Reading Latin

Reading Latin is not as hard is sometimes believed, but then it is believed to be very hard indeed.

On the plus side, Latin is written in the Roman alphabet, you not not need to either speak it or understand speech, instead you can focus your effort on learning to read.

French, Spanish, Italian and the other romance languages originate from Latin. English also contains many words which either originate from the Latin language, or have passed into English through French. So if you are an English speaker and already know a romance language then you have a head start.

How can I read Latin?

In order to read Latin, you have to learn vocabulary but also you have to understand the grammar - more so than if you are learning a language like French or Spanish.

But considerably less than if you are learning a slavic language, and I say this from personal experience (as I am currently learning to speak Croatian).

The word order of a Latin sentence is different (and more flexible) than English word order, and so to understand a sentence you need to parse it.

Parse it?

This requires an understanding of the grammatical constructions allowing you to put the Latin sentence it into a word order that makes sense to an English speaker, before translating it.

Unfashionable, I know, but also fun and interesting - especially if you enjoy crosswords.

I periodically parse Latin sentences and write about this on my blog, which you can peruse if you are so inclined.

English word order in a simple sentence is Subject, Verb, Object but as can be seen in this example this is not so in Latin.

Brutus Portiam amat has the meaning 'Brutus loves Portia' but the word order is Subject, Object, Verb. 'Brutus Portia loves'.

Another example, 'many hands make light work' in Latin is multae manus onus levius faciunt.

The Latin word order is :- 'many hands work light make'.

Naturally, the difficulty of any given Latin text depends on the vocabulary and the grammar, but this can vary widely, as it does in modern languages. Latin grammar is reasonably consistent throughout the years but some styles are simpler than others and are written with less complex constructions.

A modern(ish) example of straight-forward Latin is Winnie Ille Pu 'Winnie the pooh'.

Another example of Latin written in straight-forward language, which is perhaps more famous (although in these unenlightened times who knows) is the Vulgate, Saint Jerome's translation of the bible.

If you wish to read classical Latin, it is helpful to learn the full range of Latin grammatical constructions.

Reading latin - where to start

I would say that, although somewhat dry either of the books by Gavin Betts are the best:

Complete Latin, or Teach yourself Latin.

They are somewhat arid, and lacking in jokes, but other than a good dictionary are all that you need to start learning the language.

Personally, I would reccomend going through the first ten or so units before reading more widely. I managed to get to unit 21 of Teach yourself Latin before hitting some sort of metaphorical brick wall. One day, I will return to it.

As to dictionaries, I have 'A Latin Dicionary' by Lewis and Short which I discovered in a second hand bookshop. It is brilliant difficult to obtain at a reasonable price.

If you can't obtain a Lewis and Short at a decent price (mine only cost a few pounds at the time), the Oxford Latin mini Dictionary will do the job.

I know it is fashionable to do everything on-line and digital like, but with Latin I personally prefer physical books and dictionaries.

If the Gavin Betts books sound to much like hard work and too tedious, you could try learning a few key concepts (bonus, bona, bonum, amo, amas, amat) and start with deciphering short but complete Latin sentences and phrases.

There are many examples of mottoes, phrases and maxims in Latin and these (if you choose carefully) tend to use simple grammar but as they are short there are few words to look up - before you start to parse and translate.

If you are looking for a book Say it in Latin contains many Latin phrases, maxims and proverbs.

An additional bonus, it that it also much easier to remember vocabulary in a sentence then in lists.

This isn't for everyone and a more formal approach may suit you better, but I'm talking about playing with language and learning Latin as a hobby and fun past-time. You don't have to learn everything all at once.

We're not using it as a Lingua Franca anymore are we? (Apart from a few cool sites ...).