Posts Tagged ‘latin’

It’s Greek to Me

April 20, 2017

My favorite YouTube channel is, without question, the Langfocus  channel, created by Paul Jorgenson, a Canadian who teaches English in Japan. Paul is fascinated by language and he shares his knowledge and fascination in his videos. Paul makes videos about particular languages, language families and general concepts about language. Whatever the specific topic he covers, Paul’s videos are always interesting and informative.

Not too long ago, Paul made a video on the Greek language.

I have studied Koine or New Testament Greek a little bit and it is amazing to me just how little the language has actually changed over the centuries. I can tell there are some differences in grammar and vocabulary. Some of the verb inflections have changed a little and Modern Greek seems to have lost the dative case. I also notice that the middle and passive voices have combined into a mediopassive voice. The Greek word for speak has changed from λαλεω (laleo) to μιλεω (mileo) and dog from κυων (cuon) to σκυλος (skylos). I think that a speaker of Modern Greek could read the New Testament in its original Koine Greek without too much trouble and could even read Plato and Homer with varying degrees of difficulty. I suppose that the sounds or phonology of spoken Greek have changed quite a bit more than written Greek so a modern Greek transported back to Periclean Athens might have quite a bit of difficulty making himself understood in conversation, but perhaps not much more than speakers of related languages might have. Despite the changes, Modern Greek is recognizably the same language as the Greek spoken two thousand or more years ago.

Now look at this sample of English from about one thousand years ago.

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning.
These are the first lines of Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem that was probably the first work of literature written in Old English. Here is a translation.
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
It doesn’t seem to be the same language at all. If you look closely, some of the words are recognizable, “god cyning”= good king, but the grammar is very different and there are even some strange letters not used in Modern English. The text looks more like a dialect of German than the English we are familiar with. This is not too surprising. German and English originated on the same branch of West Germanic in the Germanic language family. There would probably be a closer resemblance between Modern English and German if it weren’t for the infusion of so many words from French and Latin after the Norman conquest. As it is, English is less of a strictly Germanic language, at least in vocabulary, and more of a hybrid between Germanic and the Romance languages. (Paul has a couple of videos on this)
Besides the unfamiliar words, you might notice that Modern English has lost the inflections that Old English had. This may also be due to the Norman conquest, or perhaps the earlier Danish or Viking invasions. Britain seems to have been something of a magnet for settlers during the tenth and eleventh centuries and since the Danes, Normans, etc had to communicate with the Anglo-Saxons who already lived there, they used a simplified form of Old English that developed into the language we speak today.
Here are the first lines of Chaucer’s Canturbury tales, written in Middle English around 1300.
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
And the translation:
When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought
Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout
Through every vein with liquid of such power
It brings forth the engendering of the flower;
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown
 Through every field and forest, urging on
The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,
His second half course through the Ram now run,
And little birds are making melody And sleep all night, eyes open as can be
So Nature pricks them in each little heart), On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.
The palmers long to travel foreign strands
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire’s end
This is recognizably English even if the spelling looks strange. There are some unfamiliar words and some differences in grammar. Chaucer can be read by an English speaker, but it is not easy. Shakespeare and the King James Bible are the most familiar examples of Early Modern English. They are essentially the same language spoken today, but even after a mere four hundred years they already seem quaint and old-fashioned, requiring a glossary to fully understand the text.
How is it that a language like Greek has changed slowly enough over the centuries that the Greeks can read the classics of Ancient Greek literature without too much difficulty while anything written in English more than about five hundred years ago is incomprehensible to the modern reader? Has Greek been unusually conservative or has English changed faster than most languages. Maybe it is both. Latin has changed quite a bit in the transition to the Romance Languages, particularly in the loss of the noun case system, loss of the neuter gender and changes in verb tenses. The vocabulary of the Romance Languages is still largely based on Latin and I think that a modern speaker of Italian or Spanish could still get the basic meaning of a Latin text.
Part of the reason might be because Greek has a much longer written history than English. Writing does tend to make a language more conservative, at least in its written form, particularly when the older version of the language is seen as somehow more pure while innovations are viewed as corruptions. This has long been the case in Greek where until recently it was common for Greek writers to use a formal and archaic version of Greek that resembled Ancient Greek more than the Greek actually spoken. (This is actually a common phenomenon found on many languages with a long literary history.) It seems the greatest changes in English came in the centuries after the Norman Conquest when French was the official language at court and English was mostly a language of illiterate peasants. Another possible reason for the continuity of Greek as opposed to the development of the Romance Languages from Latin might be that the Greek speaking Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire survived as a nation until 1453 while the Latin speaking Western Roman Empire broke up causing regional dialects to become separate languages.
Whatever the reasons, the relatively rapid development of English from its Germanic, Anglo-Saxon origins to the useful language we speak today with its large vocabulary and relatively simple grammar has helped to make English the lingua franca of the modern world. I’m sure I’d rather speak Modern English than Anglo-Saxon, but I wish there had been a greater continuity over the centuries.
  • The Anglish Moot-They want to restore English to its native roots. The result of writing English without any Latin, Greek, or other words is truly weird and helps to demonstrate just how much English has borrowed from other languages.
  • Day of the Dead Languages (feedproxy.google.com)

Lesus

October 13, 2013

Recently, the Vatican issued a commemorative coin to celebrate the accession of Pope Francis I, featuring the Latin phrase that inspired the new pope to become a priest. Unfortunately there was a minor error in the coins that required the Vatican to recall them. Here is an account in Yahoo News.

