Jan 122010

Perhaps the “hardest” language studied by many Anglophones is Latin. In it, all nouns are marked for case, an ending that tells what function the word has in a sentence (subject, direct object, possessive and so on). There are six cases, and five different patterns for declining verbs into them.

One cannot decline verbs, as any fule kno. And there are seven cases.

This system, and its many exceptions, made for years of classroom torture for many children. But it also gives Latin a flexibility of word order. If the subject is marked as a subject with an ending, it need not come at the beginning of a sentence. This ability made many scholars of bygone days admire Latin’s majesty—and admire themselves for mastering it.

Meh. Sure, there’s a flexibility of word order in Latin. There is in English, too, though not perhaps to the same extent. But even in Latin, one doesn’t just arrange the words any old how. Word order is stylistic, just like word choice and syntax. An elegant word order is one that provides the audience with the clearest possible meaning, the greatest possible emphasis, and the most pleasing conjunction of sounds. Exactly like English, in fact. And where English is more constrained than Latin because of conventions regarding word order, Latin as a language has far fewer vocabulary choices from which to choose when constructing a sentence.

Also, that last sentence – scholars admire themselves for mastering Latin, eh? Is it a requirement now that every journalist, be he ever so mistaken in his facts, insert a snide dig at anyone mentioned in the article who has ever accomplished anything of value or difficulty? Jesus, no wonder journalism as a profession is dying. It’s because its practitioners are a pack of unjustifiably smug assholes.

  8 Responses to “Economist Fail”

  1. What you need to do is combine Latin’s flexible sentence structure achieved through noun declination, with German’s aggulative word creation.


  2. “Perhaps the “hardest” language studied by many Anglophones is Latin.”

    Eh? They’re both Indo-European and doesn’t something like 50%-60% of English vocabulary ultimately have a Latin root (much of it via French and the other Romance languages)? I’v’e certainly seen people talk of the difficulties inherent to learning Latin but to describe it as ‘perhaps the “hardest”‘ language for English speakers immediately undermines any claim to authority on the topic that the author might hope to make.

    • Well, that’s why he puts it in quotation marks – the entire rest of the article goes on to demonstrate that Latin is among the easier languages for a native English speaker to master, when compared to ones like !Kosa or that one spoken in the Pacific by people who orient their whole lives by cardinal direction – including their language.

  3. Can any of you smart people tell me why Latin America is so called please?

    As far as I know nobody speaks – or has ever spoken – Latin in that part of the world. Moreover, the Italians never got much further than Ethiopia when collecting colonies.


  4. Humph! Latin isn’t even the hardest Western European language to learn; at least Greek has a different alphabet! I’d agree as to the stylistic nature of word usage in Latin; “te amo” and “ego te amo” both translate strictly into English as “I love you”, but as a (crappy) Latinist, I’d know which one I’d prefer to hear from my inamorata…

    As for the most difficult language for English speakers to learn, I’d suggest the Sinitic languages, which offer not just fundamental differences in the written language (pictographic vs alphabetic) but in the spoken language too (tonal vs syllabalic).


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