Brian T. Regan, 24.08.2008 06:38
German scholarship has long been observed — often invidiously — in its length, breadth and depth to be either the world’s very best or at least among the topmost in many fields. In my experience, this is especially true in the field of Latin lexicography. Whether one compares the Langenscheidt, the PONS, or the (Austrian) Stowasser dictionaries with any similarly priced English-language lexicon, the German-speaking American Latinist will always prefer a German over an English one. One reason is that the German compilers’ inclusion of medieval meanings in many entries is sadly lacking in virtually all British and American dictionaries, to say nothing of the neologisms required in our age of high technology and varied cultures. And as regards the classical period of Latinity, only the quite expensive Oxford Latin Dictionary provides an advanced level of scholarship in English.
In comparing moderately priced German dictionaries among themselves, one is frequently hard pressed to prefer one over the other. The Stowasser (1993) shows the actual Greek forms whence many Latin words were borrowed, and has an admirable twenty-five page history of the Latin language from its origins to the present, along with an appendix of Latin concepts and phrases, not to mention the usual systems of dates, numbers and abbreviations. The PONS (2003) and the Langenscheidt (Großes Schulwörterbuch, 2001) both present lemmata in bold, sans-serif type of blue color, thereby making them easily distinguishable from normal text. Moreover, the PONS includes an extensive wordlist of Neolatin words (e.g., “computatrum,” for “computer”) which can be quite helpful when reading texts written by modern authors. (Who would have guessed that “pantopolium” would be used for “supermarket”?) A small war is currently being waged among Latinists on both sides of the Atlantic over which Latin expressions most appropriately correspond to words and phrases in modern languages, and the PONS addendum is adding fuel to the fire — an extremely beneficial act, since we need to get the best scholarship available fired up to involve itself in this arduous task.
If, however, I were compelled to choose but one smaller Latin dictionary to take with me into exile on the moon, it would be the Langescheidt. This is because of the major advantage it has over all of the other dictionaries, whether German or English: it gives apt German translations for every single one of the examples listed under all headwords. This is a great help to those of us who are trying to speak Latin, and not merely to read it as if the language were the preserve of antiquarians. In most American high schools, community colleges and universities, the Latin teachers are, insanely, unable to speak the language they are supposedly teaching. Such self-contradiction would be unthinkable for teachers of German, French, Spanish or any other modern language, and leads directly to the murder of Latin. No wonder many contemporaries disparage it as “dead”! But with Langenscheidt’s full modern translations of every usage example, the aspiring speaker of this ancient tongue is given much-needed assistance in understanding the normative, classical essence of innumerable terms.
One could only wish that the wonderful and farsighted publishers at Langenscheidt would have this dictionary translated into English. It would be the fulfillment of an American Latin-speaker’s dream.
Brian T. Regan, Ph.D.
Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A.