Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pronunciation Wars

Spend enough time in the classics and biblical languages mini-spheres of the internet, and you will encounter various wars that have been going on forever, but high-speed internet has globalised them and speed up their delivery systems. Pronunciation is one of those.

It's less of an issue in the Latin orientated communities. Restored Classical pronunciation is fairly well established, at least as an academic norm, even if it's not always well practised. People recognise Ecclesiastical pronunciation for what it is, and why it is, and accept it as such. The importance of recognising and utilising vowel lengths in spoken or recited language is also on the rise.

Greek, however, remains a minefield. There are at least 4 major systems in use, including Restored Classical (which few do well, since it involves tonal stress), Erasmian (widespread if only for its previous hegemony and practical ease), Restored Koine (see below), and Modern (used by those convinced of its practicality, and often uninterested in historical reconstructions). Then, I'd say, there are several botched attempts at the above.

My problem goes like this: I was taught on Erasmian, tried to shift to Restored Classical, and maybe got halfway. That is, I don't think I've quite got it, but I'm relatively committed to getting it right. Further, this has become fairly ingrained - I can read Greek relatively straightforwardly and aloud in this pronunciation.

I am, however, largely convinced that Buth, inter alios, is right about Hellenistic/Imperial Koine. This raises a number of problems for me. 1) I tend to read both Classical and post-Classical materials, dual pronunciation systems are likely to cause me additional stress. 2) The ingrained nature of my current position makes re-orienting pronunciation difficult. 3) I tend to read beyond the 4th century generally-proposed terminus for Buth's pronunciation as well - what then? Should I investigate Byzantine pronunciation as well?

In general, my advice to beginners is this: pick a pronunciation and stick with it. If you've got a teacher, go with theirs. Not sure what I'm going to do, but thought I'd share my thoughts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2 Amusing tales from the Summer School

fabula de puero

est puer. estne puer altus vel parvus? est altus. estne crassus vel tenuis? tenuis est. puer habet capillum longum, sed non barbam. quid color est capillus pueri? puer capillum rubrum habet. quid est nomen pueri? nomen pueri est Iohannes Lucius Maximus. ubi puer habitat? puer in Scotia vel Caledonia habitat. estne puer Scotus? non est Scotus, sed Germanus. estne puer laetus vel tristis? tristis est puer. cur tristis est? quia elephantum non habet. elephanti in Caledonia non habitant. elephanti in Aegypto habitant. puer in Aegyptum it. quomodo puer in Aegyptum it? puer natat. sed hodie elephanti in Aegypto non habitant. elephanti in luna habitant! quo puer nunc it? puer in lunam it. quomodo puer in lunam it? non pede, non equo, non pegaso it, sed ‘taurum rubrum’ bibit. puer in lunam volat. puer elephantum vidit. quid color est elephantus lunaris? color elephantorum lunarum est argenteus. puer elephantum argenteum vidit. puer est laetissimus. cur? quia puer nunc elephantum argenteum habet. nomen elephanto ‘Barber’ est.

fabula de petauristaria misera

petauristaria est femina. est crassa, parva, et olida. femina capillum brevem habet. capillus est viridus. femina est vaga, itaque in Hispania circumit. Flavia tertia Pestilentia est nomen feminae. Flavia est laeta. cur? non laeta est, sed omnes petauristarii sunt tristes. quid Flavia facit? Flavia edit. Flavia multum edit. Flavia avida est. ranam, crutulum et elephantos edit Flavia. Flavia ambulat (non volvit!) ad tabernas. Iulius tabernarius est. quid vendit Iulius? Iulius non ancillas (servas) vendit, sed cibum. Iulius est iuvenis. Flavia in tabernam Iulii intrat, et primum inquit, ‘Salve, quomodo es, O Iulii?’. Iulius inquit, ‘male sum’. Flavia respondit, ‘Cur?’ Iulius respondit, ‘Barbari omnem cibum emunt’. Iulius male est et tristis quia Romani barbaros non amant. Flavia inquit, ‘Barbari meum agrum vastant’. Flavia esurit et sitit. Flavia in hospitali (vel valetudinario) intrat. Medicus, Pompeius, feminam videt. medicus est qui in valetudinario laborat. Pompeius pestilentiam feminae curat. quomodo pestilentiam curat? igne et hirudone curat. estne Pompeius medicus bonus vel malus? malus medicus est! medicus indoctus est. Flavia misera est. sed postridie Iulius flores portat et Flaviae donat. Flavia nunc laeta. cur? quia Flavia flores amant. quid ceterum Iulius portat? Iulius quoque ‘calidos canes’ portat. quot ‘calidos canes’ portat Iulius? novem! (IX). Flavia flores et omnes ‘calidos canes’ edit. deinde equos duos et elephantum unum cenat. esuritne Flavia nunc? minime! Flavia dirumpitur quia crassissima est. nubes olida oritur (id est surgit). nunc Flavia mortua est! sed Iulius laetus est. cur? Iulius non est tabernarius, sed nunc petauristarius est. [Iulius semper petauristarius esse maluit].

