Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, November 28, 2011

Recommended: Fairbairn’s guide for beginning Greek and Latin students

It’s nearly Christmas, and with it comes the challenge of shopping for that budding linguist or seasoned translator in the family. Search no more: Just get a copy of Donald Fairbairn, Understanding Language: a guide for beginning students of Greek & Latin (Catholic University of America, 2011) 190 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8132-1866-3.

Fairbairn, like me, is neither a classicist nor a linguist (in the strict sense); rather, as an historian and theologian, he uses Greek and Latin to get at the roots of deeper questions, just as I use (mostly) Latin to delve into canonical questions. Over the decades, both of us, it seems, developed similar approaches to learning these ancient languages that worked for us as students of Greek and Latin (and not as 'proto-teachers' of G&L, although we both have taken on such duties in our respective institutions). And precisely as once-beginners in ancient languages, with vivid memories of struggles we experienced, we want to encourage students to stick with it for reasons that, well, can hardly be explained.

Even a rank beginner in ancient language will profit by Part One of Fairbairn's text, but with even a semester, let alone two, of either Greek or Latin, his explanations of the concepts behind Greek and Latin will greatly assist the student in orienting the English speaker to their wonderful world.

On my list of books that I am really, really grateful someone else took the time to write, Fairbairn’s Understanding Language figures prominently. I wish I had read it 20 years ago, but I am glad I read it now.

My own Ecclesiastical Latin Page is here.