Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Latin Word Order Doesn't Matter..."

I hear repeatedly from my students that they have been taught that Latin word order does not matter. I gasp and reply that Latin word order makes all the difference!

A little bit of background first -- I teach Latin II, III, IV, AP Latin Literature, and AP Latin: Vergil. Strange to say, I have not taught Latin I in well over a decade! I regularly get my students from four different Latin I teachers and then lead them upward as far as they are willing and able to go.

I have come to the conclusion that I will have to approach these teachers and address this issue as a fundamental understanding of the Latin language. Since I am not known particularly for my tact, I will have to proceed gently and bring up the subject at the appropriate time.

I tell my Latin II and III students (when we complete our Compositio Hodierna) that the Romans did not have punctuation, did not underline their words, did not have bold print or italics, but relied upon word order to show emphasis and contribute to the meaning.

An example readily made itself available today as we began our reading of Caesar's De Bello Gallico in Latin IV. After encouraging my advanced students to read and translate in Latin word order (left to right, NOT hunting for the subject and verb, as I am so accustomed to do), we came across in the very first paragraph,

Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit.

When a student asked, "Why did the sentence begin with an accusative?" and scratched his head, I, remembering the conversation I had had with Latin II just the class period before, seized the opportunity to discuss the meaning and importance of Latin word order. I told them that the most important positions in the Latin sentence was the first and last words and that everything in between simply filled in the meaning. So, in our sentence from Caesar, the emphasis was on "the Gauls" and what happened to them (dividit), not so much on the names of the actual rivers, although that information was still important.

I have frequently had this conversation with my AP students when we are analyzing poetry, but I have never really taught this to my lower level students for whom this information is just as important. Now if I can just tell the Latin I teachers who send me their students...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Unpacking the Year

Experienced teachers report for duty on Wednesday, August 16. There will be a week of greetings, meetings, and crafting plans for the upcoming school year. It is a ritual I have experienced 19 times before. As I begin my 20th year of teaching, it should be "old hat" by now, but, gratefully, it is not.

I returned to school this last Monday and spent the week moving boxes, unpacking, and decorating my classroom. I like coming in early and taking care of the aesthetic issues -- it sets the stage, creates the mood, and gives me an opportunity to ease into the year.

Many teachers complain at the end of the year that packing up is such a waste of time, particularly since we have to unpack it all again at the beginning of the year. I understand the need for cleaning, reassigning rooms, and keeping things in order, but I enjoy unpacking for another reason. As I pull items out of boxes and place books back on shelves, it gives me an opportunity to revisit each item, re-evaluate its purpose, and weed out those things which no longer make the cut. More importantly, it also provides me with the time to reminisce -- yesterday I found a stack of Latin Club photographs I took several years ago of students I had almost forgotten. Revisiting the past provides great incentive for the future. Isn't that a lot of what we do in Latin class?

Now I can commit my time to writing lesson plans, creating handouts, and giving attention to the World Languages Department (I am the department chair) and assisting our new teachers (this year we have four in our department!). And the students arrive on the 23rd!