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What Is a Dead Language Doing in the 21st Century? ^ | 12/04/2004 | Sue Reilly

Posted on 12/05/2004 7:12:01 PM PST by nickcarraway

Across the nation, schools are re-introducing Latin into their curricula. While Latin’s visibility is highest in private and homeschool settings, it is mounting a comeback in the public school system as well. This remarkable phenomenon brings to mind our often-ignored connection to the Roman and Greek civilizations of the ancient world.

What Is Old Is New Again

Latin’s stability makes it unique among languages still in use. Although centuries ago its grammar and vocabulary became essentially frozen (thus earning the designation “dead”), this language of the Roman Empire did not disappear — thanks largely to its status as the Roman Catholic Church’s official language and its inclusion in standard school curricula into the 20th century. Only in recent decades did Latin become less prominent. Today, however, Latin is staging a comeback and stirring fresh interest.

One cause of Latin’s revival may be a conscious or unconscious longing for a sense of permanence in a world of accelerating changes and fads of every type. Latin is the ultimate “un-fad,” and is part of the bedrock of Western heritage. Greek, a language of an even older civilization, is receiving renewed attention for the same reason.

There are many signs of Latin’s resurgence: in films (blockbusters such as Gladiator, and The Passion of The Christ), in music (brisk sales in recent years of Gregorian Chant CDs), and in worship (Latin is returning to many Catholic Masses, after decades of absence), and impromptu courses offered in Catholic churches.

Latin offers some very practical benefits that modern educators confirm. For starters, Latin’s historical relationship to modern languages makes it an excellent tool for introducing vocabulary and grammar principles that help students to learn English as well as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French, among other languages. As Fairfax County (Virginia) foreign language coordinator Paula Patrick observes, “As students’ familiarity with Greek and Latin words and word components increase, they learn strategies for understanding new vocabulary they will encounter in all disciplines they are studying.” Laurie Dabbieri, a high school Latin teacher in Fairfax County (where Latin has been taught in high schools for more than 50 years) notes, “Latin re-introduces students to grammar concepts that make their English writing better.”

Latin and Greek open doorways to the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, and the minds of philosophers and statesmen who created the Western world. Ms. Dabbieri remarked that she sees her students scaling the intermediate and advanced Latin courses with better thinking and organizational skills as they read works by Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Cesar, Virgil, and Ovid.

Our Roman Bridge to the Greeks

Latin’s importance in world history becomes clearer if we consider the predecessors of the Romans — the Greeks, who handed on a civilization, religion, and vast learning of their own. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Alexander the Great are but a few of the Greeks who profoundly affected world thought, ethics, and history.

To understand the magnitude of the Greeks’ knowledge and achievements, consider the example of Archimedes — a Greek mathematician and scientist who lived three centuries before Christ — and his enduring influence on life in the 21st century. Archimedes wrote on and advanced almost every mathematical discipline except algebra. His special interest in geometry laid the foundation for progress in other mathematical and scientific arenas. Archimedes discovered the numerical value of pi and concepts of trigonometry, calculus, and specific gravity, and he studied the behavior of gases and liquids. His achievements accelerated progress that led to modern achievements in navigation, architecture, physics, engineering, agriculture, mineralogy, and hydrostatics.

Archimedes was by no means the only ancient Greek who excelled. The Greeks also left their mark in the fields of medicine (giving us the “Hippocratic Oath,” which defines basic medical philosophy), ethics, literature (such as national epics, dramatic tragedy and comedy), politics (the basic theory and first practice of democracy), and principles of art.

We can only speculate about what drove the ancient Greeks’ curiosity, which obtained so many insights for them and for us, but it is evident that they had confidence in their ability to use observation and deduction to understand the world.

The Romans conquered the Greeks, inherited their legacy, and built upon it. Roman achievements in law, administration, governance, and civil engineering remain in use today. Latin, the language of the Romans, spread widely and served as a conduit for the dissemination of knowledge and culture in the classical world. The precision of Latin, which is rather unforgiving of sloppiness, supported clarity of thought and expression, and served as an Internet-like bridge among diverse ethnic groups whom the Romans encountered in their push to build an empire. In this way, Latin propagated an entire worldview and “can-do” attitude that put the West on the road to modernity.

Why Is Latin Becoming Popular Now?

The Roman Empire was not the last organization to need a common denominator to unite different peoples. Consider Daniels Run and Providence Elementary Schools in Fairfax City, Virginia, which has children from diverse ethnic backgrounds. When the school and parents decided to pursue a Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES), it became difficult to agree on an alternative to English. Finally, Latin was suggested and approved. This school now has a partial immersion Latin program for 3rd through 6th graders that has made teachers, parents, and students proud, edified, and eager to learn.

The school’s core disciplines of math, science, social studies, and language arts are benefiting. As Ms. Patrick said, “Because of the interdisciplinary nature of classical studies, and because of the heavily Greek- and Latin-based vocabulary of the content, Latin (along with Greek) is a natural and logical integrating force for the core disciplines. For example, when students study the phases of the moon, they are first taught the Latin root of the word for moon (luna), which is also reflected in the French ‘lundi’ (Monday) and the English word ‘lunatic,’ lunaticus or moonstruck, crazy; and the English word, lunar.

