08 February 2010
We have all been too grateful to Horace for introducing the phrase dulce et utile (actually, he never put it that way; his exact words in Ars Poetica 343-44 were "Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, lectorem delectando pariterque monendo") that we forget that he was wrong in condemning mixed language writing. In his criticism of Lucilius, Horace argues that monolingualism is superior to multilingualism. As Anna Chahoud explains, "A poet who picks such language – Horace insists – is no less to blame than a lawyer who is prepared to jeopardise his professional credibility: a Roman poet, just like a Roman citizen acting in the forum, has nothing to gain from demoting himself to the rank of a bilingual Apulian (the natives of Canusium spoke Oscan and Greek)." Can we not see here a parallelism between the great defender of the purity of the Latin language and the defenders of the purity of the English (or any other) language? To insist on "purity" or monolingualism is to ensure the death of a language! That is what the history of Latin (the international language for centuries, as opposed to English which has been an international language for only one century) tells us.