The Latin language endures in our lives through the many Latin phrases and mottoes adopted by universities and other institutions.
Throughout Latin’s long life, the language has taken on many forms and has been used for a variety of purposes.
As the official language of the church, science, and diplomacy throughout Europe, Latin carries with it a feeling of sophistication and academia that is still experienced today. Translating university mottoes from Latin to English is not only an exploration of the language; it is an opportunity to experience firsthand the many intricacies of Latin’s grammar and constructions. In addition, it gives us a glimpse into the philosophies adopted by the universities that use Latin as the official language of their mottoes.
Translating the Motto of Albright College from Latin to English
Albright College of Pennsylvania, USA has adopted a simple Latin motto to express its educational philosophy. Recall that the nominative case in Latin is used to express the subject of a sentence or, in this case, a phrase. When looking up a noun in a Latin dictionary, the nominative case is the one found listed. In addition to the word in nominative case, the dictionary will normally indicate to which declension the noun belongs. From there, the noun will usually follow the rules of the declension for forming the rest of the cases (genitive, dative, accusative, and ablative), both singular and plural.
Albright College’s Latin motto is “Veritas et Justitia," which, translated by the university, means “Truth and Justice." Veritas is a common Latin word encountered early in a Latin student’s program of study. As a third declension noun, it changes its form to “veritatis," giving the stem “veritat–" for the formation of the rest of the cases. It is related to the English words “verify" and "verity."
Justitia is a Latin word related to the English words “justice" and “jury." As a first declension noun, its stem is formed by simply dropping the “–a" to which the rest of the endings in the first declension may be added. Many Latin students may notice the use of the letter “j," a letter foreign to many Classical Latin students. Recall that consonant “i" was changed to a “j" in later Latin periods. Since the phrase most likely derives from a period of Latin after the Classical Period, the “j" is used to represent consonant “i."
Taken together, both words in the nominative case produce the university’s accurate translation of “Truth and Justice" for its motto. Not all university mottoes are so neat and tidy. Often due to long-time use, misuse, and the general lack of knowledge about the Latin language, mottoes of universities are mistranslated. This is not the case of Albright College. Perhaps by choosing a simple yet succinct Latin motto, the college has effectively sidestepped the possibility of mistranslation.
Translating the Latin Motto of Bob Jones University into English
As is often the case, many institutions adopt a Latin phrase as its motto. However, unlike many of these institutions, Bob Jones University has adopted a phrase made up of two Latin verbs. Recall that the phrase discussed above was made up of two nouns, a common construction of Latin mottoes.
Petimus Credimus, the Latin motto of Bob Jones University, is accurately translated by this institution to mean “We Seek, We Trust." Petimus is the first-person plural active indicative present tense form of the word “peto." As a third-conjugation verb, its present tense is formed by taking the stem of the verb “pet–," adding an –i–, and then adding the person ending. Recall, however, that the third-person plural in the third conjugation has the irregular form “petunt."
Credimus is the first-person plural active indicative present tense form of the word “credo." As a third-conjugation verb, it is formed similarly to “Peto" as discussed above. However accurate the university’s official translation of the phrase may be, recall that present tense verbs may be translated in any of three ways from Latin to English.
The simple present simply states the verb’s action. This is the translation offered by Bob Jones University:
We Seek, We Trust
A present progressive translation often draws out the verb “to be" in the translation. For example:
We Are Seeking, We Are Trusting
Finally, a present emphatic translation uses a form of the word “do" to emphasize something that is being done. For example:
We Do Seek, We Do Trust
The present emphatic is necessary when changing a sentence from declarative to interrogative. For example:
Do We Seek, Do We Trust?
Bob Jones University’s choice of the simple present for translation of its Latin motto not only conveys the motto’s sentiment succinctly, it offers the most accurate translation.
Not all Latin mottoes contain both verbs and nouns. Some are made up of noun-noun and verb-verb pairings. Translation from Latin to English often requires a bit more figurative translation than others that may be literally translated. Dissection of these mottoes is not only an excellent exercise in Latin grammar, it is also a brief look into the history of the language as a major linguistic force across Europe for over 2,500 years.
- A Brief History of the Latin Language: Introduction
- Translating Latin University Mottoes into English: The Latin Mottoes of John Hopkins University and New York University
- Translating Famous Mottoes from Latin to English: The United States Marine Corp, Harvard University, and Princeton University