Samuel McNeill-Green (Ralph Thoresby School) reviews Andrea Marcolongo's 'The Ingenious Language'

I would say that most people consider learning a “dead” language pointless and imagine it to be rather dull - Andrea Marcolongo manages to turn a complex and challenging subject into something that interests you - you may put the book down for a moment, but what she has written will pull you back in very soon.

When she teaches a peculiar part of Ancient Greek each chapter (whether that be aspects, pronunciation, genders, or cases), she contradicts the thinking of “it’s pointless to learn a dead language” by purposely making the language feel as alive as possible, and as important today as ever. An example comes to mind in the first chapter - she writes a story from the eyes of a bar keeper in 487BC,  who has just had two drunken men escape from a bar without paying for their wine. The bar keeper chases after them, and the author shows how he uses aspect (something you will learn about if you read the book) to express his displeasure in Ancient Greek.

Even though the true pronunciation of the letters and words of Ancient Greek have long been lost, Marcolongo tries her best to paint it as something that would have sounded “musical”, comparing it to the beauty of the pitch important languages like Japanese and Mandarin. It is clear from this that Marcolongo has a true passion for this language, and this is something that will reflect back onto whoever is reading this book.

All of this is not to say that the book was not challenging to read - it was - I have never learned about, nor even really thought about, Ancient Greek before. I would say this book is for someone with a little bit more experience in Ancient Greek who wants to further their understanding of the language, but it was still an interesting read nonetheless.

Something I agreed with in this book was...

Ancient Greek is one of history's greatest languages, and there is a lot to learn from it that is relevant to understanding the world and the evolution of language today.

Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The fact it was advertising itself as a book with no "batteries" and "prior knowledge of Greek" required - while the latter is true, someone with no previous experience or knowledge of Ancient Greek, like myself, may still find this a challenging read, as there are lots of completely unfamiliar concepts involved.

Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn't know about this subject before was...

How much of an afterthought time was to the Ancient Greeks - their language did not focus on tenses, but instead on something called aspects, which describe how something was done, and not when.