Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Latin: An Undead Language

When I was in high school a half century ago (!), the word was that studying Latin would help you learn other languages in the future. Latin was the language we chose when we couldn’t decide which to study. I was among the lucky one who chose it.

In fact, knowledge of that language only helps you learn other European languages but that turned out to be true. My knowledge of Latin has in fact been quite helpful in learning all the languages I have spoken over the years (5) and the 3-4 others that I read. All of them are European: Romance, Germanic, and Slavic.

Sceptics asked me why I was studying a dead language. The opponents of the idea that Latin helps with other languages were those who chose a currently useful one and considered Latin useful only for doctors and lawyers. Most, I am sure, thought that the dead language Latin would have been buried by now.

But it still lives. The North Andover, Massachusetts newspaper, Eagle, recently published an article about the surprising popularity of Latin in the local high school (click here). It caught my eye because it came out the same day that the BBC News carried a surprising piece on the popularity of Latin in Finland, where the government website has a Latin version click here. Googling Google brought up several other articles on the resurgence of this language, including this one on one of my favorite websites, Education World.

The Latin and its Romance descendants form the basis for Esperanto, an attempt at a common world language that did not favor one country. Latin at one time played this role from the Atlantic to the Middle East. Could it make a comeback? It seems to have come back from the dead.


5 Responses to “Latin: An Undead Language”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    I can still remember our slogan from Latin I and II, 40 years ago:

    “Latin is dead, as dead as can be.
    First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me!”

    I remember I was told that Latin would help me with my English. I found it worked out the other way around.

    I did better in computer languages than in the standard “foreign” languages. I can make my way through French with a dictionary and a grammar reference a bit easier than I can through Latin, but not much more.

  2. Éric Says:

    Of course, Latin helps!
    It helps learning French (I am french), Spanish, Portugese (I learned it), Italian, German (I live it), Russian (I am learning it) also, and much more…

    It may also help to “understand” better English even if you are a native speaker. Looking at Stargzer’ comment, I notice “remember”, “computer”, “languages”, “standard”, “dictionary”, “grammar”, “reference”… Aren’t all those words more or less directly coming from Latin?

    I’m not a linguist, just a language lover. I always thought that English could be considered as a “latin-invaded” language… Just have a look at all those -tion and -ate suffixes 🙂

    I would like to have your opinion about English as a “latin language”.

    Kind Regards

  3. Mike Says:

    I am a carpentry foreman and I would like to make some stickers for a couple of my apprentices that say “Measure twice, cut once” in Latin. Can any body translate this for me? Obviously, ‘measure’ refers to measuring the length of a piece of wood and ‘cut’ refers to the cutting said board to length with a saw.


  4. Evan Says:

    The undeadness of Latin is well illustrated by Schola – a social networking website, completely in Latin, bar the odd untranslated word here or there – with – surprisingly, a chatroom where most nights members can be found happily typing to one another in Latin.

  5. Thai Online Shop Says:

    That rss page on your site here is impressive, you should tell people about it in your upcoming post. I haven’t noticed it for the first couple of times, now I’m using it every morning to check on any updates. I’m on a real slow dial-up link in Brazil and it’s quite baffling to sit there and wait for such a long time ’til the page loads… but hey, I just found your rss page and added it to the Google Reader and there you are… I’m always up-to-date! Well pal, keep up the good work and make that rss button a little bigger so that other people can enjoy that as well 😛

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