More about grammar

The subjunctive (with the optative in Greek) is everywhere in Latin and Greek. A complex sentence is likely to contain it. But how should it be dealt with so as not to encroach on time that should be spent on more important and more difficult things, especially participles, indirect statements and gerunds?

The caveat about the CLC—that it deals with syntax in too piecemeal a way—may apply to the Victorian grammarians also. Perhaps in those golden days, when the Sciences and English were not really taught at public schools, there was time and cloisterly leisure to examine these things. So is it really necessary to deal with Clauses of Purpose, Indirect Command, Fear and Result as separate events?

That same colleague mentioned in the last post thought not. He believed that syntax could be presented more mechanically than semantically, and so he put those four matters of syntax together under the heading ‘Uses of ut and ne’.

The subjunctive, he thought, was intuitive if pupils were aware of it in English, and so quite early on he gave them the feel of it by revelling in its English usages:

  • Fearing lest he be ambushed…
  • Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
  • He commanded that I should conscript…
  • I should be grateful if you would consider…
  • Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
  • Thine be the glory…
  • Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak.
  • God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen;
  • I’m seventeen come Sunday.
  • If I should die, think only this of me…
  • It is my lady ; O, it is my love :
    O, that she knew she were!

Fowler, in his first edition of Modern English Usage, seemed to foresee the disappearance of the subjunctive. Burchfield’s modern edition of Fowler suggests that its use is increasing. Americans remain fond of it.

Next post: Low expectation: an interlude.

Vocabulary and the Cambridge Latin Course

The 1970s: heady times, when Sunday newspapers predicted the roofing in of the whole of London, the closure of all prisons, the end of all wars, the death of intolerance, the coming-of-age of man… and in this atmosphere the Cambridge Latin Course was getting off the ground. If you were teaching in a school that was piloting it, you were told of pupils absorbing the language with no memorising of vocabularies, no learning of grammatical mechanisms (they would formulate their own ‘personal grammar’); and all manner of thing would be well, and Noam Chomsky leaned out from the gold bar of heaven.

Alas for those days and those dreams! But… nil sine labore, etcetera. Vocabulary must be memorised. How can you know a language without knowing the words? Yet in those sunny, far-off days, a question like that branded you as a dinosaur, or Mr Dryasdust, for here was the ultimate template for teaching Latin in the hypnagogic mode.

They rode the universe, they gloried and drank deep. The CLC is a spectacular achievement and a huge contribution to the survival of classics, not least because from that same busy hive arose on its nuptial flight the teaching of Classical Civilisation.

Let us never belittle it, or them. But Mnemosyne keeps her throne, and her daughters need her nourishment. Words must be learnt, loved, collected and connected. The classicist is, above all, a wordsmith.

There was a reminder of this not long ago at an examiners’ meeting, when a woman rose, scarlet with anger, to ask why there was not going to be an A2 wordlist. Why? was the answer: because a classicist by that stage should be a specialist in connecting words and making deductions about them.

Next post: vocabulary and its practicalities.