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A living Latin project: LingQ’s 60 Mini-Stories

Would you be interested in partnering with us to translate 60 Mini-Stories into Latin? This is an open, Creative Commons project in which we have the ability to create adaptations, videos, and supporting materials without fear of infringing copyright, unlike working from textbooks. LingQ, who created the original 60 Mini-Stories in English, have made them available in the public domain and are encouraging communities to translate them into their own languages. The stories revolve around ordinary situtations, feature many repetitions of vocabulary, and are already available in 39 other languages.

Read on for how you can help!

Why speak contemporary Latin?

Did you know people speak Latin on Discord? There are not one, but several Discord groups in which everyone communicates solely in Latin. The living Latin movement is growing every year, on both text-based messaging as well as on voice chats. Covid may have put a lot of the usual Latin conventions and physical meetups on hold, but international speakers of Latin are continuing to gain momentum through online platforms. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of active speakers of Latin (though exact statistics are hard to pin down, for a group so geographically dispersed).

mihi valdē placet. I greatly enjoy this development. I want to broaden my own vocabulary and communicative ability in Latin, and I appreciate how lively and genuine the conversations have been on the various Discord groups.

But here’s my problem – as soon as I open up to talk to real people about my own everyday life, I struggle with some basic words. How do I say ordinary things like “I gotta go to work”, “I’m bored”, “coffee”, or “I’m excited for the holidays”? These phrases are not high frequency in the classical corpus, and some of the concepts are not available to Ancient Romans.

Should we not talk about normal things in Latin?

Should we limit ourselves only to the top 1000 words found in the written corpus, and not discuss the banal and mundane things of the 21st century?

While mundane, “muggle” Latin is not the central focus of my highschool classroom, I personally want to be able to sustain a good conversation in Latin and converse spontaneously about ordinary things and generally be more competent and communicative. If this is your goal too, and you want to help others in this journey, let’s make it happen!

What resources already exist?

Several resources for Conversational Latin can help us on this project.

Traupman’s Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency

You can find videos of Traupman’s work spoken by Luke Ranieri in this playlist, and a pdf on this website. Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency presents model dialogues full of idiomatic expressions that pertain to everyday life. It also has a great English-Latin dictionary of useful modern words, with macrons, that will greatly assist us in making the CI stories. I’m listening to the dialogues as listening practice, but I find I need to listen on repeat to get adequate repetitions for the vocabulary to sink in. Hopefully with the 60 mini-stories we can add to the pool of resources, providing more input for everyday Latin words.

Berard’s Vita Nostra: Subsidia ad Colloquia Latina, Vol 1

Vita Nostra: Subsidia ad Colloquia Latina is a handbook for learning living Latin through themed sections. Vol 1 is written, but Vol 2 is forthcoming. Here’s a detailed review of it. I haven’t yet read it as my copy is coming in the mail, but I look forward to seeing good examples of modern words used in context.

Harrius Potter, Winnie Ille Pu, et cetera

Latin translations of modern novels provide a wealth of words for everyday situations, though they are hard to search and don’t have macrons. Harrius Potter in particular has been a popular read among the Latin community, with book 1 (Philosophi Lapis) and book 2 (Camera Secretorum) translated. Book 3 was always my favourite and I wished the Latin ones hadn’t stopped at Camera Secretorum… but I digress. If you can remember how something was expressed in Harrius Potter, we have a precedent for how we can express everyday things in full sentences and in the flow of a narrative.

Latinitium’s 4 searchable dictionaries

The Smith & Hall (1871), Lewis & Short (1849), Horae Latinae (1901), and Doederlein’s handbook of Latin synoynms (1874) are searchable together at Latinitium’s 4 dictionaries page. Macrons abound! The Smith & Hall in particulary is very helpful for things as specific as “pancake”, “gun”, and “vaccine”. However, these dictionaries do date back to the early 20th century and before, so they work best for concepts that were current in their times – Smith & Hall (1871) has “miasma” though it’s missing “microbe/microorganism”, it has “atom” but no “nuclear”, “air-balloon” but no “airplane”. (A thought comes to me that this would be the perfect dictionary for a steam-punk Latin novella. Is someone writing one?)

Other Neo-Latin dictionaries

The Neo-Latin lexicon is searchable in English to Latin, and has “airplane”. It tries to indicate correct macrons, but is not always consistent (the āero- prefix needs a macron on the a).

Wiktionary has good macrons and lots of entries in the Latin language, and of particular interest to us here are the 1,917 entries in New Latin. I haven’t yet found a way to search English-Latin in Wiktionary though.

The vatican has an official contemporary Latin lexicon, Lexicon recentis Latinitatis (1997), which contains 15,000 words. The physical copies are spread out into two volumes (A-L, M-Z) which are about $30 US each (I don’t have it though). The small version is available here, albeit in Italian-Latin, and with only 565 words. The web version shows very few macrons, and I’m not sure if the physical copies indicate quantities.

How do the 60 mini-stories work?

LingQ’s 60 mini-stories are intended to circle around basic vocabulary in the language (i.e. related to ordinary life) and feature many repetitions of core words. They are arranged in order of complexity, but they are not the same as graded readers. They are brief, only about 10 lines long, and presented in three parts: story A is the story from one perspective, story B is told from another character’s perspective, and they are then followed by questions. We will record an audio reading of each story. The stories will be uploaded on LingQ, where vocabulary tools allow readers to click words and see a definition in their L1, and create flashcards.

Here’s an example of the first story in English:

A)

Mike gets up at 6:00am every morning.
He makes breakfast and drinks a coffee.
He drives to work in his car.
His work starts at 7:30am.
Mike is a cook at a restaurant.
He makes food for hungry customers.
The customers are from many countries.
They speak many different languages.
Mike can meet many friendly people.
Mike is happy when he talks to the customers.

