Despite its popular characterization as a “dead language”, Latin remains one of the most influential and enduring languages in human history, alive through the five Romance languages and various branches of history, art, medicine, and law. As a student of Latin myself, I may be highly biased. Still, I genuinely believe in the importance of literacy, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills, and Latin is a language well-equipped to build those vital abilities. If you are interested in becoming a doctor, lawyer, or proficient grammarian, Latin may be a perfect language to study.
Everyday Use and Education
Latin is more omnipresent than you may realize. When you ask for the time - the punctuating AM or PM is from Latin. Ante meridiem and post meridiem mean before and after midday, respectively. The American dollar also has three Latin mottos - Annuit coeptis (God approved our undertakings) and Novus ordo seclorum (New order of the Ages), and E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one). Our money utilizes Latin because our government is structured after Ancient Rome, thus much of our economic and legal grammar is derived from Latin. Additionally, almost all American colleges have a motto in Latin. For example, Harvard’s motto Veritas means truth, from which we get the derivatives verifiable, verify, verity, and more.
In school, many of our subject names are from Latin. The suffix -ology, meaning “study of” is used to clarify several fields, such as biology (study of life), anthropology (study of humankind), theology (study of God), psychology (study of the soul), geology (study of Earth), and many more. Additionally, the field of medicine utilizes terminology gleaned from Latin. Up until the 18th century, all texts of science and medicine were written in Latin, therefore notable texts like anatomical text De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) have determined the language of medicine to be Latin. Thus, it is no
surprise that Classics is a helpful major or minor for medical students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges and Princeton Review, students who major or double-major in Classics have a better success rate of getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely on biology, microbiology, and other branches of science.
Another important field that utilizes Latin is law. The form of Latin used in law is sensibly called Law Latin or Dog Latin and is used for common legal procedures or practices. Phrases like ad litem or in loco parentis are necessary for all law students and lawyers to understand and use in their daily lives. Again, since our court system is a descendant of Ancient Rome’s, we employ the same phrases used centuries ago in the Roman legal system. Lawyers are indispensable resources for any just society, and knowing and understanding Latin phrases is a major part of their education. Therefore in two of the most crucial fields, Latin is a prevalent subject.
Additionally, if you are interested in learning one of the five Romance lnguages, Latin may provide a great aid. Since all five languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Romaninan, French, Italian) have roots in Latin, you will learn at a faster pace because many words are cognates.
Like studying other languages, Latin also sharpens the mind, changes our patterns of thinking, and helps us understand our first language better. It also helps expand our vocabulary, since 50% of English words are directly derived from Latin, including 90% of all polysyllabic words. Through learning Latin prefixes and suffixes, you are able to analyze almost any word in the English language with ease. This is a valuable skill on tests like the SAT, where you will need to use context clues to make educated guesses.
Latin is a very logical language, comparable to computer languages like Python. Although the grammar can be stodgy, by analyzing Latin texts you can gain patience and critical reading skills. Learning Latin also makes you a more detail-oriented person, as small changes in words can dramatically alter their meanings. Latin can also help refine your grammar skills. As a language that has different cases and genders for nouns, Latin helps students understand how different forms of a word impact how they are interpreted. In their native language, this can help them understand how to format sentences in a more lucid and sophisticated manner. Thus, for students looking to improve their reading and writing skills, learning Latin may be a great way to do so.
For those interested in history, Latin is also the key to understanding one of the most famous and influential empires of all time, the Roman Empire. The birthplace of great literature, renowned philosophers, breathtaking architecture, and more can be best learned about through first person accounts written in Latin. Virgil, Horace, and Ovid are all famous Romans who have left their mark on history through their writings. Learning Latin can help you appreciate their works in their original forms. Many great myths, like The Aeneid, are also written in Latin, and references to the famous work can be found throughout modern literature.
Latin’s Enduring Importance
With its impact on world history, literature, government, and more, Latin is far from being a dead language. If you are interested in pursuing law or medicine, learning Latin is an essential practice due to the influence of the Romans on both fields today. In school, Latin may help you excel in the humanities with its ability to help you decode difficult vocabulary and improve your syntax and diction. We use Latin everyday whether you consciously realize it or not, so if you would like to improve your ability to understand the world, you can start learning Latin online today!
Breanna Crossman is a 17-year-old writer from Orange County, California who currently resides on Long Island. She writes for Neutral Citizen Journalism and runs Spiritus Mundi Review, an interdisciplinary arts magazine. When she is not reading or writing, you can find her drinking coffee, watching Hayao Miyazaki films, and hanging out with her cat. Instagram: @breannacrossman