Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Latin Novellas: How to improve your Latin

Ah, so you have read the other two entries and you're on board with trying to write really solid Latin. Awesome! Tips below! And I've decided the bit about how to ask for help editing/pre-reading should be its own post, so hold out for that on Thursday.

More under the cut.

Strategies for better Latin

Whew, finally, the bit you probably wanted. How to be your own editor.

DO: treat Latin like a real language. If we want our students and our administrators to treat Latin as a real language, we have to too. By that I mean respect its right to be different from English. Respect its existing corpus of vocabulary and its habits of expression. Latin is a real language with a real history and a real community of speakers. Today’s relatively small Latin-speaking community is connected by a long, long thread all the way back to whoever first thought, "heus, lingua nostra nomine caret. 'Latinam' appellemus, quia Latini sumus et in Latio habitamus." In between there’s a lot of popes and Newton and Dante and Petrarch and Augustine and Elagabalus and Cicero and literally millions of others. We’re part of that community; more than that, as teachers and authors, we’re stewards of it. We have a responsibility to not invent words on our own without reference to usage, and to attend to how Latin would handle a certain syntactical situation rather than whatever seems "easier" to us. When we fudge our Latin, we are implicitly denying that reality.

DON'T: fall into the 1:1 vocab trap. We all have primary English meanings in mind for certain words, especially the ones we learned from our beginning textbooks. Latin tends to have a lot more multiple meanings for the same word. The best example of this is res, which means "thing" but actually it means almost anything except the basic concrete English meaning of "thing." Look at other meanings to figure out connotations before you use a word. The other side of the coin is when you think alius means “other” and it does but sometimes it’s not the right “other.” There’s also ceterus and alter. This one bit me in the butt in Cloelia v.1.0 big time.

DO: use dictionaries properly; that is, read the whole entry, not just the headword. Peruse the examples given and see if your sense is actually used. Not "kinda" or "almost" but actually. Glossa is pretty solid, although since it's Lewis & Short there are sometimes weird macron problems.

What I actually use is Diogenes, which has Lewis & Short built in, and then files of the PHI texts that I got in graduate school. I don't know if you can buy these from PHI somehow, but if you can manage it, do it. That way if there's a citation in Lewis & Short for how e.g. natura is used in Cicero, you can just click on the citation and get the context.

DON'T: make up words. If you need a word for a modern or fantasy thing, it may already exist. Check the Morgan-Owens Lexicon using ctrl-F, and if you can't find it go ask the Literary Translation into Latin FB group which is full of people who do spoken Latin and know what’s actually in common usage. Failing that, they can help you come up with something that follows Latin’s actual rules for creating new words. It does have certain habits for doing so. 

DO: learn to use the PHI texts database to search for actual usage. 

For example, I knew the words for "bow" and "arrow" but wasn't sure what words would help me put those into action. How do you "shoot," "aim," or "hit" with a bow in Latin? What sound does it make? What are the different parts of a bow and of an arrow? I searched PHI for arcus and its forms, and I read a lot of bow passages, and I made a file of ones I thought would be useful for pulling from. I never would have guessed that an arrow gets aptare'd to the string, rather than ponere'd. Now I know. 

Mind you though, if the archery thing weren’t important to my protagonist, though, I’d probably have just gone with telum emittere like I did in Cloelia all the time because it’s generic weapon shooting and it doesn’t much matter to the story which kind of weapon is hitting people, and best of all, mittere is a high frequency verb, so a compound of it is an easy choice. 

DON'T: get so hung up on finding just the right word that your writing stalls out. Leave it highlighted so you know to go back, and keep getting the story out. You may find a way to fix the issue later on as it turns out you need some other verb that'll work here too.

DO: attend to word order, as best you can. You need to write in a way kids can understand, but please don't just write in English word order. That's permissible when speaking because most of us aren't at that level yet, but in writing you have the time to do things properly.

The best way to work on your word order is to read a lot of Latin (see here and here and here's some easy Latin), but there are some rules you can keep in mind (I'm not vouching for that last site necessarily; I only read a bit of it and it looks fine.).

DON'T: assume that because X works in English or a Romance language, it also works in Latin. English really likes to verb nouns and noun verbs and adjective nouns, and also noun adjectives for that matter. Latin is a bit more conservative with that, or rather when nouns get verbed or adjectives get nouned, they tend to have a different form.

The same goes for syntax, big time. annos habere is one example. In Italian, French, etc. that’s how you say "to be X years old." In Latin, it isn’t. I got it wrong in Cloelia too with decem annorum sum. Languages are their own languages for good reason, or we'd just call Italian a "dialect" of Latin.

DO: remain humble. We’re all going to make mistakes, even the most "accomplished" Latinists. It’s a reality of language. Even native speakers make mistakes. It's okay to make mistakes, but you have to be willing to fix them, just as you would if you were publishing something in English. 

DON'T: let me discourage you. Everyone starts from nothing. Start writing. Keep writing! Keep improving your Latin, using the resources you have for support wisely, and keep writing! We need you. You. Your ideas, your compelling stories, your participation in this active Latin movement. Join those FB groups for writing in Latin: Fabulae Latinae for support and pre-readers, Officina Scriptoria: The Latin Writers' Workshop for technical stuff (and out of mercy because helping people with tattoos is boring) (also so far I'm the only one who asks questions there and it's a bit embarrassing so please come keep me company).

Whew, that's like a lot more than you maybe wanted to know. I hope it's helpful and NOT discouraging. If nothing else, do remember that I've only written the one novella so far, so I'm almost as much of a newbie as you are (possibly moreso). 

What do you think? Got any tips for improving Latin, or questions for how to deal with sheltering vocab without forfeiting accuracy?

Another part coming Thursday. Valete!

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