Copy editors the world over can empathize (and cringe) with this mistake.

The Vatican issued a recall this week because about 6,000 of commemorative coins spelled the name “Jesus” as “Lesus.”

The medallion celebrating Pope Francis, includes a Latin phrase that reportedly inspired the new pope to become a priest.

In English, the phrase reads: “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, follow me.”

So it read, in Latin, “Lesus therefore…”. That isn’t too bad compared to other famous typos, and if you could acquire one of these defective coins they will no doubt become very valuable in coming years.

But as a coin dealer told The New York Times, the flawed coins could be highly sought after by collectors.

“Regardless of what the Vatican decides to do now, it’s an interesting purchase for a collector,” Francesco Santarossa, owner of a numismatic and philatelic shop near St. Peter’s Square in Rome, said in a phone interview. “I don’t think they ever made such a mistake in the 600-year-long history of papal medals.”

At least the mistake was only on a coin and not in a new edition of the Bible.

Of course, the Vatican copy editors aren’t the first to miss a typo. There are many other famous mistakes throughout the history of Christian printing.

For example, the 1631 printing of the King James Version Bible has been dubbed the “Wicked Bible.” As one peruses the 10 Commandments, one will notice that Exodus 20:14 reads “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

England’s King Charles 1 and the Archbishop of Canterbury were not amused. Most copies of that bible were burned. The printers were fined 300 pounds (a large sum at the time) and lost their printing license. Only 11 copies of the “Wicked Bible” are known to exist today. The New York Public Library and The British Library in London each have copies.

And there’s the 1612 King James edition of the “Printer’s Bible,” which famously rewrites Psalm 119: 161  “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” rather than “Princes have persecuted me…” Speculation is that a typesetter, disgruntled with his publisher, introduced this error.

There are many more examples of “bible errata,”often amusing in retrospect but scandalous in the day. For example, A KJV printing in 1611 became known as the “Judas Bible.” It replaced “Jesus” with “Judas” in the passage from Matthew 26:36 “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.”

I wonder if anyone with a copy of the Wicked Bible ever said to their spouse that they were required to commit adultery because the Bible told them so.

 

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

July 1, 2013

That’s Latin for “Who will watch the guardians themselves?” or maybe “who will watch the watchers?” An essential institution of any modern, civilized state are guardians or police who are charged with enforcing the laws of that state. Yet, how do you ensure that the guardians or law enforcers themselves will follow the laws and not abuse their position. I don’t doubt that a great many policemen want to serve their community, but the nature of the job of law enforcement naturally tends to attract the sort of people who like to push others around and think that a badge will allow them to get away with it. This tendency is aggravated when a police culture develops that sees the police not as public servants but as a separate and superior caste while the civilians they are charged to protect are seen as potential criminals.

Many years ago, when I was attending Indiana University at Bloomington, I found, while browsing a local book store, a book of humorous anecdotes written by a, I hope, retired police officer. These humorous anecdotes displayed an incredible contempt for civilians, or “tax-payers” as he humorously referred to them. In one such story, he related how he pulled over a woman who was speeding. The woman was somewhat irate and asked him why he wasn’t out catching criminals. He looked right at her and said, “That’s what I am doing now.” Hahahahahaha. No, he wasn’t. Speeding is an infraction, not a criminal offense. The woman might have been rude, but she was not a criminal, despite what the author of the book thought. With that kind of an attitude, I hope he is retired.

With all that in mind, consider this article about the kind of T-shirts favored by cops, written by Radley Balko on the Huffington Post. If the attitudes displayed are typical of police departments, then it is a rather disturbing trend.

Earlier this week, an anonymous public defender sent Gothamist this photo of an NYPD warrant squad officer wearing a t-shirt with a pretty disturbing quote from Ernest Hemingway:

There have been a number of other incidents over the years in which cops have donned t-shirts that reflect a mentality somewhat less lofty than “protect and serve.” Most recently, a Northern California union for school police officers came under fire for printing up and selling these shirts as a fundraiser:

See what I mean? It doesn’t help that there has been a trend towards more militarized police department, in large part due to the war on drugs. Here’s some more.

