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Learning Latin Today

By Remi, published on 21/06/2018 Blog > Academia > Latin > All About Latin!

If you are motivated enough to learn an extinct language such as Latin in a few months, it is probably because you are very keen on extending your knowledge of the Roman culture.

The history of the Roman civilisation, its kings and emperors, is as complex as it is interesting. The legacy passed upon our modern societies and languages, still spark some heavy debates among scholars, almost 2000 years after the end of the Western Roman Empire.

While Latin is no longer taught in most of Britain’s state schools, it remained a subject in some grammar schools (more selective) and was still taught by a couple dozen university across the country.

But due to budget restrictions, some schools have decided to stop offering such classing. That includes Richmond School, in North Yorkshire, that had come to the decision of stopping English classes for the first time in 600 years.

Amongst the roughly 700,000 pupils taking their GSCEs every year in England, Wales and Northen Ireland, about 10,000 of them will take one in Latin.

Also, roughly 1,500 students decide to take Latin for as one of their A-levels, making this subject more popular than Irish or Critical thinking.

Cuneiform writing from Uruk. Cuneiform writing was the ancestors of the alphabet we used today and was first used by the Sumerians more than 7000 years ago ( by Daniel Mennerich).

But why do we keep teaching Latin in schools?

A lot of scholars believe that learning Latin in school early one can have a tremendous impact on your overall studies.

In the U.S., studies have shown that the high-school students learning Latin and taking Latin for their SATs (the equivalent of A-levels) score consistently better across all the other subjects than people studying another language.

As well as boosting your cognitive skills (like learning any new language does), learning Latin also teaches you a great deal about the Roman civilisation and the role of the Catholic Church in spreading the use of their official language through Europe.

Superprof will give you the ins and outs of the Latin language.

Why Study Latin at School?

Here are the four main reasons you should study latin:

  • Better your knowledge of many European countries’ culture, history and language.
  • Improve in English.
  • Improve your overall results in school.
  • Improve your chance of getting in your dream university.

Around the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire ruled all of Eastern Europe. Land that is now Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Wales and England were all under Roman rule and Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire.

Around the year 43AD, Roman that had conquered Britania founded the city of Londinium, our current London.

After the collapse of the Empire, Latin remained the main language for at least one institution, the Church. Masses were still said in Latin even though the common people would not understand it.

All Soul's College of Oxford. The first subjects that were taught in Oxford was theology and all the classes were in Latin. ( by Doolallyally)

After the Middle Ages, and thanks to the Renaissance movement, Latin also became the main language to communicate about science, art and literature.

Latin remained mandatory for any medicine or law students until the beginning of the 20th century.

However, the way we have been learning Latin has changed dramatically over the last few centuries. Today it is no longer about learning by heart all the possible declension of the six grammatical cases nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative and locative.

While memorising the Latin grammar rules is essential to the understanding of any Latin text and for the translation from Latin to English, the most recent teaching method put an emphasis of practising speaking and listening in Latin more than ever.

The English alphabet also comes from the Romans and was only updated a few times through history to facilitate pronunciation.

Because of all that, we can today trace back roughly 30% of all English nouns, verbs and adjectives directly to Latin and another 30% comes from French, a romance language mostly inherited from Latin.

While grammar rules in English were mostly influenced by Germanic languages spoken by Anglo-Saxon invaders, most of our English vocabulary today is from Latin.

But if you intend on learning a romance language such as Spanish, Italian or French, then taking Latin classes will come in very useful.

Science is also highly dominated by Latin words, with 90% of science vocabulary being borrowed from Latin. Biology, physics, chemistry are only a few subjects were learning the lingua latina might help you.

The History of Latin

Unlike many of the other land that had been conquered by the Romans, the British Isles stopped using Latin as their first language after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

While in France or Spain many dialects died in favour of Latin, in England; Old English took over as the lingua franca (common language) entirely around the 6th century BC.

Many linguists and historians explain this by the fact that Britania was the most northern province of the Empire and that even at its best, the Empire never had as much influence on it as it may have had over Galia (Gaul, current France) or Hispania (current Spain).

