Latin: Story of a World Language

Overview

The mother tongue of the Roman Empire and the lingua franca of the West for centuries after Rome's fall, Latin survives today primarily in classrooms and texts. Yet this "dead language" is unique in the influence it has exerted across centuries and continents. Jürgen Leonhardt has written a full history of Latin from antiquity to the present, uncovering how this once parochial dialect developed into a vehicle of global communication that remained vital long after its spoken form...

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Latin

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Overview

The mother tongue of the Roman Empire and the lingua franca of the West for centuries after Rome's fall, Latin survives today primarily in classrooms and texts. Yet this "dead language" is unique in the influence it has exerted across centuries and continents. Jürgen Leonhardt has written a full history of Latin from antiquity to the present, uncovering how this once parochial dialect developed into a vehicle of global communication that remained vital long after its spoken form was supplanted by modern languages.

Latin originated in the Italian region of Latium, around Rome, and became widespread as that city's imperial might grew. By the first century BCE, Latin was already transitioning from a living vernacular, as writers and grammarians like Cicero and Varro fixed Latin's status as a "classical" language with a codified rhetoric and rules. As Romance languages spun off from their Latin origins following the empire's collapse—shedding cases and genders along the way—the ancient language retained its currency as a world language in ways that anticipated English and Spanish, but it ceased to evolve.

Leonhardt charts the vicissitudes of Latin in the post-Roman world: its ninth-century revival under Charlemagne and its flourishing among Renaissance writers who, more than their medieval predecessors, were interested in questions of literary style and expression. Ultimately, the rise of historicism in the eighteenth century turned Latin from a practical tongue to an academic subject. Nevertheless, of all the traces left by the Romans, their language remains the most ubiquitous artifact of a once peerless empire.

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Editorial Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Ben Lee And Branden Kosch
[A] must-read for anyone interested either in the status of Latin or in what Latinity has signified throughout any previous epoch of its existence.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Ben Lee and Branden Kosch
[A] must-read for anyone interested either in the status of Latin or in what Latinity has signified throughout any previous epoch of its existence.
Prospect - Bettany Hughes
Latin might be classified as a long-dead language—but this work reminds us that no one has informed Latin of that fact.
Slate Book Review - Ted Scheinman
Given that the newly mitred Pope Francis is a freak for Latin, and that the Vatican’s two most recent Latin czars have been clerics from the American Midwest, stateside Catholics and Latin nerds alike should be frothy-mouthed at the new, significantly expanded edition of Jürgen Leonhardt’s Latin: Story of a World Language, translated with elegance by Kenneth Kronenberg…Leonhardt’s tour through Latin’s post-Roman afterlives, and his own experience speaking the language, galvanize a very neat argument that blends a linguistic approach (which has pronounced Latin dead) with a cultural-historical approach (by which standard Latin is merely decrepit!). Learned and accessible, the book is stuffed with funny little anecdotes, from early Arab scholars grappling with the language to Angelina Jolie getting quod me nutrit me destruit tattooed on her lower abdomen.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Willis G. Reiger
The core strength of Leonhardt’s book is its discussion of how a language becomes a world language and how a canon forms…Kenneth Kronenberg’s translation, done collaboratively with Leonhardt, escorts Latin into English. Kronenberg translates German culture, too, sometimes substituting references to Rilke with those to Auden and T.S. Eliot. Leonhardt credits Kronenberg with making ‘parts of the English edition better than the German original.’ Now Latin can make its case in today’s world language.
Open Letters Monthly - Steve Donoghue
A neat little primer on the history of the Latin language.
New Criterion - Gerald J. Rusello
Latin provides us with a deeper way of understanding the relationship between European culture and the language that sustained it for more than a thousand years… Latin reminds us that understanding our past can help to shape our future.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review
[A] must-read for anyone interested either in the status of Latin or in what Latinity has signified throughout any previous epoch of its existence.
Christopher B. Krebs
Long, nay, longer live the dead! Latin as a literary language became fixed as early as the first century BCE, only to thrive and flourish for almost two more millennia. Leonhardt has written a delightfully illuminating life of this supposedly dead world language.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674058071
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/12/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 334,035
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jürgen Leonhardt is Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Tübingen.

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