With media outlets taking notice of the unexpected success of the Pope’s tweets in Latin, a scholar conversant in the language finds it remarkable that so many are interacting in the “dead” tongue.
With 123,000 followers, @Pontifex_ln is actually seen by more Twitter users than are the Pope’s tweets in Polish, German and Arabic. Not only are the tweets being read in Latin, some users are responding in kind.
“It’s quite remarkable that the Latin Twitter account is so lively,” Dr. Timothy Noone, a philosophy professor at Catholic University of America, told CNA June 26.
“Insofar as you consider Twitter as just a new way to communicate, I’m not too surprised. What’s more surprising is how many people still feel comfortable writing the Latin language.”
“That’s a bit of a surprise, and very pleasing, actually,” added the scholar, who specializes in medieval metaphysics and epistemology, and in particular the thought of Blessed John Duns Scotus.
Twitter is used to send short messages, restricted to 140 characters. Noone said this length requirement means that tweets can be either “pretty mundane” and “everyday communication,” or “extremely profound.”
“You can say something extremely profound, but in a way that’s cryptic, like an aphorism.”
Pope Francis’ latest Latin tweet – or as Father John Zuhlsdorf has suggested, “pipatum” – reads “Domine, largire nobis gratiam plorandi indifferentem animum nostrum necnon immanitatem quae in mundo et in nobis insaeviunt.”
It is a translation of the same day’s English language tweet, “Lord, grant us the grace to weep over our indifference, over the cruelty that is in the world and in ourselves.”
The rather high level of interaction with the “pipati” counters the claim that Latin is “dead,” Noone said. He noted that he and several of his colleagues can speak the language, and that other languages which had fallen into the disuse typical of Latin have actually been revived.
He noted Irish Gaelic, which was spoken by less than three percent of Irishmen in 1922, but by nearly 40 percent today; and Hebrew, which was used only by rabbis and particularly devout Orthodox Jews, but is now the national language of Israel.
“It’s not true, what people tend to assume: namely that when a language has gotten below a certain threshold that it is impossible to revive,” Noone said. “The counter examples are pretty clear. If there is a concerted effort with will and resources it can be revived to being read, written and spoken. This can be true of Latin today.”
He said this, noting that “it would be hard to overestimate the importance of the Latin language for understanding Western culture.” Any important work of medicine, literature, poetry, philosophy, or theology written in the West from 400 to about 1450, “will have been written in Latin.”
….Benedict XVI began tweeting in December in eight languages, the most popular of which are by far Spanish and English, at 2.8 and 2.7 million followers, respectively. Papal tweets are also sent in Italian, Portuguese, and French.
Latin was added as the ninth language for Papal tweets in January, after the Vatican received letters and tweets requesting the addition.
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