“Language is always changing.” This is the remark we hear repeatedly when the idea of implementing Latin is brought up. The progressive mindset of the present age sniggers derisively at the idea of teaching such an old and, clearly, obsolete language.
In the days of texting, messaging, chatting—with emojis and pictures to aid our words—there is a great temptation to put away the rules of language and to agree that indeed our process of communication is changing and we, therefore, need to embrace change and become just as muddleheaded as the next guy—just as inept at using the English language, just as skilled at using pictures to purvey our thoughts. I was quite sure cave drawings went out with the Stone Age and that civilization had progressed to the use of words, but alas, our enlightened society insists on returning to an uneducated state.
There are various reasons for this turn in understanding, and they need to be studied and thought about. For instance, we now live in a society where definite statements are considered offensive and so the adding of a smiley face softens any opinion and protects the writer from actually making a clear cut statement for which he would then be responsible. Somehow, when I look at the writings of old, I can’t imagine any pictures being added. Indeed, the great minds of history may have looked as derisively at added pictures as the progressives of today look at proper language. Contrary to the utilitarian mindset adopted by people in the present day, where what one can do is far more important than if one can actually think, our forefathers expected that the educated person would be skilled in the use of words. But to speak well, one must be able to think.
And what has this to do with Latin, you say? This brief mental meandering is not meant to address all the advantages of a Latin education, of which, I persist, there are many. No, in this little blog post I wish to set forth the idea that opening the door of Latin brings an appreciation for the beauty of language, an absolute enjoyment of playing with words, of discovering new words, of noticing words. For instance, becoming aware of derivatives makes a huge difference in one’s understanding of language. Suddenly, we are thinking about our words. This makes language take on a whole new meaning. We read the word agriculture and think of the Latin, agricola, which means “farmer.” When we talk of labor, we remember this word was picked up directly from Latin and means “work.” The Latin student develops a habit of thinking about words, and this habit then leads to a respect and deeper understanding of language.
Would that the students of today could play with words as in days gone by when tongue twisters were enjoyed by all. I remember the great fun that was had as the words rolled off the tongue:
Betty Botter had some butter. “But,” she said, “the butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter.” So she bought some better butter, and it made her batter better. So t’was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.
Appreciation for rhyme, for rhythm, attention to sound in language, is brought about by an understanding of words, and only after words or a love of words is developed.
In a day when language is being devalued daily, when whole words are being condensed into one letter, Latin, blessed Latin, may just be our savior. Teach your students the roots of words; show them the words that are derived from Latin. This will help them to think and observe and you will soon find they will be laughing out loud at their former foolishness.