470: Latin Alive by Joseph Solodow

by Gerard


470.9: Solodow, Joseph B. Latin Alive: The Survival of Latin in English and the Romance Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 331 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-51575-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 470: Italic and Latin languages
  • +.9: History

Latin gets a bad reputation for being a boring language long past its expiration date, but one of the things many people forget to remember is that English owes a lot of its existence to Latin. Joseph Solodow’s Latin Alive is a look at the history, grammar, usage, and repercussions that the Latin language brings to bear on the present. Solodow does very well to show how Latin wasn’t just a language, but rather a way of life for most of Europe. Latin is a dense language but only so far at it was meant to be compact; each word, and even each inflection of word, imparts some meaning to the whole. Nope, no filler here.

To be sure, Solodow’s text tries to be first a textbook and then a treatise on Roman history, but the two get intertwined many times. A beginner in Latin may indeed pick up a few new things here and veterans can get a little more from the historical asides. This book shows how Latin works in everyday prose, in written poetry, and even how it absorbed tricks from other languages over the years (much like English and many other languages). For a language book, this one actually clipped along rather well. The author’s intent is not to shove memorization tables down the reader’s throat, but to give the language a context for natural discussion and dissection. If you’re looking to learn Latin, you could do a lot worse than this one.