ACMA blacklists anti-abortion site: freedom of speech and the Conroy scheme

Conroy continues to push his internet censorship scheme, and evade real questions on the issue. Here are three links worth reading.

1. The ACMA has blacklisted an anti-abortion site, in response to a complaint. This is under existing legislation that enables the government to prohibit material that would be legal to view by adults via another medium. It clearly skirts into the territory of 'political' speech. article.

2. An article outlining Australia's existing internet censorship scheme

3. Another article analysing Conroy's proposed mandatory filtering scheme.

[edit: if you came here looking for the recent leak of the ACMA blacklist, wikileaks has the relevant blacklist. I trust your own internet savvy to lead you there]

Friday, January 23, 2009

Reflections on teaching at the Latin Summer School

This week I've been teaching beginner's Latin at the Sydney Latin Summer School. Teaching Latin, especially in a class-room type situation, was an entirely new experience for me. I was teamed up with a lecturer from the Uni of Newcastle, who was a great teaching partner, and we had about 19 students in our class, ranging from primary school to the more mature. Over the 5 days, we covered a fair amount of material, and the class was a great success.

For two afternoon sessions I experimented with TPRS-style instruction, using predominantly spoken Latin to interact with the students, and encouraging them to respond likewise. Together we composed two widely bizarre, fun, and hilarious tales, entirely in Latin. This was my first opportunity both to speak Latin in a truly 'live' environment, as well as put into practice pedagogical ideas I've been convinced of for some time.

End result: I'm more convinced than ever that Latin can be taught as a living language, through TPR, TPRS, and the like, and that I, personally, could do that. I still have a lot to learn as a teacher, but it was a tremendously encouraging experience. If I wasn't doing what I am doing, which I love greatly, I could happily teach Latin.

Furthermore, I'm encouraged to redouble efforts and attempts to teach Greek the same way, and will be trying to implement this with my single Greek student over the next two years.

(I am now back from my holiday period, and should resume regular posting shortly)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: Ostler, Ad Infinitum

Nicholas Ostler's "Ad Infinitum: A biography of Latin" is an engaging work of non-specialist history. Faced with the challenge of chronicling a history of around 2800 years of a language, Ostler succeeds remarkably well at conveying both a sense of the whole, and the delights of the particular.

As to be expected, Ostler spends a considerable early portion examining the origins of the Latin language, and the twin destinies of Rome and its characteristic speech. Beyond the details of Roman history, Ostler has some insights into how Latin came to be the language of its empire, in contrast with other ancient regimes. He also has a detailed (in particulars, but again less than comprehensive - a prudent technique for this kind of volume) examination of the entwined cultures and languages of Greece and Rome, and how Latin developed its literature in large degree from Greek influences.

For most classicists, though, and Latinists more broadly, the real eye-openers come when Ostler begins to relate the history of post-Imperial Latin. The waves of tribal migration and invasion, with their various cultural mash-ups, Latin adoptions; the rise, 'triumph', and spread of Western Christianity, and the loss of a Greek heritage, all mark a massive shift in Latin's position, one that isn't immediately obvious.

