Building a Story, Part II

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs. In this second post of the day, we’ll actually go about building the story I described earlier. As I mentioned, it will be part of Lectiō XI, approximately 1/3 of the way through Cursus Prīmus. What does it say that my first thought, before anything else, is to tell you “and they know these grammatical concepts”?

In any case, here’s what “they” have learned, and when:

  • Lectiō I: Nouns and verbs; question starters like quis, quid facit, -ne
  • Lectiō II: Genitive case nouns; declension patterns; question starters like cuius
  • Lectiō III: Ablative case nouns; question starters like ubi
  • Lectiō IV: Accusative case nouns; question starters like quem
  • Lectiō V: Flexibility of word order; question starters like utrum, an, nōnne, num
  • Lectiō VI: Infinitives (complementary with vult and potest); conjugation patterns
  • Lectiō VII: Imperatives (singular) and vocative case nouns
  • Lectiō VIII: 1st and 2nd person singular present tense verbs
  • Lectiō IX: Common pronouns like hic, ille, iste, ipse; significant differences in the ways Romans and English speakers use pronouns; a bit about adjectives as distinct from nouns, perhaps including comparatives and superlatives. (Of course, the Roman grammarians didn’t distinguish adjectives from nouns; we’ll make that point early and often.)
  • Lectiō X: nominative plural nouns and 3rd person plural verbs
  • 1st and 2nd person plural verbs are new in Lectiō XI.

I’m still debating with myself about the other plural noun forms. I really don’t want to introduce “too many things at once” – in my face-to-face classes, some students get lost every year when our textbook, one of the “Big Three” reading-method books, introduces nominative plural nouns and third-person plural verbs in the same chapter … but it’s the fifth chapter, not the tenth, and it’s followed immediately by two new verb tenses.  Maybe it’s just that my students need more practice with the “two new things” before they encounter the “other two new things” – not the plurals themselves, but the rapid introduction of the next new thing,  may be the problem. Another problem may be that I just haven’t found the right way for these particular students to practice plurals.  quid putātis, amīcī?

Anyway, the remaining plurals – and dative-case nouns – are the major “new things” in Lectiōnēs XII-XIX. In Lectiōnēs XX-XXX, we’ll discover some more verb tenses and be introduced to a few things (participles, infinitives in indirect statement, and non-subjunctive purpose expressions) that are “normally” reserved for Latin II and beyond.

As much as I believe (and teach my face-to-face students accordingly) that grammatical concepts are a key to understanding rather than an end in themselves, I still find that I mention “grammar first” in conversations with colleagues – and even in this conversation! What does that say about the extent that our field, over the past 100 or more years, has privileged “grammar above all”? From a perspective of understanding, the locations and cultural practices in these Lectiōnēs are probably more important than the grammatical concepts:

  • homes (domus, vīlla, īnsula) in Lectiōnēs I-III
  • morning routine (salūtātiō, preparations for school) in Lectiōnēs IV-V
  • city streets and school in Lectiōnēs VI-VII;
  • overview of education; Roman history; mythological stories in Lectiōnēs VIII-IX
  • city streets, returning home from school, and popīna in Lectiō X
  • social-class issues and the role of the paedogōgus in Lectiō X

And so are the “big ideas” of Roman culture (the perspectives, in the framework of the ACTFL and ACL National Standards) that we’ve begun to explore:

  • pietās,
  • dignitās, and to a small degree
  • honestās and auctōritās

And, of course, the related vocabulary, which is largely about practices and products:

  • family members and relationships, including household animals (both pets and pests) and servants
  • houses, rooms, and furniture, including specifically Roman objects like the lararium
  • clothing, food, and food-related utensils
  • streets, buildings, and cities
  • farms and farm animals
  • the salūtātiō and related vocabulary about patrons and clients
  • types or levels of Roman education; words for books, writing implements, and other “classroom objects” (many of which are very different from their 21st-century equivalents)

Properly understood – as our faithful reader Randy F pointed out in a recent comment – the grammar of a language is also a cultural product, and language structure can illuminate the perspectives of the culture that creates and uses it. For example, in our case:

  • What does it say about the Romans that they don’t have definite and indefinite articles?
  • What does it say that it took Roman grammarians so long to recognize adjectives as distinct from nouns?
  • Why is verbal aspect so significant – even though “traditional” grammatical understanding says so little about it?

