Leigh Goff

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Latin-the Dead Language that Speaks to us Today

By Carol Browne

I know I was lucky when it came to education. Not only did I live in the UK at a time before austerity when the state paid for all our equipment, I also got to attend a grammar school. That meant I studied Latin for about the first four years I was there. At the time I didn’t see the relevance; none of my contemporaries did. It was a dead language confined to history. Something for academics and librarians and archaeologists. A difficult study for an English brain not used to complicated conjunctions and declensions. The concept that nouns had to beclassified into gender was bizarre. All the different word endings that had to agree with each other made my head reel. It seemed Latin was something you did to get a qualification—and I did. I achieved what in those days was called an ‘O’ Level. So, job done. Stick it on the CVwith all the others.

Image by Desi Maxwell from Pixabay

It was after I left school that I learned to love Latin and appreciate its value as a linguistic tool. More than that, I understood its historical significance, how it helped to shape the modern world we have today. How many languages have Latinate words as part of their lexicon? How many countries, corporations and institutions use Latin mottos? I’m thinking of a famous one here, E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) which appears on the Great Seal of the United States of America.Latin invaded Britain along with the Romans in the first century and it was clearly determined to take root as part of the language of the indigenous people because it became the language of the church for centuries. In 1066, when the Norman French invaded Britain, their Latinate tongue became the dominant language and married itself without ceremony to that spoken by the oppressed Anglo- Saxons.

In this way, Latin moved up to another level and its words formed a large part of what was to become what we now know as English. People wonder why in English there are so many different words for the same thing but the richness of the language is a result of having input from so many other languages brought to Britain by a variety of invaders.

Image by Photos for You from Pixabay

So from a living language spoken by the Romans, to an elitist language used by the church and the legislature, it evolved in many ways, even giving scientific names to plants, animals, diseases and body parts! And now it is supposedly a dead language because no-one speaks it anymore except for academics and historians. And yet how can you call it dead when it is so widely used? As a writer Latin isn’t dead to me. I can call upon my knowledge of Latin to help me work out the meaning of many words in use today. If I encounter an unfamiliar word, as long as it has had some truck with Latin during its evolution, I am likely to be able to recognise some part of it that will facilitate my understanding. Latin prefixes are extremely helpful: ex, inter, trans, sub, contra, for example. These are already pointing you in a certain direction. A submarine is obviously going to operate under the sea rather than above it! (And marine is also of Latin origin—‘mare’, sea.) Latin has also helped me translate words in other Latinate languages like Italian and Spanish, even though I’m not that acquainted with them.

Latin is timeless, as familiar in Shakespeare’s plays as in Hollywood movies. It has expandedits influence into popular culture without most people giving it a second thought—where would Hogwarts professors be without their Latin-inspired incantations? In the Marvel universe, what would Magneto be called without that ancient Roman language? (L. ‘magnes’?) All those horror films where the bad guys try to summon demons wouldn’t be half so dramatic if they didn’t use Latin to do it; likewise, exorcisms sound much more impressive in Latin. It is, I have come to realise, a rather beautiful language.Versatile too. You can have fun with Latin. In The Handmaid’s Tale, ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ (Don’t let the bastards grind you down) is grammatically incorrect Latin with some made-up words and was a joke Margaret Atwood remembered from school, but it struck a chord with her audience and people actually have it tattooed on their wrists! Latin isn’t dead. It never really went away. Those ancient Romans gave us the gift that keeps on giving; even our planets are named after their gods and goddesses. Latin went global long before that concept even existed.The question must be, did we absorb Latin or did Latin absorb us! Whatever the answer, Latin is here to stay.Here is a little from my latest release for your reading pleasure. Yes, a little Latin has worked its way into this psychological thriller.

Gillian Roth finds herself in middle age, living alone, working in a dull job, with few friends and little excitement in her life. So far, so ordinary. But Gillian has one extraordinary problem.Her house is full of other people… people who don’t exist. Or do they?As her surreal home life spirals out of control, Gillian determines to find out the truth and undertakes an investigation into the nature of reality itself.

Will this provide an answer to her dilemma, or will the escalating situation push her over the edge before she has worked out what is really going on?

