Conventiculum Dickinsoniense: latine loquamur!

By Juan Coderch

I would like to give a short summary of my experience attending the Conventiculum Latinum at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, at the beginning of July. This is another one of my experiences with Greek and Latin as live languages (two summers ago I attended a spoken Latin course at Rome, offered by the Polis Institute of Jerusalem in combination with the Università Pontificia della Santa Croce; I have also visited Vivarium Novum, the Latin and Ancient Greek speaking college in Rome.). I’m very interested in the renaissance in teaching Latin as a spoken as well as a written language within university classrooms: it is something I have found very useful for St Andrews Latin and Greek beginners in particular over the last few years.

This Conventiculum is directed by Prof. Terence Tunberg and Dr Milena Minkova. Both of them teach at the University of Kentucky and direct the Conventiculium Kentuckiense during the second half of July, but they offer also a similar one in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the month. As the beginning of July suited me better, I decided to attend this one.

The Conventiculum takes place entirely in Latin, and it is a combination of different activities aimed at activating your live usage of Latin language. It is not a Latin learning course: you are not supposed to go there to learn how to use the gerundive; you are already supposed to know Latin (almost all of us were teachers of Latin either at university or at secondary education); it is rather a course to make you gain fluency in its active usage, to make you exteriorise actively what you already know passively (although of course you will also learn new expressions, idioms, etc.).

The range of activities was very diverse: from commenting on the content of some texts that we had previously prepared (the texts had been sent to us by e-mail around a month before the Conventiculum) to talking about different themes (travelling, classical art images displayed in front of us, etc.)—of course all of it in Latin.

There were 34 of us there. Few of the sessions took place with all of us together, because for most of them we were divided, but in two different ways: sometimes we were divided into tirones (beginners) and peritiores, and the activities carried out in each of both halves were different. It must be stressed that the division between tirones and peritiores isn’t a division between people who know more Latin and people who know less. It’s more about the level of your experience with spoken Latin: you can be in the group of tirones and know more Latin than some of the people in the peritiores because they have more experience in using it as a spoken language. Moreover, you yourself decide in which one of the two groups you want to be.

At other times we were divided into smaller groups without any distinction between tirones and peritiores (in fact taking care to mix tirones and peritiores together), so that each of us could have more chances of joining in with the activity in our small group.

The day began with all of us meeting at the dining hall for breakfast, where our ‘only-Latin-spoken’ day began; then, after the ientaculum, we met in a large classroom that was a kind of ‘operations base’, where we received the instructions (latine, scilicet) from Terence and Milena) and then we went to our group and started the activities. Activities went on until lunch (latine, scilicet), with short breaks from time to time, and then in the afternoon until around 6 pm.

The ‘only-Latin’ technique was applied not only inside the classroom, but also outside. Arte solum latine loquendi utebamur non tantum in conclave sed etiam extra conclavem. All of us were living in the same building, a residence that during the academic year is used for students, and any conversation that took place when passing in the corridor etc. took place in Latin; also, ut supra dixi, during breakfast and lunch we spoke only Latin in the dining hall of the college. Even walking down the street and having dinner in town we went on talking Latin. In one restaurant somebody sitting at a table nearby asked us what language we were talking and was very surprised by the answer. Of course, we had to speak some English: Fer mihi, quaeso, Neapolitanam placentam probably wouldn’t work for ordering a Neapolitan pizza in Pennsylvania…

One of the nicest things of all was meeting in the evening in the common entrance of the residence (there was a kind of common sitting area with some armchairs) to read and comment on the text that we were supposed to talk about on the next day—not as part of the official activities of the Conventiculum: I think that’s a good sign of how committed everyone was.

Et, ut finem faciam, hoc dicam: at one point I asked Terence and Milena whether, in their normal professional contact apart from the Conventiculum they spoke between them in Latin or in English—for example during the winter at the University of Kentucky—they said that they have never talked to each other in English except when there are other people present: they have talked to each other in Latin only for years and years.

Sunt qui appellent linguam Latinam ‘linguam mortam’. Nonne oporteret ‘linguam immortalem’ eam appellare?

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