Latin Today

Tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Yarbrough for alerting us to this item in the Gyrene Gazette:

“Salvus sīs!” says your classmate, walking into the room.

You smile as you respond, “Salvē! Ut valēs?”

“Bene. Et tū?”

“Nōn male.” Soon, the room is sparkling with foreign chatter—before the professors have even arrived. Sermo Latinus Hodiernus has begun.

Latin Conversation Today, as the class is known to English speakers, is a living challenge to the assumption that the language of Caesar and Augustine is dead and gone. Every Friday, members meet under the instruction of Dr. Ritter and Dr. Yarborough for an hour of linguistic gymnastics that includes everything from telling time to describing objects—all conducted in Latin.

In the past, AMU students have gathered informally for the same purpose, but this is the first year the school is offering the course for credit.

Latin Today is not what Dr. Ritter would call a “typical” language class. By getting an inside look at the mechanisms of the language, students are able to step outside the normal pattern of learning and see Latin as more than a two-dimensional puzzle.

The course is geared toward taking the passivity out of studying Latin and turning it into an active experience through immersion and a diversity of exercises—in the words of Dr. Ritter, “doing Latin without really realizing you’re doing Latin.”

“It’s very hard to say, ‘What does it mean?’ at the end of the day,” Dr. Ritter says about straightforward memorization and translation. His goal is to “take a Latin class and do something a little bit more.”

Still, the class is more than a cryogenic experiment. Up until the nineteenth century, Latin pervaded everyday communication; indeed, for medieval Europe, it was a way of life. A working knowledge of the language, then, provides an inlet to philosophical, theological, and even historical goldmines. In order to cultivate an appreciation for classical writers, Dr. Ritter hopes to eventually have his students working with ancient texts, such as Genesis, the Gospel of John, and St. Augustine. He agrees with Pope John XXIII, who saw Latin as that link between past and future which allows us to read into other cultures and prevents ideas from growing stale. Dr. Ritter himself objects to the view of Latin as a “dead language” when it continues to enrich so many lives. “It would be naïve to sell it short in that way,” he says.

But let’s not forget the element of fun involved: namely, what Dr. Ritter calls “the joy of naming”—the rush of life that accompanies learning, for the first time, how to express oneself in a new language.

“It’s that delight of ‘I’ve found something,’” he says, experienced only when you learn how to say “window” as Aquinas might have, or the connection you make when you realize that Romans furrowed their brows when we ourselves frown.

Dr. Ritter recalls how “shocked” he was the first time he heard anyone speaking Latin for any length of time. But he acknowledges the sense of accomplishment that comes with “passing on with great ease what you learned with great difficulty.” It Dr. Ritter’s hope to imbue his pupils with this skill.

While the Latin language certainly wasn’t born yesterday, one thing remains certain: at Ave Maria, students and faculty continue to show that Latin today is very much alive.

For more inforamation about Latinus Hodiernus and the Classics and Early Christian Literature department of Ave Maria University, please visit their web page: classics.avemaria.edu.

via: Dead or Alive? They Say Alive (Gyrene Gazette)

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