Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Listening to Latin

I heard the most amazing theory yesterday.

Here's the background to this story: nobody knows what a dead language sounds like. Take Latin, for instance. People know the alphabet, vocabulary, and grammar of Latin, but nobody knows exactly how the words were pronounced. Sure, we have some excellent guesses, but there are not any native speakers of Latin anymore to ask how to pronounce "sic semper tyrannis" or "veni vidi vici."

A scientist recently came up with a theory to be able to listen to an actual person speaking Latin. His theory involves ancient Roman pottery. The way the Romans made pottery is important to explain here. They would take the wet clay and put it on a turn table. A stylus would then touch the side of the shaped clay to make little grooves around and around the pot to make little decorative markings. If some worker was speaking at the same time that the stylus was working its way around, it would cause teeny-tiny micro-vibrations in the grooves of the pot, similar to an LP record. The trick is now to figure out a way to translate those vibrations into sounds while canceling out the flaws in the ancient clay and the other sounds of the shop to be able to hear the workers.

I wonder what you would hear? Probably some things like "Hey Tiberius! Pass me that rope!" or "Work harder Quintus!" This might also be a good way to learn some Latin swear words.

1 comment:

Kathy Haynie said...

Haha - I thought this was a good post to go along with the title to Lisa's post today. Her title sounds sort of like a Latin phrase.