As a polyglot, spoken Latinist, teacher, and once-mathematician, I am fascinated by linguistic, professional writerly identities, especially of those who have Latin as a second language, especially those who experience it as a “living” language in some way.
I study the works of humanist scientists in the “Republic of Letters” who wrote in both Latin and their various vernaculars, in genres ranging from technical mathematical treatises to science fiction to private correspondence that, to me, blends professional report and keeping up on the field(s), a sort of peer review, and personal letters. Currently I am particularly interested in Johannes Kepler, who wrote theology and administrative letters in German, scholarly treatises in various styles in Latin, science fiction (his Somnium) heavily footnoted with its scientific basis and notes on his audience and purpose, and, for example, a Latin translation and commentary of the Greek text of Ptolemy’s Harmonics as an addendum to his own Harmonices Mundi.
More generally, I bring in frameworks from linguistic anthropology (language ideology) and multilingualism research (translanguaging and identity formation in bilingual students) as well as translation studies to think through the sort of scholarly community and intensely creative, humanistic, extra-scholastic knowledge-making that I see in action when reading Early Modern scientific texts. How did these people relate to Latin and to their native languages? How did they choose what language to write in and when, and did they experience the process of writing and scholarship differently in their different languages? How did their command of both Latin and vernacular influence the direction of various particular subfields, given that it would have enabled both giving and taking between scientists working in different local contexts on their ideas and projects?
In the context of frequent, troublesome claims that Latin was “the language of learned [white] Europe” or various groups’ claims on the Latin language, I am interested in how Latin is a language that belongs to nobody, how post-classically it is a rare case of a language with a linguistic community that chooses it, where none have privileged status as “native” speakers, and it is used by polyglot, self-aware writers and speakers for certain types of work and communicative purposes that nonetheless blend the very intimate and the very intellectual. To me, this set of ideas has implications for how we talk about Latin in the contemporary world, release it from the grip of ideas of “Western Civilization,” and foster rich, generative linguistic identities in Latin for ourselves and for students. This group of Latin writers, also what we would now call working scientists and frequently craftsmen too, is also a model for creativity in scholarship, from prose composition as creative writing to Latin pedagogy to how to form deep mentoring and personal relationships around ideas big and little across physical and linguistic distances.