talk to me like that?

[MoR gets upset a bit, but the voice fades away, never to be heard]

Whoever you are I will say:

He’s no man
Whose life was consumed
with chimeras and dreams

and with etc. etc. etc.

Ψ

Two Gradual Ancient Poems Going Backwards

Leaving Whitman behind, our 2 poems will be assembled so as to be gradual in their difficulty, from the easiest to the hardest. We’ll go backwards in time, starting from late debased Latin & Greek [the Greek Septuagint and the Jerome’s Vulgate translations of the Bible] that are much closer to modern languages, hence a lot easier (baby’s talk often, compared to Plato or Cicero.) We’ll then gradually proceed towards the most pure and  classical.

Mario: “A dantesque ascent from impurity to purity?”
MoR:
“No, no, only in language, not content. How can the Bible be impure? Although from a strict linguistic viewpoint the progression from impurity to purity is undeniable.
Mario:
“You wanna disrupt phrases and words as you did with Whitman?”
MoR:
“No. Whitman was just an experiment. The 2 poems will be respectful of the originals. The collage will only imply a choice sequence of appropriate passages – we’ll see along the way.

Readers as well – it is important – will be asked to contribute with passages chosen by them.

We’ll build 2 long poems. It will be fun!”

Extropian: “And the grammar? Nobody learns a language by hurling headlong on texts without any formal preparation.

MoR: “THAT’s my dirty secret, what did you think? Read my post on the nonconscious acquisition of languages.”

The two draft poems are about to arrive.

The Clementine version (1592) of the Vulgate, from the Wikimedia. Click for a larger picture

(to be continued)



The Weird Story of a Beautiful Girl Whose Body Was Found Incorrupt in a Coffin

The Appian Way, the Queen of the Roads. Click for credits and larger picture

Found In The Appian Way

Rome, April 19, 1485. The corpse of a very young woman is found in a sarcophagus along the Appian Way [see image above,] face and body beautiful, teeth white and perfect, hair blonde and arranged on top of her head in the ancient way. The body seems as fresh as that of a girl of fifteen buried a few moments – and not 15 centuries – earlier.

From Antonio di Vaseli’s diary:

“Today the news came into Rome … The said body is intact. The hair is long and thick; the eyelashes, eyes, nose, and ears are spotless, as well as the nails. … her head is covered with a light cap of woven gold thread, very beautiful … the flesh and the tongue retain their natural colour.”

Messer Daniele da San Sebastiano, in a letter dated 1485:

Marbe statue of a young Roman woman. Click for credits and larger size“In the course of excavations which were made on the Appian Way … three marble tombs have been discovered … One of them contained a young girl, intact in all her members, covered from head to foot with a coating of aromatic paste, one inch thick. On the removal of this coating which we believe to be composed of myrrh, frankincense, aloe, and other priceless drugs, a face appeared, so lovely, so pleasing, so attractive, that, although the girl had certainly been dead fifteen hundred years, she appeared to have been laid to rest that very day. The thick masses of hair … seemed to have been combed then and there … the whole of Rome, men and women, to the number of twenty thousand, visited the marvel ..that day.”

Rodolfo Lanciani (1845 – 1929) – the Italian archaeologist from whose work I took the above quotes – collects other testimonies:

“The hair was blonde, and bound by a fillet (infula) woven of gold. The colour of the flesh was absolutely lifelike. The eyes and mouth were partly open … The coffin seems to have been placed near the cistern of the Conservatori palace [on the Capitoline hill, see image below], so as to allow the crowd of visitors to move around and behold the wonder with more ease.”

Palazzo dei Conservatori with its new façade by Michelangelo

Jacob Burckhardt‘s (1818 – 1897) comment on the whole episode is remarkable:

“Among the crowd were many who came to paint her. The touching point in the story is not the fact itself, but the firm belief that an ancient body, which was now thought to be at last really before men’s eyes, must of necessity be far more beautiful than anything of modern date.

Yes, touching, and revealing.

She was more beautiful than anything modern because she came directly from ancient Rome.

Sweeping Europe With Greece And Rome

Why classical antiquity, the past, had become so attractive?

A new fervour of rediscovery coming from Italy had begun to sweep Europe: manners, architecture, eloquence, military techniques and the overall thought of Greece and Rome.

