Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.02.02 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.02.02

Elizabeth Heimbach, Word Mastery through Derivatives Designed for Students of Latin.   Mundelein, Illinois:  Bolchazy-Carducci, 2017.  Pp. viii, 163.  ISBN 9780865168534.  $29.00 (pb).  


Reviewed by Molly Myerowitz Levine, Howard University (mlevine@howard.edu)

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Elizabeth Heimbach’s workbook supports the study of Latin vocabulary words by aggregating them into topical clusters and associating them with interesting English derivatives. The book operates as a kind of positive feedback loop between Latin and English, reinforcing Latin vocabulary while at the same time enriching students’ English vocabulary.

This is an enjoyable book for anyone with a minimal Latin background who is interested in words. As part of a general English vocabulary building project, there are enough elements of Latin to interest students in studying the Latin language for its own sake. In tandem with a comprehensive Latin grammar, the text could serve as engaging secondary reading for students of elementary Latin. The book does not pretend to be exhaustive and this is a plus. It does not drown the curious student in detail, but it does sensitize students to etymology and make them want to go further. The author is clearly a seasoned and successful Latin teacher.

The book’s twenty-five brief chapters are organized into three parts. After a very short “preamble” on the historical phases of the penetration of Latin into the English language, the two opening chapters of Part I cover affixes in the form of suffixes (Ch. 1) and preposition and prefix derivatives (Ch. 2). A selected list of suffixes in Ch. 1 (e.g., -fy=to make, verb suffix) serves to make the point that a suffix carries both its own meaning and also can usefully function as an indicator of the part of speech of the English derivative word.

Part II (Chs. 3-14) covers “special topic derivatives,” vocabulary words in contexts that may be of particular interest to students. The purpose of this section is both to aid students in memorizing common Latin vocabulary words, and at the same time to expand their English vocabularies. Chapters 3-14 group words by semantic cluster as follows: animals (3), colors (4), money (5), numbers (6), body parts (7), political terms (8), time derivatives (9), mythology derivatives (10), school and book derivatives (11), geographical derivatives (12), Halloween derivatives (13), and Thanksgiving derivatives, mostly covering food (14). Ch. 12 (geographical definitions) goes nicely with the early chapters of Book 1 of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Chs. 13 and 14 (Halloween and Thanksgiving) clearly mark the intended audience as American students as they neatly coincide with the calendar of school holidays.

Part III (Chs. 15-25) “Grammar-Related Derivatives” organizes English derivatives on the basis of the morphology of the relevant Latin source word. Topics covered are: first and second declension masculine and feminine noun derivatives (15); second declension neuter noun derivatives (16); third declension masculine and feminine noun derivatives (17); third declension neuter noun derivatives (18); pronoun derivatives (19); first and second conjugation derivatives (20); third and fourth conjugation and irregular verb derivatives (21); deponent verb derivatives (22); adjective derivatives (23); adverb derivatives (24); and “Look Alike” derivatives (25).

Probably the most effective chapter for Latin students in Part III is Ch. 18 on third declension neuter noun derivatives, where English derivatives help to reinforce memorization of the often unpredictable noun bases in this declension (e.g., iter, itineris). This section as a whole is more geared to traditional elementary Latin courses and since it follows a typical order for teaching morphology and grammar, is easy for a Latin teacher to incorporate into her lessons. The book concludes with two appendices: Appendix A lists English derivatives by chapter; Appendix B lists Latin phrases used in English.

As far as students are concerned, memorable anecdotes enlivening lists of words are what make Latin vocabulary stick, and Heimbach’s introductory narratives to each chapter do the trick for many topics. These narratives are lively and engaging, e.g., the story of Jenner’s invention of small pox vaccination using cow (vacca) pox blisters found on milkmaids (p. 15). The book is peppered with curious and enlightening factoids: The cry of a pig caller is “suee, suee” from Latin sūs (p. 16). The word “suffrage” derives from Latin fragor and sub (since suffrage was the noise made by armed Roman citizens banging on shields in voting assemblies to indicate their will (p.43). An “omelet” gets its name from a Roman dish of honeyed eggs ova mellita (p. 81); the word “scissors” derives from scissor, a Roman slave charged with chopping up food in the kitchen (p. 81).

In addition to conventional drill questions (multiple choice, definitions, etc.), exercises requiring dictionary or online research (e.g., III, p. 19) are especially effective in stretching the periphery of the circles of word associations. Each chapter concludes with “Just for Fun Exercises,” projects that are often creative and downright fun. However, exercises such as “design your own bookplate” (p. 67), “create a floorplan of a Roman house” (p. 99), or “collect published images of mythological symbols, describe or draw them“ (p. 59) seem of more use to elementary or secondary school Latin classes than to the faster pace of college Latin courses.

The question for Latin teachers remains when and how to use this entertaining and informative book. I can envision using it in a slow-paced beginning Latin class for elementary or high school students. I can also envision it used in an online format as an auxiliary aid for students in elementary college Latin classes and of particular interest to students preparing for MCATs, LSATs, and the like. Since the book is not a stand-alone textbook, teachers will have to be creative about integrating it into existing Latin courses, especially in light of the fact that it is a relatively expensive addition ($29) to a regularly assigned Latin text such as Wheelock’s Latin. Used in a college Latin class, teachers might opt to choose word clusters from Part III that complement assigned vocabulary or reading. Chapters are short enough to be completed in about 20 minutes. Ideally the book would be online with an answer key and freely accessible to students and teachers for independent study or creative incorporation into Latin classes.

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