Do we need Wikipedia in Latin?
I’ve only just caught up with the fact that there is a version of Wikipedia in Latin: or, to be precise, Vicipaedia.
I have to say that it is all very well done. I explored it, hoping to discover some dreadful howlers. But a ten minute glance gave them pretty much a clean bill of health. And there is plenty of earnest worrying about how to translate such termini technici as ‘link’ into Latin. Ligamen, nexus or vinculum? Oh help…
They haven’t got very far yet. Check out the section on “professores rerum classicarum” (professors of Classics) and you’ll find they’ve only got to three: the distinguished, but unlikely trio of Barry Baldwin, E. R. Dodds and W. L. Westermann.
But my problem with this enterprise is not its accuracy in Latinity or its progress. It is: what on earth is the point?
I am a great supporter of retaining Latin where it is traditional or useful. I don’t want to get rid of Latin mottoes on coins. Nor, for that matter, do I want to ‘modernise’ the speeches made on our Cambridge Honorary Degree day. They are delivered in Latin, with written English crib provided – for the benefit of those whose Latin is a bit challenged.
For one thing the slight incomprehensibility with which Latin clothes the whole occasion makes what might be the oozing flattery of the speeches in honour of those getting Hon. Degrees a bit less offensive. It also (as you’ll see if you take a look at James Diggle’s published Hon. Degree speeches) it allows a lot more wit than you’d get away with in English. Try him on Jacques Derrida – I always wonder what our Chancellor, Prince Philip, who has to listen to all this, made of that one.
Much the same goes for college grace before and after meals. “Benedictus benedicat etc etc” makes it a whole lot easier for the agnostic crew to let it all wash over them, while apparently satisfying the believers.
I’m pretty keen too on the general idea of using Latin in books meant for modern classical scholars. If you are a publishing a collection of ancient Latin inscriptions, you might just as well publish the commentary and explanation in Latin too. After all, anyone wanting to consult a Latin inscription is, by definition, bound to know the language – so it can be more inclusive to publish the commentary in Latin than in one particular vernacular, whether English, Swedish, or Japanese. It’s the lingua franca argument.
But that argument doesn’t extend to the likes of Vici – or to those charming Finns who waste their spare time putting the news into Latin and broadcasting it to the waiting handful.
The whole point about Latin is that it is a wonderful language, with wonderful literature worth reading on any evaluation of the world culture. But it is also well and truly dead. It doesn’t help the cause of Latin one bit to pretend that it is remotely worthwhile inventing new Latin words for “web” or “wind turbine” or “EU”.
So sorry if I’m being a killjoy, but I’m hoping that Vici dies a death.
(With thanks to Frank Wilson and Tony Francis for alerting me to Vici!)