Raconteur wrote:Then, could you propose a definition that, in your opinion, would make sense? I don't really have a good sense of how to go about this, so I'm happy to hear suggestions.
I would have already tried to propose a definition if I had one (that's why I asked for examples, to at least try to establish some baselines). My first gut feeling was to say that we don't have a 'full grasp' on any ancient language whatsoever given how much it takes to learn a modern one to claim that (in some sense). So I don't think that I would have even tried to ask this question. The best alternative would probably be trying to figure out to what extent we do know any of our "classical" ancient languages.
Learners of modern foreign languages speak in these languages by trying to copy native speakers. If there is something that you want to express in a non-native language, ideally you should have already heard a native speaker expressing the same or very similar thought, so that you could recall it and change it a little bit for your own use. Otherwise you're going to need to make some expressions of your own and hope it turns out to be understandable. What can we do to amend the situation and improve? We can ask a native speaker to correct us and suggest a better way to say the thing we wanted to say (alternatively, we can just google it), or we can keep getting input in our target language (and the available content in most of the languages people are prone to study is usually large enough to last one a lifetime) and getting new expressions, that will, hopefully, cover our needs.
Ancient languages are not amenable to these strategies. We don't have native speakers, neither we may have enough input from which we can pick up the required phrases. According to Spencer McDaniel (in the context of ancient writings):
It would be possible to read the entire surviving corpus of Greek and Roman writings within about eight months if you were to do it as a full-time job.
So we can only go so far, until we essentially start inventing the language ourselves from what we've already learned of it. I do think that for some languages (like Latin or Greek) our personal inventions (if done with proper care) wouldn't be too incomprehensible for the actual native speakers of those languages, but would they consider them natural?
sillygoose1 wrote:I would say Latin to be honest. The literature alone that we were able to conserve is incredible on its own. Ancient historic documents, poetry, legal documents, memoirs, graffiti. Plus it was heavily used during the Middle Ages up until the end of the modern era albeit with slight changes. Yes, there are still tons of materials out there in other ancient languages but I think we have enough Latin (including Harry Potter books) where it could make a comeback if it wanted.
There were no native speakers of Latin (i.e. Romans) during Middle Ages (or later), so they had to invent their own stuff (especially vocabulary). There was a wide variety of styles, many of which deviated from the classical language (and later, during the Renaissance, there was a movement to return to the classical form and purge the Latin from all the medieval innovations). What about Greek, though? It didn't disappear during the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Greek is a direct descendant of the Classical Greek, and we do have preserved writings of it as well.
On the other hand, if we only want to consider the Latin and Greek of classical antiquity, then Ancient Greek seems to be in better shape. Here's a photo of a complete set of all the books in the Loeb Classical Library:
https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-b ... 70e714f24e
The books with the green covers are in Greek, and the ones with the red covers are in Latin. You can see that the Greek collection is almost twice as big as the Latin one.