When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, the Empire’s institution and prestige were wiped out across England.

But despite that, Latin remained a hugely important part of the English language.

The first records of written Latin language date back from the 7th century BC and were discovered in Rome. The oldest script that survived was on a golden brooch called the brooch of Palestrina.

The history of the Latin language is at least 2500 years old but can be summarised in a few key dates.

  • 700BC – 100BC: archaic Latin used in the Latium (central part of Italy)
  • 100BC – 14AD: the Golden age of classical Latin
  • 14AD – 130AD: the expansion of the Roman Empire and of Latin
  • 3rd – 6th century AD: late Latin
  • 6th – 15th century AD: Medieval Latin
  • 15th – 16th century AD: Renaissance Latin
  • Up to today: New-Latin

Latin inscription in Rome. The old city of Rome, the former capital of the Roman Empire and birthplace of the Latin language is covered with inscriptions written in Latin and dating from 2000 years ago (by jillmackie)

During the Roman colonisation of Europe, classical Latin and often Greek remained the language of the Elite. Julius Caesar first language was Greek and not Latin and if you were raised in a rich family your were most likely to be bilingual if not multilingual.

But the common people what we came to refer to as vulgar Latin. This is this common idiom, spoken by legionaries and the family that eventually followed them to the piece of land they were given at the end of their 25-year service.

This vulgar Latin, mixed and blended with the local dialects and tongues. In most of Europe, Latin was the main part of the languages that emerged from the mix. But on the British Isles, the local dialects won over Latin.

Nonetheless, the expansion of the Roman Empire was so important, reaching the shores of the Euphrates river in the Middle East and spreading as north as the River Tyne in North East England, that Latin also influenced Germanic and Slavic languages.

Latin endured as the language of the elite, scientist, writers and philosophers. A hegemony that would go on during the Renaissance when classical writers such as Cicero, SenecaPhaedrus, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger or Tacitus.

At that time, Europe’s most prominent scientist, Newton, Descartes, Erasmus and the like, all write in Latin.

Cover of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. The most famous of Sir Isaac Newton, ” Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”.

Why Did The Latin Language Die?

Rome was gone. Britain was left to fend for itself. And the invasions began.

The History of Great Britain is one of many successive invasion.

First the Anglo-Saxons in from the 5th century, then the Vikings from the 8th century and eventually the Norman (technically French) in 1066.

Each of the new invaders would bring with them a new language. The Anglo-Saxon brought different Germanic dialects that unified as we call Old English. The Vikings brought Old Norse and words like husbandsteak, reindeer or even run, are all originating from it.

Finally, William the Conqueror accessed the throne of England in 1066 after the battle of Hastings. This marked the beginning of Norman (an old version of French) being spoked at the Royal court of England for 300 years.

Today, there are no native Latin speakers left, which means that Latin is officially an extinct language.

While the Roman Empire collapse is one of the reasons Latin faded, the Church was one of the main if not the only institution that kept the Latin language going for so long.

During the Middle Ages and with the unification of the Kingdom of England by Æthelstan, English as a language was used to bring together all subjects of the Kingdom, creating a national identity.

What Languages Come From Latin?

If you are learning by yourself you may not notice the close relation that Latin has with other European languages and even less with English.

So why bother to learn a 2500 years old language?

Simply because Latin is the common language that most European idioms share.

When the Roman Empire controlled most of Europe, speaking Latin was the only way to be part of everyday society, to interact with other citizen or with the Empire’s administration.

With such an influence it is not surprising that Latin has made its way to most if not every language is spoken in Europe today.

There are two main categories of Latin-born languages all falling under the category of romance languages:

  • The Oriental Romance Languages: including Italian (the official language of the Italian Republic) and at least 34 four living dialects originating from Vulgar Latin but also Romanian.
  • The Occidental Romance Languages: including French, Spanish, Portuguese, and hundreds of local dialects, some of them the official language of their region such as Catalan, being the native language of roughly 10% of the Spanish population.

So learning Latin might be the best thing to do if you’re looking to learn any European language. Same alphabet, a lot of vocabulary in common and a shared history should be all the more reasons for you to learn Latin!

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