The break-down of the Imperium, but the emergence of a sense of Romania in Europe, the emergence of vernaculars, the intricacies of scholastic needs (pushing Latin to develop linguistically in a unique way), and then the purism of the Humanists.

Perhaps most intriguing was Ostler's account of Latin in the Spanish Americas, accounts of priests teaching Latin, learning local languages, and writing epics in the language of the Old World.

Ostler's style is readable, his knowledge far-ranging, and his anecdotes amusing. I found at least 3 or 4 things I'd love to look into a little more, and certainly some food for thought in his broader theorisation. Again, in a populist history of this style, endnotes were probably the right choice, even though I find them frustrating. Ostler did supplement them with footnotes for comments (rather than references).

3 stars

Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin

Friday, January 09, 2009

Is it O.K. to outsource sermon preparation?

In a recent blog post, noted pastor of a U.S. Megachurch thanks one of the staff members of The Docent Group, among others who has enabled him to teach more and more hours and pages of content. A quick look at the Docent Group's website raises some real concerns for me.

I quote from their home page:

We provide pastors with customized sermon research briefs generated fresh each week. The research is conducted by a team of seminary trained researchers.

We do not write sermons. That is the pastor's job. Rather, we provide research briefs based on the pastor's specific instructions.

Where does theological exegesis and reflection end, and 'sermon-writing' begin?

A quick look at their "How we work" page raises more concerns: 'annual contracts', 'research briefs', 'clients'. Is this the model of teaching and pastoring we want to pursue? Should I outsource my exegesis to the third-world, to encourage them to read the scriptures, and spend my time on communication and rhetoric?

Honestly, it's a little disturbing.

Kippel on the masculinisation of the church

Steven Kippel takes another well-aimed shot at the hyper-masculinisation of the church.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Review: Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity

Jenkins’ book contains a number of fascinating aspects, and not all relate to the content. I’m not sure where, if any place, Jenkins wishes to place himself religiously, but his book certainly comes across as vaguely secularist, or at least a ‘suspended-judgment relativist’. This probably serves him well in writing a volume like this, but it does conjecture problems.

The first problem is one he himself raises – the theological question of how to ‘read’ these lost histories. If versions of Christianity flourished in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, one struggles to read their destruction as a sign of divine disfavour with heresy, at the same time as one reads their 1400 odd years of flourishing, which by the same measure would have to be divine grace. Jenkins unabashedly proceeds with a rather sociological/historical ‘limit’ of what ‘Christianity’ is, but it certainly raises some questions.

There are two things about Jenkins’ book that struck me abruptly as I read the first few chapters. The first is constant reference to Europe, for a negative contrast. Again and again it is “X, Y, Z happened in the East, while only A and B was happening back West. See, Europe is dislocated from its dominant-centre of theo-historical interpretation!”. This is fine as a rhetorical technique to engage the reader, but it wears a little thin. One may well disparage a Euro-centric view of Christianity, but that shouldn’t be used to dilute ‘Christian Europe’ or exalt ‘Non-European Christendom’.

Secondly, Jenkins plays coy with Islam. He helpfully attacks the prevalent modern trend to present the ‘tolerant’ face of Islam as being a dodge on history. In fact, he simultaneously attacks four notions: benevolently tolerant Islam, militant Islam, benevolently tolerant Christianity, and militant Christendom. On p43 he attacks the conventional negative stereotype of Christianity. The sense though, is that neither tolerance/violence is integral to either faith. If you’ve read my blog much, you’ll know that I strongly articulate a view that sees pacifist tolerance and non-violence as a dominant ethical feature of the Christian scriptures, and I would read militant Christianity as a departure from that. Vice versa, when I read the Quran, I am struck by the notes of militancy, and regard ‘tolerant’ Islam as a departure from that. You are free to disagree, but I think Jenkins’ non-engagement, while entirely appropriate for his history, is still something of a dodge on the question.

Those notes aside, Jenkins does a fine job in the opening chapters of portraying a vibrant, extensive, and flourishing Christianity, particularly throughout the Middle East, India, and Central Asia.

