Walter Ong. Rhetoric, Romance and Technology.

 Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971, pp. 17-18.

[PN4061 O5] 


[On classical or Learned Latin as opposed to the vernaculars]


"... An institution as widespread as Learned Latin was more than merely a linguistic phenomenon. Learned Latin, the old classical Latin which remained'in the schools after ancient Latin had fragmented in the home and nonacademic world into hundreds of vernaculars, was soon structured into a whole scries of social institutions, ... Learned atin was permanently aligned with the primary oral or rhetorical tradition and helped keep this tradition alive long past the development not only of writing but even of print. A language spoken by millions but only by those who could  write it, Learned Latin paradoxically also built up an extreme deference for the written word which verged on superstition and was to affect the aims of lexicography down to our present day. Used only by males and under the sway of the old oral dialectical-rhetorical tradition, Learned Latin was a ceremonial polemic instrument which from classical antiquity until the beginnings of romanticism helped keep the entire academic curricutum programmed as a form of ritual male combat centered on disputation. 


These effects of Latin suggest still further connections with cultural institutions. The use of Learned Latin and the self-image and style of life it automatically fostered tended to strengthen the wide-spread opinion that war was not only inevitable in human society but in many ways was even good. (It kept society from softness and effeteness—vices which can lead only to war!) If boys went to school to war ceremonially with each other (and with the teacher), combat was a necessary and admirable condition of existence. It is evident that this view of life helped keep the ideal of the hero, especially the marcial hero, alive in men's impossible dreams long after the social conditions of oral and residually oral culture which originally generated the fictional hero had disappeared. 


In the intimate connection it sustains with the heroic age, Learned Latin—and the cult of dialectic and rhetoric which for historical reasons the use of Latin supported—is built into the social and psychological structures earlier mentioned here as studied by Neumann, Carl Jung, and others. That is to say, the use of Learned Latin for scientific and scholarly thinking over nearly a millennium and a half had a great dca! to do with the development of the collective and individual psyche in the Western European world. Indeed, since there are more or less contemporaneous parallels in other cultures which have used learned languages discrete from the vernacular, perhaps such languages belong to a certain stage in cultural and psychological development."