A Case for Latin


Latin scripture carved on stone Photo credit: pxfuel.com

Aima Rashid, Writer

We encounter Latin every day, from the sayings such as “carpe diem” to how our government works. It all stems from the Romans who spoke Latin and from whom we adopted our democratic government. Latin is the official language of Vatican City and it is also widespread through science, particularly in naming organisms, chemicals and body parts. So, is Latin a dead language? And, how can it benefit you? Students should take Latin because it will help them improve their vocabulary and brain function and provide them with a blueprint to modern languages.

Latin should be studied by students because, according to dictionary.com, “about 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin.” This means that 80% of the words we encounter can be broken down to find their meaning based on Latin roots. For example, you are reading and come across the word sagacious. At first, you may find it difficult to decipher its meaning, but that is where Latin roots come in. The word can be broken down into “sag” and “ous.” The Latin root “sag” means “keen perception.” The Latin root “ous” means “having or full of.” Using both root definitions together, you now know that sagacious means “having keen perception.” 

Additionally, an article at mcl.as.uky.edu shows that students studying Latin are able to have invaluable insights into the English language because they can dissect structures of English words for their meaning. Based on their knowledge, those who study Latin can guess the meaning of new words. Many who master Latin score very highly on standardized tests.

Furthermore, there are many studies that indicate that acquiring a second language helps improve brain function. A recent study by Dr. Thomas Bak — a lecturer at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences — shows “bilinguals performed significantly better than predicted from their baseline cognitive abilities, with strongest effects on general intelligence and reading.”  Learning another language, such as Latin, is one of the most effective and practical ways to increase intelligence, keep your mind sharp and buffer your brain against aging. The frequent deductive reasoning required to learn and understand Latin will allow an increase in your ability to think clearly and logically.

There is a misconception that Latin is a dead language because it is no longer spoken in communities, so it is not worth learning. However, Latin is far from being dead, it’s very much alive under different names: English, French, Spanish and Italian. When students study Latin, it is much easier to grasp modern languages (English, French, Spanish and Italian) because, according to an e-newsletter by Joanne Mueller, 90% of the vocabulary in modern languages comes from Latin. The “concepts of agreement, inflected nouns, conjugated verbs and grammatical gender learned in Latin can help you learn other languages,” said Mueller. Latin should be studied because it lays the foundation for other languages.

Students should learn Latin so they can build their comprehension of the English language, improve their brain function and maximize the benefits of learning a foreign language. In middle school, I was taught a combination of 600 Latin and Greek roots that continue to resonate with me six years later. In AP Biology, I am able to define never-seen-before vocabulary words because I can break down the complex vocabulary to the simple roots I memorized years ago. After taking Latin I last year and returning to French IV this year, I now understand French vocabulary and grammar much more in-depth because I can relate back to its parent language, Latin.