Sunday, 23 October 2011

Say no to useless complexity


Although hundreds of individuals teach Latin for a living, few of them spend time explaining why it became a dead language. If you read about its history, facts are presented as self-evident and no general lessons are drawn.

The official version of the story is that, when the Roman Empire was conquered in the 5th century, barbarian words polluted the purity of ancient speech. Foreign influences changed the manner of writing Latin, did away with its grammar, and distorted its pronunciation.

During the Middle Ages, clerics and lawyers tried to maintain the old language alive, overall with little success. The quality of written Latin deteriorated at the same speed as it was taught to younger generations. The spoken word, undisturbed by grammatical constraints, became approximative and vague.

By the end of the 16th century, the great language of antiquity was clinically death, although a few volumes were still written and published in Latin in the 17th century. Those relics symbolize man's reluctance to acknowledge tidal changes that disrupt established patterns of thought.

The expulsion of Latin to the realm of the dead becomes an intriguing question when we compare it with other achievements of the time, such as the laws of Ancient Rome. In contrast to language, the principles of Roman law have survived the passage of time and can be found today in the civil code of numerous European and South American countries.

While Latin was dead and buried centuries ago, ancient Roman law still permeates our culture and institutions. The logic of modern contracts replicates the arguments of ancient jurisprudence; our court procedures follow the steps conceived by Roman magistrates; our conception of marriage and inheritance is derived from ancient family law.

Causality is the weak point in the official story of the disappearance of Latin. If ancient language was polluted by barbarian influences, so was Roman law. If grammar and pronunciation lost their original purity, so did Roman law. Nevertheless, legal principles survived and Latin is no longer alive.

A closer look at the facts reveals that Latin did not actually die, but was displaced. It was not destroyed or dismantled, but abandoned. Nobody took active steps to eliminate it from the minds of citizens. People just stopped using it, like a car that is too old to be worth repairing.

Financiers know that there is a world of difference between a company that is taken over and one that goes bankrupt. The official story is that Latin was merged or transformed into medieval languages. While this aspect is indisputable, it misses an important part of the picture.

The truth must include the acknowledgement that Latin, like an enterprise that loses customers, went bankrupt. The decline of the ancient language must have begun before the barbarian invasions. Most likely, Latin would have decayed even if the Roman Empire had lasted another century.

Insolvent companies that blame their difficulties on the market show blindness to the real cause of their financial demise. If competitors have stayed in business and thrived, why did a specific company go bankrupt? Why did Latin wane into oblivion despite all efforts to keep it alive?

Lovers of ancient languages will seldom give you the answer to that question: Latin was highly inefficient. Left to its own devices, it was unable to maintain itself. Its grammar was calling for simplification. It was too difficult to learn and brought little value to the table.

Four major languages of our age, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, are derived from Latin. All four have shed the overcomplicated structure that made Latin so inefficient. The cost of maintenance became to heavy and the old construction fell apart. Like a bankrupt company, Latin collapsed under the weight of its liabilities.

The ancient language built sentences by adding affixes to adjective and names depending on their grammatical role, gender, and number. In order to create a correct sentence, each name and adjective had to be combined with the right affix. Latin had many different affixes, which varied from name to name and case to case. In contrast, modern Spanish just adds "s" for most plurals.

Speaking correct Latin required extensive training that few could afford in the Middle Ages. Even with our most advanced learning methods, languages that continue to use numerous affixes for names and adjectives demand great efforts of foreigners who wish to learn them.

Trying to maintain Latin alive was the quintessential dead-end project. Relatively few people were willing to devote resources to the undertaking; its cost far exceeded the capital available. The project was doomed from the start; those who believed that it could succeed were massively unrealistic.

The ancient language did not die the glorious death of a heroic medieval knight; it perished from starvation and neglect. Its structural inefficiency rendered it unable to compete. History broke it down and scattered the remnants. The clock stopped at a time when it could not be repaired.

Has the lesson been learned? Have we grown capable of recognizing and avoiding dead-end projects? Anyone willing to recognize mistakes can acquire the necessary knowledge and perspective. Latin is a dead language and rightly so. The next time that someone asks you to participate in a project, make sure that is has a future.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Alaskan Dude under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Say no to useless complexity


Although hundreds of individuals teach Latin for a living, few of them spend time explaining why it became a dead language. If you read about its history, facts are presented as self-evident and no general lessons are drawn.

