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Of course this new generation of Latin students will know their English grammar better by learning their actives from their passives. And priests and congregations who understand the Tridentine Mass will tend to have better written English than those without Latin.
But let’s hope those students, those priests, and their congregations will enjoy some Latin literature as well as Latin grammar and Latin masses. The real point of Latin and Latin teachers is not their gift for improving your English but for improving your Latin; and so allowing you to appreciate some of the finest prose and poetry ever written.
To say you need to understand Latin to understand English, as some people do say, is as crazy as suggesting that you need to understand Anglo-Saxon, German, and Norman French to understand English. All these languages went into the pot to form English but no one suggests learning them to improve your grammar.
English is not nearly as close a relative of Latin as, say, French, and even French is a descendant through many generations. Once the Romans left Britain to the Angles and the Saxons, our native language went through several incarnations.
The language the Angles and Saxons brought with them — Anglo-Saxon — imported large chunks of non-Latinate words, as well as some pretty garbled bits of Latin, often borrowed via French.
And then, when the Normans came, their new brand of French imported even more Latinate words. But it was much-mutilated and diluted Latin that poured into the mix that became modern English.
THE IDEA THAT THE PURE strain of original, ancient Latin, as spoken in the Tridentine Mass and taught to increasing numbers in American schools, forms the spine of modern English is ludicrous.
In fact, the main reason you will know English better as a result of reading Latin is that it is so different from Latin, not because of any similarities. It is in computing the changes from one language to another that you are forced to think about the structure of each of them. Latin is particularly useful for this computing exercise, thanks to the very quality that it is usually attacked for — its deadness.
Because living languages are in a constant state of flux, there’s a great deal of wriggle room when translating from one to another. Precisely because Latin is dead, there’s none of that flexibility. You are much more likely to be definitely wrong in a translation from Latin to English than from, say, French to English, if you haven’t understood exactly what a particular word means or how a grammatical rule works.
Still, it’s pretty grim to think of Latin like this, as a sort of mental gymnastics, a grim, utilitarian exercise for strengthening the mind. Yes, if the new Latin students, and the priests and congregations celebrating the Tridentine Mass, really get to know their Latin, they’ll incidentally improve their English.
But — much more wonderful than that — they will then know world literature from the third century BC, when writers got going in Rome, through to the Golden Age of Latin — Lucretius, Catullus, Sallust, Cicero and Caesar. They will know the Augustan Age — Ovid, Horace, Virgil and Livy — down to the end of the Silver Age in 120 AD: Martial, Juvenal, Lucan, Seneca, Pliny and Tacitus.
It’s a pretty inspiring reading list. If they happen to pick up some grammar along the way, well, all the better, but I hope they don’t forget to look out of the window and take in the beauty spots too.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online