by Dr. Christopher Perrin
You may have heard that Latin is a dead language. This is a strong, negative pronouncement to most ears. Scholars, however, use the term in a technical sense that leaves plenty of room for life. A “dead” language is one that is no longer the native language of any community, even if it is still in use in other ways. An extinct language, by contrast, is one that no longer has any speakers or any written use. Some languages are also called liturgical languages, because they continue to be used in religious contexts, or classical languages, which continue to be studied and read through a rich body of ancient literature. Greek, Latin, Chinese, Arabic, and Sanskrit are all considered classical languages. Some would even include Hebrew and French in that list.
Latin is both a classical and a liturgical language, a dead language that never died. By this we mean that while Latin may not be the native language of any community, it is still spoken (even if only by a few) and is commonly studied and read for a variety of compelling, beneficial reasons.
Latin also has not died because it was reborn and renamed as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian—the five Romance languages. About 90 percent of the vocabulary of these languages comes from Latin. These Romance languages are actually forms of Latin that have evolved over the centuries in various regions with some interaction from other local tongues.
There are many good reasons to study Latin. Here is my top ten list:
1.Becoming Multilingual: Latin never truly died, but rather evolved into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian (the Romance languages). About 90 percent of the vocabulary of these languages comes from Latin. To learn Latin is therefore to begin a study of 6 languages at once.
2. English Vocabulary and Grammar: Studying Latin aids students in mastering English. Since 50 percent of all English words are derived from Latin—along with 80–90 percent of all polysyllabic words— students will greatly expand their vocabulary. The regular grammar of Latin is also ideal for learning English grammar or the grammar of many other languages.
3. Professions: Latin prepares students for many important professions that are steeped in Latin terms and phrases or in English words derived from Latin. These career fields include law, medicine, science, music, theology, philosophy, art, and literature.
4. Writing and Reading: The increased vocabulary and understanding of grammar gained by studying Latin enables students to write and read with greater ease and clarity.
5. English Literature: Latin grants students a deeper understanding of English literature prior to 1950, much of which is replete with references and citations in Latin.
6. History: The study of Latin and its history and influence helps students to more fully understand and appreciate the Roman Empire, which has had profound and continuing effects on Western civilization.
7. Great Literature and Art: Latin enables students to enjoy some of the most influential literature in the world—in the original language. Learning Latin well enough to read original Latin works is an attainable skill that imparts great satisfaction and enjoyment. Additionally, great works of art and monuments all over the world are frequently graced with Latin.
8. Educational Virtue: The study of Latin is an ongoing practice in linguistic puzzle-solving that generally helps students to become close and thoughtful readers and writers. Many scholars believe it also hones the mental faculties, cultivating careful analysis and attention.
9. Pleasure: Deciphering the “secret code” of Latin and learning how to puzzle-solve, see the meanings behind words, and read great authors in their own tongue is a pleasure that will last students a lifetime.
10. Simultaneous Learning: As you can see, studying Latin is a way of performing advanced study in multiple subject areas simultaneously. It is a master art that enables students to in turn master other skills and other subjects.
I hope that as you review the list above you will see how Latin is still very much alive—it lives on your tongue now, asserting itself with every other word you speak. I hope you will take up the study of this language and introduce your children to it as well. While it will be a challenging study, it will bring life to learning and open a dozen different doors on as many adventuresome paths.
Dr. Christopher Perrin is an author, consultant, and speaker who specializes in classical education. He is committed to the renewal of the liberal arts tradition. He cofounded and serves full-time as the CEO/publisher at Classical Academic Press, a classical education curriculum, media, and consulting company. Christopher is also a consultant to charter, public, private, and Christian schools across the country. He is the director at the Alcuin Fellowship with the Institute for Classical Schools and the former board vice president of the Society for Classical Learning. He has published numerous articles and lectures that are widely used throughout the United States and the English-speaking world. Christopher has a passion for classical education and is a lover of goodness, truth, and beauty wherever it is found.