Linguistically challenged...?

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Linguistically challenged...?

Postby Quintus Marius Primus on Mon Aug 16, 2004 3:14 pm

Not so much a Latin question, but I do have a language question.

Did the Romans ever write or show any interest in any other languages other than Latin and Greek? I understand that Aramaic and Hebrew were commented on by the Romans, as were Etruscan and the other Italic tongues in the Republic days, but what of other languages?

And what of languages spoken by "barbarians" outside the Empire? Do we get any glimpses of their languages through the Romans or the Greeks at all? And if we do have anything on these languages, are we able to deduce what their modern-day versions are?

I know the Romans (and the Greeks for that matter) didn't always have very positive images of non-Romans, but considering that the Empire (and beyond) was a linguistically diverse place, the Romans must have had something to say on the languages of other peoples...?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Aug 17, 2004 3:38 pm

Salve Quinte Mari,

Well, for starters, this map on our site may help you: http://www.societasviaromana.org/Colleg ... guages.php

I guess that merchants and soldiers or politicians often had to learn at least bits of the local language in order to ease their dealings, although I think most Celts learned Greek or Latin instead. Some learned Greeks also knew Egyptian, I think.

If you allow me, I think we can compare it to the modern-day language interest and knowledge of native anglophones in the UK and especially the USA. Because English is the lingua franca of the world, many people there don't feel the need to learn another language, but there will always be exotic types who like to do the reverse. A thing that could have hindered Romans though is that Celtic languages were (almost never) written down, and in their initial phases, neither were Germanic languages.

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Postby Quintus Marius Primus on Wed Aug 18, 2004 5:44 pm

Salve Draco

Tibi gratias ago - I know what you mean about native anglophones not learning foreign languages well. Having been bought up in England a lot of my compatriots haven't a clue when they are abroad, embarrasingly so! It always annoys me to go to places like Spain and see fellow Brits expecting the locals to speak English! I'm sure there were plenty of Romans with exactly the same view as latter-day Brits and Americans (apologies to those Brits and Yanks who do speak foreign languages).

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Thu Aug 19, 2004 12:14 pm

Salve Quinte Mari,

Don't worry about it :). Here in Belgium (and Flanders especially) most Flemings think they can speak a lot of languages, and relatively speaking this is true, but more often than not this usually means making oneself intelligible in another language with a very strong accent and a lot of grammatical errors. Especially infamous is most Flemings' German, which just consists of germanised Dutch words and sounds and has a quite hilarious effect to the ear ;). Oh and I had French for 8 years at school and I still can't speak it fluently...

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Postby Curio Agelastus on Thu Aug 19, 2004 6:14 pm

Salve Draco,


That isn't limited to Flemings; I still have memories of French classes where people thought that by saying a strange mixture of "Un" and "une" they could escape the question of whether the object of which they were speaking was masculine or feminine. :evil:

As for myself, I speak English with a unique accent, French with a vaguely-intelligible accent, and enough words of German, Polish, Hebrew and Italian to be able to play tourist with at least a little respect to said languages. (Although not enough Italian for Piscinus to understand me, t'would appear...)

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