Friday, 4 July 2014

There is apparently just one

student studying Latin in the final year of high school this year - one out of 13, 500 final year students.
The Senior Cat did his degree in English Literature and Latin. Like many other teachers of his generation he had to do his degree part-time while teaching and supporting a young family. I can remember the lists of Latin words stuck on the shaving cabinet mirror. It was not a matter of "amo, amas, amat..." either. He did not love learning his vocabulary lists.
But, he did think Latin was important enough to learn - and so did many other students of his generation. As he remembers it there were well over one hundred students in the lecture theatre - and that was just one class. The Greek class was smaller because that contained just the students doing Classics as their major and the Theology students. Latin however was a popular choice for the minor strand for many English literature students. Latin was once compulsory for both medical and law students too.
The Senior Cat's closest friend was doing the same subject. They would travel into the city together, taking it in turns to drive a tiny three wheeled car so that they could test each other. They did not get distinctions but they did get credits - and they can still remember much of their Latin after more than sixty years.
I know some Latin -  but not a lot. The Senior Cat insisted that I learn some. He taught me outside school hours. He taught my brother some as well. My two sisters refused flatly to have anything to do with the language.
It shows. My brother and I write better English, at least I think we do. The Senior Cat seems to think so as well. And when I studied law I found I understood the legal terms that are still used. So did the other students of my generation. A member of staff once remarked to me that they should, at very least, have a compulsory unit in "legal Latin". Perhaps they should. As I remember it there was only one student in my year who was, as part of her double degree strand, doing Latin. She loved Latin. It was her passion. I doubt her peers ever understood her. She finished both degrees but never went into law. She actually found a job teaching Latin. I don't know what has happened to her since but I often wonder how many students she inspired and encouraged.
Is Latin important? It's a "dead language" isn't it?
I would say Latin is still important. It is far from a dead language. It is of course one of the official languages of the Vatican. I may be wrong  but I believe Papal decrees are written in Latin. However that is just one small way in which Latin is used. We all use it every day. We just don't recognise it as such. Many of our medical, scientific, economic and religious terms have a Latin base. New medical and scientific terms often look to Latin for their creation. Scientists around the world can understand one another more easily because of it.
And so I would ask the head of the modern languages association who dismissed Latin as being of no importance, "Where would you be without Latin?"
You would not be here. 


jeanfromcornwall said...

Latin IS important becuase so much else comes from it. That doesn't mean to say that everyone should be compelled to learn it, but any youngster who has an interest in languages should have the chance, since it is helpful. My OH and I both did it all those years ago, and though we wouldn't say we knew any now, we can both take an educated guess at the meaning of a word in a Mediterranean language, and also spot when some young reporter uses what they think is an impressive big word, but who gets it wrong!

Anonymous said...

I did three years of high school Latin ... did not appreciate it at the time, and deliberately set out to fail at the end of the third year so I could do history. Should have stuck with Latin!
I would like to have done more 'legalese', but still manage to pick up meanings of a new word from one of the Latin offspring now and then.