BMCR 2006.10.36

Looking at Latin: A Grammar for Pre-College

, Looking at Latin : a grammar for pre-college. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2006. xiv, 281 pages : color illustrations ; 28 cm. ISBN 9780865166158 $49.99.

Looking at Latin, a supplementary grammar both intended for and developed from classroom presentations to middle and high school students, boasts in its preface that it provides “essential form paradigms and grammatical explanations, comprehensive example sentences, and useful hints, all arranged in a visually appealing and unintimidating layout whose primary objective is clarity” (ix). To a great extent, it successfully accomplishes its stated purpose. The arrangement is clear and well-organized, and the initial pages contain guidelines on use and an explanation of the notational style. The straightforward arrangement and presentation of grammatical constructs in chart or flow-chart format makes presentations easy to follow. Although Andresian (hereafter A.) appears to have made every effort to present information in both a detailed and logical format, at times the amount of detail involves so many boxes and arrows that the page appears crowded or overwhelming; however, the organization is always so apparent that even very detailed presentations (e.g., the present system, p. 160) display a clear format. Teachers will need to be aware, as with any ancillary text, that a presentation may include vocabulary or forms which the students have not yet encountered in their primary text and anticipate any difficulties this may cause. For example, A.’s excellent and detailed presentation of the relative pronoun (pp.113-137) employs both a superlative adjective and a subjunctive; if the primary text presents the relative pronoun before the superlative and subjunctive (as does Wheelock), these forms may be distracting. Nonetheless, this book would make an excellent companion to middle and high school texts, particularly those that employ the inductive method (e.g., the Oxford series), and could also be profitably employed as a morphological review text for upper level high school and lower division college classes. While the use of this book at the intended audience level would require students to have their own copy, college professors may find selected pages (used in overhead projection) useful for review sessions; they may also choose to make it available as an optional text, since its approach would be particularly helpful to those students who find themselves challenged by Latin. In short, employed at its intended audience level it is a superb text, and its comprehensiveness would make it useful even at the advanced level.

The graphic illustrations are similar to those found in many modern language textbooks used at both the high school and college levels. They sometimes seem geared toward a younger audience but are not inappropriate for college level students. As a whole, this text capitalizes on the fact that today’s students tend to be visually-oriented and -stimulated. For such learners, illustrations such as the that of a graduating student tossing her cap in the air (p. 10) may indeed make the accompanying vocabulary entry gaudium easier to remember. Although the illustrations sometimes seem tangentially related to the presented material (e.g., the automobile, p. 77), the majority provide welcome relief to routine matters and are not only amusing but easy to identify with, such as the captions accompanying the illustration of someone sitting next to a computer screen: diutissime exspectabo and minime patiens sum (p. 125).

The Table of Contents lists six sections: Nouns, Adjectives and Adverbs, Pronouns, Etc., Verbs, Verb Moods, and Other Verb Constructions. Although within the text itself there are no header pages or tabs to separate the sections distinctly, there are footer labels. Each section contains a series of sub-sections or segments, e.g., under Nouns there are ten different segments including an introduction to nouns, an “overview” segment on forms which presents declensions and related matters (e.g., gender, case, etc.), separate segments for each of the cases (including vocative and locative) and a final segment on related matters such as prepositional phrases and appositives. Each segment comprises a sequence of focused, single-page presentations, e.g., the genitive case segment contains 14 pages, each one detailing some use of the genitive such as partitive, possessive, material, etc. All the single-page presentations take the form of flow charts or paradigm charts which could be scanned or copied onto an overhead for easy class presentation. Finally, the Appendices offer comprehensive paradigms similar to those found in most elementary texts and include irregular verbs. There are only a few occasions where the arrangement of the presentation seems questionable. For example, in Appendix B (p. 268), the inclusion of participles as a mood is misleading; however, the chart of ‘Verb Forms’ is a helpful tool presenting how all verb forms, including participles, derive from the present, perfect, and participial stems. The overall arrangement is straightforward and user-friendly.

