Is Latin Dead?

Is Latin Dead?

Charlotte Mandy, Editor

Is Latin dead?

It is a question that trails after teachers, students, experts, and general admirers of the language that is over a millennium old. Most responses would be yes, and they would not be entirely incorrect. Unlike English, Latin is not changing or adding new words to the dictionary every year, although an argument can be made that some of the words English has welcomed into its own dictionary are not exactly advocates for being an evolving language (see ‘bouncebackability,’ and ‘funner’). 

However, when the question of Latin’s mortality was posed to one of its teachers at Shawnee, Ms. Katrisiosis (commonly known as Ms. Kat), the answer she provided offered a new perspective on the question. She explained that the only place where Latin is readily spoken each day is the Vatican City in Rome, but added, “For those who are unfamiliar with everything that Latin contributes to our modern lives, then yes, Latin is dead for you. But for those who are well aware of the incredible foundation it provides to our society… then Latin is far from dead.”

Let me explain. In the last two paragraphs alone, up to and potentially exceeding fifty percent of the words I used have roots in Latin. If I was to translate this to any number of the Romance Languages, including Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Catalan, it would be much the same. But why is this important? Why does it matter that the language Julius Caesar used to express his betrayal has profoundly impacted even my mildly-snooty article? Most importantly, why should we study it today?

“It’s only logical that studying Latin would be an amazing benefit to your English vocabulary,” Ms. Kat said, “it is also the most efficient way to learn English grammar.” For those who are not the greatest admirers of grammar, and I confess I am often among you, there is a benefit for you, too. “Latin (and Greek) is the basis for mostly all scientific and medical words, so if you are interested in pursuing a career in the sciences or any kind of medicine, Latin is essential!”

It also, she went on, forms the foundations of most terminology used in government, politics, logic, theology, and law. Wherever your career takes you, Latin will likely be there to greet you with time-honored prefixes and suffixes. (Even in the word prefix: prae + figere). 

“Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt have always been huge passions of mine since I was a child,” Ms. Kat told me. “I believe that in order to fully understand and capture the essence of a society’s culture and history, learning the language is paramount.” By teaching Latin, Ms. Kat is able to share her passion for all things Roman with her students.

So, if the language is dead, then it is a friendly phantom, appearing frequently and benignly. Most of the time. However, it seems to me more that Latin lives on in those who enjoy it, and thus is not dead but in fact immortal. Latina est gaudium–et utilis!