Latin is dead! Why bother with an ‘irrelevant Eurocentric ancient language’? Science and Tech are the future, why dwell on the past? These are common accusations brought against the study of Latin, but are they justified? There is a solid case to be made for the continued relevance and usefulness of Latin:
Until about 200 to 300 years ago Latin was the lingua franca of European nations; it was a surpranational language from which modern European languages have drawn the majority of their loanwords. Latin has spawned 25 Romance languages from French, Spanish, and Italian to the more obscure Romansch language of Switzerland. More than half of commonly used English words and over 90% of multisyllabic ‘big’ words derive from Latin. Learning even just 100 of the most common Latin stems in the English language gives you access to at least 5000 words. It’s like a ‘fast-track power-path’ to strong vocabulary as Michael Clay Thompson observes. Latin lives as the foundational, rock-solid structure to English language. It provides the most effective way to master English grammar and develop a profound understanding of vocabulary.
Biology, chemistry, astronomy, psychology, sociology, economics, logic, law, theology, politics – the root words for the specialized vocabulary of all the modern sciences is derived from Latin and Greek (which adds a case for learning Greek as well). Even the word computer comes from Latin ‘computo’ to count or to sum up.
“I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.”Dorothy Sayers
Why dwell on it?
Just as ‘You are what you eat’, your mind becomes what you study. Subjects do not just provide information, they are formative. In other words, your mind takes on the quality of the subject that it dwells on. The study of literature for example produces insight, perception, and compassion for the human condition; math produces accuracy and logic. A mind that dwells on Latin produces logic, order, discipline, attention to detail, structure, precision, and patience. Latin is a serious mental workout. It is the equivalent of body building, wrestling, marathon running, and synchronized swimming folded into a language.
Latin does for language what math does for science. It requires the mental discipline and structure that humanities desperately need. The two most challenging subjects in school are foreign languages and math. They are cumulative: everything must be remembered, nothing can be forgotten. Most other subjects are topical, on the surface, and require only shallow learning. If a student bombs a test on the civil war, they can pick up their game and ace the next test on the industrial revolution. Knowledge in this case is not cumulative, but topical. Bringing subjective experience and personal feelings to the study of English is now often all that is required. Not so with Latin or math. These subjects require complete and successive mastery and thus stand apart as requiring deep understanding and developing higher order thinking. Latin is the ‘math’ that the humanities desperately need.
If you are of the practical type, you may also be interested to learn that the mean SAT score of students of Latin is 672 compared to 577 for students of Spanish and 503 for students without any foreign language. The average GPA of students of Latin is 2.89 versus 2.38 for students without a foreign language.
“I would make everyone learn English; then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honor—and Greek as a treat.”
And what’s more….
As one Latin aficionado observed: “Latin is a puzzle, a time capsule, and a secret code all in one” and it is also the only foreign language class where you get to talk like a supervillain: Omnes in culpa es, et cras ultimum pretium solves (You are all to blame and tomorrow you shall pay the ultimate price).
Still not convinced?
Latin Resources to get you started:
My favorites are:
Lupus Alatus A substack for Latin lovers: “where we publish, share, and discuss resources for learning the Latin language, with focus on comprehensible input and extensive reading and listening so you can soak up as much Latin as possible!” 60 Latin Youtube channels organized and labeled
There are a plethora of ways to get started:
- The BigBook of Lively Latin
- Ecce Romani
- Getting Started with Latin, with French, or with Spanish
- The Great Latin Adventure
- Henle Latin courses
- Kraken Latin for the Logic Years
- Latin (BJU Press)
- Latin for Children
- Latin in the Christian Trivium
- Latin Primer Series, fourth editions
- The Latin Road to English Grammar
- Latin Verbs: To Infinitives and Beyond!
- Latin’s Not so Tough!
- Minimus: Starting Out in Latin and Minimus Secundus: Moving on in Latin
- Olim, Once Upon a Time, In Latin
- Olim Once Upon a Time…In Latin: Derivatives
- Our Roman Roots: A Catholic Student’s Guide to Latin Grammar and Western Civilization
- Paideia Latina
- Song School Latin (version 1.2)
- Visual Latin
- Wheelock’s Latin