It would be cumbersome to comment in detail on every section, but in order to convey the text’s comprehensiveness I will use the first section, Nouns, as an exemplum. It is arranged in a rather traditional sequence, beginning with simple presentations on “terminology” through one-page presentations on case, number, gender, declension (in concept) and dictionary entries. Each declension page includes how to form the stem, a chart of endings and a paradigm chart, with helpful notes regarding matters of gender, macrons, stem changes, etc. There is an appropriate breakdown of declensional types, e.g., second declension masculine nouns ending in -us and -r each have their own page; for those declensions with more than one nominative form (the second, third and fourth) there is also a final summary page. Common irregular nouns such as domus or vis each have their own page. Still in this section, there is a one-page presentation on definite and indefinite articles followed by several pages addressing case usage. A. issues warnings wherever there is potential for confusion, e.g., noting that the -um ending indicates different cases in different declensions. She has applied the useful term “nominusative” to neuter nouns (p. 10). Students should find particularly helpful features such as the separate presentations on the partitive genitive (pp. 31-32), where A. discusses those partitives that are best rendered by “of” in English (e.g., nemo or pars) and those that are not (e.g., aliquid or satis); likewise, her presentation of the subjective (p. 34) and possessive (p. 30) uses of the genitive may truly help students making this distinction for the first time. Generally, presentations include a useful short list of the most pertinent vocabulary, e.g., a handy vocabulary list of various “time” words accompanies the accusative duration of time (p. 60) and ablatives of time when and within which (pp. 74-75). This ancillary feature helps students associate certain phrases with a particular grammatical construction; such helpful elements are an important benefit of A.’s text. For instance, she reminds students not to confuse the accusative duration of time with the ablative of time within which through its use of the English word “during” (p. 75), and her presentations of the ablative absolute (with separate treatments per tense of participle, pp. 81-83) introduce students to the important matter of considering the participle’s time in relation to the main verb. Throughout the text A. is helpful and thorough.

Laudably, there appears to have been an effort to streamline presentations by offering just the most important information, but at times some significant pointers have been omitted. For instance, on the first page of “Noun Terminology” (presenting the concept of noun case), all the English examples demonstrating the notion and use of the ablative case employ prepositions, but there is no accompanying statement, which would seem appropriate and helpful, that Latin words in the ablative case also often follow a preposition. The vocative case is not presented in any of the declension pages but suddenly appears in the “overview” (p. 22) accompanied by the directive “see p. 88 for more information on the vocative case.” The simple explanation that the present participle in the ablative absolute employs the ‘-e’ rather than the ‘-i’ ending seems a lost opportunity to distinguish between the attribute and verbal uses of the present participle (p. 82) and would be consistent with the text’s comprehensiveness. In most circumstances, however, such linkages are nicely executed; in the presentation of the genitive of description (p. 35), for example, parallel phrases, one employing the genitive and the other the ablative of description, demonstrate two ways of saying the same thing and direct the viewer to the presentation of the ablative of description (p. 73).

On occasion better wording is warranted, despite the fact that this text is designed for a particular age group. For example, p. 3 in “Noun Terminology” introduces the concept of gender. At the bottom appears a warning box: “Gender matters! Different genders use slightly different endings, so you may misunderstand a noun’s form if you do not know its gender.” Similar phrasing is also used of conjugations: “It will be difficult to interpret verb endings correctly if you do not know the verb’s conjugation” (p. 153). While these statements are true, it may be wiser to omit any reference to potential confusion and instead phrase warnings in a manner which emphasizes from the start that students will need to command certain information, e.g., “You will need to know a verb’s conjugation in order to interpret its endings correctly.” Similarly, on the dative with special verbs (p. 54), A.’s phrase “Verbing occurs and is directed toward the dative” seems more confusing than helpful. The apparently deliberately vague explanation of the dative and accusative with compound verbs (p. 55, “…the compound verb takes an accusative direct object and uses a dative to finish the thought”) leaves some specificity to be desired. On pages 169, 171 and 173, “used with” would be preferable to “attached,” since A.’s statements “When sum,es, est/eram, eras, erat/ero, eris, erit, etc. are attached to a 4th principal part…” suggest that the compound perfect passive forms consist of a single word, not two.

Sentences that border on the nonsensical, even though such sentences achieve what they are meant to demonstrate, seem to be a feature of most introductory language texts. While A. has managed to avoid such phrases by and large, there are a few. For instance, I can think of no situation in which someone would say “you are looking through the thirteenth window” Per tertiam decimam fenestram spectas, p. 111, or “you arrived at the 35th minute”, Tricesimo quinto momento pervenisti. Some, though unlikely, will serve to entertain (particularly the intended audience) while making the grammatical focus memorable:: Effugere ausus, papilio gladium tuum risit, “having dared to flee, the butterfly laughed at your sword” (p. 194) should encourage students to recall that the perfect passive participle of deponent and semi-deponent verbs is rendered actively.