Antiquity had exerted occasional influence on Medieval Europe – argues Burckhardt – even beyond Italy. Here and there some elements had been imitated, northern monastic scholarship had absorbed extensive subject matter from the Roman writers.

“But in Italy the revival of antiquity – Burckhardt observes – took a different form from that of the North. The wave of barbarism had scarcely subsided before the people, in whom the antique heritage was not completely effaced, and who showed a consciousness of its past and a wish to reproduce it. …

In Italy the sympathies both of the learned and of the people were naturally on the side of antiquity as a whole, which stood to them as a symbol of past greatness. The Latin language too was easy to an Italian …”

A new ideal coming from the past was about to boost Europe forward.

Classicism Towards The Future

The School of Athens by Raphael, Rome, the Vatican. Click for credits

I was hit a few weeks ago by this passage from the on-line Britannica:

“For Renaissance humanists, there was nothing dated or outworn about the writings of Plato, Cicero, or Livy. Compared with the typical productions of medieval Christianity, these pagan works had a fresh, radical, almost avant-garde tonality.

Indeed, recovering the classics was to humanism tantamount to recovering reality….In a manner that might seem paradoxical to more modern minds, humanists associated classicism with the future.

The point is classical thought was not constrained by preconceived ideas. A new spirit of doubt and inquiry was arising. A new world was dawning.

Ψ

Getting back to that beautiful girl, her golden hair and cap made shiny by the sun, we now better understand the impact, the feelings, the deep inspiration she exerted on the people who flocked to see her.

She was seen as a miracle. She was like a fairy appeared by magic from the great times of ancient Rome.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

References

Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1892.
Accessible on-line in Bill Thayer’s Web Site LacusCurtius, a marvellous resource on Roman Antiquity. Quotes from here.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878.
Available as Gutenberg text. Quote from here.

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. “Humanism.”  Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 18 Mar. 2009

Note on a Calabrian Greek

There is some evidence that the Italian Renaissance was not only imitation of antiquity, but its partial resurrection. We’ll just say here that Italy had a direct, ethnic and linguistic, connection not only with the Romans but also with the Greeks. Greek dialects were spoken in Southern Italy until a few years ago. They almost disappeared during Fascism who discouraged linguistic minorities.

[See our two posts on the Grikos (1 & 2), South Italians descending from the Greeks of Magna Graecia and Byzantium]

Interesting for our writing is Barlaam the Calabrian (ca. 1290 – 1348), an Italian Greek “by ethnic descent and language.” Great scholar “he was the instructor of both Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio [the first humanists], and their writings owe much to him.” (Wikipedia)

He helped Boccaccio to translate Homer into Latin thus preparing the groundwork for Renaissance.

Natural Language Learning as Nonconscious Acquisition

Posted on

Language Variety. Click for credits.

Second Language Learning

This is our third post on foreign language education (see 1 and 2) and we remind readers how we had stressed the importance of massive exposure to listening and to reading. It is the so-called input method: listening and reading extensively in the new language, input, will naturally lead to output, namely speaking and writing. The native language is often called the ‘first language’ (FL or L1), while the new language is called the ‘second language’ (SL or L2). L1 and L2 can be more than one.

If listening and reading are important, which of the two is preferable? Both I would say.

Listening is important for the correct pronunciation and for oral communication. Even if we don’t have the chance of talking often to foreigners, listening has become very accessible thanks to podcasts, satellite TV or DVDs where one can change languages & subtitles, etc. So why not plunging into it? Tunisians and Albanians have a decent knowledge of Italian thanks mainly to TV.

Reading for (Self) Improvement

Reading has though a few advantages in my opinion.

1) Easiness. Reading is easier at first. Understanding TV programs or films can be a beginner’s nightmare, much depending on how our mind works.

2) Availability. Despite the new technologies books or magazines availability and portability are hard to beat.

3) Path to complexity. In most cultures there usually is a difference in complexity between the spoken and the written language, up to the extreme of diglossia. The language that the Roman soldiers brought to the provinces of the Empire was different from that of Cicero or Seneca. Classical Arabic is more complex than the language spoken in the streets of Cairo. Tamil, spoken in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore etc., comprises this written-spoken difference plus adds further intricacy according to situation, caste and religion.

