Latin just won’t stay dead. I think the Pope may be behind it.
At the Vatican, Benedict XVI is creating a new Papal Latin Academy to promote the language inside and outside of the Church. Latin was the official language of the Catholic Church right up until the Vatican reforms replaced Latin with local languages.
Many thought it would be the nail in the coffin of a language experiencing the longest death in linguistic history; even some 1500 years after the Visigoths lowered the curtain on the Romans.
But Latin keeps on ticking. While would-be language education experts are always wringing their hands about the importance of studying up-and-coming languages like Chinese or Arabic, Latin remains the exotic language of choice for budding language students. In the UK for example, the number of Latin students increased 7.5 percent last year, while the numbers of students studying living languages continues to shrink.
In Germany, a third of high school students study Latin, and it’s the third most popular exam choice after English and French.
Recent years brought a Latin boom in the States too. “The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654 in 2007, reported Winnie Hu in the NYT.
For high school kids, there is something classy about studying the classics. As the Harry Potter generation, they all aspire to attend Hogwarts for magic studies, an essential skill in today’s job market for recent graduates.
“Classicists argue that Latin is a sound preparation for learning other languages and the structure of one’s own, and for developing cognitive skills, writes Harvey Morris. But that’s an argument you could make only if your job depended on it.
The best preparation for learning a language is to study the language you want to learn instead of studying some other language.
“The cardinal argument against learning Latin is the fact that there are only so many hours in a day for learning and there’s dozens of other subjects that should take precedence. We have to make choices in learning and this one is irrational,” writes Blogger Donald Clark in a post on the 10 great reasons why you shouldn’t learn Latin.
“As we’ve seen, there’s no real argument for learning a dead language on the basis of utility (unless one wants to become an ancient history scholar) as no one speaks the damn thing. Tempus fugit.”