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Why the School Curriculum Should Maintain Latin

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Why the School Curriculum Should Maintain Latin

Gina Ngo, Staff

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As the world currently lives in an age where being practical and productive in our studies are fundamental, only a few understand the vitality of learning a dead language, particularly Latin.  Because Latin is not spoken today, many individuals have a false, preconceived notion of the language and immediately deduce that there is no necessity or practicality to it.  Therefore, languages such as Spanish, French, or Italian are those that most students strive to learn since they are frequently spoken around the world, though they may not be aware that these Romance languages are derived from Latin.  

Knowing that German courses were removed from the Haverford High School language curriculum a few years ago, I am anxious of the prospect that Latin courses will meet the same fate.  In the last few years, the number of students enrolled in Latin courses have noticeably diminished.  As a Latin student, I wish to  emphasize that this language is indispensable and should continue to be taught around the world.

Although Latin inscriptions have been recorded from as early as 6th century B.C., the language continues to have a substantial impact in the modern world.  Without realizing it, students gain exposure to derivatives of Latin from an early age.  When children begin kindergarten, they begin to learn words that  contain Latin roots.  For example, the noun “mother” is derived from the Latin word mater.  Other English words such as maternal, maternity, matriarch, and matron are also derived from the same Latin word. Another example of a Latin word that English words are derived from is the verb docere, meaning “to teach”.  Its derivatives include documentary, document, doctrine, and docent.  As students learn more complex vocabulary, Latin words will be an aid to retaining definitions and understanding the basis of word formation.  

Latin is a significant part of our daily lives and though many may not be aware of it, it is ubiquitous in the contemporary world.  People should take notice of the Latin phrases summa cum laude, meaning “with top honor” and magna cum laude, meaning with “great honor”, that are often used during academic award ceremonies.  Popular television shows, movies, or commercials may encompass Latin words such as status quo, meaning “state of being”, mea culpa, meaning “my fault”, and bona fide, meaning “genuine, true, or honest”.  A commonly seen phrase on calendars or inspirational wall art is carpe diem, meaning “seize the day”.  There is no surprise that even the abbreviation “etc.” comes from the Latin phrase et cetera, meaning “and the rest”.  One who is observant may find that the United States one-dollar bill contains several Latin phrases: Novus ordo seclorum, meaning “new order of the ages” and e pluribus unum, meaning “out of many, one”.  Classic books like Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, includes a plethora of terms and incantations, such as expecto patronum which means “I await a guardian”.  One may have a stronger appreciation for literature when recognizing the origin of foreign words found in literary work.  These words, and many more, serve as a testament to the prevalence and significance of this seemingly dead language.  

Those who wish to pursue a career in law, politics, or medicine would greatly benefit from learning the language as these fields maintain its usage.  The Romans were passionate in politics and government; thus, many of the phrases used today in the diction of politics are Latin.  The commonly used phrase in government, subpoena, is a Latin word.  The prefix sub, means “under” and poena, means penalty.  Having taken biology, encountering Latin terminology is not unforeseen.  Words such as abdomen, analogous, appendix, and atrium are Latin words that are frequently used in the realm of medicine.  Should aspiring lawyers, medical doctors, and politicians study Latin before attending college, they would find it to be worthwhile and preliminary to their future education.  

If the field of law or medicine are not the interests of one’s professional path, learning Latin is essential regardless.  It supplies the core foundation of the English language; through its systematic configuration of verb and noun forms, previously unknown words become comprehensible.  I assert empirically that Latin has enhanced my understanding of English.  I have been able to apply my knowledge of Latin in English, and thus, I am able to decipher unfamiliar English words and gain a strong understanding on various grammar constructions. 

Maintaining Latin in our school curriculum as well as in the educational institutions around the world is critical. The more we learn from Latin, the more conscientious we are of its presence in the modern world and the application it remains to have on our daily lives.  While the language may not be commonly spoken today, Latin should be preserved because its relevance will continue to live on for years to come.  

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Why the School Curriculum Should Maintain Latin