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Introduction: Latin Made Simple

 Brief History of Latin

            Latin was one of the many languages spoken in Italy before 200 B.C. Over the next century, it became the common dialect of the peninsula and developed into a literary language as well as a spoken one. This we call Classical Latin.

            As the Roman Empire expanded, dialects of Latin developed, some giving rise to the Romance languages—Romanian, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

            One dialect, known as Medieval Latin, was used in the Middle Ages both as a spoken trade language and as a written language. Though extremely similar to Classical Latin, Medieval Latin dispensed with some of the more complex constructions of Classical Latin. Thus, if you learn Classical Latin, you can read Medieval Latin as well.

            Until quite recently, the Catholic liturgy used spoken Latin, and today, many churches are attempting to revive its use.

            It is unfortunate that Latin is often referred to as a “dead” language. It is true that no one speaks Latin as his or her first language, but not that Latin is not used, spoken, or useful in today’s world. Written Latin never died. Renaissance scholars used it, and today scientists draw new words from it—many of the chemical elements have Latin names. Lawyers and doctors also draw on Latin, and in this book you will learn some of the phrases that they have borrowed.

 1. Latin and English

English is not derived from Latin in the same way as the Romance languages named above. Rather, English comes from Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language. Germanic is a cognate language, containing words derived from both languages. Germanic and Latin stem from the same parent language, a reconstructed language known as Indo-European.

Nevertheless, Latin has greatly influenced English. When the Normans invaded Britain in A.D.1066, they brought with them the French language, derived from a Latin dialect. French had an indirect influence on the development of English during the Middle Ages, the period when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales and other works.

The Normans also brought Latin to Britain. Latin was Europe’s trade language and was also used in church and in official documents. Needed new words were often taken from Latin. Thus, Latin directly influenced the development of English; as borrowing still occurs, Latin continues to influence the development of English.


 2. Word Derivation


animal, labor, captivus, fortuna, multitudo, natio

animal, labor, captive, fortune, multitude, nation


 Latin Italian French Spanish Portuguese English

filia: la figlia, la fille, la hija, a filha, daughter

vos: voi, vous, vosotros, vos, you

bonus: buono, bon, bueno, bom, good

terra: la terra, la terre, la tierra, a terra, earth


Latin English English Derivative

agricola: farmer, agriculture

Stella: star, constellation

terra: earth, terrace

filia: daughter, filial

You will find that you are familiar with more Latin than you realized. Watch for Latin words that have come directly or indirectly into English, for English derivatives, and for Latin phrases and expressions in everyday use. These will be brought to your attention throughout the book.

 3. The Parts of Speech

            Latin has the same parts of speech as English, and a clear understanding of them will make it much easier to learn Latin. However, Latin has no articles (the, a, an), and we must supply them when translating into English.

            Noun—the name of a person, place, or thing, e.g., Caesar, Rome, town, book

            Pronoun—a word used instead of a noun, e.g., he, it. In the sentence Caesar wrote a book about the victories he won, the word he is used instead of repeating the word Caesar; he replaces Caesar.

Adjective—a word that describes a noun or a pronoun, e.g., good. In the sentence I read a good book, the word good describes, or modifies, the noun book. An article is a kind of adjective. As mentioned above, Latin does not have articles. A strictly literal translation of Habeo librum is I have book. For grammatically correct English, you would translate Habeo librum as I have a book, or as I have the book, depending on the context.

            Verb—a word that shows action or state of being, e.g., run, is. Verbs can be one of three types: transitive (requiring a direct object to complete their meaning), intransitive (complete without a direct object), or linking (requiring either a noun or an adjective as a subject complement).

            Adverb—a word that modifies, or describes, a verb, adjective, or adverb, e.g., quickly, very. In the sentence I ran quickly, the word quickly modifies the verb ran. In the sentence The book is very good, the word very modifies the adjective good. In the sentence I ran very quickly, the word very modifies the adverb quickly.

            Preposition—a word that shows relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word or words, e.g., in, by, with. In the sentence The shirt is in the closet, the word in shows the relationship between the words shirt and closet. In Latin, each preposition is followed by a noun or pronoun in a particular case (a concept which will be explained in greater detail below).

            Conjunction—a word that joins words, phrases, clauses, or sentences, e.g., and. In the sentence He bought milk and bread, the word and joins the words milk and bread.

            Interjection—an exclamation showing emotion, e.g., oh!

 4. Inflection

            The biggest single difference between English and Latin is that Latin is a highly inflected language. In English, the order of the words in a sentence indicates the meaning of the sentence; in Latin, on the other hand, the spelling of the words (not their order) indicates the meaning. The changes in spelling are known as inflections. Inflections in nouns, adjectives, and pronouns are considered declensions; inflections in verbs are called conjugations.


