Latin

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May 2, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

Latin is a dead language. No one speaks Latin as his native language, and this has been the case for more than a millennium. In fact most teachers of Latin, even very good ones, cannot say more than a few sentences of Latin in succession. Latin has not been required for admissions into American universities for more than a century. Even Harvard, whose motto is “Veritas” (Truth) and The University of Chicago, whose motto is “Crescat scientia vita excolatur” (Let learning increase and thereby life be enriched), and a host of other prestigious institutions with Latin mottos do not require any knowledge of Latin for admission. Classics departments at universities are usually the smallest and least funded. Short of becoming a Latin teacher, and there are fewer of these jobs than any other position in schools or universities, there is not really anything you can do with Latin. So why bother with Latin? The language had its day, a very long one. Sed nihil ad infinitum vivit.

But hold the postmortem. One curious phenomenon of contemporary school reform is that Latin is making a comeback. Recent press releases indicate that nationwide certain schools are experiencing growth in their Latin programs, the number of students taking the AP Latin Exam has doubled in a decade, and students are actually enjoying their study of the language. The reasons for taking Latin are various, but they all stem from the advantages of either utility or pleasure.

First, to say that Latin is dead, though in some sense true, is not a particularly helpful observation when it comes to education. Plato and Cicero and Shakespeare and George Washington and the rest of the Founding Fathers are also dead, but we still study them because they have important things to say about human nature and have shaped our civilization.

In a similar way, Latin has influenced the way we get along in the world, namely, by talking and writing to each other. For about a thousand years a vital people in the history of the West, the Romans, spoke and wrote to each other in Latin. After the fall of Rome, Latin remained the language of learning until the end of the seventeenth century. Most learned treatises were written in Latin. Schoolboys in Europe and to a lesser extent in this country studied mostly Latin in school until the end of the nineteenth century. The “Latin Quarter” in Paris is so named because that is what students at the Sorbonne spoke rather than colloquial French.

This history has made important marks on modern languages. The Romance languages derive directly from Latin and thus are more easily learned when one has studied Latin first. English, though it grew out of Germanic dialects, owes about sixty percent of its words to Latin derivatives. Knowing Latin thereby gives the student a real command over the English language. The words “pulchritude” and “pecuniary” stump most of today’s high school and even college students, though they are the kinds of words that appear regularly on college admissions exams. Any eleven-year-old who has had a month of Latin, however, knows they derive from the Latin words for beauty and money.

The structure of Latin requires the study of the language to be intensely grammatical. The necessity of conjugating verbs and declining nouns causes the student to use memory and logic with the translation of every sentence. Moreover, the student must soon confront his own native language grammatically or Latin will make no sense to him. The Latin dative case requires an understanding of the English indirect object, for example. Whatever today’s students are learning in English class, grammar seems not to be the leading concern, as a conversation with most any young person will reveal.

Having a critical and historical knowledge of one’s own language that comes through the study of Latin is plainly useful. Knowing Latin itself is also enjoyable. One can begin to make sense of the Latin found in public places: e.g., “E pluribus unum.” From there one can move onto pithy sayings of the ancients: “Philosophia est ars vitae” (“Philosophy is the art of life.” Cicero). Soon the scattered pieces of Latin throughout Western literature will not seem so obscure. Finally, after much study (from the Latin stadium, diligence, application), the student will be able to read some of the best poetry, history, and oratory the world has ever known. The standards of excellence set by the ancients will unavoidably shape his own.

Adapted from Ashbrook.

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This was an article on Linguistics.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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27 Comments


  1. Though it looks like Latin is not pervasively used, we can find the monumental influences of Latin have had in many aspect of our academia and daily lives as part of its legacy. If one can learn the language, he or she will have an access to more knowledge and be able to unlock and understand the minds of ancients.

    Reply

  2. Latin, today, seems to not have much practical significance (other than as a means to become a Latin teacher); yet, we’re seeing a recent spike in growth of Latin programs (e.g. AP Latin) throughout schools; this is because Latin actually is useful (e.g. for learning other languages, for understanding ancient texts), and because the language is fun (e.g. understanding mottos, knowing cool Latin phrases). TL;DR: a text that supports learning Latin in today’s world.

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  3. Latin = comeback + has many uses in education and the world

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  4. Latin influenced the structure of modern languages and its popularity is increasing again in education systems

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  5. Latin advantageous to learning modern languages and fun as well recognizing it

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  6. Latin is a language thought to have been expiring. But, it is starting to become popular again and it is a useful language in the everyday world since all the other languages are primarily derived from latin.

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  7. MI: Latin seems like its dead but has lasting effect on various aspects, also making a comeback. Author = positive

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  8. Latin coming back, Latin influential

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  9. Although Latin language is dead, it doesn’t mean that it is useless. Many people has studied latin in the past, and latin has had a great impact on many languages with some words deriving from latin. Studying latin can be useful and enjoyable.

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  10. Although Latin is a dead language, it still has many uses and is beneficial in our society today

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  11. The author is a supporter of learning Latin, despite it being a dead language, and uses arguments such as how it can help in standardized testing, understanding other languages. The author also gives an historical account of Latin to show how important it was in the past, and uses that to reinforce that it’s an important language to learn.

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  12. Latin=not dead= may sharpens linguusitc abilities

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  13. Heres what the author is telling me: “Latin may be thought to be a dead language but let me assure you, Latin has and will be very useful in various ways. It is the foundation for English and gives information about the world. Latin sets the standard of language and understanding roots of native language.

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  14. Although in recent history Latin has been a dying language, it is continually making a comeback. The language is proven to be useful in modern English and learning about the history and roots of native language.

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  15. Latin = not dead. Latin = very useful for education.

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  16. Latin = not dead + historical + roots in other language = useful & enjoyable

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  17. Latin /=/ dead language = influence + useful, author = positive

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  18. Learning Latin is useful and enjoyable and becoming more appealing to students, although Latin might seem dead
    Author : + towards learning latin

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  19. MIP: study of latin = useful/pleasurable + connect w/ native language; tone = + towards latin

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  20. MIP: learning latin = useful + enjoyable

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  21. latin is making a comeback; latin = useful + influences interactions/languages

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  22. MIP: Latin is coming back. Latin edu is useful.
    Tone: neutral

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  23. Latin is a historical dead language, but has recently been slowly reviving. The passage mentions why Latin is useful, historically, and generally, to better comprehend literature and concepts. The passage mentions past use of Latin, and how incorporating this language can soon make a difference in people’s lives.

    Reply

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