The Dead Language

No, I’m not talking about English, though many folk obviously weren’t paying attention in English class. I’m talking about:

Latin is a dead language

As dead as it can be.

Latin killed the Romans

And now it’s killing me!

Au contraire, I beg to disagree. Latin was so beneficial to me as an English major and made my study of French even easier. I took five years of Latin in high school and college, which served to improve my vocabulary and spelling, but it also made it easier to decipher words I’d encounter I didn’t understand. My internist is also a member of our weekly trivia team, and his undergraduate major was Latin. Between the two of us, we can arrive at logical answers of word derivatives and Greek and Roman mythology. He’s also the first to admit Latin was extremely helpful in medical school–a comment made by law students as well. So why did Latin vanish from public schools?

According to a The New York Times article, in the 1960’s students rebelled against the classics and the Roman Catholic Church ended Mass in Latin. However, recently there has been a resurgence of Latin; not only on the East Coast, but in states like Alaska and New Mexico. Some attribute this increase to student fascination with Harry Potter ‘s Latin chanting spells, others say it increases SAT vocabulary skills, particularly in high-performing suburban schools. Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin (a NY public school) says: “it’s the language of scholars and educated people…people who are successful.” Adam Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at University of Pennsylvania adds Latin study appeals to college admission officers as a sign of critical thinking skills and true intellectual passion.

Yet, if a school wanted to offer Latin, there is a dearth of Latin teachers. Some schools have waited four years to fill a position with a qualified teacher. Yes, there are online courses available, but none would compare to my wonderful Latin I instructor, Ron Cataland. Yes, Mr. Cataland, I remember the opening line of The Aeneid: Arma virumque cano. (I sing of arms and men.) Further, I’m particularly fond of Kansas’ state motto: Ad Astra per Aspera (To the stars through difficulties.)

Latin will never be a dead language for me. I’m very grateful to Youngstown Public Schools for offering it over 50 years ago. E Pluribus unum…out of many, one. Check your money; now you know.

One thought on “The Dead Language

  1. I took 3 years of Latin in high school. It has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for all languages my entire life.


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