THE INTELLIGENT PERSON'S GUIDE TO LATIN



The "Intelligent Person's Guide to Latin" 2nd ed. is currently available in 2008. It has been written specifically for adults who had studied Latin in their high school days and are now later in life interested in coming back to Latin. It is NOT a daily lesson-book for captive students in a classroom, but a carefully written and very accessible treatise which outlines an approach to Latin which aims at a Reading Knowledge, while redefining the grammar lucidly with myriad examples as support on every point. Let me describe the book first, and then go on with some thoughts about Latin and about language study in general.

It is available as a 250 page printed book in 8 x 11 format laid out for clear reading in well formatted pages. It comes with a CD which contains a 5000 word dictionary with a search for grammatical endings; and the larger Humanist's Latin Dictionary, with l6000 words covering the whole of literary Latin usage. Both are designed for use off-line on your computer, along with hundreds of pages of Latin texts from very easy prose to art-poetry. The readings cover a wide range of stages of Latin are especially tailored for adults resuming their Latin.

Cost is $34.75 including postage US contiguous, currently available 2007 + . For other postage cost reach back by email. To order, please confirm your name and address with an EMAIL and send check or PO money order $34.75 to:

William Harris
262 Duffany Road
Shoreham VT 05770






The "Intelligent Person's Guide to Latin " is quite different from a Latin textbook used in the schools, and I will try to explain that in the following pages. But first I have to say something about how Latin has been studied in this country, and why so many students will say in later life: "Oh yes, I did study four years of Latin but I didn't really learn to read anything more than the lessons, and I don't remember much."

Of the several hundred thousand American students still studying Latin in public, private and church schools, few will learn anything beyond "hic haec hoc ". Almost none get enough Latin to read a page of easy prose without translating, and for very few will there be anything like enjoyment or a sense of having learned something important for future years. Latin is often still taken to be a matter of discipline, enforceable by automatic conversion of words to English as the daily "translation exercise", along with instant parsing of the grammar on command. This method would not be tolerated nowadays in a modern language. It is linguistically and pedagogically obsolete, and ends with students deserting the Latin class as soon as possible. Only five percent get to the now largely disappeared fourth year, where they could study social and historical writings and get an introduction to the poetry of Vergil. With such a beginning, it is not surprising that very few go on to study Latin Literature in college, where Latin appears by a much easier route in the various courses of "Classics In Translation".

In the old days it was unadulterated Drill-and-Kill'. This was done as a matter of promoting assiduity and enforcing obedience. But then come teachers noticed that kids who didn't read much, were reading the comic books avidly, so they wrote a new set of textbooks based on comics with text-balloons in Latin. This reinforced some students' interest via the Funnies as they were once called, while they were being tricked into believing that Latin was a classroom game. But kids are smart and know that humor written by a teacher without a punch-line is as dull as dishwater. Still this 'New Latin' approach was easy and anyone could get a passing grade, so they didn't have to drop the class and as a result the Latin program stayed afloat for another while.

The Latin school books we have been using in America for several decades now, are enough to verify the jingle that:

Latin is a language
     Dead as dead can be.
     First it killed the Romans
Now it's killing me.

With Latin study book telling stories as if ambling to Canterbury while telling tales on an academic pilgrimage, or hitched to the creaking axle of Hitchcock's antique grammatical cart, or hoping that the popular books like 'Latin For Americans' will take something hard and make it easy by a reverse academic alchemy - - - - with all this, it is only surprising that Latin is still with us. But we Americans seem to be in love with old things from long ago, like the sunk Titanic or the bones of the dinosaurs. Latin taught this way may continue for a while to feed our interest in collecting and preserving, under the rubric of vintage education.

But as many formerly discouraged Latin students got older, they remembered that they had heard something about a great poetry in Latin, which was so closely written that you had to read it in the original tongue and preferably aloud, to understand it's beauty. And there were writings from two thousand years ago which involved serious political history, wars and insurgencies and corruption and nationalist pride. As the years went by and professional careers left time open for new thinking, some people thought of taking up a thread of new learning, for some perhaps it would be piano lessons or some cabinetry woodworking . Or perhaps even pick up a book on Latin and see if those years in school had left any interesting techniques, perhaps a touch of revived interest. This might actually be interesting if done voluntarily and with a sense of discovery and excitement?

