Re: Foreign Language Acquisition

Date: Mon Jan 24 2000 - 17:20:54 EST

Steven Miller wrote:

"I was once told, in all seriousness, by one of my Jesuit professors at
St.Louis University, that one of his professors had once given a lecture,
where half way through he quoted from some ancient Greek source, only to
accidently finish the lecture in ancient Greek. Although I have no doubt
that my professor actually believed the story he told, I've always
suspected that his anecdote was apocryphal. I have been told another
anecdote by a person (I've forgotten the source) who claimed that he had
dinner with two priests who conducted most of the dinner conversation in
ecclesiastical Latin. This anecdote I found somewhat more believable."

While the first anecdote strikes me as apocryphal, too, the second is not
only "more believable" to me, it sounds highly probable. It was not very
long ago that theological higher education for Roman Catholic orders was
done entirely in Latin: All lectures were presented in Latin, the students
raised questions in Latin, answers were in Latin, exams were in Latin, and
the exam answers were to be in Latin. This only changed a few years after
Vatian II (1962-65).

When I was invited to lecture to Jesuits studying at Alma College (i.e.,
seminary) in Los Gatos, California, about 1962, my lecture (on the Gospel
of Mark) had to be delivered in Latin. The Dean, Harry Corcoran SJ, gave
special permission for the students to question me In English, and for me
to reply in English. (Ben Meyer was my host-professor.) The luncheon
conversations at all tables but mine were in Latin.

Ben and Harry have both gone to a well-deserved reward, alas for us. Harry
was the first Jesuit to bring an entire theologate into a previously non-
Catholic faculty (the GTU, at Berkeley--secular, Anglican, and Protestant);
he even persuaded the General of the Order, Pedro Arrupe, to fly over from
Rome, then land in a helocopter on Holy Hill in Berkeley, to bless the

Edward Hobbs

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