Agrippīna māter fortis: A New Latin Novella

Agrippīna māter fortis is the latest addition to the “Pisoverse” novellas (i.e. Pīsō Ille Poētulus, and Rūfus et arma ātra), only now Piso and Rufus’ mother gets the spotlight! Agrippina wears dresses and prepares dinner like other Roman mothers, but she has a secret—she is strong, likes wearing armor, and can fight just like her husband! Can she keep this secret from her family and friends? 

The novella is currently written with 73 unique words (n.b. Rūfus has 40, and Pīsō 108). Agrippīna is an engaging read, like Rūfus, but almost as long as Pīsō (n.b. Rūfus has ~1440 total words, Agrippīna ~2700, and Pīsō ~2935), making the density of unique words repeated in different contexts much higher. Stephen Krashen told me that a “density” metric didn’t really matter as much as compelling content. My wife, who doesn’t read Latin btw, couldn’t wait to finish the last two chapters of Agrippīna! That’s a good barometer! In addition to compelling content, we know that fewer words contribute to a sense of confidence while reading (for student feedback on the matter, see this post over at The Inclusive Latin Classroom). While Rūfus could be read within the first months of Latin I, Agrippīna can surely follow later in the year, although older students will enjoy confidence from reading something with ease

As this year comes to a close, I’m asking that you take a look at the first half of the novella, maybe run off a class copy (or project it and read through), and then get back to me with ways to improve it. Asterisks indicate where I intend to establish meaning within the text as a footnote. I’ll be editing it in June, and it should be ready before the next school year. Enjoy!

Click here to access the first 6 chapters (of 12) for previewing/piloting.

Syntax Synonyms: Don’t Fear the Subjunctive

The subjunctive is usually regarded as a more advanced grammatical concept, the very mention of which can give students crippling anxiety, but EFF that—it’s not.

To begin with, in a grammatical syllabus, the subjunctive is simply unnecessarily delayed. In Lingua Latīna per sē Illustrāta, for example, it doesn’t appear until chapter 28 of 35, and in Ecce Rōmānī not until chapter 42 of 68. Given enrollment figures, it’s clear that most students don’t even encounter the subjunctive before dropping Latin in conventional programs! The reality of language and communication (yes, reading is a form of communicating—interpretation), however, is that the subjunctive is much more frequent, and can actually be less difficult to process!

What the…?!

Yep, facts. Because we can establish meaning of a subjunctive phrase with an English equivalent, syntax isn’t really more or less difficult per se. When it comes to processing speed, however, we know that shorter messages are easier to understand (i.e. a message with 10 words is more likely to be understood by the novice than a message with 20 words). Shorter, then, is simpler and less difficult when it comes to input, and the difference between short/simple and long/complex isn’t necessarily a matter of what our textbooks taught us to be “more advanced” syntax. Consider these pairs:

ut habeatso that she has
quia vult habēre = because she wants to have

nē habeatso that she doesn’t have
quia habēre nōn vult = because she doesn’t want to have

In the examples above, “ut/nē + subjunctive” phrases used to express purpose/result can be substituted with “quia vult + infinitive.” These pairs are often years apart in conventional curricula, but note how the subjunctive phrases contain fewer words to process. The subjunctive examples are actually simpler messages than what conventional teachers consider “basic syntax!”

As teachers, our perception of “basic” and “more advanced” is significantly skewed by our knowledge ABOUT language, so it’s gonna take some rethinking to have an inclusive communicative classroom based on compelling CI, which levels the playing field of difficulty. Even my recent TESOL training reminded me that teachers should never, ever use the words “easy” or “hard” when introducing something. Take Richie’s title of Fābulae Facilēs ( = Easy Stories). Those stories are supposed to be easy—FOR WHOM, though?

So, Syntax Synonyms can be helpful in different ways depending on your situation. If you’re simplifying existing Latin (e.g. Tiered, Embedded, or Recycled Readings) for conventional students who fear the subjunctive purpose clause, just substitute “quia vult + infinitive” in order to make their reading more comprehensible. If your students are already familiar with “quia vult + infinitive,” you can start introducing the subjunctive immediately! One technique I appreciated from Terence Tunberg at the summer conventicula was his constant rephrasing of statements and questions in at least two different ways. Not only did it allow us all more time to process what he said, but it often meant the difference between Comprehensible and Incomprehensible Input, even if the second or third variation just included more familiar vocabulary.

This simple strategy of repeating a question or statement is a great time to use Syntax Synonyms, and would provide a broader “net” of input. Since we know that all learners have different acquisition rates, some of them will be ready to pick up those syntactical structures long before any textbook would introduce them, so don’t fear the subjunctive and use both! Here are other pairs of common Syntax Synonyms for the subjunctive. Not all make for shorter/simpler messages, but they certainly add to the “net” of input.

cum habeat = since she has
quia habet = because she has

dubitō sit = I doubt that she is
nōn crēdō eam esse = I don’t believe she is

imperat ut eat orders that she go
iubet eam īre = orders her to go

cum īvissetwhen she had gone
postquam īvit = after she went

habeāmus! let’s have!
quīn habēmus? = why don’t we have?


Rūfus et arma ātra: A New Latin Novella

**Update 3.15.17 – Rufus has been published!**

Rūfus et arma ātra is a spin-off of Pīsō Ille Poētulus written with ONLY 40 words—the lowest word count of currently published novellas! Rūfus is simple, funny, and can be read a) after Pīsō once students have a connection to the character, or b) before Pīsō early on in Latin I. At the end of November, most of my Latin I students read Rūfus over just a few days of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR); some read it within the first 15min!