"Celebration of Veterans' Day causes children to ask, ‘What does Veterans Day mean?’ In response, the children learn about soldiers and the word ‘legion,’ which goes back to the Roman word for fortress (the structure of the Roman army) and related vocabulary. In social studies, a legal document is presented with Latin-derived terms highlighted. The program also enables students to recognize Greco-Roman influences in their own world and to compare and contrast ancient Mediterranean civilizations to our own.”

Competition and the search for excellence are driving the resurgence of Latin. Among many observers, there is a belief that much of the radical experimentation that has taken place in society during the last decades, especially in education, has not produced the excellence that was anticipated. There is also a growing desire to make commonsense adjustments. As competition to enter colleges and universities stiffens, students must perform better on college entrance exams, important parts of which focus on vocabulary. Latin helps accomplish this goal.

“Rigor,” according to Ms. Dabbieri, “is the buzzword in education and Latin is considered rigorous. She added that Latin is “academic,” so students who take Latin have an “edge” over other college-bound applicants.

As Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century, Sir Issac Newton in the 17th century, and Stephen Hawking in the 20th century all noted, we stand on the shoulders of giants. By becoming reacquainted with the languages that were such important parts of earlier achievements, we strengthen our capacity today to learn and accomplish new things.

Sue Reilly owned and ran an editorial business outside Washington DC for approx.15 years. She will finish a Masters Degree of Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College this month and has accepted a Director of Religious Education position at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, VA

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: archaeology; catholic; cultutre; deadlanguage; deadlanguagesketch; education; epigraphyandlanguage; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; greek; history; homeschool; language; latin; latinlovers; literature; mass; math; romancatholicism; thepassion; westernheritage
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To: nickcarraway

bumpus ad summum

21 posted on 12/05/2004 7:31:50 PM PST by Canticle_of_Deborah
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To: nickcarraway

My eldest had Latin class in middle school, and loved it - and picked up the nickname, "the Latin lady" there. She made Phi Beta Kappa with a major in languages in college.

22 posted on 12/05/2004 7:32:14 PM PST by conservatism_IS_compassion (The idea around which liberalism coheres is that NOTHING actually matters but PR.)
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To: nickcarraway

It's not dead, it's just pining for the fjords...

23 posted on 12/05/2004 7:32:36 PM PST by null and void (God has granted us Liberty, and we owe Him Courage in return)
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To: Citizen James

Iraq est omnis divisa in partes tres...

24 posted on 12/05/2004 7:32:40 PM PST by mailbox1282000 (Been awhile)
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To: mailbox1282000


25 posted on 12/05/2004 7:34:19 PM PST by Pyro7480 (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix.... sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper...)
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To: nickcarraway

Gallia est omni surrender in partes tres.

26 posted on 12/05/2004 7:34:55 PM PST by Nick Danger (Want some wood?)
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To: nickcarraway

Quid post hoc, propter hoc. Ad nauseum.

27 posted on 12/05/2004 7:35:10 PM PST by speedy
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To: mailbox1282000

That would be the logical solution. Afghanistan too, IMHO...

28 posted on 12/05/2004 7:35:21 PM PST by null and void (God has granted us Liberty, and we owe Him Courage in return)
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To: mailbox1282000
Saddam delenda est.


29 posted on 12/05/2004 7:35:49 PM PST by JRandomFreeper (D@mit! I'm just a cook. Don't make me come over there and prove it!)
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To: Pyro7480
My tagline is in Latin, so I couldn't resist posting to this thread.

I tried a couple days to do the same thing but couldn't get an online translator to the same thing twice so I gave up.
30 posted on 12/05/2004 7:36:00 PM PST by quantim (Victory is not relative, it is absolute.)
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To: nickcarraway

I speak as fluent Palestinian as anyone......

31 posted on 12/05/2004 7:36:13 PM PST by isthisnickcool (John Kerry in 2008!)
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To: nickcarraway

. . . vivos ducent de marmore voltus;
orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
describent radio et surgentia sidera dicent:
tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.

--Virgil, Aeneid, VI, 848-53

32 posted on 12/05/2004 7:36:45 PM PST by Cicero (Nil illegitemus carborundum est)
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To: nickcarraway
E Pluribus Unum

Cogito ergo sum

In Deo speramus

33 posted on 12/05/2004 7:40:05 PM PST by NautiNurse
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V = 5
O = 0
A = -3,234,231.8758932

34 posted on 12/05/2004 7:40:12 PM PST by OSHA (He is unbeatable. Christ, we beat him twice, and he's still President. (DU Cherry.))
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Comment #35 Removed by Moderator

To: nickcarraway
Study Latin....

Laudari a laudato viro...

Study Ancient Greek...

Pathemata mathemata...

Gratia tibi ago!

36 posted on 12/05/2004 7:43:05 PM PST by BIGLOOK (I once opposed keelhauling but have recently come to my senses.)
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Comment #37 Removed by Moderator

To: mailbox1282000

semper ubi sub ubi

38 posted on 12/05/2004 7:46:43 PM PST by mailbox1282000 (Been awhile)
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To: speedy
I think you mean post hoc ergo propter hoc.
39 posted on 12/05/2004 7:47:10 PM PST by stands2reason
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To: stands2reason

I'm not sure what I mean. Non compos mentis.

40 posted on 12/05/2004 7:48:46 PM PST by speedy
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