Saturday, February 12, 2011

10 reasons to NOT teach Latin (reductio ad absurdum)

There’s often a tension in education between the traditional and the progressive. But when the traditional hauls us back 2000 years, we really do need to worry. So, whenever I hear ‘Latin’ recommended in curricular discussions, I want to reach for my pedagogic gun, as it’s invariably subliminal snobbery. The perfect example is the toady Toby Young, who wants Latin to be a compulsory subject in all secondary schools. Yes, a D-list celebrity, who’s made a living from writing about being feckless and hapless, wants us all to listen to his petty, inner-city, London, middle class concerns about the quality of schools in his area. His solution – learn Latin!
Now you have to have some pretty convincing argument to put Latin into your core curriculum, so here goes? I’ll be a devil and advocate.
1. Helps you learn other languages
Sorry, it doesn’t. The metastudy Research and the teaching of English by Sherwin, found that “the study of Latin does not necessarily increase the ability to learn another language… No consistent experimental evidence in support of this contention was found.” The argument runs along these lines, that the Romance languages have Latin roots, so knowing Latin helps one learn French, Spanish and Italian. Now there may be some marginal advantage to knowing Latin before you learn these languages, but only if your Latin is very extensive, and you do Latin before you try the other languages. Why scratch your ear by going over the top of your head? Learners have limited time and that time is clearly better spent on the target language itself. You don’t have to go out with the grandmother to help you understand your wife. This argument is simply a non-sequitur.
2. Cognitive skills
One could argue that Latin teaches one to think. But what does that mean? If it’s true of Latin it’s true of any language, so why not learn one that is at least useful? What special cognitive skill(s) does dead Latin confer over dozens of other living languages or dozens of other analytic subjects for that matter? Stephen Pinker, Harvard’s world renowned expert in psycholinguistics backs this up in The Language Instinct, “Latin declensional paradigms are not the best way to convey the inherent beauty of grammar”. He recommends computer programming and universal grammar on the grounds that they are “about living minds and not dead tongues”. reductio ad absurdum
3. Latin language mavens
Pinker also has a go at the Latin language mavens who want to pointlessly foist Latinate rules of grammar into English. As Pinker explains, this snobbery took root in 18th century London, when Latin was used as a mark of social class (still true today) and Latin grammar rules were crudely pasted into books on English grammar, for example, ‘don’t split infinitives’ and ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition’. Latin simply doesn’t allow you to split an infinitive and to stupidly insist that it’s wrong in English, is as ad hoc as making us wear togas.
4. Latin is misleading
It can be argued that learning Latin grammar is simply misleading as there is no real transfer to the target languages, certainly not English, and similarly in modern Romance languages. Latin has seven (six for some) cases, five declensions in nouns and doesn’t have articles. Far from being useful it’s positively misleading. And in terms of vocabulary, one would be far better spending one’s time studying etymology, rather than only one root language.
5. Waste of time
Of course, the cardinal argument against learning Latin is the fact that there’s only so many hours in a day for learning and there’s dozens of other subjects that should take precedence. We have to make choices in learning and this one is irrational. So as we’ve seen, there’s no real argument for learning a dead language on the basis of utility (unless one wants to become an ancient history scholar) as no one speaks the damn thing. tempus fugit
6. Lingua franca of the world - English
Learning a language, to a reasonable level of competence, is as difficult a learning task as one can imagine. This is made all the more difficult in the UK by the fact that English has become the world’s unofficial, and in some fields official, lingua franca. The vast majority of children who take a second language in the UK fail to achieve any real level of competence because it has to be taught in classrooms with no contextual opportunities for practice. Many therefore argue that the global reach of English has greatly reduced the need to learn another language, let alone a dead one!
7. Romance is dead
And why this obsession with learning romance languages over say, German or Mandarin? You are far more likely to hear Punjabi, Bengali or Urdu (the top three minority languages spoken in the UK). I suspect that there’s more than a whiff of snobbery in our selection of languages at school? “Mum - I’m dropping French and taking Urdu”. “You’re what!”
8. Illusion of utility
A GCSE in Latin barely enables you to decipher a few Roman inscriptions and numbers. It will certainly not allow you to interpret the works of Seneca and Cicero. Even at A-level you’d have to be exceptional to get as much from these texts, as you’d get from a good translation.
9. Why not Greek?
Wouldn’t you prefer the riches of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s Socratic Dialogues and works of Aristotle; a far richer literary and philosophical tradition that the Roman? If so, learn Greek. Our literary, philosophical and political traditions have far more to do with Greek texts than Latin. Graecum est; non legitur
10. Pomposity
The benefits of a ‘classical education’, they say. But is there anything more annoying than those who drop in Latin phrases and confuse erudition with pomposity? I saw that hideous snob Rees Mogg do precisely this on a documentary on class recently and it made me wretch. Enoch Powell was the last politician who felt the need to pepper his speeches with this nonsense. Latin remains the cold, dead language of exclusivity and exclusion. It’s a peacock’s tail, the luxury of being able to ignore utility for superfluous acquisition of a useless and purely academic exercise. It says, subliminally, to hell with vocational subjects, I’m not ‘trade’. The dirty truth of the matter is that Latin has long been used as a marketing device by largely private schools to advertise their posh pedigree and attract parents of a conservative bent to cough up the fees. quid pro quo

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139 Comments:

Blogger Neil said...

