Why the “Dead Language” of Latin Should Be Preserved


The Colosseum, an amphitheater located in Rome, Italy, is the symbol of Imperial Rome.

Gina Ngo , Staff

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As students currently live in an age where being practical and productive in their studies are fundamental, only a few understand the value of learning a “dead language” – particularly Latin. Many individuals have the preconceived notion that there is no necessity or practicality to learning Latin simply because it is not spoken today. Most students strive to learn languages, such as Spanish, Italian, and French since they are commonly 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 Haverford High School’s language curriculum a few years ago, I am anxious that Latin courses will meet the same fate. In the last few years, the number of students enrolled in Latin courses have noticeably decreased. As a Latin student, I wish to emphasize that this language is indispensable and should continue to be taught around the world.

Latin inscriptions have been recorded from as early as 6th century B.C., but the language remains ubiquitous today. Without realizing it, students gain exposure to Latin derivatives at an early age. When children begin kindergarten, they start to learn words that contain Latin roots. For example, the Latin word mater, derives English words, such as mother, maternal, maternity, matriarch, and matron. Docere, meaning “to teach”, is another Latin word that derives many English words, such as documentary, document, doctrine, and docent. As students learn more complex vocabulary, Latin words will be an aid to understanding the basis of word formation.  

Students should take notice of the Latin phrases in their everyday lives. Summa cum laude, meaning “with top honor” and magna cum laude, meaning with “great honor”, are among the various Latin phrases written on academic awards. Popular television shows, movies, or commercials often encompass Latin phrases, such as status quo, meaning “state of being”, mea culpa, meaning “my fault”, and bona fide, meaning “genuine, true, or honest”. Even inspirational wall art and stationery include Latin expressions, such as carpe diem, meaning “seize the day”. 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 also include a plethora of incantations, such as expecto patronum, meaning “I await a guardian”. These words, and many more, serve as a testament that Latin is indeed not dead. Evidently, it has maintained its immortality since its emergence. 

“How would reading The Aeneid help me with English?” one may ask. Not only would devouring such a timeless classic cause one to marvel at a magnificent hero’s destiny that yielded the beginnings of Rome and its distinguished dynasty, but it would also give one the appreciation of ancient Roman literature as the roots of the English language. 

Those who wish to pursue a career in law, politics, or medicine would greatly benefit from learning Latin, as these fields maintain their usage of it. The Romans were passionate about politics and government; thus, many of the phrases used today in politics are Latin. Subpoena, a common phrase in the government, is a Latin word. The prefix sub, means “under” and poena, means “penalty”. Latin terminology in an anatomy or chemistry textbook is also not unforeseen. Terms such as abdomen, analogous, appendix, and atrium are frequently used in medicine.

If the fields of law or medicine are not one’s professional interests, learning Latin is essential regardless. It constructs the core foundation of the English language through its systematic configuration of verbs and nouns, making previously unknown words comprehensible. I have been able to apply my knowledge of Latin in English, and thus, I am able to decipher unfamiliar English words and understand various grammar constructions. I assert empirically that Latin has enhanced my understanding of English, and I am confident that others can reap the same benefits. 

Maintaining Latin in Haverford High School’s curriculum and in all of the educational institutions of the world is critical. The more we learn from Latin, the more conscientious we are of the application it has on our daily lives. It may not be commonly spoken today, but its relevance will undoubtedly continue for years to come.  

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