Why everyone should study Latin
Last week, at Tanglin Trust’s Classical Symposium, I discussed why everyone ought to study Latin. Now – in my perennial bid to convince others to learn this ancient language – I’m sharing those same reasons with you:
1. The importance of Roman civilisation:
The Romans are the source of so many different things that still exist in the world today: aqueducts, irrigation, and the stories behind the movie Gladiator. As a society that relies on their bases, I think it makes perfect sense to couple our understanding of the world around us with the ability to speak Latin.
2. It helps us learn modern languages:
There are 47 Romance languages out there today, including but not limited to Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French, and Romanian. Latin offers the ability to be able to pick up any of these languages later in life, which can prove invaluable in opening doors and opportunities.
3. The use of Latin in medicine and law:
Doctors, lawyers, and Latin teachers – three professions that use Latin frequently. Why? Latin has influenced both professions, especially in a linguistic way – which is why you’ll hear doctors and lawyers using these terms when interacting with clients. It’s important to maintain transparency with these professionals, so learning Latin can help you understand exactly what is happening and when.
4. Logical thinking skills:
Latin is unique in many ways, one of which is its lack of punctuation: so, they used ‘scansion’ – a form of analysis – to determine how different lines of poetry should be formed. To give an example, let’s use a line from a dactyl hexameter poem: the third book of Virgil’s Aeneid.
servatum ex undis strophadum me litora primum
This line translates as “When I had first been saved from the waves, the shores of Strophades…”
But, after a quick bit of scansion – you can make the line look like the below, where a dash represents a long and stressed syllable, and a ‘u’ represents a short, sharp syllable:
sērvătŭm| ēx ūn|dīs strŏphă|dūm mē | lītŏră | prīmum|
Using that rule – you can have a go at reading this Latin line, too! When done throughout entire books and collections of poetry, the way a line is scanned also plays a role in conveying a certain style and meaning within the poem.
5. There are always anomalies:
For 30 years in Finland, a weekly radio show was held where a 5-minute roundup of the news was given in Latin. As odd as that was, I ask you to bear with me and imagine some potential situations…
What if Gary Lineker gets replaced by Caecilius on Match of the Day? Or how about Cicero replacing Joe Biden as President of the US? Or General Crassus taking over for ChatGPT in answering our long and confusing essays? While, I admit, that’s all a bit absurd – you can never be too prepared!
Jokes aside, I’ve found immense value in studying Latin – and urge all of you to study it, too!