These products, practices, and perspectives will all play some role in the story – if not directly, then indirectly as background.

Anyway, after I’ve thought about the big picture, I consider the issue of specific vocabulary – and new vocabulary. Specifically, I glance at the “frequency” lists and see if there’s something I really need to incorporate … at the same time, though, I try not to include a lot of new words.

If you remember our discussion of the independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels, you’ll realize that one historic problem for Latin teachers, as a profession, is that we try to “introduce” too many words, too fast. We forget that “introduction” and “mastery” are not the same thing, even if Latin and Greek actually are (or “is”), according to my former student. A quick look over Diederich’s frequency list turns up some interesting categories and specific words that I’ll discuss in the next post.

Sometimes a key word suggests a key plot turn: for example, in another story I shared earlier, I had been thinking that Caius should just be beaten by his dad until I happened to see the word bōs on the list.  At almost the same time, I got an email from faithful reader Laura G about her work with animal fables. And yes, you’ll find out soon why Caius’ mom was so determined to use Fortunāta, bōs placida, to punish her son … and how on earth you actually would use a cow to punish someone! 🙂

First, though, we’ll consider the words we’d need to use in our new story. As you’ll remember from yesterday, the scenario is:

  1. Valerius and Caelia are angry at Lucius for … whatever happened at school;
  2. Lucius’ sisters are delighted that their brother got in trouble … he’s a goody-goody and rarely gets in trouble, which only makes them hate him more of course;
  3. The children are sent to bed so Valerius and Caelia can receive their guests;
  4. The dinner guests eat and drink in appropriate Roman style (but not the way it happens in the movies!);
  5. They’re interrupted by the mouse, who comes forth boldly to steal some food;
  6. The mustēla chases the mouse;
  7. Chaos ensues; and
  8. One of the children saves the day somehow, earning praise.

So, obviously, one of our first steps is to name the mūs and the mustēla. I envision a boy-mouse and a girl-weasel, just because of the expected genders of both words. I also want something that either fits well with the personalities one would associate with each animal, or else is comically inappropriate … probably the latter for the mouse. Since Minimus (link) is already taken, how about Maximus? No; that’s too silly. Fortissimus? Maybe … but not quite. I also like little allusions, when possible, to Latin literature; of course, the whole Greco-Roman literary tradition is all about allusion, so it seems appropriate. Rīdiculus! Rīdiculus mūs would be perfect! 🙂

As for the mustēla, she needs to be … mysterious? Alluring, perhaps? Agrippina came to mind, but I think she needs to be nicer than that … but still a bit cold and calculating. Not Cleopatra, though, and definitely not Dido! Sabīna … with two allusions, one to early Roman history and one to Nero’s wife! Sabīna mustēla!

Now the major words, grammatical concepts, and cultural/Cultural ideas are in place. It’s time to start writing the story. Teachers of most other languages would now … write the story. But sadly, Classicists as a profession are so thoroughly infected with the translation virus 🙂 that someone is probably expecting me to say I

  • write the story in English, then
  • laboriously translate it , word-by-word, into Latin.

In fact, though, I … write the story. In Latin! Without an English version! Now, why would I do such a thing? 🙂 Largely because

Latin and English are so different in syntax that it’s very difficult to “translate” anything, especially from English into Latin

  • It’s a lot easier and less time-intensive just to write in Latin to begin with.
  • Given the choice, I’d actually rather write in Latin than in English most of the time.
  • If I want my students to avoid the “English crutch,” I have to do it too!
  • It’s more culturally authentic – after all, hardly any Romans, especially in the Classical period, translated anything into (or out of) English … a language which did not yet exist!

quid respondētis, amīcī et sodālēs?

  • Have you ever done anything like this?
  • If so, did you follow the same process?
  • If not, what was your process like?   I’d love to know so I can share it with Tres Columnae participants whose learning styles would “fit” better with your way than with mine.
  • Whether you’ve done this before or not, does it seem practical and doable? Or is it “too hard” – or “too easy”? If so, why? And what should I be asking our participants to do instead?

To witness the actual process, and to participate in it just a bit, you’ll have to tune in next time, when we put the story together.