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Feb. 24th, 2017

Image result for latin scribe manuscripts
We are the new scribes. To Macron or Not to Macron, That is the Question--no doubt. It is a question that comes up quite a lot, and it came up again today.

A discussion began privately (small group email) regarding how to add macrons when typing in MS Word. Various people suggested this keyboard or that, but I piped in with how to map keystrokes to make it easy to type.  Here is how to do it for those who still don't know how:

You need to assign keys to the macrons.  I use  ALT plus the vowel.  ALT plus SHIFT plus the vowel for capital vowels.

So do this:

Go to:



MORE SYMBOLS & find the letter you want. THEN choose

SHORTCUT KEY (bottom left button)

in the "Press new shortcut key" press ALT plus A (for a lower case long a), then


Now you can just hit that combination of keys and the letter appears.

I can type almost at full speed with this.

But then someone I love and respect threw in his two denarii that he doesn't use macrons. And while I respect his view and know I will never change his view, I'm always thinking about the new teacher or person I can influence. So I wrote this in return:

... I fully believe in the importance of learning the sound of each word of Latin that enters my head, and the macrons are just representations of those sounds. I don't need them for the cases; those are totally internalized. But when I meet a new word--which for our students is ALL THE TIME--I want to be able to look at that word and, because I know the rules for dividing and accenting words, be able to know immediately what that word SOUNDS like and to fix it in my head.

Children can ask parents how to pronounce English words. I can ask my Merriam Webster app to even pronounce words for me.  But Cicero isn't here, and in my room I am supposed to be the authority. I am supposed to be modeling the best Latin I possibly can. I have heard presenters at conferences mispronounce words putting the accent on the wrong syllable because they weren't aware of (or, dare I say, didn't care about?) a long vowel.  And it isn't a long vowel, remember; it's the way the word SOUNDED--and it can and does change where you accent a word if it is in that penultimate syllable.

I certainly have friends and colleagues who are more fluent than I am conversationally. (I was never good at small talk, and always went to bed earlier than others at Rusticatio.)  I like to listen to Latin though. I like to read it aloud too.  And I want to sound as Roman as I possibly know how. I did dramatic interps for JCL in high school, which I'm sure influenced me. But I was also influence by the great Rick LaFleur in this regard (see what he says on pronunciation in Wheelocks), and I notice that Nancy Ll. and Justin SB ALWAYS (or certainly almost always) include macrons.

The more words I *fix* in my own head, the easier it is to read without them when a text doesn't have them. I don't rely on them like a crutch and I tell my students why I always have macrons on materials and how they too should be fixing how the words sound in their own minds. Or trust that when they had macrons in front of them, that they were, even inadvertently, building a proper mental representation of that word so that when the macrons aren't there they can trust their gut instinct on the word.

For teachers who think of this as an onerous task, I say to just take it a word at a time. Reading aloud with thought and care and really "tasting the words" as I believe Rex Harrison once said (his argument against speed reading) is half of it. Taking an extra few seconds to check a dictionary on the words you are unsure of is the other half. And while the macronizer isn't bad, I would never rely on it.

New teachers and those of you who train teachers, this is important. When I was first teaching middle school Latin, I started by deciding that I would do my best to master those words used in the textbook, and I would master those sounds with each new set of vocabulary I introduced.  I learned with the students. You often do--that is, as a teacher you often learn a lot of your trade while teaching. There are many, many things not taught at universities, or things that are unimportant to professors who are more concerned with the subject of their research (not being critical, just observant). But we are entering a new age of Latin teaching, where incorporating speaking proficiencies to help develop reading proficiencies is becoming of greater importance than ever before. There is no more critical time to CARE about how Latin sounds and why we have macrons. And yes, Romans didn't need them because they WERE fluent, they WERE able to ask mom and dad and their teachers how to properly pronounce a word just like we are able to in English. And since we can't surround our students 24/7 with quality spoken Latin, we do what we can to make sure their INPUT is quality.

So I include macrons, practice a little divide & accent from time to time, and tell them that when they read Latin, they should either read aloud or HEAR IT in their heads.