Linguist Forum

Specializations => Historical Linguistics => Topic started by: LinguistSkeptic on September 11, 2017, 10:30:44 AM

Title: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 11, 2017, 10:30:44 AM
So, what do you think, is it possible that Latin was ever the spoken language as the mainstream history claims? I think that its grammar is too hard for a human being to learn. Besides, its grammar also seems not to allow making statements that you would expect a truly natural language to allow, like "Heroes are never forgotten." What are your thoughts on this? I am not an expert in anything related to the field.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 11, 2017, 01:31:26 PM
Yes. And no. It depends on which more specific question you are asking.

So-called "Vulgar Latin" was indeed a spoken language, no question about it. There is historical evidence as well as the evidence shown by the modern languages today (that they come from a common ancestor).

Classical Latin however was not a spoken language. As you read it, it is a highly stylistic version of Latin used as a literary language. Some more formal or poetic speakers may have presented themselves in a manner similar to that but it would be like speaking formally/stylistically today, not average daily language.

As for "complexity", no, it is not more grammatically complex than various spoken languages. It is simply different from your expectations and probably simpler in some other ways you might not have noticed such as lacking articles (the, a). So stylistically, no, Latin never was used quite like what you see written. But grammatically, more or less, yes, people did speak in that "complex" (=different) way, and speakers of many languages still do today (for whatever specific grammatical feature you want to pick or, however you want to count them, about the same "number" of such features too). Try Russian for example if you find the cases confusing. Or some Australian languages with even more flexible word order (which can be also used stylistically but also naturally in many ways). Latin is not an outlier grammatically.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 11, 2017, 10:01:23 PM
I meant, if it was really a spoken language, its grammar would be consistent enough to allow sentences such as "Heroes are never forgotten.". And it isn't, right?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 12, 2017, 12:20:45 AM
It might not look quite like English but yes you can translate that. I'm not sure what you mean. Latin was spoken, although not exactly in the style it was written.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 12, 2017, 01:00:27 AM
So, how do you translate that?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 12, 2017, 03:25:06 AM
There are various ways, depending on way you want to emphasize. I'm not a Latin translator. Why not ask on a lark translation forum? I don't understand how this relates to whether Latin really existed or not...
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 12, 2017, 08:31:20 AM
So, if you, as a linguist, can't master the Latin grammar, why do you assume someone else could?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: FlatAssembler on September 12, 2017, 10:38:17 AM
I don't know, perhaps you could paraphrase that as "There are never heroes in the oblivion." and translate as "Heroes oblivioni numquam dantur.".
How can somebody think Latin doesn't exist, I have no idea. I mean, you can read countless pages of text on it, it was described by the grammarians in every detail, you can hear it spoken today…
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 12, 2017, 11:45:23 AM
And what kind of evidence that a language exists or doesn't exist counts?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: FlatAssembler on September 12, 2017, 12:30:30 PM
Though, I should give you some credit, it's interesting that you noticed that it often takes a bit of thought to gramatically say something sensical, but it's easy to say something completely nonsensical. You need to paraphrase a bit to say "it's (not) forgotten" in Latin, yet you can easily say something like "Have forgotten!", as "Oblitus sis!" Worse, for some verbs, you could even make a morphological construction with the same meaning. Namely, the past imperative existed for the defective verbs. Its ending was -to, as in "memento" (remember). So, for instance, you could say *dixito, and that would have meant "Have said!". That's so counter-intuitive, but clearly true.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 12, 2017, 01:54:43 PM
If you're looking for a Latin speaker I suppose you could try asking the pope.

Linguists study the structure and use of language. We aren't learners/speakers of languages ( except for fun and when it's helpful for research, just like everyone else).

A Latin professor could easily translate your sentence. But to do a good job you'd need to think about what it means rather than assuming English sentences have single, simple "meanings" that directly translate to other languages. (I'd need to check those words in a dictionary but roughly something like literally "heroes are not/never to be forgotten" with a future participle might be an interesting way to phrase it in Latin. It has a similar sense to what I think you mean in English.)

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned this question has been clearly answered: yes, for many reasons we know that Latin was spoken in Rome. But as also explained, it wasn't spoken like it was written.

