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A Natural History of Latin y First printing Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199263097
ISBN-10: 0199263094
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Editorial Reviews


"...valuable is the enthusiasm [Janson] directs to the history of Latin words and the variety of their uses (with attention even to such divagations as the "Latin" spells in the Harry Potter books). The translators do a fine job of Anglicizing both the language and the cultural assumptions...Recommended"--CHOICE

"An authoritative introduction to arguably the most influential language of all time."--Chicago Tribune

"Janson...comes not to praise the Romans but instead the lingua Latina, whose evolution he traces from its origin some 2,700 years ago as a local language to its apotheosis as the official language of the Roman Empire--and later, when it was no longer anyone's native tongue, of the victorious Christian religion--to an exercise forced upon schoolchildren. He also offers an enthusiastic appreciation of Latin's role, for the better part of yet another millennium, as the language of enlightened Europeans from Chaucer and Abelard to Erasmus, Galileo, Newton, and Rene 'Cogito, ergo sum' Descartes. Nor does he fail to point out Latin's enduring place in medicine, botany, and zoology--or its more recent uses, from Oscar Wilde's 'De Profundis' to the first names of J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' characters, including Albus ('White') Dumbledore."--Boston Globe

"In the hands of a teacher introducing students to Latin, the classics, or to general themes in Western history, this book could be very useful. ... May the Latin is Important movement, assisted by books like Janson's, prosper."--Books & Culture

"It is hard to imagine how this book could be improved. ...from now on, if anyone who has never studied Latin asks me to recommend a short, readable book in which they can find out about the history of Latin and get a feel for the grammar, I will be able to answer unhesitatingly."--Linguist List 16.965

About the Author

Tore Janson was Professor of Oriental and African Languages at the University of Göteborg until his retirement in 2000. He was previously Professor of Linguistics at the same university and a world expert on the history of Latin. He is the author of the international bestseller Speak: A Short History of Languages (OUP 2002; trade paperback 2003).

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; y First printing edition (January 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199263094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199263097
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,397,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Webner on April 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because I am very interested in the Classics and the Latin language. I have taken Latin for many years, and can read it pretty well, but have learned almost nothing of its origins or development, and little of its influence on modern languages.

Some chapters, such as the ones about Latin's beginnings, its metamorphosis into the Romance languages, and the way it has affected English, I found interesting. Unfortunately, these only comprised a small portion of the book. The rest told me stuff I already know, like the basics of the language and the Roman Empire's history and literature, or went on and on about medieval philosophers who don't seem very important to Latin.

Also, the text sometimes seemed badly translated, and didn't flow very well overall.

If you have little or no education in Latin and are looking for a comprehensive review of its mechanics and history, then this is the book for you. Otherwise, I would recommend you look elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
I read Latin and Greek as an undergraduate (mainly with a view to Indo-European linguistics) and have long sought a book I could recommend to friends and family who want to know something about classical languages. I thought A NATURAL HISTORY OF LATIN would be just the thing, but I found the book rather problematic.

A NATURAL HISTORY OF LATIN is a translation and adaptation by Merethe Damsgaard Sorensen and Nigel Vincent of Tore Janson's original "Latin; Kulturn, historien, spraaket" published in Stockholm in 2002. The book is written at a high school level, avoiding jargon and explaining matters as clearly and simply as possibly. Janson starts at the very beginning, with Latin as a single descent of the Indo-European proto-language, a small language confined to Rome overshadowed by its strong neighbour Etruscan. He introduces the major writers of Latin literature, and even quotes passages from the major poets, giving the original Latin and a translation.

Since Latin is a remarkably tenacious language, holding on long after the disappearance of Roman society, and Janson discusses the use of Latin by the Roman Catholic Church, philosophers, and natural scientists. While Janson talks of the rise of new languages after the fall of the Roman Empire that were descended from Latin yet no longer Latin, I was baffled by his omission of the Strasbourg Oaths, which many readers find an entertaining example of language change.

Though Janson avoids discussion of morphology (the changes the endings of Latin words can go through) in the main of the book, the end of the book contains a 35-page appendix on Latin grammar so that the curious reader can learn more.
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Format: Paperback
I was a little worried about how this book would be, after seeing so many negative views on the book, but I felt that it was an enjoyable read. I studied Latin in high school for four years, and although I eventually forgot most of my Latin studies, I had some fond times and eventually began studying German and Spanish, Latin's son. With that being the case, I thought that a concise history of the Latin language could be an interesting read, and I'm glad that I decided to read this book.

This book examines Latin through the ages, from its prominent usage in Rome to its usage today in animal classification. The book is written on an easy level, so that non-linguists can enjoy reading the book. I also enjoy how the book is broken down into sections, with headings. For instance, one such heading is "Latin in Britain" and in this brief section of the book, the usage of Latin is described in ancient Britain. Through the usage of these headings, the book is divided into easily-digestible sections for those who do not have the time to read large chapters of books in one sitting.

The short grammar and vocabulary list is also a nice inclusion in the back of the book for those who want to pursue Latin as a study.
Overall, I found this book to be a fun read, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a concise history of the Latin language.
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Format: Hardcover
Having ordered this book as a Christmas present to myself, I was eager to see a new treatment of the evolution, growth, and spread of the Latin language. Instead, I received a book that should have been titled "Latin Literature, A PC Summary for Women and Children." This may offend some of you more sensitive types, but you should not be upset with me. My new title for this book is not a joke reflecting any personal bias, but on the contrary, it is an accurate description of the arrogance and soft-bigotry of the author/translators in charge of this waste of foliage. The authors make repeated comparisons of ancient literature to "TV soap operas" and at one point they even absurdly compare Plautus' Menaechmi and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors to our own Dallas! You remember, 'who shot J.R.?' and all that. This, not my politically incorrect title, should be offensive to your 'sensibilities.' The authors constantly insult the intelligence of their intended audience, all the while attempting to stretch similes and metaphors beyond their means. They repeatedly compare Stoic philosophy to Nazism, Lucretius as a forerunner to Marx, old Roman values as repugnant, and also display a blatant disregard for the value of lost literature in general. Here are two small samples of this reprehensible approach:

1. - p.26 - We do know that there were quite a few writers besides Cato and Plautus, whom we have already mentioned, and in particular we have many works by another writer of comedies, Terence. But, as far as we know, the works that have been lost are not terribly many and they were probably not of any great value.

2. - p.
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