Why we speak Latin

We are called the ‘Oxford Latinitas Project’ because the living use of Latin (and soon, we hope, of Greek) is one of the more visible distinctive features of our project, and because ‘Latinitas’ has traditionally referred in part to the Litterae Humaniores, the body of texts we study. Our chief goal, however, is not to speak Latin for the sake of speaking Latin, nor to reinstate spoken Latin in Oxford. We have two reasons for speaking Latin, one academic and scholarly, the other practical and communal. Firstly, we speak Latin as part of our pursuit of scholarly excellence. Those of us who founded the Project feel lucky to have learnt Latin in whole or part by immersion. We find that this has given us not only a sound linguistic knowledge of Latin, but also something approaching a native ‘feel’ for the language, allowing us to read quickly and fluently, and to come closer to seeing through the eyes and feeling with the hearts of the authors. Speaking Latin, as was practised in schools and universities for centuries, can foster the joy, creativity, and community of the Res Publica Litterarum, a society which extends both ‘horizontally’ through space and ‘vertically’ through time. When we discuss texts in the same language in which they were written, we can start to join the authors in their own social imaginary by participating in the worldview shaped by their tongues.

Secondly, we speak Latin because it is increasingly our common language. In May, for instance, when friends from India, Spain, Mexico, Italy, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, France, Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, England, gathered in our Oxford home for a weekend of sharing advice and concerns about our various liberal arts endeavours, we spoke Latin because it was truly the only common language in which we could all fluently converse. In speaking Latin at such gatherings we transcend the limitations of our own primary or native languages for more free and equal conversation between friends who share Latin as acquired language that has become a medium for our friendship and scholarship.

Societas Oxoniensis Latinitatis vocari voluimus propter id quo maxime ab aliis distinguimur, scilicet quod lingua Latina (et saepe Graeca) non solum legere sed loqui et scribere assuevimus, necnon quia ‘Latinitas’ ipsa cum litteris et studiis humanioribus, quibus studemus, perenni quodam vinculo coniungitur. Attamen non illud, latine loqui per se, finis praecipuus est nobis, nedum efficere ut lingua latina iterum ab omnibus in universitate Oxoniensi adhibeatur. Nos quidem duobus de causis latine loquimur, quarum altera ad studia nostra spectat, altera vero ad ipsam vitam communem participum spectat. Primum omnium quaerimus in nostris studiis excellere, quandoquidem omnes qui hanc societatem constituimus iisce methodis didicimus atque firmiter credimus nos per eas posse talem linguae notitiam impetrare, ut possimus accedere ad illos textus, quibus studemus, tam expedite quam ipsi auctores qui hac lingua sunt innutriti, quin immo et res ipsas, quas legimus, simili mente et animo percipere. Ceterum credimus linguam Latinam, ut adhibiita per saecula in scholis et studiorum universitatibus, fovere alacritatem sensui communi et amicitiam inter membra Rei Publicae Litterarum, quae per diversas nationes et tempora extenditur. Cum enim legimus textus eosque eadem lingua qua primum exarati sunt discutimus, nos ipsos cum antiquis auctoribus consociamus, atque per linguam, eorum notiones et cogitata quodammodo absorbemus.

Tum vero latine loquimur quia nobis quidem est lingua communis. Mense maio, exempli gratia, amici ex India, Hispania, Mexico, Italia, Civitatibus Foederatis, Arabia, Gallia, Scotia, Bulgaria, Britannia Oxonium convenimus ut per biduum feriatum inter nos incepta, consilia et curas nostras ad artes liberales attinentia, communicaremur. Per totum illud tempus latine locuti sumus, cum haec vere esset omnibus una lingua communis. Cum omnes latine in talibus conventibus loquimur, superamus ea limina quae nostrae linguae vernaculae inter nos erigunt et tum libere et aeque omnes partimur illam linguam quae nunc est facta instrumentum nostrae amicitiae et nostrorum studiorum.