By Harry Grigorian '19
“No one speaks Latin.” Good observation. Who cares?
When I tell someone that I take Latin, they often retort “Latin is a dead language.” If by “dead,” you mean that it is essentially not spoken anywhere outside of the Vatican and some elements of the Catholic Church, then you are right. That is not why I take Latin. Yes, there are absolutely boons to taking spoken languages, but high school Latin far surpasses any of those.
First, Latin is an excellent gateway to other languages; a proficient Latin speaker can somewhat decipher Spanish, French, and Italian writing. Upon entering college, picking up any of these courses is easy. Essentially, Latin is the Level 0 class of every Romance language. It is a valid introduction to any of these tongues, and is highly auspicious for learning new languages.
Latin also immensely supplements study of our own English language. “Who vs. whom,” “if I were vs. if I was,” and all the other time-honored English debates can be settled using Latin. “Who” is used for nominatives; “whom” for accusatives. “If I were” is the subjunctive construction for that conditional clause. Without Latin, my last few sentences would be gibberish. Fundamental English constructions all come from Latin, and rarely a day passes when I don’t rely on my Latin to answer questions in English.
With Latin also comes study of the Roman Empire. Without at least elementary knowledge of Rome, it’s legal systems, and it’s military history, one is entirely unprepared to study history in Europe after the Year 500 AD. Our American Congress, European Medieval battle strategies, the Catholic Church—all are difficult to understand without familiarity with Rome.
N.B. means nota bene, or “note well.” Etc. means et cetera, or “and the rest.” Habeas corpus means “let you have body.” Latin has diffused into our legal and otherwise vernacular language. Especially in the legal realm, understanding these phrases helps understand the law itself.
Most importantly, Latin teaches one to think analytically. It requires a watchful eye and quick thinking to understand Latin. Most of all, though, Latin demands excessive patience and carefulness. While other Romance Languages are more applicable on speaking terms, learning them without learning Latin first does them a disservice.