Saturday, October 16, 2004

Hot-blooded Latin?

Though it's never unpleasant to think of Italian men in tight t-shirts lounging carelessly on Vespas at the foot of the Colosseum, that's not actually what I'm planning to talk about here... No, this week's top topic in the news is the Latin language. Once considered as good as dead and buried as an academic subject, especially in state schools and colleges, it is now undergoing something of a resurrection.

This resurrection is partly because of a project that has created very cool interactive online learning materials that young people really want to use, but also because it is starting to be perceived as a MORE useful language to learn than, say, French or German.

Why? Well, because the Roman Empire had such a massive influence across our part of the world, from Hadrian's Wall in the North of Britain down to Egypt in the south, Latin has had a huge linguistic influence. Modern Spanish and Italian are directly derived from it, whilst its continuation as an academic lingua franca in Europe right through until the 18th century ensured that it played an important role in elaborating many other languages. Learn Latin, the idea goes, and you will have an important foundation level knowledge of lots of languages, from which you can quickly pick others up as you need them.

Closer to home, Latin has had a huge influence on English - first, from the words borrowed by Old English after the arrival of Christianity; later as a result of the Renaissance interest in classical art and literature; then as the rise of Science created a huge demand for new words, just at a time when it became politically fashionable to publish in the vernacular instead of in Latin. Where no words existed before, Latin ones that worked were borrowed by the cartload. The consequence is that our language is littered with thousands of words derived from Latin, and, indeed, whole Latin phrases such as "ad nauseum" and "post mortem". Learn Latin, the idea goes, and you learn about the history and development of your own language.

And besides, if you're planning to work in any kind of medical, legal or horticultural field, you're going to have to learn quite a bit of it anyway!

Check out the links...

The language that will never die

Latin phrases and words used in English


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