A Natural History of Latin / Edition 1

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No known language, including English, has achieved the success and longevity of Latin. French, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian are among its direct descendants, and countless Latin words and phrases comprise the cornerstone of English itself. A Natural History or Latin tells its history from its origins over 2500 years ago to the present. Brilliantly conceived, popularizing but authoritative, and written with the fluency and light touch that have made Tore Janson's Speak so attractive to tens of thousands of readers, it is a masterpiece of adroit synthesis.

The book commences with a description of the origins, emergence, and dominance of Latin over the Classical period. Then follows an account of its survival through the Middle Ages into modern times, with emphasis on its evolution throughout the history, culture, and religious practices of Medieval Europe. By judicious quotation of Latin words, phrases, and texts the author illustrates how the written and spoken language changed, region by region over time; how it met resistance from native languages; and how therefore some entire languages disappeared. Janson offers a vivid demonstration of the value of Latin as a means of access to a vibrant past and a persuasive argument for its continued worth. A concise and easy-to-understand introduction to Latin grammar and a list of the most frequent Latin words, including 500 idioms and phrases still in common use, complement the work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...valuable is the enthusiasm [Janson] directs to the history of Latin words and the variety of their uses (with attention even to such divagations as the "Latin" spells in the Harry Potter books). The translators do a fine job of Anglicizing both the language and the cultural assumptions...Recommended"--CHOICE

"An authoritative introduction to arguably the most influential language of all time."--Chicago Tribune

"Janson...comes not to praise the Romans but instead the lingua Latina, whose evolution he traces from its origin some 2,700 years ago as a local language to its apotheosis as the official language of the Roman Empire--and later, when it was no longer anyone's native tongue, of the victorious Christian religion--to an exercise forced upon schoolchildren. He also offers an enthusiastic appreciation of Latin's role, for the better part of yet another millennium, as the language of enlightened Europeans from Chaucer and Abelard to Erasmus, Galileo, Newton, and Rene 'Cogito, ergo sum' Descartes. Nor does he fail to point out Latin's enduring place in medicine, botany, and zoology--or its more recent uses, from Oscar Wilde's 'De Profundis' to the first names of J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' characters, including Albus ('White') Dumbledore."--Boston Globe

"In the hands of a teacher introducing students to Latin, the classics, or to general themes in Western history, this book could be very useful. ... May the Latin is Important movement, assisted by books like Janson's, prosper."--Books & Culture

"It is hard to imagine how this book could be improved. ...from now on, if anyone who has never studied Latin asks me to recommend a short, readable book in which they can find out about the history of Latin and get a feel for the grammar, I will be able to answer unhesitatingly."--Linguist List 16.965

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199263097
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/15/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 316
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tore Janson was Professor of Oriental and African Languages at the University of Göteborg until his retirement in 2000. He was previously Professor of Linguistics at the same university and a world expert on the history of Latin. He is the author of the international bestseller Speak: A Short History of Languages (OUP 2002; trade paperback 2003).

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Latin and the Romans
Pt. II Latin and Europe
Pt. III About the grammar
Pt. IV Basic vocabulary 217
Pt. V Common phrases and expressions 271
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2008

    A reviewer

    As someone who is trying to teach himself the Latin language, I'd reccomend this book to all beginners who know little about either Latin or Roman history. It is filled with useful information, including a vocabulary guide and a list of Latin sayings. Important to any beggining student.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2006

    Too British

    I bought and read this book here in NYC, and knowing it was published by Oxford, I was aware that it was going to have a 'British accent,' even though the authors are apparently Scandinavian. My point is that they show many examples of the French language, which doesn't correspond to the reality of the U.S. It would have been much better if they used examples in Spanish. Most of my friends and I, and most people I know have taken Spanish at least once in high school, only a couple of them have studied French. Towards the end of the book, there are examples of Latin and German, Latin and French, Latin and us, but they neglected Spanish almost completely. I'm pretty sure the authors didn't write much about Spanish because they live in Scandinavia and probably they don't know any Spanish (it's far away), but here in the U.S., Latin American Spanish is our in-house Romance language, so I'm looking forward for a similar book with authors that have more knowledge on Spanish language and write examples in Spanish (not just in French!). Some examples in French that they are giving so we can see how similar it's to Latin, Surprise! They don't know Spanish but those same examples are even closer between Spanish and Latin than French and Latin. Any high school student who took Spanish knows that. The pronunciation of Spanish and Italian is much similar to that of Latin, than it is of French. A U.S. version of this book should include Spanish examples. Nevertheless, it's a very entertaining book.

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