I’m intrigued whenever there’s mention of “bad Latin.” Honestly, I’ve never experienced it, even from my students! I was curious whether a similar phenomenon exists for a modern language, so I asked my wife if she’s ever referred to any Spanish she’s read as “bad.” Although she couldn’t recall a particular case, indeed there seemed to be two situations in which she might say this; if something is inaccurate, or too simple.
As for the latter, for something to be labeled “too simple” you must correctly identify the target audience’s level. People who refer to “bad Latin” are overestimating the audience level. This should come as no shock since realistic goals are not Classicists’ strong suit. Furthermore, we know that reading below one’s level can be enjoyable, and instills confidence. Our students need both of these.
(I edited the following paragraph after responding to a comment in an effort to align more closely with my original point that became muddled when I used the word “nuance” in a silly way.)
As for the former, inaccuracies refer to non-native-like use (i.e. a modern SLA term VanPatten uses in place of “incorrect”) of language. There isn’t really good or bad language when it comes to comprehension. Instead, there is more or less understandable language, and that call is made by the interpreter. Cicero is not understandable to Novice students, and they don’t care how flawless his Latin is. Cicero’s ideas delivered in a less native-like manner using appropriately sheltered vocabulary, however, can be understandable to Novice students. It’s worth noting that the level of non-native-like use could contain glaring errors (i.e. canem ambulate = to walk the dog), or innocuous ones (e.g. canem ambulare = to walk the dog). The idea that non-native-like uses makes something “bad” is in favor of correctness over communication. Regardless of inaccurate or simple Latin:
I did not improve my Latin by NOT reading Latin. The abundance of perfect yet confusing Latin as well as the absence of understandable Latin did nothing for my fluency.
I studied Latin for 7 years yet failed to read even the “easiest” authors without consulting a grammar book, commentary, and lexicon. This comes from my experience as a highly motivated student, but what about other learners who are less willing to drudge through Latin written in the style of the Classical canon, yet remain just as capable to acquire the language?
Believe it or not, but there’s only one Latin novel that ALL first year students can read, and it was published in 2015. We need more reading materials at this level. Unless these materials contain countless egregious errors in form, we’re OK. Any inaccurate use of certain words and syntax (e.g. “ambulare canem” for “walks the dog”) have very little negative impact on Novice readers. The books are written to students’ level of sheltered vocabulary, which might not include a particular word that creates a perfect Latin idiom. So, “bad Latin” doesn’t really exist for the Novice audience, which tends to attract the most criticism. It’s worth noting that Harrius Potter, and Hobbitus Ille don’t fit the bill since their reading level is way beyond Novice. It takes multiple embedded readings to read just portions of those works for students within the first 1-4 years of Latin.
So, have you read “bad Latin?” Chances are good that you’ve misunderstood for whom it’s written. Have you found inaccuracies in published Latin written for Novice or Intermediate learners that you feel are crippling to the learner? Why not contact the author and begin a dialogue about why you think so?