Why Study Latin?

Latin is not a dead language, it is an eternal language. -Ryan Sellers

Why learn a “dead” language? It will make you better at language acquisition. It teaches the skills to learn other skills: paying attention to details, looking for patterns, learning vocabulary. It trains you to learn one thing in the context of many things and to see the connections between all of them. It is highly structured and no longer evolving; it’s a stationary target to learn from. Culture is preserved and history understood. Because it’s ubiquitous and immortal. Why wouldn’t you want to learn Latin?

And more specifically:
1. Probably the most frequently cited reason for learning Latin is because it is the foundation of the English language. Approximately 50% (some say 60%-70%) of all English words are Latin derivatives. The first 50% derive from the Angles and Saxons, commonly referred to as the Barbarians. These words provide “the mostly concrete, common, everyday words, the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school.” Words such as earth, ground, father, mother and dead. These are the basic one or two syllable words of our Barbarian/Germanic heritage. But what about words such as patriarchy, antecedent, immortal, democracy, republic or liberty? Here lies the other half of our language, the three to five syllable words which communicate more sophisticated and abstract thoughts that have their history in Latin. Having a Latin foundation provides the key to unlocking, understanding and effectively utilizing the other 50% of our language.

2. By learning Latin, students understand English grammar. Unlike English, Latin is an inflected language, meaning it has endings. Because of the endings, Latin is very structured and concrete. For example, first you can see/hear that the noun in a Latin sentence is acting as the direct object because it has “am/um” at the end of the word. Once the simple skill of identifying the word has been mastered then students can take it a step further and  understand why it is the direct object (because it receives the action of the verb). English expects us to understand “why” without providing any concrete clues. Achieving the “why” through the concrete, logical, straightforward language of Latin allows students to easily analyze and utilize English.

3. Latin is the lingua franca of theology, law and science. Although originally Greek, the Bible was translated into Latin in 328 by Jerome. Through this Latin translation we have derived many of our most common vocabulary associated with Christianity - grace, sanctification, justified, trinity - and then terms we have directly from Latin - Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus.  Additionally Latin provides the specialized vocabulary for all of the modern sciences. The elements known to man in ancient times all find their symbols on the periodic table to be Latin. Every plant and animal species has a first and second name in Latin, which can be understood across foreign language barriers. Many of the muscles in our body are Latin derivatives: Latissimus (wide) dorsi (back) -- wide muscle in the back, Vastus (immense) lateralis (running lateral, to the side of) -- muscle found on the side of the thigh, Rectus (straight) femoris (long bone in upper leg) -- muscle running straight down the femur, Adductor (to draw toward) magnus (large) -- muscle in the upper leg that brings the legs together, to name a few.
Law terms such as Ad hoc, bona fide, habeas corpus, ad litem, and subpoena are not derivatives but have arrived straight into English in their Latin form. Latin is all around us. How enriching it is to be able to identify it and draw from that knowledge.

4. Latin prepares students for learning any other inflected foreign language, particularly any of the Romance languages. Not only do students already understand the idea of genders associated with nouns or conjugating verbs, but they are also already familiar with much of the vocabulary. 

5. Finally, “the mind of the student that has been educated in Latin takes on the qualities of Latin: logic, order, discipline, structure. Latin requires and teaches attention to detail, accuracy, patience, precision, and thorough, honest work. Latin will form the minds of your students. Think of the mind like the body. Latin is a mental workout, and Latin is your mental trainer”. Like math, Latin is cumulative. Each year builds and builds, going deeper and deeper. As students dive deep into the subject they develop higher order thinking. 

6. Latin was once a vital part of what is now a declining cultural conversation and climate. The average citizen would once have heard Latin in day-to-day conversations; phrases such as: carpe diem, et cetera, cum laude, curriculum vitae, Deo volente and mea culpa made sense to common folk. Mottoes like semper paratus or semper fidelis, and e pluribus unum made sense to more than an elite group of specially-educated people. Like TCS's motto, coram Deo, such Latin phrases were intended to motivate and challenge a group to function in a nobler capacity.

 1in Education, L. L. (n.d.). Why learn Latin?: 5 videos make a compelling case that the "Dead Language" is an "eternal language". Open Culture. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.openculture.com/2019/09/why-learn-latin.html 

2Lowe, C. (2020, January 2). Top 10 reasons for studying Latin. Memoria Press. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/top-10-reasons-studying-latin/

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