3 Reasons to Study Latin (for Normal People, Not Language Geeks)

Aaand action!

Latin - it's the language of science, medicine, the legal profession...

These reasons just feel kind of tired to me.

Well, the same reasons that everybody else uses.

Yeah, they are. Can i actually just take the camera with me

look, I could tell you that studying latin will set you up to learn the Romance

languages or give you a base of knowledge for fine arts and literature I

can tell you that you'll be able to read Latin on old buildings him state mottos

or that reading Cicero and Virgil in the original is defiantly beautiful all

those things are true but I'm not gonna tell them to you again you've already

seen those in hundreds of YouTube videos and latin book introductions and

homeschool magazine articles and chances are if you're not already a latin

enthusiast you don't care

The real reason to study Latin, the reason number one

is latin will make you better at language acquisition

now why is language acquisition important? Well, language acquisition is

the skill of learning other skills.

Let me repeat that

Language acquisition will give you the mental habits you can use to learn any other skill.

See, different languages are different modes of thinking. We've all heard of those words

that can't be translated into English because the concept is too different

from how English speakers think. Words like Sombremesa. That's Spanish for the

time after a meal when the food is gone but the conversation is still flowing.

Or Itsuarpok: Inuit for the anxiety that comes with waiting for someone to

show up - checking the windows, going outside, checking your phone - to see if

they're here. and Pisan Zapra: Malay for the amount of time it takes to eat a banana.

Thoughts themselves are formed differently in different languages.

Didn't those words make you think differently about the things they described?

The act of learning a language or even a single foreign word is the act of learning to

think in a new way. Now the same things going on when you learn

real-world skills, and not just skills that directly involve language like

computer programming. Merriam-webster defines language as:

words,their pronunciation and methods of combining them used and understood by a community.

Well, you're entering a community every time you learn a new profession, learn a

new hobby, learn to understand the emotional needs of very young people,

learn to understand the emotional needs of big people who have a different

personality type than you, interact with historians or philosophers, interact with

the writers of cookbooks, or gardening books, or even writers of software.

Each one of those skills requires you to pick up a new mode of thinking - to think

thoughts along new lines or in new colors. And the skill of learning how to

build new lines of thought is language acquisition.

But why Latin? Why not French or Spanish or JavaScript? a lot of students say:

I don't want to study Latin because Latin is dead. Now, I could be pedantic and say

that Latin never died it evolved into modern languages. Or I could be

insufferable and say

Latin's not dead, it's "Roman" around.

but more to the point that would be like a medical

student saying: I don't want to study this cadaver. This cadaver is dead.

Or an auto mechanics student saying: I don't want to study this internal combustion engine.

This internal combustion engine is turned off.

If you're studying language acquisition you want a stationary target and classical Latin

hasn't moved in fifteen hundred years

And you might be thinking "learning new modes of thinking isn't that enticing,

can't you give me another reason?" Well I could tell you that learning Latin will

expand your English vocabulary and help you understand Shakespeare and influence

culture and get paid more in the workplace. I could tell you that the great

minds of English literature have all studied Latin, along with modern-day song

writers, authors, CEOs, star athletes, and politicians - but I won't.

And Icertainly won't tell you that literacy in a foreign language is just a good

thing in general - again all those things may be true, but if you don't speak Latin

already, then Floccos non facis.

What I will tell you is Latin will make you

better at speaking English. For a lot of students studying English grammar seems

boring and pointless- and that is not their fault. See, to speak English in

everyday situations you don't use a conscious knowledge of English grammar

You've been using concepts like tense and subject verb agreement since you were

three. Your conscious mind is so far over them that in most of life you don't need

to know their names to use them well. So when you do study English grammar, which

is important for a creative writing, essay writing, professional writing, it

feels difficult and redundant because it's difficult to analyze something you

can already use intuitively - like teaching your kids to drive.

Learning another language will give you perspective - from inside one language,

it's hard to conceive of words as "carriers of meaning." 99 times out of

100 you're just using the word AS the meaning - the word and the meeting become synonymous.

You're unavoidably blind to the limitations - and the strengths - of

your native meaning carrying system - your language - until you test drive a new one.