Otherwise by your logic the fact that I don't happen to know how to say that in Korean would suggest Korean isn't a spoken language, right? That argument would be silly, obviously.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 19, 2017, 07:05:12 AM
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Heroes oblivioni numquam dantur.
"Heroes never give themselves to oblivion."? I don't think that has the same meaning as "Heroes are never forgotten.".
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How can somebody think Latin doesn't exist, I have no idea. I mean, you can read countless pages of text on it, it was described by the grammarians in every detail, you can hear it spoken today…
So, where is all that evidence? How about this: "In Dragonland, they speak a language called Fifteeny. And it's a well-known thing there. You can read countless pages of text written on it. And they have linguists who have described that language in the biggest possible detail. If you don't believe me, go to Dragonland and hear for yourself." Have I convinced you?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: FlatAssembler on September 21, 2017, 11:43:38 AM
WTF are you smoking?
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 21, 2017, 11:50:29 AM
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Have I convinced you?
No, in fact, you've given me much less reason to take your comments here seriously. Making things up is different from widely used scientific methods, and in this case direct historical evidence.

If you have something to contribute that is on topic and serious, please do. If not, please don't post just to be argumentative.

You're welcome to believe whatever you want (dragon language was spoken in Rome, we never landed on the moon, the earth is flat), but there is literally documentation of Latin being spoken in Rome. There are some complicated details (already discussed) like stylistic questions, which could lead to a relevant and interesting conversation. But being 'skeptical' to this degree is nonsensical. There's evidence, and if you simply ignore it, there's nothing more to discuss.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: LinguistSkeptic on September 21, 2017, 08:10:58 PM
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WTF are you smoking?
You are trying to emotionally abuse me, right? Well, that's because you have no rational arguments supporting your belief.
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There's evidence, and if you simply ignore it, there's nothing more to discuss.
So, where is that evidence? You saying there is some direct historical evidence of Latin having been spoken in Rome doesn't prove it any more than me saying there is evidence of Fifteeny being spoken in Dragonland proves it is so. Also, you are ignoring the counter-evidence I've presented: the descriptions we have about Latin grammar are so inconsistant that it appears to be impossible to make a simple statement such as "Heroes are never forgotten." in Latin.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: FlatAssembler on September 21, 2017, 08:37:27 PM
Hey, this might help you realize the fallacies you have made:
http://linguistforum.com/linguist's-lounge/airplanes-don't-exist-(a-parody-of-the-conspiracy-theorists)/
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: Daniel on September 21, 2017, 11:19:45 PM
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So, where is that evidence?
I'm not going to devote any substantial amount of time to proving that Latin exists. It's an absurd request.

But here's one example: https://www.quora.com/During-antiquity-did-anyone-in-Greece-or-Rome-recognize-similarities-between-Greek-and-Latin-languages-and-hypothesized-relationships-between-them/answer/Nick-Nicholas-5

As for knowing that Latin was a spoken language, I don't have anything in mind at the moment, but I'm also not an expert on Roman grammarians. However, Aristotle, Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers wrote often about the pronunciation of words. Plato's Cratylus is a specific example that discusses whether sounds have an inherent meaning (a 'correct' meaning) or if they are (in modern terms) arbitrary. Does "dog" mean dog only by convention, or inherently in its sound? (Of course he referred to the ancient Greek words.) Latin grammarians of course made similar comments about pronunciation.

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Also, you are ignoring the counter-evidence I've presented: the descriptions we have about Latin grammar are so inconsistant that it appears to be impossible to make a simple statement such as "Heroes are never forgotten." in Latin.
That isn't evidence of anything. Whether or not I can translate a sentence into German does not prove (or disprove) that German exists. That is entirely irrelevant.

Aside from skepticism, there is no reason whatsoever to reject Latin as having existed or been spoken. There are historical accounts of it. Consider any Roman play that was performed and understood. And from the perspective of linguistics, although the situation is complicated, it is clear that Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, etc., came from some shared ancestor. (That argument applies to why we know some ancestor of many European languages, which we now refer to as Proto-Indo-European, also existed.)

Some variety of Latin we can refer to as Vulgar Latin existed and was spoken in Rome. Questioning that is just silly. Asking exactly what Vulgar Latin was like is a very good academic question, one that many articles and books have been written about, and a continued topic of interest for future research as well. You can read about it here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulgar_Latin

I'm ready to be done debating this, especially before the conversation devolves further. I've already wasted enough time trying to convince you that water is wet. Believe what you wish.

--

FlatAssembler, please don't extend or incite the argument more.
Title: Re: Was Latin ever a spoken language?
Post by: ForumExplorer on September 26, 2017, 11:15:20 PM
This thread is so hilarious! Thanks for making my day!