6

So, I'm in the USA, looking to teach my kids Latin, and casting about at different programs. What I'm noticing is that most, if not all, elementary-age Latin books (I'm talking about, say, third grade level) omit macrons, whereas high-school and college-level texts generally include them. I find that bizarre, since macrons are a significant aid to the student. Why would textbook authors for young children leave them out?

[EDIT] I've now seen a few that include them, but still quite a few that don't. It is a mystery to me.

7

I agree that macrons are useful, but I can also see some reasons why others might oppose them. Here are some possible reasons to leave macrons out (with my comments):

  1. Real-life Latin texts typically do not contain macrons. A student should learn to read a text without their aid. (This is a valid point, but not so much for elementary courses.)
  2. Adding the macrons to the text manually is a good exercise. This is something they will eventually have to do mentally when encountering real-life texts. (This I actually agree with. This assumes that the word lists provided in the textbook contain macrons even if the texts don't. And if morphology or vocabulary is taught without macrons, there is no way to learn the correct lengths.)
  3. Macrons can make the text harder and slower to read. The text looks less cluttered in the absence of macrons. (A foreign language is slow and hard to read anyway. Macrons make parsing some things easier and can actually speed up the process. When you become more fluent, macrons can slow you down by visual cluttering, but this will not happen in an introductory course.)
  4. Macrons might not be seen as relevant enough. Perhaps it's better for students to focus on something else. (Personally I disagree! Learning vowel lengths correctly from the start is important. I would really hate someone telling me that every vowel actually has a specific length, but nobody had told me before my third year of Latin. At least I would like to make the choice to omit them myself.)
  5. Macrons can be technically hard to produce in print. (When it comes to producing a textbook, complaining that it takes effort to make the book more useful comes across unprofessional. It takes some work, but it's not really that hard. This may not have been so in all eras in the past, though.)
  6. Perhaps some see Latin with macrons as somehow impure. If you were taught that the only correct Latin is the kind without any such decorations, wouldn't you want to pass it on in its proper and high form? (I disagree. Learning with macrons help get a better grip of texts written without them. Purity arguments are not pedagogically convincing.)
  7. There is no point in pronouncing Latin in the first place. If you learn to read old texts, why bother? (Some students might want to speak as well, and the teacher or the textbook author shouldn't make the decision on their behalf. The written and spoken forms also support each other, even if the eventual goal is reading skill. Moreover, classical literature was originally enjoyed by reading it out loud. For the genuine experience you need to be able to pronounce.)
  • 2
    +1 for your counter-argument to point 4. This was exactly my experience and it was frustrating, to say the least. – Penelope Mar 3 '18 at 1:42
  • 2
    Thank you, that was illuminating. I think you've about covered all arguments for or against. My own opinion right now is that beginner programs should include them, but I'm also fine with more advanced programs leaving them out. – Adrian Keister Mar 3 '18 at 3:01
  • 2
    @AdrianKeister I added one more point (7). I strongly disagree with it, but I wanted to have it in for the sake of completeness. I agree with you, but in my opinion even in advanced programs macrons should be used when teaching morphology and vocabulary. In texts the students can reconstruct the macrons, but it's impossible when seeing a new word or form. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 3 '18 at 11:28
  • So far in my learning I just cannot see the relevance of macrons, and I think point 7 is the strongest element of all, namely, that to read Latin texts these are not needed. Maybe I'm too pessimistic but I have no prospects of speaking Latin with anyone, being little to no interest on it in my country. I am still yet to see (and a post about that would be very interesting) strong reasons why one should spend resources on learning them, if they are not even mentioned in most of the Latin's beginners material I've seen. – luchonacho May 9 '18 at 12:46
  • @luchonacho I have yet to see beginners' material in Finland without macrons. I assume there are big cultural differences there. At least I want to be able to pronounce what I see, and if I don't know vowel lengths I can't really pronounce (which might be a symptom of speaking Finnish), and I don't consider learning quantity to be a significant effort. And if you ever read poetry, quantity is going to be important. But I can understand well where you're coming from. Learning quantities it not important to all. It depends on our goals. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 9 '18 at 15:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.