Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just or even principally for Latinists!, 16 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Latin Alive: The Survival of Latin in English and the Romance Languages (Paperback)
This book is a veritable treasure trove for anyone who cares about the language(s) we use and seeks to understand the past that has made us. There are a number of excellent studies about on the history and subsequent course of the Latin language, in tandem with the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church (Palmer's 1954 book and Nicholas Ostler's more recent work 'Ad Infinitum' are very helpful here), but this is the best and most detailed work for the so-called general reader that I know of to deal with the question of how Latin has come to shape the English language and how it gave birth to the main Romance languages studied in the Anglosphere: French, Spanish and Italian.
The work is marked by a clear historical progression in its treatment of the material: 1. the growth and spread of the Latin language (literary and Vulgar or popular Latin, the mother of the Romance languages); 2. the Romance vocabulary (how and why words came to shift in meaning and form in post-Empire western Europe); 3. common features in the grammar and sounds of the Romance languages and how these arose (many illuminating observations from the world of linguistics); 4. how the languages diverged, as witnessed in the earliest texts of French, Italian and Spanish.
It is not necessary to be a Latin specialist (increasingly a rara avis today) to appreciate this book, since many of the distinctive features of Latin and its grammar are explained in user-friendly language in part one. I enjoyed reading this book through in consecutive order (with its many diversions into etymologies, where I learnt something new on every page) but the book will also serve as a useful reference work, through its handy indices. Most students today will be studying Latin's grandchildren - and in particular French and Spanish - rather than the grandmother herself. This engagingly written book will show students how these languages came to be. It has its fingers on the pulses of both ages - and the old lady isn't dead!
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