And a hearty hortatur tribus. Yeah, I used GTranslate ;)

4:25 PM  
Blogger oldandrew said...

When I see some of the nonsense taught in schools now, I just find it bizarre to see anyone object to even the opportunity to study Latin. I studied it in a bog standard comprehensive decades ago and found it rewarding and intellectually stimulating.

It is probably worth addressing some of your actual arguments:

1) You are selectively quoting your (outdated) source. It does say learning one language is a good route to learning another.

2) There is little evidence of any such thing as generic "cognitive skills" so this is an argument against all possible subject content.

3) Not an argument against Latin.

4) Being different is the appeal. That said I doubt I'd have a clue about the grammatical structure of words such as "him" and "whom" if I hadn't studied Latin at school.

5) This is just an assertion with no evidence.

6), 7) Don't get what point you are making.

8) Even a few words of Latin can be useful. A lot of English words, particularly scholarly ones, have Latin roots.

9) Fair point. Greek would be even better.

10) This is just an ad hominem if you'll forgive me for using the phrase.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Francis said...

Quod erat demonstrandum,Don.

5:23 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

oldandrew - thanks for the counterarguments
1. It is very specific on Latin, which is why I quoted it precisely and I don't understand what 'outdated' means. Unless you have a more recent metastudy.
2. The 'cognitive skills' argument is used by the supporters of Latin teaching, not me. You've got this the wrong way round.
3. Simply saying 'not' is not an argument.
4. Being 'different' isn't surely an argument for being included in a curriculum. Being 'different' also applies to dozens of other more useful subjects and surely we don't need Latin to use the word 'him'.
5. OK you spend say 4 hours a week for four years learning Latin. That's weeks of your time that could have been spent studying other more useful subjects.
6. & 7. Read again?
8. You don't need to learn the language to now these commonly used phrases.
9. Agreed.
10. ad hominem it may be but I have no problem with attacking pomposity and snobbery.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Dave Ferguson said...

The question that hides inside the concept of learning a language, any language, is "what do you mean by 'learn?'"

For some people, I suspect there's a goal of impressing others, and Latin somehow has more status that way than Greek. (Is it those funny letters that Greek clings to?) For those who like to impress through mastery of the obscure, Barbara Mertz, in one of her books on ancient Egypt, gives a kind of bluffer's guide to reading the formulaic language in inscriptions. It's sort of an Egyptologist's version of how to recognize in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti...

If your goal is to read De Bello Gallico (or Winnie Ille Pu in the original, then you're got a performance measure for your learning this particular language.

If you want to converse with others who fluently speak a language, much depends on where they are and how you'll interact with them. You can find folks who hold conversations in Latin, Esperanto, and even Klingon, though most people would not find the search justified.

All of this is to say that "learning" is inextricably linked to application. To put it into a living though not widespread language:

An uair a bhios sinn ri òrach
Bidheadhmaid ri òrach;
'S nuair a bhios sinn ri maorach
Bidheadhmaid ri maorach.


(When we're looking for gold,
let's look for gold;
and when we're looking for bait,
let's look for bait.)

7:13 PM  
OpenID John Norman said...

Oh dear. Although few in number, your spelling mistakes and grammatical errors rather tend to support the argument for Latin rather than against it.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Nice points Dave.

John Norman - you haven't just ended a sentence with the word 'it'! You sound exactly like every 'spelling' and 'grammar' pedant I've ever known.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Dook said...

Quid Dices Govey!

9:29 PM  
Blogger jay said...

Mirabile dictu. When I studied Latin, in Paris of all places, I remember arguing with my teacher that we should be studying linguistics instead of a dead language.

When was I going to use the plu-perfect periphrastic in real life?

He agreed but admitted he was powerless to change the situation. Or even the lesson plan.

Thanks for another salvo, Donald. Fortes fortuna adiuvat

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Bishop Hill said...

You are quite right of course, although I feel certain that had you studied Latin you would have spelt "non sequitur" correctly. :-)

(Apologies for pedantry - it was too hard to resist.)

7:14 PM  
Blogger Kim Thomas said...

I've never really understood the argument that learning Latin is good because it helps you learn French, Spanish or Italian. Why not just learn French, Spanish or Italian? Once you've learnt one of those languages, the others are easier.

I've just read the Toby Young article (www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6669953/forget-mandarin-latin-is-the-key-to-success.thtml) and it doesn't seem very convincing. One odd statement in particular: "Spoken Latin emphasises clear pronunciation, particularly of the endings of words, a useful corrective for many children born in inner cities." I suppose every day children brought up in the inner city must curse their inability to speak like David Cameron and George Osborne.