Click here to access the first 3 chapters (of 7) for previewing/piloting.

In the preview, you’ll recognize some illustrations from Pīsō. Over 50 of them, both old and new, will be used to aid comprehension in the final version of Rūfus. I’ll be editing the book in February for publication in March, so contact me with any suggestions you and/or your students might have by the end of January.

p.s. Rūfus was inspired by Mira Canion’s El capibara con botas containing just 55 Spanish words. The book was a breeze and a blast to read, and I knew that Latin students needed something like this. Granted, the word count figure excludes a lot of Spanish cognates (twice as many?), but that seems to be the industry standard practice. For Pīsō, however, I strayed from this practice and instead chose to include cognates in the word count figure of 108, since I don’t believe cognates are necessarily transparent, and excluded the ~30 additional meanings established in footnotes. Similarly, Rūfus has just ~10 additional meanings established in footnotes. If that reckoning irritates you, it’s fine to say that while Pīsō has under 150, Rūfus has under 50 words—a figure still worthy of note!

We don’t teach grammar? Oooooh, sure we do…

I’m working on the Teacher’s Guide to Pīsō Ille Poētulus, and thought I’d share exactly what the practice “shelter vocabulary, unshelter grammar” looks like. To begin with, the conventional language teacher has crippling anxiety at the apparent lack of grammar in my classroom, but oooooh is it there, and oooooh is it understandable. The major difference in a comprehension-based communicative classroom like mine, however, is that grammar just isn’t taught explicitly, though pop-up explanations abound (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word have a ‘-t‘ on it?”).

The reason my students don’t need explicit grammar instruction to understand Latin is because a) conscious grammar knowledge isn’t necessary to read Latin (or ANY language), b) internal learner constraints prevent students from noticing grammar features before they are ready, and c) grammar syllabi are sequenced in artificial ways that don’t match the order of what students are ready for. Instead of explicit grammar teaching and the grammar syllabus, students need a net of input, and that net has to be HUGE so that something particular that any given student at any given moment of time is ready to soak up is actually floating around in the input (and not just 3 person singular for 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months, etc.).

Students who read Pīsō are exposed to a broad net of grammar. Oh, and there are some cultural topics in the target language, too. Here’s what you’ll find JUST in Chapter 1—the first 4 pages of Pīsō…

Grammar (as organized in the National Latin Exam (NLE) syllabi)

1st Rōma, poēta, mēnsa, littera, syllabae
2nd nōmen, puer, Vergilius, Rūfus, arma, amphitheātrum, verbum
3rd Pīsō, māter, mīles, pater, frāter, carmen, gladiātor, Aenēis
4th versus

Nominative: subject and predicate puer Rōmānus sum, Pīsō nōn loquitur, Rūfus nōn laetus est
Genitive:       possession versus Vergiliī
Dative:           indirect object mihi nōn placet, Rūfō nōn placet, mātrī nōn placet
                         possession nōmen mihi est, nōmen frātrī est
Accusative:   direct object mē audit, versūs scrībunt, carmina canunt, versum nōn scrīpsī, habetne arma? eum vocat, eum nōn videt
                         extent of time annōs octō nātus sum, nōn nātus sum trēs annōs
Ablative:        object of prepositions ā/ab mēnsā, ad mēnsam, dē poētīs, dē carmine, in urbe, in amphitheātrō
Vocative:       direct address Rūfe

Appositive    vult esse mīlitem
Diminutives poētulus

personal:            ego, mē, mihi, tibi
interrogative:    Cūr, Quid, Quōcum
demonstrative: eum, ille, is

1st/2nd declension Rōmānus, parvus, magnus, bonus, meus, tuus, laetus, prīmus, sōlus, pulcher
noun/adjecetive agreement puer Rōmānus, puer parvus, poēta magnus, puer bonus, versūs pulchrōs, carmina pulchra, versus pulcher, versus meus, versus tuus,  pulchrum verbum, versus prīmus

numbers:            cardinals trēs, octō

Adverbs:             ecce, ergō, iam, nōn, sīcut

Conjunctions:   et, neque…neque…, quia, sed

Enclitics:          -ne, -que

Interrogative Particle: nōnne

1st habitāre, pugnāre, vocāre
2nd salvēre, dēbēre, habēre, vidēre, rīdēre
3rd agere, scrībere, canere
4th audīre

imperative:   present active salvē!
indicative:     present active habitō, dēbet, agunt, scrībunt, canunt, habetne? pugnatne? vocat, videt, scrībō, rīdet
                          perfect active scrīpsī, scrīpsit, audīvistīne?
infinitive:      present active esse, scrībere
irregular:        esse (present est, sum, imperfect erat)
                            velle (present volō, vīs, vult)
                            īre (present it)

deponents     loqueris, loquitur, nātus sum
impersonal    placet, placent

Metrics and Poetic Devices:
scansion and terms associated with dactylic hexameter dactyl, elision, spondee


Culture (as organized in the National Latin Exam (NLE) syllabi)

Geography:  Roman world Rōma

Roman Life: Entertainment gladiatorial combats
                          Military mīles, arma
                          Roman household frāter, māter, pater

History:          Prominent persons from Early Empire Vergilius

Authors:         Epic Vergilius