Reviving the Dead: Why Everyone Should Study Latin

Videtur dolor erit realiter

By Sarah Cassidy
Staff Linguist

“You’re wasting your time.” These are the words I hear from my roommate every Monday and Thursday as I get ready to go to my Latin class. And every time she says these words I scream, “NO, I’M NOT.” While part of the reason I scream at her is that I am being defensive, the other reason for my screaming is simply because I believe that learning a dead language is useful. Yes, you read that right. Learning Latin is useful. Before all the modern language majors and minors storm at me in rage, let me explain to you why I think everyone should study Latin.
In middle and high school, I studied French. After six years of studying the language, I realized that I did not know a single thing. I could say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, and on a good day, “How are you?” That is truly all I learned.
While not everyone’s experience is like mine, I have met many people who have come out of language classes not learning much. Part of the reason for this is that you are not going to become fluent in French or German by living in the United States. To really absorb a language, you must immerse yourself in the culture and actually be forced to speak the language. So after realizing that my dream of opening a coffee shop in Paris was down the drain, I decided to take Latin. Why? Because most English words hold a Latin root. If you know some basic Latin, you will be able to understand anything in English. This has come in handy for all the classes I have taken so far. For example, during one of my astronomy worksheets, I had no idea what the heck vernal equinox meant. So instead of freaking out, I simply turned to Latin as a reference. I figured out that the word for spring in Latin is “ver, veris” so I knew that vernal equinox means the spring equinox. Easy and useful, right? I think so.
Another reason everyone should consider taking Latin is because it is a real brain workout. Forget about watching Jeopardy! or doing crossword puzzles and just pick up some Catullus to read. Latin is a systematic language meaning that every sentence you read in Latin has to be approached a certain way. While English is a fairly laid back and loose language (as you can see from my improper grammar in this article), Latin is the complete opposite. Every single Latin word in a sentence has to be examined properly and thoroughly in order to understand the sentence. Latin is often compared to math; both subjects utilize a large amount of discipline, focus and structure. The difference between Latin and math is that Latin helps with human communication, which is essential for success in today’s society.

By no means is learning how to communicate through Latin easy. Every time I pick up some Latin to read, I feel like a detective trying to decode some huge mystery. I can feel the sweat running down my face, my heart racing and my head pounding. In the moment, it really sucks. Especially when I translate the sentence wrong (which is most of the time). However, the feeling that I gain after so much work and dedication is amazing. It is a feeling of intellectual stamina; one that I do not find in any other activity.
Lastly, learning a dead language will make you appear smart. Just the sound of Latin has an elegant and intelligent ring to it. Sometimes I just throw out common Latin phrases such as “Quid pro quo” or “Vita mutatur, non tollitur” in normal conversation to amp up the discussion.
Once you learn Latin, you can also walk around museums or churches and be able to read ancient inscriptions. You will appear to be a genius, especially when everyone around you stares blankly at the writing. And let’s not forget that Latin will help out even the biggest Harry Potter fan. Many of the names of the characters and spells in Harry Potter contain Latin roots. Did you know that Severus translates into “severe”, Lupin into “wolf” and Albus into “white”? Probably not, unless you are one of the ten kids in my Latin class. Even though many think that Latin is dead, even some of the most popular books in modern society are influenced by Latin. Don’t you see how useful Latin is?!
Learning a dead language is in some ways a rebellion against society. While the rest of the world obviously wants the language to die, those who take Latin are slowly reviving the language. I am challenging you to be unique and consider taking up a dead language. Even though it is a lot of work, you will not regret it.

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