Thinking of this some years ago, I decided to write a book which would propose a new personal way to approach Latin, while at the same time presenting the grammar in very clear wording with common-sense explanations of what it was trying to say. However grammar is dead without being involved in active use, so I made sure that each point of grammar was shown in actual use in an Example written by a native Roman speaker, and this should also be one which was interesting to read.

That was the origin of the book which I was writing for serious students, so I called "The Intelligent Person's Guide to Latin", noting that it was a user-friendly sort of treatise which was to be read through and absorbed slowly and thoughtfully, while making experiments reading easy and accessible Latin texts on an accompanying CD. I stated that this was NOT a class by class lesson-book for school use, something written in pedestrian English for unwilling and slow readers. It is a book for interested adults who have some years of Latin in their background, who are looking for an interesting enterprise of different style from what they do for a living. There might be other options of course, but photography takes a darkroom or a computer with editing for .jpg's, while woodworking needs a workshop. But for Latin you need only this one pound book to revive your earlier study of the Latin language, and there is enough Latin on the CD to keep you busy reading for some time!

The most important topics for an improved way of studying Latin, are covered in the book by the prefatory sections, where I insist on learning to read without translation just as you would do in a modern language. Reading aloud is very important both for memory and for the actual sound of the words. But there are problems with re-adjusting the grammatical system of English to the very different program of an inflected language, which does not employ the Subject-Verb-Object system as used in English grammar. I have had to re-define Latin grammar with clear explanations of use, as fortified by interesting and authentic examples with translation, to make the grammatical points clear.

What is important to learn and what can be passed over in the first reading, as a sense of the grammatical program of Latin is absorbed into your sub-conscious memory? You read a language with the words on a page appearing in active memory, while the grammar is linked point by point from a sub-conscious level of attention, to decode and explain the words on the page. That is the way any language works, whether ancient written or modern spoken, and it is not unlike the way your computer works, decoding with a Program the meaning from the Data which you call up on your screen.

In this book the treatment of Latin Grammar is decidedly "user-friendly", it discusses reasons for things working as they do, and it mentions hard spots to note and watch out for. But above all, it uses hundreds of examples drawn from interesting and authentic Latin usage to shows the use and function of the grammatical Rules, which are nothing more than general statements drawn from the behavior of the word-strings which the examples give. This grammar with its myriad examples, is also usable as a reviewing Reader.

You might ask why this book is not online like so much modern material. It is because reading a book on screen is not only hard on the eyes, it is intellectually problematical, because the Web by its nature invites the reader to scan text, rather than read carefully. With a printed page you read much more accurately, as any professional proofreader will tell you. To study a language, you have to read very carefully, word by word, there is no other way.

Traditional older Latin grammars have always been "Prescriptive". They were designed to tell you how to write grammatically correct Latin, preferably in the manner of Cicero. But for a Reading Knowledge of Latin you need a very different approach. This book has been designed as a "Descriptive" treatise, it aims at helping you toward a working Reading Knowledge in the Latin language. Reading Latin the way you would expect to read a modern language should be the aim of any modern Latin study. The traditional school approach to Latin, which has the student translate each word into English automatically, and on demand "parse" the details of each word in formal grammaticalese, is counter-productive to learning how to READ Latin. The "Intelligent Person's Guide" approaches Latin in an entirely different way.

There is a considerable difference between the way English and Latin sentences unfold, and this is the greatest stumbling block to reading Latin because of our intuitive sense of the structure of English, which often makes Latin prose seem obscure and idiosyncratic. I have paid close attention to our English usage as a preface to learning Latin. I believe that a better sense of the linguistic structure of English, along with mandatory suspension of parallel translation when reading Latin, will aid considerably in moving toward a Reading Knowledge of Latin.

A full study on this approach is available on the web, and I suggest reading the following article as a sensible piece of "required reading" before you think about going further with study of the Latin language.

English Grammar as Prolegomena to Latin





William Harris
Professor Emeritus
Middlebury College
harris@middlebury.edu