Saturday, September 24, 2016

How Not to Explain Latin / Romance shift - and My Correction

Quoting an article:*

All five of these languages** incorporate grammar, tenses and specific intricacies from Latin. Not coincidentally, each language developed in former territories of the Western Roman Empire. When that empire failed, Latin died, and the new languages were born. Part of the reason that Latin passed out of common usage is because, as a language, it's incredibly complex. Classical Latin is highly inflected, meaning that nearly every word is potentially modified based on tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender and mood. With no central power promoting and standardizing usage of Classical Latin, it gradually passed away from everyday usage. Vulgar Latin, essentially a simplified version of the mother tongue, survived for a while but diverged more and more as it folded in various local languages. By the end of the sixth century, people from different sections of the former empire could no longer understand each other. Latin had died as a living language."

Would a man from Bombay understand the English from Ozark region?

Is English dead because it is no longer strictly speaking unified? Or was it dead until Television and Cinema revived its pronunciation unity?


Also, Classic Chinese is not dead because a Cantonese and a Mandarin speaker from Peking pronounce it diversely.

Nor Classic Arabic, because Egypt, Iraq and Morocco have diverging pronunciation, probably more so before Al Jazeera got going.

In order for a written language to die, it does not only to have pronunciation divergences making mutual understanding impossible***

It does not only to have substandard changes from the state it enjoyed during codification of standard.

One also has to exchange the written standard.

And this does not happen by gradual change.

It happened in these steps:

  • Previous to Alcuin, Latin of Roman Empire had become an "old written language" - one in which the relation between pronunciation and spelling of a word was no longer straight forward, like today English, Irish, Greek.
  • Meanwhile, Latin as used by Barbarians learning it as a foreign language had more or less preserved original pronuncitation, or the one current when each people had started using Latin as a Church language (and in later cases, perhaps tended to simplify the quirks away from spelling).
  • The deviations from writing in pronunciation being different in diverse parts of Romance world, and worst in Gaul (at least as far as West is concerned), some visiting priests in 8th Century could not understand totally the liturgic language of Gaul.
  • This led to a decision to reform Latin pronunciation in Gaul, for coherence over the Church. Alcuin did this reform in 800.
  • So, previous to 800, in Gaul, there was one pronunciation and one spelling. After him, there was still one spelling and now two pronunciations, the everyday and the liturgic ones.
  • The liturgic pronunciation which was perfectly understandable to priests from the rest of Roman world, was no longer so to the people. Add a few endings no longer in use (like the genitives in -i and -orum), OK. Omit article because it wasn't used in older times, OK. But pronouncing EVERY word different from what you were doing? No, the people were no longer investing learning efforts to keep up with that.
  • Thirteen years later, 813, this leads to a decree one must after Gospel reading (in the newly more Classical and liturgic pronunciation) add an explanation of it, including a translation or exposé of it in the popular language (whatever the pronunication was, locally, basically).
  • Priests trying to prepare for this new performance were now free to omit disused case endings (like genitives in -i and -orum) or in certain parts aleady perhaps all case endings except presence or absence of -s altogether, in order to read the "people's version" from the pulpit too. But these new spellings were occasional, and only partly crystallised. Now, from one writing and two pronuncitations, you start getting two pronunciations and two writings. But in court probably the people's pronunciation (with some moderation, if lower classes had already lost final vowels) and the Latin spelling of it were still used conjointly. However, a prince growing up in the German speaking East would probably be learning Latin in a more ecclesiastic way, more like Alcuin.
  • In Strassburg a prince growing up among German speakers and not being fluent in the Latin of the Gaulish popular pronunciation had to swear an oath before nobles using precisely that. Clerks now used the spelling for their sermon notes to help him be understood.
  • And now, slowly, the old coupling died off and about two hundred years later or a few decades earlier, the one spelling went with the one pronunciation and the other with the other one, they were two separate languages. Courts liking poetry and new pronunciation making old metres less and less likely to be rhythmic had something to do with this. Oldest works apart Strassburg Oaths in newer spelling (by now much further from Latin than the Oaths) were poems, like a sequence of Saint Eulalia.
  • This process happened about 200 years later for each stage in Spain and Italy.
  • Roumania took another road and had Church Slavonic as liturgic language up to 1500's. This means that the divergence of Walachic pronunciation from older Latin one was not steadied by any reference to Latin texts. Hence, Roumanian or Walachic is further off from Latin than other ones, in vocabulary. Example: "amator hominum" - an attribute of God in Eastern liturgy - is in Roumanian liturgy "iubitor ominilor". The verb stem behind the verbal noun is not from Latin amare, but from Slavonic liubiti. These and other things are so, because back then Roumanian started all over as a written language, it had been developing purely orally for centuries.

Part of the reason that Latin passed out of common usage is because, as a language, it's incredibly complex. Classical Latin is highly inflected, meaning that nearly every word is potentially modified based on tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender and mood. With no central power promoting and standardizing usage of Classical Latin, it gradually passed away from everyday usage.

There is no such thing as a gradual passing away of a language, except if it is gradually replaced by a totally different one.

Irish has during 19th C in many places, including Baile Áth Clíath / Dublin been gradually replaced by English.

But you can't say Latin was "gradually replaced by French" in northern Gaul, any more than you can say "Middle English was gradually replaced by Modern English" in England. As most standard non-Latin form of writing, Old English or Anglo-Saxon was replaced by Norman-French, after the Conquest, though some places the process took a century to complete (latest entries in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are from 100 years after Conquest or so), and then French-Norman was replaced by English, after the plague.

But English was not replaced by English when it evolved from a "Middle English" state to a "Modern English" state.

English uniting an essentially Middle English spelling with a Modern Pronunciation would be replaced by two new languages only if:

  • 1) Old pronunciation of Chaucer were revived, so that "knight" and "night" were pronounced as if Germans spelled it "Knicht, Nicht";
  • 2) New pronunciation was respelled, so that what Germans would spell "Neid" was, for both words, perhaps from Welsh spelling, "naet".
  • 3) Fluency in the old combination became superfluous, since less relevant than the ones in either or both new combinations.

But what Latin was like in Gaul by the time of Alcuin is, a bit, as English is now. A bit more as if English had retained its basic spelling, not from Chaucer but from King Alfred.

Or, like what Greek was when written as Katharevousa and spoken in very various shades of Dhimotiki, starting with real Katharevousa pronounced like Dhimotiki, that is with Itacism. Or like what Church Slavonic is, namely pronounced differently by Serbs and by Russians and by Ukraineans.

Hans Georg Lundahl
in Nanterre University Library
on Feast of Our Lady of Mercy

* Linking:

Seeker : Politics : Sep 18, 2016 01:00 AM ET
How Did Latin Become A Dead Language?
by Jules Suzdaltsev

** Listing:

In historical terms, Latin didn't die so much as it changed -- into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian.

One could add, Provençal, Catalan, Galician, Sardinian, Rheto-romance or Ladin - with some question marks on whether Catalan, Provençal and Ladin are three different or same language. At least there are three standards. These other three to five are indeed regional, not national languages.

*** Before schools and TV, a Scanian and someone from Norrland could probably not understand each other, unless both were fluent in a standard version, not their native tongue. Especially not if growing up as farmers.

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