Re: Languages, "modern" and otherwise

Gary Goodman (sap@TANK.RGS.UKY.EDU)
Thu, 22 Aug 1996 21:01:52 EDT

Iain Walker <iainw@SUE.ECON.SU.OZ.AU> replying to the comment that but
of course Classic Greek and Latin are "modern" languages:

IA>Precisely. Interestingly this question came up in a documentary on the
IA>Vatican screened here in Australia last week. The official language of the
IA>Vatican City State is, of course, Latin, and it's spoken widely and
IA>fluently in the country in vulgar contexts. A couple of priests
IA>(interviewed in Latin, with subtitles) were challenged to prove that
IA>Latin was a "modern" language by translating such terms as "computer",
IA>"cover girl", and so on, into Latin, which of course they did quite

My first thought, after dusting myself off (GOT to do some vacuuming)
from my roll on the floor, was how universal the general ignorance of
history seems to be among news folks, though on re-reading I realized
that perhaps the documentary team was out to prove Latin was hardly

In any which case, the next thought was a question a friend asked me a
couple of weeks ago and I had to admit complete ignorance of the answer
but someone here may know:

When did Latin go out of general use as the "universal" language of
Western scholarship? He also wondered whether the European scientific
societies retarded or hastened this downfall of Latin as a common
tongue. His thought that English (for better or worse) had replaced
Latin not only because of the dominance of Britain and American for many
years, but through the more recent general usage in technical and in
scientific fields. Though, of course much is published originally in other
languages. I know I had to gain a rough fluency in German when studying
certain subjects because a lot had never made it into English (and some,
like Freud, was ill-served by the translations).

To bring this a bit more into the list topic area, the discussion then
strayed into whether the general dominance of English on the Internet
(at least so it is said) will truly make it the universal tongue, and
what cultural ramifications this will mean. Certainly many French
speakers take great umbrage at this. Certain Canadian friends (French
and English speakering both) suggested to me that this chauvinism is the
real core of the separatist movement by Quebec. And the "language
police" in France had become rather notorious. And countless examples
exist of different nations and cultures seeking to protect THEIR
language from being overwhelmed by English.

So perhaps the Latin example is not a bad starting place -- what effects
upon European culture in general and within ethnic and national groups
did Latin have? And does it offer clues to what the 'Englishification'
of the globe that seems fairly certain will bring us from an
anthropological point of view?

Just a thot!

Gary D. Goodman

Pentad Communications
McDaniels/Hardinsburg, KY


"Knowledge rests not on truth alone, but upon error also."
--Carl G. Jung