B)

I get up at six am every morning.
I make breakfast and drink a coffee.
I drive to work in my car.
My work starts at seven thirty am.
I am a cook at a restaurant.
I make food for hungry customers.
The customers are from many different countries.
They speak many different languages.
I can meet many friendly people.
I am happy when I talk to the customers.

Questions:

1) Mike wakes up at six am every morning. Does Mike wake up early?  Yes, Mike wakes up at 6:00am every morning.
2) Mike drinks a coffee.  Does Mike drink a tea?  No, Mike does not drink a tea, he drinks a coffee.
3) Mike drives his car to work.  Does Mike drive his car to work?  Yes, Mike drives his car to work.
4) Mike’s work starts at seven thirty am.  Does Mike’s work start at seven am?  No, Mike’s work does not start at seven am.  It starts at seven thirty am.
5) Mike is a cook at a restaurant.  Is Mike a cook?  Yes, Mike is a cook at a restaurant.
6) The customers are from many different countries.  Are the customers from one country?  No, the customers are not from one country.  They are from many different countries.
7) The customers are friendly.  Are the customers friendly?  Yes, the customers are friendly.
8) Mike feels happy when he talks to the customers.  Does Mike feel happy when he talks to the customers?  Yes, Mike feels happy when he talks to the customers.

When recording the audio for these, we should allow a brief pause after each question in the question section to give the listener an opportunity to respond (usually just enough time to say “ita, sīc est” or “minimē, est hoc aliud…”). However, the listener is not obligated to offer a response, and should feel free to listen to the supplied answer to gain more input. This is based on the hypothesis that we acquire languages primarily through input and not through production.

In addition to uploading these on LingQ, we will have the stories uploaded to Wikiversity under a CC-By-SA licence.

How can we coordinate our writing?

We will translate and edit in Google Docs, so that we can easily see the state of progress and don’t double-up on stories that have already been translated.

These public links are for viewing and commenting only, just to show our progress. If you wish to write translations, send me an email (addressed to Carla, at carlaschodde@gmail.com) and I’ll add you as an editor to the Google Docs.

You may translate as many or as few stories as you want.

You can leave comments on other people’s stories, suggesting changes, or fixing typos. Use the comment feature in Google Docs or the “suggesting” mode to enter your proofreading changes.

Just some things to consider:

Style & courtesy guidelines

We want our work to be consistent and achieve the goal of reinforcing vocabulary through many repetitions. We want it to be in good Latin, but also to express modern concepts. We want it to be easy to use for learners.

  1. We’ll write macrons (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū, ȳ) for long vowels, and distinguish consonantal u as v, and consonantal i as j.
  2. Anything typed in bold black text is a draft. If we’ve reviewed and proofread something long enough, we’ll change the text to green to indicate it is “done”.
  3. We have freedom to rework the stories to what is easier to say in Latin. The English story doesn’t need to exactly match the Latin.
  4. We’ll take cues from the English as to the complexity of the sentence structure. In the first 10 stories, there is only a little subordination, for example. We don’t have to totally shelter grammar (eg. early subjunctives are fine), but we should try to keep our sentences brief and clear.
  5. When different phrasings are suggested, let’s prioritise expressions that have some precedent in Traupman or Harrius Potter or other recognisable modern Latin materials for consistency, or in the classical corpus, if possible.
  6. There may be multiple good ways to express an idea (eg. autocīnētum and raeda are equally valid words for “car”, according to Traupman). In the case where both phrasings are valid, and both would be valuable, we can put one of them in the main story and the other one in a comment on the Google Doc. Later we can compile all the comments into an alternate-universe version of the story that will also be useful to learners. Bonus content in the future!
  7. We want our key vocab to have many, many repetitions. That means not mixing synonyms within a story. If a story starts with raeda for car, keep using raeda throughout the whole story. The alternate version (if we make one) can have autocīnētum throughout. (Feel free to use different synonyms between stories though, just not within.)
  8. We’re imagining speaking Latin in the here and now, not writing historical fiction set in Ancient Rome. We (modern people) use modern time and dating systems, not the Roman hours-from-dawn or days-until-the-Kalends. We wear modern clothing and not togas and tunics (usually). We drink wine unmixed. We come from multiple sovereign nation states around the globe, not from provinces of the empire. We are not localising the stories in Ancient Rome, but in the modern world.
  9. Do what you want with the English names – some Latin enthusiasts use Latinised versions of their own names when speaking Latin, some use indeclinable names (especially Hebrew names), some adopt a traditional Roman praenomen. You could turn a name like “Dustin” into “Decimus”, “Dustinus”, or “Dustin” as you fancy.

Recording audio

I’m happy to record the audio for these stories, but if you’d like to make some too, you can email me (Carla, carlaschodde@gmail.com). This will be more relevant once we have a few more of them edited and proofread. We’ll indicate which story texts have been finalised in the Google Docs by turning the text green, and I’ll write a note on the story if it has already been recorded.

Sharing guidelines

LingQ requires us to give credit to them wherever we post these, to provide a link to their website, and to (where space allows) mention that they have many other good input-based resources like these. We would like to thank them for their generosity in writing these stories for the public domain.

I’ll make a list of contributors on the first Google Doc so we can credit your names too.

Further ideas

Let us know if you have any further uses for these stories. If you are part of other ancient or minority language communities (such as Ancient Greek, Welsh, indigenous languages, etc.), you might want to consider making your own language versions of this. They can be made even if LingQ does not yet have language support for that language. You just need to credit LingQ for the original content and provide a link to their platform. Contact Steve Kaufmann or Zoran at LingQ for advice (you can find their emails at the bottom of this page), and his team can email you materials and answer your questions.