As stated above, in English the order of the words in a sentence indicates the meaning of the sentence. Notice the following two sentences:

The man bites the dog. (subject—verb—object)

The dog bites the man. (subject—verb—object)

In both sentences, the word order makes it clear who is doing the biting (the subject) and who is being bitten (the object).

In Latin, it is the spelling of the words that indicates their meaning. Thus, the six sentences following all mean: The man bites the dog.

 Homo canem mordet. Mordet canem homo. Canem mordet homo. Canem homo mordet. Mordet homo canem. Homo mordet canem.

         The spelling of the words in the six sentences given below indicates a different meaning: The dog bites the man.

 Hominem canis mordet. Mordet canis hominem Canis mordet hominem. Canis hominem mordet. Mordet hominem canis. Hominem mordet canis.            

Homo and hominem both mean man. Canis and canem both mean dog. The difference in spelling indicates the use of the word as subject or object. Thus:

            Homo is used if man is the subject of the sentence; hominem if man is the object. Similarly, canis is used if dog is the subject and canem if dog is the object of the sentence.

            The terms subject and object define nouns in relation to verbs. The verb in this sentence is mordet, meaning bites. Clearly, the subject is the person or animal doing the biting, and the object is the person or animal being bitten.

            In English, the subject usually comes before the verb, and the object usually comes after it. The word order The man bites the dog indicates that man is the subject and dog is the object. The man is doing the biting; the dog is being bitten.

            However, in Latin, the word order The man bites the dog could mean either that the man is biting the dog or that the dog is biting the man. The spelling (inflection) confirms the meaning. If the sentence reads: Homo mordet canem, then the man is biting the dog; if it reads: Hominem mordet canis, then the dog is biting the man.

            Furthermore, Latin can use word orders not allowed in English. In English, you would never write: The man the dog bites or Bites the dog the man as these sentences are meaningless; they give no clear indication of who is biting whom. In Latin, this is not a problem. You could write: Bites the dog the man with one of two different spellings:

Mordet canis hominem. This means: The dog bites the man.

Mordet canem homo. This means: The man bites the dog.

The change in the spelling of canis to canem changes the dog from subject to object, and changing hominem to homo changes man from object to subject, changing the meaning of the sentences. This process of change is called inflection. Inflection occurs in English as well as in Latin:

singular: boy

subject: I

present: does

plural: boys

object: me

past: did

Declension, the inflectional change in the form or ending of a noun, pronoun, or adjective, shows case, number, and gender.

            Case indicates whether a word is used as a subject (homo, canis), object (hominem, canem), or in a different way. The cases have names; e.g., if a noun is used as the subject, it is said to be in the nominative case. Case names will be explained later, in greater detail.

            Number shows whether a word is singular (man) or plural (men). Homo and canis are both singular.

            Gender can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. In Latin, gender can be natural (male or female) or grammatical (based not on sex, but on classification of the word or the spelling of the nominative case). Homo is masculine; femina, a feminine noun, means woman; canis may be either masculine or feminine, depending on the sex of the dog.


            The inflectional change in a verb is called conjugation and shows person, number, tense, voice, and mood. Person refers to the subject (I, you, he, etc.); number to one or more than one (singular or plural); tense refers to time of an action (past, present, or future) as well as whether the action is considered complete or ongoing; voice to whether the subject is acting or being acted upon (active or passive); and mood to the manner in which a sentence is expressed (statement, question, command).

            In Homo canem mordet, The man bites the dog, the verb is mordet or bites. The subject is in the third person; therefore, the verb is also in the third person. Since there is only one man, the verb must be singular. It is in the present tense, because the man is biting the dog now. The man is acting (doing the biting), so the verb is in the active voice. If the sentence was: The man is bitten by the dog, man would still be the subject, but the verb, is bitten, would be in the passive voice. Finally, the sentence is a statement, not a command or a question, so is in the indicative mood. Mordet is identified, therefore, as a verb in the third person singular present active indicative. Later, all of these terms will be more fully described and explained.

            Latin is a highly inflected language, so the ending of a word is of primary importance and must be considered as carefully as the base of the word, which shows only the basic vocabulary meaning. Inflection will be clearly explained throughout this book and ample practice will be given.

 5. The Alphabet

            The Latin and English alphabets are identical, except for lack of j and w in Latin. Latin uses i for both i and j, and v for both v and w. The letter k is used, but rarely and only at the beginning of a word, and y and z were introduced later, appearing almost exclusively in words taken from Greek.

 6. Pronunciation

            Pronunciation is not necessary for reading Latin, but it is helpful in comparing Latin words with those of English and other languages. The consonants are pronounced as they are in English, except:

 c and ch are always like k, as in coop. i-consonant is like y, as in you. t is always like t, as in tie, not like sh. x is like x, as in axe. g is always hard, as in go. s is always s, as in so, not like z. v is always like w, as in woman. gu, qu are like gw, qw, as in queen.

