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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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6.2 Beyond words

Words are the building blocks of language. It therefore makes sense to devote plenty of time to studying them. Nevertheless, understanding the meaning of words is not enough to allow you to read Latin, or any other language, with fluency and confidence.

What else is needed? Many factors are relevant here, including an appreciation of grammar and an exposure to a great deal of Latin. We will close by highlighting just one important skill possessed by experienced readers, namely the ability to see not just words but groups of related words. As a fluent reader of English this will be second nature to you. Without it, you would find the process of reading unbearably slow and laborious. Look, for instance, at the opening sentence of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

In the second century of the Christian Era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind.

This sentence can be broken into a number of smaller chunks. Even if you know very little about grammar, you will instinctively recognise that some sets of words form natural groups, such as:

  • in the second century
  • the Empire of Rome
  • the fairest part of the earth
  • the most civilised portion of mankind

On the other hand you would be very unlikely to take the words ‘of Rome comprehended the’ as a unit. Why? Because it is incomplete and therefore not meaningful in its own right.