“Latin for Lay People” Focuses on Rich History of One Word
Karl Kottman has spent the past forty years translating a 17th century Portuguese classic into English.
Now, he is taking his ideas on a test run with a six-week class based on the Latin word “verbum,” which fundamentally means “word.”
“The book is an excellent example of how the Latin verb has been applied and how it has changed meanings down through the ages,” Kottman said. “It’s a very involved word and has a long history. It has changed meanings and has gotten into various works of literature and ideas in our culture.”
“Latin for Lay People: What ‘Verbum’ Really Means in Today’s English (It’s Not What You Think)” is offered through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, sponsored by UCR Extension. Osher classes are designed for adults, 50 years and older, who want to enjoy intellectually stimulating, college-level courses without worrying about tests and grades.
Kottman has been working since the 1970s on a translation of “Introductory Book to the History of the Future” by famous Portuguese author António Vieira.
The translation into English has been tricky.
“It’s not as simple as replacing one word for another, because meanings are very subtle,” Kottman said. “A lot of times there’s not an English word you can to use to display the meaning correctly. You have to be very inventive and provide lots of explanations to do it correctly.”
He plans to compare the book to others including “Huckleberry Finn” where the authors have used the word “verbum” in one way or another. Such comparisons make it easier to understand what the book is about.
Kottman first got interested in the project while he was studying philosophy at UC San Diego in the 1970s. His professor, the late Richard H. Popkin, famous historian of modern philosophy, suggested he translate the book, knowing that it would be important and knowing that no one had done it previously.
“It’s taken a long time for both me and English to change and develop to the point where it can be done,” Kottman said.
He’s hoping the course will help his students better understand the world around them.
“There are all kinds of puzzles in the world that don’t make sense unless you understand how they got that way and that isn’t always obvious,” Kottman said.
The class runs Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon beginning April 10 at the UCR Extension Center, 1200 University Ave., Riverside.
For more information about the class or about Osher classes in general go to www.extension.ucr.edu/osher/ or call (951) 827-4105.