There are several apparent omissions which could give rise to questions or problems if a student is using the text on his/her own, but most could be easily addressed during class presentations. For example, A.’s presentation of the partitive genitive (p. 31) should include a note that numerals more often are followed by de or ex with the ablative case and a reference to the partitive ablative presented on p. 68. In the presentation of genitive with impersonal verbs on p. 42, a note offers the alternate construction employing the feminine ablative form of the possessive adjective (e.g., Illud mea referebat, “That was important to me”) with no explanation that this is simply an alternate, parallel construction. The important note on assimilation (p. 55), containing only two exempla, should contain a link to a page explaining the process of the application of prefixes (which would be a worthwhile addition). On p. 77, it would be helpful to students to distinguish between the use of the ablative causa when used with either a preceding genitive (noun) or the possessive adjective by translating the ablative phrase differently (i.e., translating tua causa as “for your sake” instead of “because of you” could serve as a reminder that the Romans tended not to use the genitive of the personal pronouns (with the exception of partitive and objective genitives). The Latin sentences Te in speculo vides and Marcus te videt are missing from p. 131, and the phrase “Pronoun should not be reflexive” would be better rendered as “Pronoun is not reflexive.” In the presentation of passive imperatives (p. 197), a note that the singular forms look like the present active infinitive is warranted. A reminder that the rare second and third person singular future imperative forms look the same would also be useful (p. 199). The presentation labeled “Sequence of Tenses in Dependent Clauses” (p. 231) seems designed to introduce students solely to the concept of the main verb establishing a time frame, as none of the example sentences actually introduces a dependent clause.

One small inconsistency is that A. sometimes diverges from her general practice of presenting an idiomatic translation followed by a literal translation. For example, A.’s presentation of the genitive of value (p. 37) would be well served by more literal translations demonstrating how to translate the phrase by using the word “value” in English first, then altering it to a more colloquial expression. Even this apparent shortcoming, however, could be addressed in class by asking students to explain how the example sentence Hunc ludum maximi facis, rendered as “You value this game very highly,” would be translated more literally. The same practice (either offering a more literal translation in the text or having students in class explain how the more fluid translation issues from it) would also supplement the presentation of the genitive and accusative with impersonal expressions (p. 43). The presentation of the dative of possession (p.48) again omits the useful step of translating more literally; while it is often a good idea to encourage students to translate idiomatically, the absence of the initial, more literal step with this construction appears to have necessitated the note “The verb’s number depends on the number of the things being possessed” — which would have been unnecessary if the more literal translation for Cerbero sunt sex oculi, “there are six eyes to Cerberus” accompanied the idomatic “Cerberus has six eyes.” The omission of literal translations, though, can be put to good use during the initial class presentation (by requiring students to think through the process) and thus is not a significant drawback, but it may hinder students using the text on their own.

Bolchazy-Carducci publishers continues to serve the needs of fostering the learning of Classics in both lower and higher education. Since this text would lend itself to being purchased only by teachers and used solely for classroom presentations, the publisher may wish to consider issuing a version of this text that includes a CD containing all the presentations for easy electronic access. This would benefit both teachers by saving them time from scanning or making overheads and the publisher by allowing them to profit from this manner of using the text.

Finally, kudos to both the author and the publisher for the obviously careful attention to editing. Considering the enormous amount of detail contained in this text, there are very few typographical errors, most of them minor in impact. What follows are all that I could find after careful scrutiny. There is a superfluous “E” after the plus sign in the center chart on p. 67. On p. 114, two instances of decem need to be changed to tria, to concur with the accompanying translation “3,000 stars.” On p. 115, “probably” and “otherwise” would be better rendered as “either” and “or.” On pages 176, 177, 178, 181 and 182, the box describing the formation of the perfect stem is superfluous, since the pages outline the present system and no perfect forms appear. On p. 183, ‘system’ is misspelled. Rana on p. 191 should be nominative, not ablative. The negation for the indirect command should be emended from ut … non to ne on p. 238. For clarity, est should appear in the sentences exemplifying the relative clause of characteristic (p. 245). The description of the passive periphrastic in indirect statement (p. 258) would be clearer if accompanied by the direct statement ( Discipulae docendae sunt). In the appendices, p. 269 presents all forms of rogare, but the gerund and supine use amare; also, there is inconsistency in the appearance of nominative endings of the participles in the perfect passive system. Macrons are missing from the second singular and plural and first singular perfect subjunctive forms of sum on p. 274.