Bringing Latin Back

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Latin split into the Romance languages in the 6th through 9th centuries AD, but this officially dead language has long refused to give up the ghost, persisting among scholars for centuries more and in the Catholic Church even until the present day.

Now, it appears that Pope Benedict XVI is bringing Latin back, with the opening of a new pontifical academy to promote its study and use.

Why the renewed interest? Latin’s status as a lingua franca among clergy has declined in recent decades, as has the understanding of the language among regular church members.

As Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini explained to the Daily Telegraph:

“When I was a young seminarian I was once on the border of Italy and Austria, where we met a group of priests. We spoke not in German or in Italian but in Latin. There is certainly a desire for more people to learn and understand Latin. From the Church’s point of view, the more people who speak Latin, the better.”

Of course, the world has changed tremendously since the time of Ancient Rome. So, bringing the language into the modern day requires a certain amount of potentially controversial tweaking. As Fr. Roberto Spataro, Professor of Ancient Christian Literature and Secretary of the Pontificium Institutum Altioris latinitatis, explained to the Vatican Insider:

“There are two schools of thought. The first is what we may call the Anglo-Saxon school of thought, which holds that before a neologism is created, we need to sieve through all the texts that have been written in Latin – and not just classical Latin – throughout the centuries. The other school of thought, which for the sake of ease I will call Latin, holds that we can be freer in creating a circumlocution that properly conveys the idea and meaning of a modern word, whilst maintaining the flavour of classical Ciceronian Latin.”

For your edification, here are some of the modern-day neologisms Vatican scholars have put together:

  • Alternative energy sources: “fontes alterius generis”
  • Non-renewable energy sources: “fontes energiae qui non renovantur”
  • Photocopy: “exemplar luce expressum”
  • Bank note: “charta nummária”
  • Basketball: “follis canistrīque ludus”
  • Blue jeans: “bracae línteae caerúleae”
  • Hot pants: “brevíssimae bracae femíneae”
  • Internet: “inter rete”
  • Email: “inscriptio cursus electronici”


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