Wednesday, April 23, 2008

txting the fall of the rome

One of the fun things to do in museums is to try to read and decipher ancient inscriptions. Just knowing Latin or Greek is not enough, because of the extensive use of abbreviations in monumental inscriptions. Marble being an expensive material on which to write, the messages needed to be brief. Take for example, a milestone from the Via Trajana in Italy from the early second century CE. First is the original message, second is the unabbreviated version in Latin, and third is an English translation:

LXXIX
IMP CAESAR
DIVI NERVAE F
NERVA TRAIANVS
AVG GERM DACIC
PONT MAX TR POT
XIII IMP VI COS V
P P
VIAM A BENEVENTO
BRVNDISIVM PECVN
SVA FECIT

LXXIX
Imperator Caesar
divi Nervae filius
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus Germanicus Dacicus
pontifex maximus tribunitia potestate
XIII imperator VI consul V
pater patriae
viam a Benevento
Brundisium pecunia
sua fecit.

79
The emperor Caesar,
son of the deified Nerva,
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus, victor over the Germans and the Dacians,
chief priest,
holder of the tribunician power 13 times, saluted emperor 6 times, consul 5 times,
father of his country,
made the road from Beneventum
to Brindisium
at his own expense.

[From Lawrence Keppie (1991) Understanding Roman Inscriptions, pp.65-6.]

So, it occurred to me, that the Roman Empire fell, not because of lead poisoning, moral turpitude, or invading Goths and Vandals, but as a result of their language being diluted and degraded by a plague not unlike text messaging abbreviations. This also explains how the noble tongue Latin devolved into the barbarous jargons that are Italian, French, Provençal, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Romantsh, and Romanian. (Published on the InterWeb earlier. And a tip of an iceberg to Professor Pullum over in the UK for posting this and jogging my memory.)

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3 Comments:

Blogger goofy said...

This is also why the Muslims did not stay in Spain and Portugal - not enough vowels.

April 24, 2008 at 6:29 AM  
Blogger bulbul said...

Actually, goofy, I postulate that that is exactly the reason why they moved to Iberia: they must have felt right at home.

April 27, 2008 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Kalleh said...

I am sure that Lynne Truss would completely agree with your analysis, z. Funny!

May 1, 2008 at 9:31 AM  

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