Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Speaking of early history...

...I have recently been introduced to Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog: The outlandish, the anomalous and the curious from the last five thousand years.

It looks like it will be fun. If you're curious look at the latest post, World’s last Latin speakers in Africa?

Here is an excerpt:

Beachcombing guesses that the latest Latin speakers were those on the outskirts of the collapsing Empire, where there was the need to keep Latin ‘proper’, while these often bilingual invariably barbarian communities grasped onto their fading Roman identity as the world went soggy around them. As such the bilingual inscriptions of sixth- and seventh-century Wales (Irish-Latin) are interesting because the Latin there seems to show characteristics of a spoken language. And this at a date when the Romance languages were becoming increasingly unlatin-like.

For Beachcombing though an even more exciting reference appears in the work of Muhammad Al Idrisi in the mid twelfth century. Al Idrisi, an Andalusan Arab writer, wrote in A Diversion for the Man Longing to Travel to Far-Off Places – a work best known for carrying the earliest reference to Italian pasta – that the inhabitants of Gafsa in what is today Tunisia ‘are Berberised and the majority speak African Latin’. Could these have been the last Latin speakers in the world? It is a nice story, but Al Idrisi then gives the name of the town spring as tarmīd (a word still used today) that does not sound particularly Ciceronian…

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