I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

veni vidi

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never had the option of studying Latin while in high school.

Mind you, the decidedly uninspired worth ethic I demonstrated in my teens perhaps ensured that I wouldn’t have taken Latin had it been offered, but the fact that California’s public school system was well in the crapper by the time I was enrolled in high school in 1980 made it a non issue.

Indeed, the Language of the Caesars was considered passé by the lightweights who had taken control of the Golden State’s education system beginning in the 1960s.

Instead, I squeaked my way through a couple of years of French – which in no way prepared me for the two years of college French that was required for me to graduate.

Years later I regret not having studied at least a smattering of Latin at some point in my schooling.

To be able to read Cicero, Cato or Tacitus in the original would have given me the chance to view their world through a wholly different lens, rather than one distorted, even unintentionally, by translation.

Fortunately, after a decline of several decades the study of Latin is increasing in popularity once again. Perhaps, common sense is returning to a segment of the education community, and the greatness of literary giants of past millennia are again being recognized on a wider basis.

Latin may not be for everybody but as Cicero once stated, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

(Above: Cartoon from The New Yorker and likely the only time the words “mani” or “pedi” will ever appear in this blog.)

Native American tribe strives to save language from extinction

omaha language 1

Imagine your native language has but a few fluent speakers. An even dozen, to be exact, and none under the age of 70.

That’s the situation sisters Glenna Slater and Octa Keen of Macy, Neb., find themselves in.

The pair is among the few certified to teach the language of the Omaha Indian tribe, called Umónhon. They keep a tally of people who still speak their language.

That list is now on a single leaf of notebook paper, complete with names that have been crossed out, representing speakers who have died, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

“The sisters fear a day may come when the last name is scratched out,” according to the publication.

“It just tears part of your heart out,” Keen said, “because you know it’s never coming back.”

Umónhon is among approximately 2,000 languages around the globe that are classified as “severely endangered,” according to the Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages.

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Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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Ancient tablet shows undiscovered language

Amid the ruins of a Middle Eastern palace dating back nearly 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, archaeologists believe they have discovered a previously unknown ancient language.

Working in southeast Turkey, a team excavating an Assyrian imperial governors’ palace in the ancient city of Tushan recently unearthed a 2,800-year-old clay writing tablet.

Cambridge University archaeologist John MacGinnis discovered the unknown language – which was likely spoken by a hitherto unknown people from the Zagros Mountains of western Iran – while deciphering the tablet, according to The Independent.

“The discovery is important because it may help reveal the ethnic and cultural origins of some of history’s first ‘barbarians’ – mountain tribes which had, in previous millennia, preyed on the world’s first great civilizations,  the cultures of early Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq,” according to the British newspaper.

The clay tablet revealed the names of 60 women – probably prisoners of war or victims of an Assyrian forced-population transfer program.

But when MacGinnis began to examine the names in detail, he realized that 45, or three of every four, bore no resemblance to any of the thousands of ancient Middle Eastern names already known to scholars.

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New Guinea’s linguistic reservoir endangered

New Guinea is regarded as the world’s greatest linguistic reservoir, being home to more than one-sixth of the world’s languages, at least 1,000 in all.

However, that status may change within the next century as many of the native tongues are in danger of dying out, many now having fewer than 1,000 speakers.

“It’s Indonesian more and more,” said Yoseph Wally, an anthropologist at Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Indonesia. “Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said.

In some villages Wally visits, not a single person can understand a word of the traditional language, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago,” he said.

It’s a problem not unlike those facing speakers of Native American languages, many of which have become extinct or on the verge of extinction in recent decades as village elders die off and younger members turn exclusively to English.

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An endangered language commits suicide

Living in a nation whose dominant language seems to be encroaching daily upon the rest of the globe, we sometimes forget there are literally hundreds of spoken tongues on the brink of extinction.

Nearly 500 languages are currently close to oblivion, according to the website Ethnologue.com. In the Americas alone, some 182 are on the cusp of extinction, including approximately 75 in the United States.

It is said that every 14 days a language dies somewhere in the world and that by 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many not yet recorded – may disappear.

Cornell University researchers found that when two languages compete, only one survives while the other declines exponentially. Policies, education and advertising can slow this process, according to the 2003 study.

Perhaps one of the more curious examples of an endangered language is that of Ayapaneco, which has been spoken in what is now Mexico for centuries. Today, there are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.

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A glance back at America’s first bible

Ask most folks what language the first bible in North America was printed in and you’ll likely get a myriad of answers, ranging from English, French or Spanish to Dutch, Latin or Greek.

All would be wrong.

The first bible printed in North America was a translation of the Good Book published in Massachusett, a Native American language, by John Eliot in 1663.

Massachusett is a member of the Algonquian language family and was spoken by the Wampanoag nation, which lived in present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Eliot, an English clergyman who emigrated to the Colonies in 1631, settled initially at Boston but a short time later moved to the nearby town of Roxbury, where he became pastor.

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