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I have almost zero knowledge of Latin, but have had a crack at it using Google Translate, trying a few similar phrases, and going backwards and forwards between Latin and English to see if I can understand what's going on where it looked totally incorrect.

What I've got to eventually is:

elephanti homines sunt

I think I'm right with the nominative plural for elephants, not 100% sure I have the right declension for people, and I think sunt is also right. But as I said, this is a complete beginner's effort. A check would be greatly appreciated.

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    Welcome to the site! This is a remarkably good translation for using Google Translate, seeing as the aforementioned Google service is notorious for improper translation. I think you are fine with what you have, though some other people might have different insights. – Sam K Feb 14 '18 at 17:49
  • Thanks. As I said, I didn't just blindly accept the first thing Google spat out. I have enough experience with French and Spanish to know that Google is a bit shaky on things it hadn't seen before. Actually the breakthrough came when I asked it to translate 'gauls are people' which seemed more likely to be in its memory-banks! – Jamie Bull Feb 14 '18 at 17:52
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I like Joonas' answer, but I'd add a nuance.

Homines makes it seem like you are trying to say that elephants belong specifically to the human race. If I am right to think that you want to say elephants are somewhat rational and/or subjects of rights just as people are, I'd use either persona or the adj. rationalis, hence:

Elephantes rationales sunt or Elephantes personae sunt

The primary meaning of persona is a mask, but there are Classical examples of its use for people as opposed to things (L&S cites Cic. de Or. 3, 14, 53) and subjects of rights and obligations.

In turn, philosophical tradition dating back to Aristotle and still agreed by many today, what makes people subject of rights and duties is their potential to reason (as opposed to, say, plants). This is expressed by one of the meanings of rationalis.

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It has been said over and over again, but I repeat: Google Translate can get you started, but you are right not to trust it.

Elephas and homo are both third declension words. This means, in particular, that the plural nominative ending is not -i. (It would be if you treat it as elephantus instead of elephas, but elephas sounds more appropriate to me. Elephas is the form used in the scientific name of the Indian elephant and it is also a more "proper" loan from the Greek original.) The plurals are elephantes and homines. The singular datives would be elephanti and homini, so the forms ending in -i do exist for these words but they mean something different.

Syntactically your sentence is correct, so it remains to change the form of the elephant:

Elephantes homines sunt.

In principle you could parse this also as "people are elephants". This kind of ambiguity is almost inevitable in Latin. The word order is pretty free, but it does suggest the reading "elephants are people".

  • Interesting that it is elephas instead of elephantus, I just trusted it was the latter! – Sam K Feb 14 '18 at 18:11
  • Either exist, as well as a poetic alternative, Luca bos greekinitaly.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/… Not at all what I was expecting to be learning today! – Jamie Bull Feb 14 '18 at 18:16
  • @JamieBull Interesting! The Luca bos variant is a completely new one to me. I made a slight edit to my answer; if you pick the singular nominative elephantus, then your original suggestion is correct, but I find elephas more proper as it is a more direct loan from the Greek original. – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 14 '18 at 18:51

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