June 20, 2013
Professor: Pope’s Latin Tweets Prove Popular
Pope Francis' Latin Twitter account has more than 110,000 followers.
For more than 110,000 followers of Pope Francis’ Twitter account in Latin, the ancient language is anything but dead.
William Klingshirn, chair of the Department of Greek and Latin at The Catholic University of America, says he thinks that the pontiff’s tweets are popular because “Latin is soaked into everything we do. It’s endured this long for good reasons. There’s something in it for everyone.”
Klingshirn, who’s teaching an intensive first-year Latin course this summer, doesn’t have a Twitter account, but he’s read some of the papal tweets. He notes that the Latin tweets “are actually quite difficult. These are not simple Latin classical constructions.”
His class meets for three hours Monday through Friday for six weeks — the equivalent of two semesters. By the end of the course, Klingshirn says his students should be able to start translating the Holy Father’s tweets. He says that perhaps he’ll add a papal tweet to his students’ final exam and ask them to translate it for bonus points.
Pope Benedict XVI launched the first papal Twitter account last December in eight languages. The Vatican launched the Latin account in January. As of June 20, Pope Francis’ Latin tweets had 114,765 followers.
Klingshirn says he thinks that Pope Francis’s tweets are intended for people who speak Latin. He notes that his department offers courses in Latin literature, not contemporary spoken Latin. Greek and Latin students and faculty “study and teach Greek language and literature from Homer to late antiquity, and Latin from its earliest beginnings through the late medieval period,” according to the department’s website.
The department chair says that 260 students were enrolled in Latin courses from summer 2012 through spring 2013. They were enrolled in 23 separate courses and included undergraduates and graduate students from across the University, including the School of Canon Law.
“My interest is in documents written in Latin and that’s probably true for most classicists,” says Klingshirn. “But Latin is the official language of the Church, so it doesn’t surprise me that Pope Francis is tweeting in Latin. It’s part of the Church’s universality.”
William McCarthy, associate professor of Greek and Latin, says that he doesn’t spend much time on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. But, he notes that Latin, which is often inscribed on stone monuments, lends itself particularly well to social media.
“A handsomely crafted handful of Latin words has much more potential to move than the sprinkling of emoticons and fragments of programming code which are normally used to convey subtleties of feeling and thought,” McCarthy adds.
“Naturally, one could say the same thing about English, German, French, Chinese, or any other major language of the world. Latin, however, stands apart from all of these for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, of course, is its importance in the history of the Catholic Church.”