Grammar and Multilingualism

Roger Bacon, Opus Maius III.1:

“There are five things, without which neither divine nor human affairs can be known, the certain understanding of which makes us more prepared to understand everything else. The first of these is Grammar laid out in other languages, from which emanated the wisdom of the Latins. For, without having knowledge of other languages, it is impossible that the Latins could have come to those conclusions which are necessary in divine and human studies, nor would their wisdom have achieved such a high degree of perfection in the absolute sense, nor as it is related to God’s church and the other three things discussed earlier. I wish to declare this now even in the first respect of knowledge in the absolute sense. All of our sacred text was derived from Greek and Hebrew, and philosophy was derived from both these sources and from Arabic. But it is impossible for the peculiar quality of a language to be preserved in another. The idioms of one language differ among its dialects, as is plain in the case of the Gallic language, which possesses an endless variety of idioms among the Gauls, the Picards, the Normans, and the Burgundians. That which is properly said according to the idiom of the Picards would send a shiver down a Burgundian’s back, and would even discomfort a Gaul (though they are neighbors). How much more will this occur among different languages? Therefore, whatever is well wrought in one language can not be transferred into another without losing the peculiar quality which it possessed in the original.”

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Et sunt quinque, sine quibus nec divina nec humana sciri possunt, quorum certa cognitio reddit nos faciles ad omnia cognoscenda. Et primum est Grammatica in linguis alienis exposita, ex quibus emanavit sapientia Latinorum. Impossibile enim est, quod Latini perveniant ad ea quae necessaria sunt in divinis et humanis, nisi notitiam habeant aliarum linguarum, nec perficietur eis sapienta absolute, nec relate ad ecclesiam Dei et reliqua tria praenominata. Quod volo nunc declarare, et primo respectu scientiae absolutae. Nam totus textus sacer a Graeco et Hebraeo transfusus est, et philosophia ab his et Arabico deducta est; sed impossibile est quod proprietas unius linguae servetur in alia. Nam et idiomata eiusdem linguae variantur apud diversos, sicut patet de lingua Gallicana, quae apud Gallicos et Picardos et Normannos et Burgundos multiplici variatur idiomate. Et quod proprie dicitur in idiomate Picardorum horrescit apud Burgundos, immo apud Gallicos viciniores: quanto igitur magis accidet hoc apud linguas diversas? Quapropter, quod bene factum est in una lingua, non est possibile ut transferatur in aliam secundum eius proprietatem quam habuerit in priori.

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