Friday, August 14, 2009

What the Romans Did Wrong

The Romans gave me a lot of hard work all through secondary school. We did a lot of Latin under the ferocious instruction of Miss Rose, and I learned it well, because it was that or wither under Miss Rose's Steely Glare. I did my fair share of daydreaming and staring out of the window, granted, but in the end there was no avoiding it, you had to get Latin into your head.

So if you ever need someone to tell you the first person, (present tense), present infinitive, perfect and supine tenses of the verb amare, to love, then I am your woman.
Amo, amare, amavi, amatum. Since you ask.

Most people don't ask. But in those far-off days we all had to do Latin because you needed Latin O-level to get into university. Though, admittedly, they abolished this requirement soon after I'd done it.

Anyway, now I'm trying to turn my long-ago Latin into modern Italian and I'm finding out where the Romans went wrong.

A lot of it's like Latin, of course. But some words are just there to trip you up.

Chiamare, to call. Chiamo, I call.

Partire, to leave. Parto, I leave.

Andare, to go. So, what should I go be? Ando, yes, you're right. And is it? Is it heckers like, as they say round here. No! It's Vado. And you go is Va. And he, she or it goes is also Va.

So what's all this Vado and Va stuff? What's that about?

Well, of course, it comes from the same root as the word INVADE.

In their little wine-sozzled Roman heads, going and invading were actually much the same thing. "Let's go to England on holiday, shall we, Claudius?" turned into "Let's invade England, shall we, Claudius?"

And there we have it. That's the whole Roman Empire explained in one short blog post.

If the first person, present tense of the word "to go" in Latin instead came from a word that meant "go and do a bit of exploring, be friendly to the natives and buy a couple of T-shirts, some local honey and a pottery Britannia from the tourist shops" then the whole course of history would have been different.

I expect we'd still be covered in woad and we wouldn't have underfloor heating, but I think that's a price we'd have been prepared to pay.


Blogger Silverback said...

That post gave me a horrible flashback experience.

Years of therapy wasted.

Thanks !

1:10 am  
Anonymous ruth said...

My excellent Latin teacher, Miss Forbes, was quite prim and occasionally steely gazed. That is until the day she told the Set A Latin O level class (which included me) about a recent trip to Italy. Not knowing Italian, she had tried to communicate in Latin, naturally it led to many bizarre encounters. Perhaps you should try it.

10:22 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Did Miss Rose teach you to pronounce amavi with a V sound or with a W sound? Also, is the accent in amo on the first syllable or on the second syllable (also applies to amas, amat, and amant)?

My teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Beaver, had been a pupil of a man who spoke in Rome on the 2000th anniversary of Ovid's birth, and she had definite ideas on such things. Hers was more a Velvet Glove than a Steely Glare, though.

1:31 pm  
Blogger Kim said...

Oh how I hate Romans I could go on forever about what annoys me about them, but I think that should be my own blog post :p


10:33 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

Bob - sorry, I forgot to answer this one! Yes, it was with a w, so it was all pronounced amawi etc. and definitely on the second syllable - amOH, amAS, amAT, amAMus, amATis, amANT. Whether all this was right or not I don't know but I suspect the second-syllable bit was, as in Italian it would be amARe.

8:38 pm  
Blogger Misgrace said...

sorry to be a nitpicker, but it's vado, vai, va... followed by andiamo, andate, and of course, the ultimate trip-up, vanno...

And I loved Latin - but then again, I read it at uni, where I had a professor who *spoke* Latin. A dead language, indeed.

9:16 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Mrs. Beaver and I agree with the W sound instead of V, because the V sound is "medievalized Church Latin," not classical pronunciation. However, we diagree about the a-MOH, a-MAS, a-MAT (which happens to be how my mother said it). The rule, according to Mrs. B., was that the accent should come on a word's penultimate syllable (so a-MAH-re is correct, of course). But in two-syllable words, the first syllable is also the penultimate! How inconvenient! You have no idea how difficult it is to remember to say AH-mo, AH-mas, AH-mat, a-MAH-mis, a-MAH-tis, AH-mant, especially with Mrs. B. watching. Also applies to PORT-oh, PORT-as, and so forth.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

I always catch some people unawares with wainy, weedy, weeky...

Another classical Latin pronunciation is KI-sar, not CHAY-sar, for Caesar. And we see where the word Kaiser comes from, don't we, class?

I will not step down from my soapbox. It's been loads of fun.

3:25 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Oops, sorry, some typographical errors.

diagree -> disagree

I will not step down -> I will now step down

Carry On, Linguist....

3:28 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Lula - of course you're right - I forgot about "vai"! Actually I did like the Latin - - just not the way it was taught.
Bob - - oh no, I can't go down that AHmo route now after all these years. It's going to be aMO for me for ever and any dead Romans listening will just have to put up with it!

8:17 pm  

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