“I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin…”, the comedy genius, Peter Cook, famously said.
RESURGENCE OF LATIN
Latin is often described as a dead language but in fact it did not expire, but was superseded by other tongues and so evolved into what are commonly known as the Romance languages – Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. Latin has long continued to be taught alongside Greek at private schools but is now finding its way back into the state education system as well, so why is a supposedly dead language experiencing such a resurgence of popularity in the twenty-first century?
IMPORTANCE OF LATIN: ROOT WORDS & PHONETICS
Latin is the basis for many languages and is deemed to be the next stage in English after learning phonics. Phonetics is the teaching of the pronunciation of words to educate children to read and write English in their early school years, but learning Latin later on in the educational process expands vocabulary and teaches students the roots of different words, promoting understanding, providing depth of vocabulary and the capacity to understand different meanings and concepts. It also offers familiarity with syntax and underpins a deeper use of language.
On a more specific basis, Latin provides many root words for all of the modern science and arms the science student with ready access to the terminology of this brave new world. It is easy to understand why the plural of fungus is fungi and bacterium is bacteria; the study of Latin promotes key building blocks. And of course legal terminology is littered with Latin expressions and phrases, as Peter Cook so saliently pointed out, and will help you distinguish your habeas corpus from your caveat emptor. As a language of Christian theology and the study of religion, Latin is still prominent and forms part of the Masses and services of the Christian and Catholic churches, a universal language.
LATIN AND FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING
For someone wishing to learn other foreign languages, knowledge of Latin provides a quick route into the Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian but beyond that, the understanding of Latin grammar will make sense of languages such as German with all its different cases and declensions. It is said that learning a foreign language is the best way to understand English grammar with its impenetrable and inconsistent grammatical rules, all of which will make far more sense after time spent with a Latin textbook, so not just useful in translating your school motto. So, ‘Sapere aude!’ as Horace famously said: ‘Dare to be wise’.