Sorry for my lack of posts recently. My Internet connection at home has been out for more than a week. I’m writing this from work during my lunch break.
While reading Latin or the Empire of a Sign (title in the original French: Le Latin ou l’empire d’un signe XVIe-XXe Siècle), by Françoise Waquet, I came across mention of several proposals from the seventeenth century and later for the creation of “Latin towns.”
The originators of these projects started from a double observation: on the one hand the weakness of Latin after a long and difficult learning process; on the other, the speed with which a child suddenly immersed in a foreign environment learns to speak its language. In 1621 Antoine de Laval suggested that the King of France “create a Latin colony for Monseigneur the Dauphin his son and for all the princes, great lords, nobles and other children of good houses”: the exclusive use of Latin and the “pleasant” methods of instruction that would be adopted would guarantee rapid and perfect mastery of spoken Latin. Along similar lines, but more modest, was Jean Cécile Frey’s proposal for a Latin college which children would enter at the age of two; there, along with their masters and servants, they would use nothing but the Latin language in conversation and play. Thus at the age of five they would speak “more Latin, and in a more Attic fashion” than children who had spent ten painful years at school. Daniel Georg Morhof believed that it would take about twenty years to establish a Latin town where even the artisans would speak Latin; to get started all that would be needed were six or seven good Latinists, who would teach Latin to poor children of both sexes; these would then learn a profession; they in their turn would then teach Latin to their apprentices, and in this way a Latin society would take shape
Of course, nothing came of these proposals for Latin — or any of the others to follow for that language. The concept of language villages for English, though — that’s another story.
Gasparo Gozzi noted that at Padua, in the unanimous judgement of the professors, hardly a tenth of the students — perhaps thirty out of 300 — “had a middling understanding of the Latin language”. How could they follow lectures in an unintelligible language? “It is true,” Gozzi added, “that after such lectures, the students go to hear the explanation at a private school.”
I stumbled across this book while browsing in a bookstore and been having a lot of fun reading it, and not just because of the parallels between the situation with Latin and those of Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese) and Chinese characters. Highly recommended.