Adventures in Orthography and Transcription

Lately I’ve started copying out by hand the texts of Familia Romana and Italian Athenaze, complete with macrons, and full diacritics (including marking vowel lengths on alpha, iota, upsilon) in Greek.

I was prompted to do so by hearing from a few people how valuable they had found the former activity (both in A Strange Odyssey, and also Lucius Noster has said the same about Familia Romana).

When I tell people this, they consider it rather strange. What on earth is the pedagogic value of copying out whole passages of text? And how does this fit my own pedagogy and understanding of SLA?

My short answer is just: spelling.

But, more than that, the relationship between spelling and accurate pronunciation of Latin and Greek. It’s entirely possible to learn languages without becoming, or even using, literacy skills. However, given that vowel length and accent are features of these languages, they are features that ought to be learnt properly. Now, good oral input will do that – if you regularly hear Latin words with correct vowel length and appropriate stress, then you’ll be fine. But, even though I often have a good intuition for this in Latin, and less so but to some extent in Greek, I am often unsure when writing.

Hence the writing project – by considering diacritical marks not ‘optional’ but essential to my learning as a second-language-learner, I am compelling myself to learn these features in my literacy. Which will improve my writing ability. And spill over, to some extent, to my speaking ability.

So, we’ll see. It’s an experiment, to become a more self-conscious writer of ancient languages, and thus a more accurate speaker.

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