Monday, November 29, 2010

Slip of the Tongue

Several months ago I was embroiled in an online conversation at a local forum I visit from time to time. The topic of discussion had twisted and turned until one of the participants…someone who normally makes it his job in life to rub everyone the wrong way…. made mention that there was no purpose for Latin.
He said, “Latin is a dead language.”

When I read what he had written I stared at my computer screen a little dumbfounded because in my eyes and in the eyes of several others Latin does live on since it is the root language for Italian, French, Spanish and English. It is also very much in use and spoken in the legal field, medical field, in academic circles, the Catholic church uses it for certain papal bulls and mass is often conducted in Latin, AND certain members of the clergy speak it very well, so it isn’t dead as a door nail, is it?

I had a little fun sparring with my online friend as I sought to educate him a little regarding Latin, but you know? There are just some people you can’t teach… matter what. I did have fun for several weeks posting comments to everything he wrote by writing my comments in Latin with a little English translation, just so he had an idea regarding what I was saying.

Languages can be extinct. Those are languages that are no longer spoken. There are approximately 82 known languages that can be termed recently extinct languages – like Arwi, Modern Gutnish, and Wappo. Yes, Wappo…..I kid you not.

Languages can also be dead. Those are languages that are no longer spoken by anyone as their main language. Therefore, using that distinction……I have to admit Latin is a dead language since there are no native speakers, but it does live on in so many arenas as I mentioned above. There are also several devotees to the Latin language. So much so they have even created a section of Wikipedia written in Latin with over 40,000 articles to date!

Recently, there was a new discovery regarding an extinct language……a very important discovery right here in what used to be termed the New World.

Archaeologists have been excavating the ruins of the Magdalena de Cao Viejo church at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex, just north of Trujillo, in northern Peru for some time now. El Brujo is actually an ancient monument of the Moche culture and dates back to some point between 1 and 600 A.D. but the church there dates to colonial times. Researchers believe indigenous people were forced to inhabit the area by Spaniards, probably for purposes of conversion to Christianity. At some point the roof of the church collapsed more than likely in the mid-to late 17th century, and papers kept in the library or church office were trapped staying buried until the last couple of years.

In fact, a very important letter was discovered in 2008 but was not divulged to the public until it could be examined. Recently the journal, American Anthropologist, published a piece concerning the letter.

Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology told Reuters, “Our investigations determined that this piece of paper records a number system in a language that has been lost for years…..the language appears to have been influenced by Quechua, an ancient tongue still spoken by millions of people across the Andes….the language in the letter could be the written version of a language colonial-era Spaniards referred to in historical writings as Pescadora, for the fishermen on Peru’s northern coast who spoke it.

Until the letter was found no other evidence of the Pescadora language has been found.

The letter is also important because it gives evidence of numbers being translated which clearly shows the lost language’s numerical system was a ten-based, or decimal system like English. An article at National Geographic advises while the Inca used a ten-based system, many other cultures did not: the Maya, for example, used a base of 20.

Gee, I can’t wait until an online translator for Pescadora is available, so I can have a little fun with my online friends!
IBM has a Virtual Archaeology site for the El Brujo Archaeological Complex here.


John said...

I'm a bit surprised you justify Latin only on its contemporary use. It's essential there should be historians who can read the writings of the Roman Republic and Empire and later latin documents. Likewise Roman literature is still read and performed, and we shouldn't always rely on past translations. Historians of science may want to study Newton's Principia Mathematicae in the original, for example. History of various kinds is probably the biggest user of Latin skills.

EHT said...

John, thank you so very much making such an important point. I do agree with you wholeheartedly!

Forgive my "slip-up". :)

M-Dawg said...

If Latin is dead, tell that to my Superintendent and the School Committee that approved the course to be taught this school year at my high school.

The guy they hired has 4 FULL (30 students in each section) sections for the course.

I see Latin useful for understanding modern language and vocabulary.

Budi Murjiyanto said...

Scareeeeeed !!

Lol .. i like your Picture