In chapter 4, Jenkins begins to do a marvellous popular-history. He depicts the events of the Mongol invasions, their general benevolence to Christianity, and then the subsequent reversals that begin to change the tone of the whole world – the Mongol advancement halted by an Islamic Egypt, the conversion of Mongol leaders to Islam, and a general growing intolerance of Christianity among Muslim states. Jenkins is very careful, and I appreciate this, to point out that major conflicts were often political and ethnic or tribal, rather than strictly religious. This is well-balanced with his description of growing persecution and destruction that is specifically religious. He is also quite even-handed in comparing the treatment of Christians in Muslim lands to the treatment of Jews and other minorities in Christian Europe.

Jenkins’ portrayal of the 14th century is of a growing age of politico-religious confrontation, of the devastation of Christianity in the Middle East and Asia, to the point of extinction really, and of increasing intolerance both in Muslim and Christian lands. Remarkably he points to climate change, the ‘little Ice Age’, and environmental factors as the common explanatory feature. Personally, I find this a little far-fetched. While I concur with the premise that widespread environmental changes can have far-reaching generational, societal and cultural impacts, I am far less persuaded by his application of this thesis to a tri-continental shift in religious tolerance. He could be right, but the evidence is slim. He could have, at least, flagged his suggestion as controversial (as he does elsewhere in speaking of Nestorian-Christian influence in the translation of Buddhist sutras into Chinese).

The latter sections of the book show Jenkins at his finest – a sweeping analysis and history of the rise, and decline, of Asian Christendom. His account of the decline of Christiandom under Islamic rule is insightful, and his details of the final demise of Christianity under 20th Century regimes is a chilling reminder of the swiftness of history and forgetfulness, and the precarious nature of both our own view of the past, and the things we take as givens. Jenkins then spends some time tracing the ‘ghosts’ - the traces that Asian and African Christianity has left in its wake.

Jenkins’ final chapter begins to offer some of the answers that one might have hoped for based on the questions raised out the outset. Sadly, they are far from satisfying. Noting the ‘peace’ that some Christian theologies have made with the independent existence of Judaism, he wonders if Christianity couldn’t make a similar accommodation to the realia of Islam’s existence. To this I simply have to say that I stand within, and intentionally so, a strand of Christianity that continues to argue that modern Judaism is not the proper heir of the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that Christianity is the true fulfillment. Similarly, a faithful allegiance to that position accords no accommodation for Islam. Of course, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I regard the assimilation to statehood a tragic mistake of Christian discipleship, an avenue Jenkins at least raises.

Let me conclude this overly long review – Jenkins’ work is sweeping, brilliant, flawed, and a must-read. There’s plenty to argue over, both ideological and historical, but it’s a work that can’t be ignored, least of all by Christians. Read it. 3 stars.

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Micro-financing: Loans for the poor that work

Microfinancing, despite Wikipedia's diverse views, has (in my opinion) shown itself to be a viable and difference-making way of tackling poverty. Two organisations I recommend include Kiva, and Opportunity International [Full disclosure: Opportunity International fronts itself as a Christian organisation].

One of the things I like about Kiva is that they profile individual entrepreneurs, and you contribute to individuals. Personal involvement is a key to many things, including giving. The stronger the personal attachment, the stronger the commitment, and likewise the greater the joy of seeing success.

Maybe it's not for you. But maybe it is.

Post-Scriptum: Here's a video that explains Kiva:

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.

Comenius' Latino-Latinum Lexicon Atriale: A Wiki that works

I came back from the first half of my January holidays to discover that a remarkable Latin project has taken off. Evan Millner, who is simply prolific in providing internet resources for Latin learners, made us all aware of a digital scan of Comenius' 17th century Latin-Latin lexicon. Laura Gibbs immediately pointed out that a searchable version would be far more useful, and started a wiki, which now is up to the letter D, as contributors transcribe, format, and proof the scanned pages. I can't begin to tell you how useful a Latin-Latin dictionary is, suffice to say I'm overjoyed at the work being done. But it's also a great example of how a wiki can work - small, chunkeable sizes of work, divided among volunteers, contributing to a great resource.

You don't really even need any Latin to get into the Comenius' project, just a careful eye.
Go and make a contribution today: Comenius' lexicon project