Monday 3 Aug, 2009

Focus On: Latin Quarter in Paris

For visitors to Paris, the most notable attribute of the Latin Quarter is its labyrinth of frenetic, people-filled passageways lined with a smorgasbord of ethnic food, music and entertainment. If nearby Notre Dame is like a stodgy old schoolmaster that hushes voices and stifles expression, then its foil is the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter is like the rumba.

So students could be forgiven for thinking that the “Latin” in the name “Latin Quarter” might be there to evoke something that pulsates with an energetic joie de vivre spirit, like our word “Latino” can do.

At least I hope students can be forgiven, because before I bothered to see why the Latin Quarter was called the Latin Quarter, I too made this quiet and subconscious Latin/Latino conflation.


Well, turns out that the name “Latin Quarter”—much like Notre Dame and just about everything else in Europe—has stodgy old medieval roots. You see, this area of Paris is home to the Sorbonne (University of Paris, founded in the 12th century), and in medieval times, of course, Latin was the official language of higher learning. So this area of Paris became known as the Latin Quarter because of all the people you could hear speaking Latin there. Paintings from back then indicate that rumba class was likely not on offer, not even as an elective.

And so the neighborhood of gyrosshawarmas and latin beats actually started out as the neighborhood of puella, puellae and puellam.

(That’s a declination of a Latin word that always stuck in my head and that, until two minutes ago, I mistakenly remembered to mean “town.” A quick wiki-consultation has just revealed that it actually means “girl.” Another misconception falls, and a retired high school teacher somewhere in my hometown tsks.)

Students traveling on EF Educational Tours itineraries that include Paris will often get the chance to have dinner and free time in the Latin Quarter. Though students who successfully order their shawarma in Latin will not get a free Coke, they may get extra credit from their teacher.

Photo: austinevan via Flickr (CC license)