4) Path to language as art. Reading allows us a contact with the literature of a civilization. It is a wider concept than just learning legalese or IT English for our profession. Here language acquisition identifies itself with overall cultural acquisition. Literature (a) in fact is so well crafted as to transmit aesthetic pleasure – which requires some gradual initiation to be appreciated, as with wine (or Indian spices.) Literature (b) also transmits the deep values of a culture (sometimes of any culture,) a long story that can’t be discussed here.

[Well, we belong to a generation that did believe in literature as magistra vitae. It seems we’re not alone in this. Just check ‘literature’ out in dictionaries and encyclopaedias. The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines literature as “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.”]

Book. Click for credits.

What to Read

In case we are allergic to literature what should we read? Well, ‘any content that interests us most’ is an answer. ‘Everything’ is another good answer, from crap to technical stuff to newspapers. Newspapers present the greatest variety of linguistic registers (from colloquial to literary) & jargons (language of sports, politics, entertainment, celebrities, sciences etc.) Same thing with magazines. I remember an English teacher telling us she had started as a child by reading every issue of Woman from A to Z. After one year her knowledge had jumped from elementary to advanced.

Should we use graded texts or ‘jump into the deep’? No predefined rule. Lichanos said here he got exhausted reading Balzac in French. I also was put off at first by English literary works. While some prefer a no-parachute approach, I stumbled upon the Longman graded books whose gradualism worked fine for me. It allowed me the pleasure of reading valuable texts even at a beginner’s level. I thence made use of the Bible in the same way, in lack of other easy materials, for the study of Latin and Greek. The Bible translation by Jerome (347 – 420 AD), the Vulgate, has for example great educational potential in my view being a marvellous mixture of vulgar and classical Latin. Since the Romance Languages (Italian, French, Spanish etc.) descend from vulgar Latin, the ‘vulgar’ proved an effective bridge to the ‘classical’ (here Latin Vulgate text.)

No Grammar then? Also grammar is useful, provided it is not the base of language study. Learning irregular verbs and plurals, analysing phrasal verbs etc., all is useful for mastering a language. Which grammar to use much depends on our taste and cognitive learning style. Often our old school-time grammar is better than any other grammar.

Old Books. Click for credits.

Writing. Style & Content

Ok. Let’s imagine we’ve progressed and our speaking and writing are now decent. This being a blog, we’ll focus on writing style.

If content is what you say, style is how you say it. There must be some balance between the two in order to avoid extremes such as dullness or affectation. Such balance can also vary according to the situation and the audience. To the ancient Romans concinnitas was the art of arranging the elements of a sentence with harmony and taste.

Developing a good style in a new language is such a daunting task! One trick is that of choosing an author whose style we consider suitable and read his/her works a lot. It can be a starting point for developing our own style. It’s the input method again, though at a higher level. Style and gusto are an art, and “every art is taught by example” – as Muzio Clementi, an Italian musician, put it.
Again I insist on valuable texts. Isn’t it like with dance? Would we learn from an inept or clumsy dancer?

But once more, as with grammar, style rules can help too: advices by writers – like Hemingway, who recommended to prune adverbs and adjectives -, the study of figures of speech or of creative writing patterns etc.

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As a conclusion, this post has focused on a natural approach to SL learning based on imitation, on a “subconscious” silent acquisition through input which favours language production and a feel for correctness (and for style), this being complementary to formal and “conscious” rule learning (check this web page .)

A few theories have been developed around this natural method. Stephen Krashen’s (Comprehensible) Input Hypothesis is probably among the best known. Krashen, from USC (University of Southern California,) is a language guru whose work has stirred many disputes. I find his work stimulating although he made like a religion out of it, evidence being he has become a full-time activist of his ideas.

Although I always was fond of the input method I am convinced that best results can be achieved by combining various methods of learning.

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Related posts:

Experiences of a non Mother Tongue Blogger
Some Language and Reference Tools Utilized for this Blog
Power of Reading
Guess What is Better than Prozac
Books. Our Own Film Inside Our Head
Books, Multimedia and E-learning
Locking Horns with a Young Roman
Merry Saturnalia! And a Roman New Blog

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