BLURB: Thursday, 26th March, 2015. My house is filled with people who don’t exist.They have no substance. They are neither alive nor dead. They aren’t hosts or spirits. They aren’t in any way shape or form here, but I can see them, and now I need to make a record of how they came to be under my roof. Why now? Why today? Because we line in strange times, and today is one of the strangest days this year; this is the day that Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, was interred in Leicester Cathedral, with all due ceremony, 530 years after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. How surreal is that? I watched the highlights on Channel 4 earlier. A couple of my house guests sat with me and together we marveled at the event. They did Richard proud, no doubt of that.

I left them to it after a while and came up here to my bedroom to start writing a diary: this diary. Life feels unreal today, as if time has looped back onto photo albums. The house clearly passed must itself and everything is happening now. And if I can set my thoughts down on paper, perhaps I can make sense of everything, make it all real somehow.Where did it start, this thing that has happened to me? A couple of years ago? I can’t say when. It evolved without my conscious input. The existence of my house guests was a fact long before I began to wonder at it. I do wonder at it now and I know I must keep track of what’s happening before I lose myself in this crowd of imaginary beings. At first there was only a few of them, and I observed their doings without much concern.

I watched them snooping around the place, choosing the most comfortable chairs to sit in, leaning against the furniture, inspecting the bookcases, checking the kitchen utensils, and peering into my photo albums. The house clearly passed muster and they stayed. In time, they knew me down to the marrow. I have never known them as well as they know me. They have an air of mystery, as though they have a life outside my house they will never divulge. Even so, I felt I was safe with them and I could tell them my problems. Tell them what no-one else must ever hear.

And so these shades thickened, quickened; their personalities accumulated depth and solidity, as though they were skeletons clothing themselves in flesh. I no longer came home to a cold, empty house, but to a sanctuary where attentive friends awaited my return. I was embraced by their jovial welcome when I stepped through the door. I never knew which of them would be there, but one or two at least would always be waiting to greet me, anxious to hear about my day and make me feel wanted, and for a while I could forget the problems I have at work (even the one that bothers me the most). Since then I have felt a subtle change. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I really need this to be a faithful account of the entire situation from start to finish, so I have to try to work out how it all began, even if I’m not sure when. If I cast my mind back, it floats like a lantern through a city cloaked in fog. I must try to isolate the shadowy figures that flit up at me out of the murk.

So, let’s begin with the friend I remember first. I was cooking my evening meal. My mind wandered. I remember feeling sad. And there she stood, at my right elbow, peering into the saucepan. “Watch you don’t burn that,” she said. I don’t have names for my imaginary friends, just titles, so I call her Kitchen Girl. She’s dark-haired with porcelain skin, and she’s tall and voluptuous. The sort of woman I’d like to be except I’m small with red hair and a ruddy complexion, and I need chicken fillets to convince people I’m female. I suppose Kitchen Girl is rather daunting, with those fierce blue eyes and no-nonsense approach to everything. I can stand up to her though. I use humour as my weapon of choice and she appreciates wit and banter. I’d like it if she didn’t nag so much, if I’m honest (“Use less salt… keep stirring… is that all you’re going to eat?”) but, criticism aside, I know she’ll compliment me on the finished product as it lies uneaten between us on the table.

Long conversations back and forth have been played out while the meals go cold on their plates. Fried eggs congeal and go waxen. Ice cream melts into a tepid sludge. Sandwiches curl up with embarrassment to be so spurned. You know how it is when you get gossiping. Someone wants to talk to me and that’s better than food.

And sometimes, it’s curious, but it’s Kitchen Girl who cooks the food and serves it to me likea waitress. She likes to surprise me with new dishes.I have no idea how this happens.Nor why she never leaves the kitchen. But I wish she’d do the washing up now and then.

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Born in Stafford in the UK, Carol Browne was raised in Crewe, Cheshire, which she thinks of as her home town. Interested in reading and writing at an early age, Carol pursued her passions at Nottingham University and was awarded an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living and working in the Cambridgeshire countryside, Carol writes both fiction and non-fiction.

Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.