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24 March 2010

Latin Is a Dead Language

As dead as dead can be.
Latin killed the Romans
And now it's killing me.
-Per student writing on blackboard in Mrs (Cheryl) Meltzer's Latin class, 1976

As I recall, when I was taking Latin in high school, we were a class of five people, most of us in there for esoteric reasons, like the boy who wanted to become a monk and my best friend who went on to become a nun.  And, then, there was the boy who had a crush on the girl who wanted to become a nun and the boy's best friend who was being supportive of him by also taking Latin, but atop that, thought it would be fun.  I thought it would be fun, because it wasn't a required course, so it was out of the mainstream.  Also, I had thought about becoming a linguist, as I was fascinated by the origins and evolution of words and felt that I needed to know Latin.  Of course, I subsequently attended Vassar and forgot all about becoming a linguist, although I still love words and I guess it's never too late to start another career.

I just finished a new book, Bulletproof Mascara, which is being touted as a "spoof" novel. I would admit it is not great writing, but oh, is it fun to read about Thailand and gadgetry disguised as cosmetics and the author, Bethany Maines, gets to stick a few comments in about language, as the 25-year-old heroine is a linguistics major who has yet to find a job in the field she loves.  I also find it interesting that the heroine finds she must continuously tell people her father is Quebecois, but while I'm not an expert, I do believe the French spoken by the Quebecois is not the same as the French spoken in France.  The French have told me how ancient the Quebecois French is, that it evolved differently from France's French.  I think most of us agree that being cut off from the mainstream changes in their native language as well as having the fierce need to keep their language amidst English influence has kept the Quebecois French, if not quaint, then at least not modern.

Here is an item from NPR's All Things Considered that I have been meaning to share, about the change in language in China.  It is very common for Chinese in say, the United States of America or Hong Kong, even, to start speaking "Chinglish," using words from both languages in the same sentence while speaking or taking an English work and changing it phonetically into a Chinese word, like "taxi."  I didn't know there is a real term for "taxi" (= "hired vehicle") in Chinese until I went to Beijing to study.  Hmmn, so maybe it's the doing of those darn Cantonese people, doing the Chinglish thing.  However, the phenomenon of Chinese changing within China and in such a way as "passive subversion" is new to me.  In any case, language changes take root in new, different and uncontrollable ways, like adnascentia (Save a Word!).  I am intrigued to find that there's a "Word of the Year" in mainland China.  According to whom?  Who votes?

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