It’s no coincidence that the same departments and units caught wearing shirts displaying this sort of attitude tend to also get caught up in controversial beatings, shootings, and other allegations of misconduct and excessive force. The “us vs. them” mindset has become so common in U.S. police culture that we almost take it for granted. In my new book, I argue that this is the result of a generation of incessant rhetoric from politicians who treat cops as if they were soldiers, and policies that train and equip them as if they were fighting a war. The imagery and language depicted on the shirts in these stories are little different than the way pop culture, the military, and government propaganda have depicted the citizens of the countries we’ve fought in wars over the years.

Within the more militarized units of police departments, the imagery can be even stronger. Former San Jose, California police chief Joseph McNamara told National Journal in 2000 that he was alarmed when he attended a SWAT team conference the previous year and saw “officers . . . wearing these very disturbing shirts. On the front, there were pictures of SWAT officers dressed in dark uniforms, wearing helmets, and holding submachine guns. Below was written: ‘We don’t do drive-by shootings.’ On the back, there was a picture of a demolished house. Below was written: ‘We stop.’” In his 1999 ethnography on police culture, criminologist Peter Kraska writes that one SWAT team member he spent time with “wore a T-shirt that carried a picture of a burning city with gunship helicopters flying overhead and the caption Operation Ghetto Storm.”

Balko also quotes comments from a police forum.

– “In God we trust, all others get searched,”

— “A picture of an electric chair with the caption: JUSTICE: Regular or Crispy”

— “B.D.R.T Baby Daddy Removal Team on the back and the initials on front with handcuffs. You should see peoples faces when I wear it….HAHAHAHA”

— “Human trash collector. ( above a pair of handcuffs )”

— “Take No Guff, Cut No Slack, Hook’em, Book’em and Don’t Look Back!”

— “‘Boys on the Hood’ Pic had two gangbangers jacked up on the hood of a patrol car with two officers.”

— “SWAT T-shirt: ‘Happiness is getting the green light!'”

— “I have one that sates “SWAT SNIPER” on the front and on back it has a picure of a “terrorist” with a shell ripping through his skull and the “pink mist” spraying from the back of his head. Below the picture it reads, “Guerillas in the mist”.

— “Save the police time, beat yourself up”

— “An ounce of prevention is fine and dandy…….. But we prefer 168 grains of cure.”

— “Be good or you might get a visit from the bullet fairy.”

— “Sniper – When you only have 1 shot at an opportunity……We’ll make it count”

— “Law Enforcement……Helping perps slip down stairs since 1766”

— “Math for Cops………2 to the chest + 1 to the head = problem solved”

— “I had a couple of ’em a loooong time ago….1 showed a cop leaning on his rather long nightstick, saying “Police Brutality….the fun part of policework.”……obviously not very PC….another was a picture of a LEO with smoke coming from the muzzle of his pistol, with a badguy falling backwards (lookin’ like swiss cheese) with the caption…..The best action is OVERREACTION….also not very PC….”

— “Cops make good roommates…they’re used to taking out the trash.”

— “There was also one I saw where there was a big burly looking Sarge behind his desk and the cation read ‘It doesn’t say kindness and sympathy on the badge.'”

— “happiness is a confirmed kill”

— “Park Ranger T-shirt: One of funniest I ever saw: Picture of Smokey the Bear with Riot Gear and he’s just poked a protester in the chest with a riot baton. The Caption Reads: “Smokey Don’t Play That”. Funny!”

— “My Daddy can Taser your Daddy”

— “School Patrol – You fail em, we jail em”

— “Got one that says, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted and used against you.”

I don’t want to come across as anti-police. Obviously they do perform a vital job in any community. Law enforcement is a dangerous and stress-filled career and the police do not usually interact with the best and brightest among us. I can see how any cop could develop a rather jaundiced attitude toward his fellow human beings. As Mr. Balko concludes,

It’s worth noting that policing is a high-stress job, and one that often puts officers in contact with some pretty awful things, and in some dangerous situations. Like other high-stress professions, and professions that encounter difficult subject matter — defense attorneys, medical examiners, emergency room doctors and nurses — cops often develop a morbid sense of humor. It’s a coping mechanism. But it’s one thing to crack jokes inside the department, or at the bar after work. It’s quite another to openly advertise and promote a culture of abuse. As with most police abuse issues, the real failure here is on the part of the elected officials. They’re the ones who can’t resist the urge to incessantly declare “war” on things, who are responsible for setting the policies that have given rise to this culture, and who have done little to nothing to rein it in.

I do wish that politicians would stop declaring war on things. In war, there can be no compromises. You either defeat the enemy or they defeat you. In domestic issues, like drug abuse, you have to balance costs and benefits in a way you do not in war. Making every issue a war encourages extreme, irrational policies, and justifies abuse.

But as to the police attitudes and potential abuse, it all comes back to the question, quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

 

 


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