The official version of the story is that, when the Roman Empire was conquered in the 5th century, barbarian words polluted the purity of ancient speech. Foreign influences changed the manner of writing Latin, did away with its grammar, and distorted its pronunciation.

During the Middle Ages, clerics and lawyers tried to maintain the old language alive, overall with little success. The quality of written Latin deteriorated at the same speed as it was taught to younger generations. The spoken word, undisturbed by grammatical constraints, became approximative and vague.

By the end of the 16th century, the great language of antiquity was clinically death, although a few volumes were still written and published in Latin in the 17th century. Those relics symbolize man's reluctance to acknowledge tidal changes that disrupt established patterns of thought.

The expulsion of Latin to the realm of the dead becomes an intriguing question when we compare it with other achievements of the time, such as the laws of Ancient Rome. In contrast to language, the principles of Roman law have survived the passage of time and can be found today in the civil code of numerous European and South American countries.

While Latin was dead and buried centuries ago, ancient Roman law still permeates our culture and institutions. The logic of modern contracts replicates the arguments of ancient jurisprudence; our court procedures follow the steps conceived by Roman magistrates; our conception of marriage and inheritance is derived from ancient family law.

Causality is the weak point in the official story of the disappearance of Latin. If ancient language was polluted by barbarian influences, so was Roman law. If grammar and pronunciation lost their original purity, so did Roman law. Nevertheless, legal principles survived and Latin is no longer alive.

A closer look at the facts reveals that Latin did not actually die, but was displaced. It was not destroyed or dismantled, but abandoned. Nobody took active steps to eliminate it from the minds of citizens. People just stopped using it, like a car that is too old to be worth repairing.

Financiers know that there is a world of difference between a company that is taken over and one that goes bankrupt. The official story is that Latin was merged or transformed into medieval languages. While this aspect is indisputable, it misses an important part of the picture.

The truth must include the acknowledgement that Latin, like an enterprise that loses customers, went bankrupt. The decline of the ancient language must have begun before the barbarian invasions. Most likely, Latin would have decayed even if the Roman Empire had lasted another century.

Insolvent companies that blame their difficulties on the market show blindness to the real cause of their financial demise. If competitors have stayed in business and thrived, why did a specific company go bankrupt? Why did Latin wane into oblivion despite all efforts to keep it alive?

Lovers of ancient languages will seldom give you the answer to that question: Latin was highly inefficient. Left to its own devices, it was unable to maintain itself. Its grammar was calling for simplification. It was too difficult to learn and brought little value to the table.

Four major languages of our age, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, are derived from Latin. All four have shed the overcomplicated structure that made Latin so inefficient. The cost of maintenance became to heavy and the old construction fell apart. Like a bankrupt company, Latin collapsed under the weight of its liabilities.

The ancient language built sentences by adding affixes to adjective and names depending on their grammatical role, gender, and number. In order to create a correct sentence, each name and adjective had to be combined with the right affix. Latin had many different affixes, which varied from name to name and case to case. In contrast, modern Spanish just adds "s" for most plurals.

Speaking correct Latin required extensive training that few could afford in the Middle Ages. Even with our most advanced learning methods, languages that continue to use numerous affixes for names and adjectives demand great efforts of foreigners who wish to learn them.

Trying to maintain Latin alive was the quintessential dead-end project. Relatively few people were willing to devote resources to the undertaking; its cost far exceeded the capital available. The project was doomed from the start; those who believed that it could succeed were massively unrealistic.

The ancient language did not die the glorious death of a heroic medieval knight; it perished from starvation and neglect. Its structural inefficiency rendered it unable to compete. History broke it down and scattered the remnants. The clock stopped at a time when it could not be repaired.

Has the lesson been learned? Have we grown capable of recognizing and avoiding dead-end projects? Anyone willing to recognize mistakes can acquire the necessary knowledge and perspective. Latin is a dead language and rightly so. The next time that someone asks you to participate in a project, make sure that is has a future.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Alaskan Dude under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Reducing obstacles to a manageable size


Discouragement has become so common in our society that, most of the time, we don't even notice it. You can only see the phenomenon through the darkness its exudes. Motivation becomes paralysis. Vision breaks apart in doubts. Energy can no longer be replenished and attention gets distracted.

