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The Use of Latin: The Social Construction of Sociolinguistics

Sintagma: revista de lingüística
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  • Linguistics


VIANA , A. (1992): The use of Latin: the social construction of sociolinguistics, Sintagma 4(1992), pp. 23-34 1 THE USE OF LATIN: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIOLINGUISTICS* AMADEU VIANA Universitat de Lleida In 1924 Thomas Mann wrote in Der Zauberberg: "Sit tibi terra levis. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. Vois-tu, lorsque'il est question de la mort ou que'on parle B des morts, ou des morts, le latin reprend ses droits, c'est la langue officielle dans ces circomstances-18, on voit comme la mort est une chose particulitre. Mais ce n'est pas par une courtoisie humaniste que l'on parle le latin en son honneur, la langue des morts n'est pas du latin scolaire, tu comprends, elle est d'un tout autre esprit, d'un esprit, en quelque sort opposC. Cest du latin sacrb, un dialecte de moines, le Moyen Age, un chant sourd, monotone et comme souterrain." (Mann 1924:437) Perhaps because he was writing literature, Mann changed the human properties that were commonly attributed to Latin into contextual properties of the same tone. This text might be seen as a brief account of a widely accepted view of Latin as a dead language, imputing these properties to the domains of the use of language. In this case, it is not Latin which is dead, but people, and the claim is that the language merely tries to fit into the situation properly. Reversing the classical anthropomorphist picture, Mann also states a deep disagreement between social meanings on the one hand and the knowledge of Latin on the other. Society is no longer concerned chiefly with burial rituals; and religious commitment in general has lost its place. The defeat of Latin seems also related to a certain inadequacy of contents, to its insuitability to contemporary problems. This is pointed out by Mann in his novel by suggesting the degree to which the context of its use was restricted. One of the questions I would like to raise here is how we have established and accepted the notion of dead language. * An abb

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