The Fordian

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 preconceived and false 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 express and 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 BC, 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 a child reaches the third grade, he or she begins to learn words that are more elaborate and contain Latin roots.  For example, the noun mother is derived from the Latin word mater. Other English words such as maternal, maternity, matriarch, matrimony, and matron are also derived from this 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 would 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.  Next time you attend an award ceremony, remain attentive and take notice of the Latin phrases summa cum laude, meaning “with top honor (or praise)” and magna cum laude, meaning with “great honor (or praise)”.  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”, which is an ordinary phrase in day-to-day conversations.  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”, e pluribus unum, meaning “out of many, one”.  Classic books or compositions contain Latin; Harry Potter, the beloved book series 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.  

Furthermore, 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 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 your professional path, learning Latin is essential regardless.  It supplies the core foundation of the English language and through its systematic configuration of verb and noun forms, previously unknown words become comprehensible.  I assert empirically that Latin has enhanced my English.  I have been able to apply my knowledge in Latin to advanced English vocabulary or grammar, thus I am able to decipher unfamiliar English words and gain a stronger understanding on various grammar constructions. Not only will Latin continue to strengthen my writing and reading, it will also provide assistance for reading sections of  standardized tests such as the SAT.  

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 current 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