Saturday, June 14, 2003

French and Latin

Just the other day, I was thinking back to when I first got interested in studying Latin. I was sitting in my second year French class during my sophomore year in high school. Various members of the class had been complaining about how difficult it was to agree adjective endings with the nouns they modify. Mr. Miles, our illustrious French teacher, was quick to point out, "You know, you have it pretty good. You should be happy to study French! Be thankful you aren't learning Latin - you wouldn't survive!." Then, on the chalk board, he began to illustrate 1st and 2nd declension adjectives:
There are three genders in Latin: masculine, feminine, and neuter, for both singular and plural number, and there are different case endings depending on what type of noun you want to use. If your noun is a subject (nominative), your adjective would have any one of these endings depending on the gender and number: -us, -a, -um, -i, -ae, -a. But if your noun is an indirect object (dative), the endings are different: -o, -ae, -o, -is, -is, -is. Yet, if your noun is a direct object (accusative), the endings become: -um, -am, -um, -os, -as, -a. Yes, that's right, the same ending for accusative masculine is used for the nominative neuter! What if your noun has a genitive case? -i, -ae, -i, -orum, -arum, -orum. And there aren't any silly rules to remember these endings - you just know them! And here you are learning French where the only ending agreement you have to know is gender and number!
The class just sat there with their mouths hanging open, me included. My interest was sparked at that moment. Yet, I continued to study French throughout high school and at the university. I was always curious, though, why French and other romance languages were so much simpler than the original Latin. The evolution is very interesting.

One of the things that puzzled me was how and when romance languages, which are derived from Latin, took on definite articles (like the word the in English). In French, definite articles include le and la, referring to masculine and feminine nouns, respectively - and similarly in Spanish, el and la. Strictly speaking, Latin lacks definite articles. But apparently these definite articles came out of the more common usage of the latin demonstrative pronouns ille (masculine), and illa (feminine), which mean that or this.

There were, of course, many other simplifications that we find in romance languages, such as a less advanced case system as well as an easier construction of complex tenses. The relaxed case system came as the result of grammar changes that were bsaically the result of phonetic changes. Ending consonants were less frequently used which blurred the distinction between the nominative, accusative, and ablative cases. The genitive case was completely replaced by usage of the preposition de, while the dative case was completely replaced by usage of the preposition ad.

Mystery of Nihil Obstat

Okay, so I took what I considered to be an educated guess about the true identity of the elusive Nihil Obstat, and as Kathryn Lively notes, I was mistaken. I'll keep my day job, but hey, it's fun ain't it? :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The Miraculous Communion of St. Catherine of Siena

Artist: Domenico Beccafumi
Date: about 1513 - 1515

...from the Getty Center collection:
This small panel depicts an episode from the life of the Dominican tertiary and mystic, Saint Catherine of Siena. Upon arriving at church late one day because of her difficulty walking, Saint Catherine was dissuaded by her companions from taking communion because they knew her ensuing ecstasy would last for several hours. She concurred but prayed for God's help in receiving the Eucharist. Miraculously, an angel took a piece of the consecrated host and gave it to the saint. Celebrating Mass at a side altar, her confessor looked around with concern for the missing piece of the host. Neither he nor the others could see the miracle, so their expressions reflect bewilderment.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Dominica Pentecostes

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium
Veni, pater pauperum, veni, dator munerum, veni, lumen cordium.
Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium.
In labore requies, in aestu temperies, in fletu solacium.
O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima turorum, fidelium.
Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium.
Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium.
Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium.
Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium.
Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium. Amen.


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