Learning Latin Inductively

It seems certain to me now that students must learn Latin grammar inductively, within the context of reading or speaking. Grammar occurs always within the flawed and fluid process of articulation, and only there does it make sense.  In math abstraction is the key to understanding.  y=2x+5 is somehow more real than the line you graph by it.  But to learn grammar is not to uncover the unifying system beneath a concrete superstructure, it is rather to make observations about an indefinite and mutable phenomenon.  Humans spoke thus, and usually in such patterns—who knows why?  Only our imagination can utter the formula.  Why would I have spoken thus?  How does my partaking in the eternal act of speech assent to the peculiar speech of the ancients?  The same goes for modern language, of course, since we are almost always merely partakers and not innovators.  The ever-changing nature of our race changed language, and so what we observe as we walk in the forests of articulation tells us about ourselves individually and communally.  No morphological forewarning spares me the strangeness of that self-discovery.  Anyhow, the point is that, in language, abstraction puts a veil over the eyes rather than enlightening them.  The student doesn’t see what is simply there in the words.  Those of us who have been here before should guide through the woods, pointing out the features of the trees and noting the patterns—but we cannot guard against encounters with the inexplicable and the bizarre.  These are the groves and hollows of speech, as they are of history.


Latin’s Fertile Verbs

I have a working hypothesis, neither confirmed nor suitably counterargued by any very good research on my part, that Latin is a distinctively action-oriented, as opposed to a name-oriented language.  That is, verbs dominate, rather than nouns.  Not being a student of any non-romance language other than my own, I can’t compare personally, but I take as likely factual what Ezra Pound says about Chinese being an excellent language for poetry in that it can “throw images” better than many others, and this because its words are much closer to actual pictures.  The Chinese-speaking mind visualizes more directly, perhaps.  I would think that such a language would be predominated by nouns, and that verbs would be more derivative.  E.g. “climb” is formed from “the thing you do to mountains.”  Such a language prefers to name things.

Latin, of course, names things as well.  That is part of language.  But it prefers verbs.  Latin’s verbs are immensely versatile, applicable in many different ways, and most importantly, productive of numerous derivative forms.  It isn’t totally clear what ancient Latin/Proto-Italic-speakers “pictured” when they used the word ago.  Our lexicons equate it to “do,” “drive,” “act,” “discuss,” “stir up,” or even “steal.”  But the derivative forms are endless.  Perigo, litigo, cogo, castigo, fumigo, navigo, prodigo… And our modern languages are in severe debt to ago derivatives.  Yet, what precisely is it?  There are a great number of these types of verbs.  Facio, of course, and do.   There are many more that show up constantly in derivative form.  I have an idea that Latin study should begin with the internalization of these “fertile verbs.”  A student should be as familiar with them as with the English do.  They should start using Latin ago when it really is the best word in all-English situations.  Then they should be drilled on Latin prepositions until they can’t get them out of their minds.  Afterward they could be taught to synthesize derivative verbs.  “It’s like ago, only circum,” etc.  They would be thinking Latin-speakers thoughts after them, modifying words into ever-longer forms to cram them into everyday situations (or in the case of much Medieval Latin, theological situations).  After that, they could be held more responsible for learning names of things.  Latin speakers themselves seem to have been often bored by the names of things, content as they were to leave so many nouns in the monotonous 1st and 2nd Declensions…