Monday, October 04, 2021


Augustine Against Linguistic Nitpickers

Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana 2.44-46 (tr. R.P.H. Green):
[44] Translators often meet not only individual words, but also whole phrases which simply cannot be expressed in the idioms of the Latin language, at least not if one wants to maintain the usage of ancient speakers of Latin. Sometimes these translations lose nothing in intelligibility but trouble those people who take more delight in things when correct usage is observed in expressing the corresponding signs. What is called a solecism is simply what results when words are not combined according to the rules by which our predecessors, who spoke with some authority, combined them. Whether you say inter homines or inter hominibus does not matter to a student intent upon things. [45] Likewise, what is a barbarism but a word articulated with letters or sounds that are not the same as those with which it was normally articulated by those who spoke Latin before us? Whether one says ignoscere with a long or short third syllable is of little concern to someone beseeching God to forgive his sins, however he may have managed to utter the word. What, then, is correctness of speech but the maintenance of the practice of others, as established by the authority of ancient speakers? [46] But the weaker men are, the more they are troubled by such matters. Their weakness stems from a desire to appear learned, not with a knowledge of things, by which we are edified, but with a knowledge of signs, by which it is difficult not to be puffed up in some way; even a knowledge of things often makes people boastful, unless their necks are held down by the Lord's yoke.

[44] Nam non solum verba singula sed etiam locutiones saepe transferuntur quae omnino in latinae linguae usum, si quis consuetudinem veterum qui latine locuti sunt tenere voluerit, transire non possint. Quae aliquando intellectui nihil adimunt, sed offendunt tamen eos qui plus delectantur rebus cum etiam in earum signis sua quaedam servatur integritas. Nam soloecismus qui dicitur nihil est aliud quam cum verba non ea lege sibi coaptantur qua coaptaverunt qui priores nobis non sine auctoritate aliqua locuti sunt. Utrum enim inter homines an inter hominibus dicatur ad rerum non pertinet cognitorem. [45] Item barbarismus quid aliud est nisi verbum non eis litteris vel sono enuntiatum, quo ab eis qui ante nos latine locuti sunt enuntiari solet? Utrum autem ignoscere producta an correpta tertia syllaba dicatur, non multum curat qui peccatis suis deus ut ignoscat petit, quolibet modo illud verbum sonare potuerit. Quid est ergo integritas locutionis nisi alienae consuetudinis conservatio, loquentium veterum auctoritate firmatae? [46] Sed tamen eo magis inde offenduntur homines quo infirmiores sunt, et eo sunt infirmiores quo doctiores videri volunt, non rerum scientia qua aedificamur, sed signorum, qua non inflari omnino difficile est, cum et ipsa rerum scientia saepe cervicem erigat nisi dominico reprimatur iugo.

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