Monday, July 23, 2012

Is Latin Really a Dead Language?

It’s the common protest you’ll hear from children who have to take Latin class but just aren’t interested: “It’s a dead language! Why do I have to learn it if nobody speaks it?” That sounds like an argument that’s logical enough. But why has “dead language” become synonymous with “Latin?” And if Latin really is a dead language, why does anyone bother to teach or learn it at all?

Perhaps scholars and classical literature and history buffs aren’t so foolish after all. It’s true that people don’t speak Latin to converse on an everyday basis anymore, but does that really mean that it’s dead? It doesn’t. When you look more closely, Latin is far from dead, and it’s even coming back to life more than it has in decades. There must be good reasons for this, but what are they?

Historical Significance

Kids learn a lot of things in history class that are no longer relevant or significant, and sometimes they protest against that, too. But history isn’t considered to be dead; instead it’s intended to give important insight into the past so that the present and future can benefit from history’s lessons. Latin has great historical significance. It was the language of the Romans, and it was the language that was used to communicate so many things that matter today – like democracy. It was an important part of the history of modern civilization, so why shouldn’t we learn about it?

Modern Language

Most modern languages, like the romance languages of French, Italian, and Spanish, have their roots in Latin, as does English. We may not speak Latin today, but we wouldn’t be speaking the languages we do know without it. You can find Latin roots in so many words, and so learning Latin can help you better understand your own language. Knowledge of Latin really opens up the English language in a new way, and it can also help improve SAT scores. Latin grammatical concepts help you understand and improve your English grammar, too. People who learn Latin will no doubt improve in their native tongue as well.

The Classics

One of the most popular reasons that people learn Latin is so they can read lots of classic literature in its original form. Important authors and philosophers wrote in Latin, like Virgil, Cicero, St. Augustine, and Francis Bacon. When these works are translated into English or other modern languages, a lot is lost. Oftentimes meanings cannot be accurately conveyed, and the beauty of the prose is no longer present, which is one of the best things about them in the first place. 

Life After Death

People who are interested in history and classical literature learn Latin and use it regularly. If it is used so often, how can it be dead? Many more schools are offering Latin classes, and there has been a renewed interest in the language from people who want to challenge themselves and broaden their intellect. People continue to teach, learn, and use Latin, and it has many benefits, so it is far from dead.

Martin Olsson is a swedish-born linguistics expert who is an instructor of accent classes. He likes to discuss the origin of language and how language of the past can help shape current linguistic patterns.

Photo Credit: Txalteredart

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