But once you have access to more than one language you have the objectivity to

think about how the words are doing their job and if they could be doing it better.

Suddenly you're able to think about how thoughts are expressed in language in

the abstract

Without being bound to how they happen to be expressed in your native tongue

which will help you express thoughts more precisely IN your native tongue.

Okay, but why Latin? What is it about Latin that teaches English grammar

better than any other language? Well English is a hybrid language - or a

Germanic language with a hybrid vocabulary - different people describe it

different ways. To oversimplify history a little, the Celts got invaded by the

Romans, and the Romans got kicked out by the Saxons and Angles.

Then the anglo-saxons got taken over by the French, who were speaking their own

evolved form of Latin, and all the kerfuffle, English ends up with two

halves: Germanic words which basically express concrete, everyday realities -

house, man, woman, kine, and swine - and Latinate words: multi-syllables that

express abstract realities - masculinity, femininity, virtue, republic, liberty.

Basically the Germanic half is the salt of the earth farmer and the Latinate

half is his upscale wife... who I guess he carried off as the Romans were

retreating, to go with the metaphor.

Each half has completely different root words, pronunciation rules, and spelling

rules. Students learn the Germanic half of English when they study phonics,

but take a look at democracy, Democratic, and Democrat. Why do we emphasize

different syllables in each of those words? There's nothing in phonics that

prepares you for that! Well, that's because those words are Latinate and

phonics only teaches you the Germanic half of English. So what's the system for

learning the Latinate side of English? studying Latin.

And that Latinate side is so important. If you know a Germanic word like father then you also know

words like fatherly and fatherhood. But if you know a Latin word like "pater,"

then you also know

If you know the Germanic word death then you also know the words dead, deadened, deadly

deathly, but if you know the Latin word "mors," then you know

you know, because you'll be paying until you die

Now I won't bother to tell you that being a better English speaker is going to improve your SAT

scores and your college papers. It will but those aren't good enough reasons. If

those are your reasons for studying Latin forget about it.

The real reason to study Latin - the only reason - is it's going to make you smarter

and wiser. Learning a language - paying attention to the details, looking for

patterns, memorizing vocabulary - they're all wax on wax off disciplines that

develop your brain. Learning any foreign language is like solving a puzzle, but

with Latin it's Sudoku: you're making conjectures based on easily identifiable

patterns. In Latin it's not uncommon for one word to be untranslatable without

reference to every other word in the sentence - Latin trains you to

conceptualize one thing in the context of many things and to see the

connections between all of them. That's a mental habit that's going to have

far-reaching applications as you study politic, economics, engineering, music,

astronomy, home repair, crying kids, or anything else in life.

Not only that but by the time you're translating actual literature, you're

going to be taking the literal translation - the "what does the text say" - and running

that through the grammatical big picture and the cultural backdrop to arrive at

the real translation - "what does the text mean." Studying Latin is going to grow you

in big picture and small picture thinking and give you the dexterity to

move back and forth between both. Now as we saw in reason number two, Latin is the

most structured of languages. Roman words follow rank-and-file like Roman soldiers.

And what people don't realize - the Latin naysayers and the students when the

studying gets difficult - is that Latin (or any subject) is not just about

information but also formation. It forms your mind into an image of itself. You've

heard the maxim you are what you eat. Well, in the same way your mind becomes like

what you spend your time thinking about. And that FORMATIVE aspect of any subject

is as important or more important than the information it imparts. The study of

literature teaches compassion for the human condition, the study of history

teaches objectivity and perspective, and the study of Latin teaches logic, order,

discipline, structure, precision. Suffice it to say Latin is an almost totally

consistent system, making it less like a language itself and more like an

exercise for learning the skill of learning. And all that adds up to this:

knowing another language allows you to express thoughts in your own language

you never could have come up with, and Latin - because it's structured and

predictable, because it's the other half of English, and because it's not evolving

any more - works those benefits into your brain better than any other language.

(Except for Greek or Hebrew but you'd have to learn to new alphabet)

Hey, I think I actually got them all

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Dude, what if everything is language and language is everything?