Vowels are either long or short, with a long vowel taking longer to pronounce than a short vowel. There are no fixed rules for the length of vowels, and the proper pronunciation can be learned best by paying close attention to the phonetic pronunciation given in the practice below and by listening to a practiced Latin speaker. Some Latin texts indicate the length of long vowels by using a long dash or macron over the vowel as an aid to learning. Because the Romans themselves did not use macrons, neither does this text.

            The diphthongs (two vowels pronounced as one) are as follows:

ae, pronounced like ai, as in aisle.

ui, pronounced like we.

oe, pronounced like oi, as in soil.

ei, pronounced like ei, as in eight.

au, pronounced like ou, as in ouch.

7. Syllables

A Latin word contains as many syllables as it has vowels and diphthongs. When dividing a word into syllables:

A single consonant (t) is placed with the following vowel: pa – ter.

Double consonants (tt) are separated: dimitte.

If there are two or more consonants, the first is generally placed with the preceding vowel: nostrum.

 8. Accent

Latin words are accented as follows:

On the next-to-last syllable (the penultimate syllable), if it is long: di – mit’ – te.

On the third-to-last syllable (the antepenult), if the next-to-last is short: ad – ve’ -ni – at.

On the first syllable of a two-syllable word: nos’ – ter.

In general, the accent goes as far back as possible. Because the accent is generally determined by the length of the next-to-last syllable, this is known as the penultimate rule.


 9. Using the Dictionary

            Latin dictionaries, including the dictionary included in Latin Made Simple, follow certain conventions in listing vocabulary items. Each of the inflected forms (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs) is listed according to the following conventions: are as follows:

            Nouns are listed by the nominative singular form, the genitive singular form (some dictionaries list only the genitive ending if the stem is the same), the gender (indicated by m. for masculine, f. for feminine and n. for neuter). The gender of a noun should be memorized when learning vocabulary—e.g., aqua, aquae, f. water.

            Pronouns take the gender of the noun that they replace (their antecedent) and are therefore listed by the nominative singular forms of the masculine, feminine, and neuter (in that order)—e.g. hic, haec, hoc this; he, she, it.

            Adjectives are like pronouns, taking the gender of the noun that they modify, and are listed in the dictionary by the nominative singular forms of the masculine, feminine, and neuter (in that order)—e.g., certus, certa, certum certain, sure. Some dictionaries list only the gender ending if the stem persists, e.g., certus, -a, -um. Third declension adjectives will often list only one or two forms, as will be explained later.

            Verbs normally have four principal parts, from which all forms of the verb can be generated. It is essential to learn these principal parts when you learn a verb—e.g., mitto, mittere, misi, missus send. Generally the principal parts of a verb follow recognizable patterns, but some forms cannot be predicted. Some verbs have fewer principal parts due to the nature of the verb. Principal parts and their importance will be explained in greater detail throughout the course of the book.

            Prepositions are listed with their root meaning(s) and, in most dictionaries, the case or cases that are associated with the given preposition.—e.g., ad, to, towards (+ acc.)

            The other noninflected forms (adverbs, conjunctions, and interjections) are simply listed in the dictionary as single items. Some dictionaries will list the part of speech, although Latin Made Simple does not, since the part of speech is normally evident from the meaning of the word.

 10. Practice In Pronunciation

Practice reading this passage aloud, following the English sound guide, until you can read it clearly and without hesitation. Remember that in Latin every consonant and vowel is pronounced.

Pater noster qui es in caelis (Pah-tehr naws-tehr quee ehs in kai-lees)         Our father who art in heaven,

sanctificetur nomen tuum. (sahnk-tih-fih-kay-toor noh-mehn too-uhm)         hallowed be thy name.

Adveniat regnum tuum. (Ahd-weh-nee-aht reg-nuhm too-uhm)         Thy kingdom come.

Fiat voluntas tua (Fee-aht woh-luhn-tahs too- ah)         Thy will be done

sicut in caelo et in terra. (seek-uht in kai-loh eht in tehr-rah)         on earth as it is in heaven.

Panem nostrum cotidianum [our daily bread] (Pah-nehm nohs -trum koh-tee-dee-ah-num)          

da nobis hodie. (dah noh- bees hoh-dee-ay)         Give us this day [our daily bread].

Et dimitte nobis debita nostra (Eht dee-miht-eh noh-bees deh-biht-ah naws-trah)         And forgive us our debts

sicut et nos dimittimus (seek-uht eht nohs dee-miht-tih-muhs)         as we forgive

debitoribus nostris. Et (deh-bih-taw-rih-buhs naws-trees. Eht)         our debtors.

nos ne inducas in tentationem (nohs nay in-doo-kahs in ten-tah-tee-oh-nehm)         lead us not into temptation,

sed libera nos a malo. (sehd lee-beh-rah nohs ah mah-loh)         but deliver us from evil.

Amen. (ah-mehn)         Amen.

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