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MMD > Archives > January 1998 > 1998.01.11 > 11Prev  Next


'Ad hominem' Resolved
By Robbie Rhodes

We had a very pleasant private discussion group after Jan Kijlstra
wrote his disagreement with the definition given by George Bogatko.
I think this happened mostly because Jan's reference books have
different definitions compared to the American dictionaries which
everyone else was citing.  In addition, I think that Jan was unaware
of the "non-classical" Latin terms used in the courts.

Tim Baxter noted:

> Latin was never a
> required language in English or US law courts, however, Norman French
> was for many years the language for courts and "official" documents
> in England (probably until the late middle ages - the late 1400s).
> Thus come a number of terms used in Anglo-American law:  i.e.,
> Plaintiff, Defendant, voir dire, venire ...
>
> The use of Latin in legal terminology was probably part and parcel
> of Norman French usage, as courts on the continent follow Civil Law
> (i.e., law based on statutes rather than Anglo-American "common law"
> based on decisions and precedent), which had its original basis in
> Roman law.


I asked Joe Roesch:

> Latin didn't really "die", did it?  I figure it sort of went under-
> ground, in monasteries and then at universities like Oxford.  When
> does the era of the "New Latin" begin?  Do the disciplines such as
> medicine and theology use Latin phrases to the same extent as the
> English and American court?

Joe kindly set aside his music box jobs to write the reply below.

We all learned a lot after _all_ the information was finally gathered,
and the discussion has ended satisfactorily.

Robbie Rhodes

 - - -

 From: Musicbxman@aol.com (Joe Roesch)
 To: rrhodes@foxtail.com
 Date: Thu, 8 Jan 1998 00:28:59 EST

 Subject: Re: Latin is not quite dead !

Robbie:  Surely you jest!  I already have about five writing projects
on hand.  I don't think I should undertake a dissertation on the
development of Latin in the post-classical period!  However, here are
a few very briefly sketched facts:

1.  So-called "Classical Latin" (e.g., that of Cicero/Vergil
(Virgil)/Tacitus, etc) is a literary language that may or may not
accurately reflect what was actually spoken on the street.  Even in
the Classical period, we know from inscriptions (that is, literally,
graffiti) that common, spoken Latin had begun to depart from the
syntax, grammar and vocabulary of literary Latin.

Compare the similar relationship in modern American English between
what is taught as correct English in the schools and what is actually
spoken on the street.  Or, just to keep our UK speakers equally humble,
compare RP English (sometimes called BBC English) with Cockney or
something so far removed from RP as Jamaican English.  Similarly, there
was always a vernacular Latin, a vulgar Latin (that is, a Latin of the
people).

2.  Wherever the Roman empire extended, Latin was introduced;  and it
was Latin of the vernacular rather than the literary type.  It seems
safe to assume that most of the spreading of Latin throughout the
Empire was done by common soldiers, the legionaries and the
auxiliaries, who spoke a highly vernacular and sub-standard Latin.

3.  After the so-called decline of the Roman Empire (say, somewhere
toward the late fourth, early fifth century), the educational, legal
and governmental structures which had kept a standard Latin alive no
longer existed, at least not completely.  Spoken Latin degenerated with
increasing rapidity and eventually developed into the Romance Languages
(that is, the <<Roman>> languages), such as Italian, French, Spanish,
etc.

Classical Latin was kept alive and separate from vulgar Latin by the
medieval Catholic church.  Through the agency of the Church, Latin
entered the universities, for all the European universities were
founded by and as extensions of the Church.  All through the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance, Latin, more or less of the Classical style,
continued to be the language of culture and learning.  When learned men
in different countries wrote to one another, they did so in Latin.

The term <<New Latin>> refers to late Medieval-Renaissance and even
modern Latin word- coinages that have evolved to meet the needs of
scholars, theologians, scientists, etc.  Even as late as the late-
nineteenth (maybe even early- twentieth) century, some scientific
journals still published their articles in Latin, and some New Latin
coinages come in that way.

4.  No, Latin did not become extinct -- it merely evolved, as all
languages do unless their native speakers are completely wiped out.
The Romance Languages are the natural and inevitable end-product of
this evolution.  English, as a Germanic language, does not descend
from Latin, but it has picked up a huge number of Latin words over
the centuries, either directly from Latin or through French after
the Norman (French) Conquest of England in 1066.

5.  Latin in the law courts is a complex question.  Naturally, it was
used in Roman courts and throughout the judicial system in the Empire.
It was also used in the civil and ecclesiastical courts of the medieval
period.  But at some point, at least in England, the vernacular
(common) language began to be used in the courts, and I believe but am
not certain that legal proceedings in the time of Alfred were actually
conducted in English.  After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Norman-French
(the language of William and his barons) was used, at least in the
civil courts.  The separate church courts still conducted their
business in Latin, as does the Catholic church to this day.

Now, this is interesting to note:  it was about 1380 (give or take a
few years) that French ceased to be the language of the English court
system, and English was allowed.  That shows that fewer and fewer
lawyers could handle the French, let alone Latin.

There were still several writers, however, who were versed in three
languages:  Latin (the learned tongue), French (the language of the
aristocracy) and English (the language in which you ordered your beer
in the pubs).  The poet Chaucer certainly knew enough Latin to read it,
spoke fluent enough French to hobnob with the upper-crust, but he chose
to write his poetry in English.  A contemporary of his (John Gower)
wrote three major works: one in English, one in French and one in
English.  Who says multiculturalism and multilingualism are recent
developments?

Our current legal vocabulary is loaded with many Latin words and
phrases simply because modern English and (by extension) American
jurisprudence rest so heavily on Roman jurisprudence (e.g., the
Justinian legal code) as refined by Anglo-Norman jurisprudence, etc.

I wouldn't be surprised if even old Judge Roy Bean of American frontier
fame sent defendants to the gallows with a few well-memorized Latin
phrases!


Oh, hell -- that is enough!  I could have dampered a music-box comb in
this length of time.  I have no idea what any of this has to do with
automatic musical instruments, and I think if you put it out to the
readership, they will stone both of us!

Joe Roesch

 [ Thanks, Joe and Tim.  No, we shall not be stoned, for it's Sunday
 [ night and I can indulge in The Editor's Fancy !  ;)  -- Robbie


(Message sent Mon 12 Jan 1998, 03:30:00 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ad, hominem, Resolved

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