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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Latin Legacy

are gradations of artificiality within the sermo ttrbanus, or cultured
manner, as well as gradations of flexibility within the sermo rusttcus, the
sermo vulgam, the sermo pedestns, the sermo usudi$> as its opposite was
variously called The Macaulays of classical prose were less exotic
than the Gertrude Steins of classical verse, and the Biglow Papers of
the Golden Age were more colloquial than the compositions of a
Roman Burke or a Roman Carlyle

Unhappily our matemls for piecing together a satisfactory picture of
Latin as a living language are meagre A few technical treatises, such as

FIG 33,—VERY EARLY (6iH CENTURY B c) LATIN INSCRIPTION ON A FIBULA
(c]asp or brooch)
(Reading from right to left)
MANIOS MED FHEFHAKED NUMASIOI
Manius made me for Nwnasitts
N B —In later Latin this would read Mamus me fecit Numasio
the Mechanics of Vitruvius, introduce us to words and idioms alien to the
writings of poets and rhetoricians, as do inscriptions made by people
with no literary pretensions, the protests of grammarians, then as now
guardians of scarcity values, expressions which crop up in the comedies
of Plautus (264-194 B c), occasional lapses made by highbrow authors,
and features common to two or more Romance languages ahve to-day
From all these sources we can be certain that the Vulgar Latin which
asserts itself ua literature when the acceptance of Christianity promoted
a new reading public at the beginning of the fourth century A,D , was
the Latin which citizens of the Empire had used in everyday life
before the beginning of the Christian era* By the largeness of its appeal,
Christianity helped to heal the breach between the living and the
written language. By doing so, it gave Latin a new lease of life The
Latin scriptures, or Vulgate, arranged by Jerome at the end of the
fourth century A D , made it possible for Latin to survive the barbarian
invasions in an age when the Christian priesthood had become a
literary craft-union
As it spread over North Africa, Spain, and Gaul, this living Latin
inevitably acquired local peculiarities due to the speech habits of