If you look around, you will find plenty of examples: Co-workers who lately have been looking sort of sad, call up the office, name some vague problem at home, and disappear for week. Students who have been at the top of their class, start to fail one exam after the other. Thoughtful friends, the kind who used to have strong opinions, suddenly turn silent.

What is the cause of this wide-spread ailment? Where is this malignant wave coming from? The automatic response in those cases is to blame the world. When you talk to men and women who suffer from the blues, you will often find them willing to enumerate all the negative conditions affecting their life.

Those complaints will usually have a sound basis in reality. Some people will tell you stories of abuse and unfairness, injustices of all sorts, inefficiency and dishonesty. Others will speak about their sickness, the ingratitude of their family, treason by friends, loneliness or divorce.

Nevertheless, those explanations remain insufficient to justify the overweening levels of discouragement in our society. The most important element in the equation is never mentioned. Why is nobody pointing out that, for every dispirited person, you can find a reasonably contented one who is enduring similar difficulties?

Misfortune and catastrophe are not to be trivialized. Bad luck and sickness can wipe out your savings, your business, your family, and put to test your will to keep on living. Serious problems and painful periods do occur in most people's lives. My point is not that one should become foolishly cheerful in the face of adversity.

Pharmaceuticals aimed at alleviating distress can help to a certain extent, although they are frequently loaded with secondary effects. My message is that, in the worst possible moments, a man owes to himself, to his happiness, to reflect and act with proper perspective. What one should keep in mind is that, on many occasions, discouragement is a synonym for short-term vision.

Rational thinking is the only antidote that has repeatedly proven its effectiveness against discouragement. Seeing obstacles and disadvantages in the frame of a lifetime helps to reduce them to a manageable size.

Drop the false comfort of self-pity. Never allow yourself to limit your own potential. Never give up before the game is really over. Remind yourself everyday that life offers many opportunities. Define your long-term targets, sharpen your arrows, and leave the blues behind. You have better things to do.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Reducing obstacles to a manageable size


Discouragement has become so common in our society that, most of the time, we don't even notice it. You can only see the phenomenon through the darkness its exudes. Motivation becomes paralysis. Vision breaks apart in doubts. Energy can no longer be replenished and attention gets distracted.

If you look around, you will find plenty of examples: Co-workers who lately have been looking sort of sad, call up the office, name some vague problem at home, and disappear for week. Students who have been at the top of their class, start to fail one exam after the other. Thoughtful friends, the kind who used to have strong opinions, suddenly turn silent.

What is the cause of this wide-spread ailment? Where is this malignant wave coming from? The automatic response in those cases is to blame the world. When you talk to men and women who suffer from the blues, you will often find them willing to enumerate all the negative conditions affecting their life.

Those complaints will usually have a sound basis in reality. Some people will tell you stories of abuse and unfairness, injustices of all sorts, inefficiency and dishonesty. Others will speak about their sickness, the ingratitude of their family, treason by friends, loneliness or divorce.

Nevertheless, those explanations remain insufficient to justify the overweening levels of discouragement in our society. The most important element in the equation is never mentioned. Why is nobody pointing out that, for every dispirited person, you can find a reasonably contented one who is enduring similar difficulties?

Misfortune and catastrophe are not to be trivialized. Bad luck and sickness can wipe out your savings, your business, your family, and put to test your will to keep on living. Serious problems and painful periods do occur in most people's lives. My point is not that one should become foolishly cheerful in the face of adversity.

Pharmaceuticals aimed at alleviating distress can help to a certain extent, although they are frequently loaded with secondary effects. My message is that, in the worst possible moments, a man owes to himself, to his happiness, to reflect and act with proper perspective. What one should keep in mind is that, on many occasions, discouragement is a synonym for short-term vision.

Rational thinking is the only antidote that has repeatedly proven its effectiveness against discouragement. Seeing obstacles and disadvantages in the frame of a lifetime helps to reduce them to a manageable size.

Drop the false comfort of self-pity. Never allow yourself to limit your own potential. Never give up before the game is really over. Remind yourself everyday that life offers many opportunities. Define your long-term targets, sharpen your arrows, and leave the blues behind. You have better things to do.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]