Having said all that, I studied Latin to O-level and the one advantage I think it did give me was the ability to recognise the meanings of many unfamiliar English words by their roots. Difficult to say whether it did anything else for me. Young says that Mark Zuckerberg "quoted lines from the Aeneid during a Facebook product conference and now regards Latin as one of the keys to his success." Hmm. I think someone ought to teach Young (and Zuckerberg) the difference between correlation and causation.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Kim Thomas said...

A bit off topic, but have you got the figures for the numbers of Urdu and Bengali speakers in the UK? I found Punjabi (1.5m) but couldn't find figures for the other two. I thought Welsh, at half a million speakers, might be up there somewhere.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Kim - the Toby Young article betrays his petty, inner-London snobbery.

BishopHill - true, then again, Latin never had the letter U in its alphabet.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Kim Thomas said...

It's a shame about Toby Young, because his father, in founding the Open University, made a genuinely useful contribution to education.

Everybody has an opinion about what's wrong with the education system, and the most common mistake people make is to generalise from their own experience. I believe Toby Young went to a mediocre comp, where he did badly, and then to a posh grammar, where he flourished. So now he thinks everyone should be entitled to a grammar school education. But that style of teaching can only be successful (if it is) with a selective intake. There's no point in trying to impose it on the broad spectrum of children who make up the modern comprehensive school.

Yesterday I was reading about Jamie Oliver's "dream school", which aims to take disaffected 16-year olds, expose them to brilliant, inspirational teachers (like, er, Andrew Motion) and, hey presto, you suddenly have a group of motivated learners. Except in practice it doesn't work like that, as Oliver found. Of course, if he'd bothered to ask anybody who knew anything at all about modern schooling, they could have told him that, but it's so easy to assume, when you know nothing about a subject, that you've found the silver bullet that solves all the problems.

Gove is the same. Don't get me started...

12:57 PM  
Blogger Prix Dekanun said...

Oh, English Speakers and their little, little, little ("I'm the centre of the world") world!

1:44 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Kim: Agree totally. A small group of d-list celebs (Toby Young) and wanabee celebs (Katherine Birlesingh) and chefs (Oliver) seem to be hijacking education with their inner-London, middle-class fears and snobbery. They rely on anecdote and personal experience only. The Toby Young article was the perfect example. I found the easyjet (passengers speaking to each other in Latin) plain laughable.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from a couple of things (Latin has 3 genders and 6 cases).

But otherwise, you are right. All the arguments for learning Latin are rubbish. There are two reasons for a person to learn Latin 1) it's fun, 2) he or she is a Classicist or medieval historian.

There is a point I am itching to make. The teaching of all languages (including Latin) is appalling. Pouring over grammar does not help you order a cup of coffee in Paris, which is, let's face it, the sort of thing that language is for.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote this obviously never studied Latin. Latin taught me to understand the world, it's not just language skills, it's learning about history, culture, literature, and geography! I studied Latin in a state school and think this was a unique and fantastic experience. Latin undoubtedly enhanced my performance in the other subjects which I studied and was the subject at school which I have the fondest memories of.

Only the narrow-minded call Latin a dead language.

There is no valid reason NOT to study Latin.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

I could not disagree more.
An argument against Latin is an argument against education itself.
It is generally a recourse to the kind of class resent, mediocrity and parochialism which has crippled the education system in this country.
As an intellectual exercise, Latin prose composition (translating English into Latin) is far more rigorous a test than any other I have experienced.
Formulating Latin sentences - or, indeed, translating them into English - requires one to pinpoint exactly what one is saying or what is being said, grasping factors like number, case, gender, voice, mood and sequence of events.
Every language requires these skills, but very few in quite the same way as Latin.
These exercises enable the student to understand how best to communicate meaning in a structured, organised way, banishing irrelevancy and incorporating all-important subtelties of tone.
There is Ancient Greek, as you say - but I assume you would be equally averse to that as a "dead language".
Does anyone seriously thinks public schools waste years teaching subjects simply in order to look down on everybody else or pander to the snobbishness of their patrons?
Teaching Latin is integral to delivering all-round excellence in intellectual training.
The tragedy of the state system's rejection of Classics is that it entrenches the division between those who can pay for the best education and those who cannot.
This kind of decision ultimately robs millions of opportunities and allows the wealthy to perpetuate their hegemony in the best universities and the best jobs.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

My views are based on the evidence in this post http://bit.ly/keQrMc which shows that the claims made for Latin do not stand up.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone is extremely bitter about failing Latin at school :P I personally feel privileged to be learning Latin. not only has it helped but it has greatly improved my understanding of both Spanish and English. It is not a sign of snobbery, merely a wish to learn something out of the ordinary and a truly beautiful language. it wouldn't still be taught if there was no point to it. just to ram home my point, approximately 52.5% of words in the English language are from a Latin origin

4:55 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous - obviously Latin has not improved your ability to reason.
1) I did not do Latin at school.
2) I've read the research on Latin and it's ability to help wiut other languages such as Spanish - and blogged the results Spanish.http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/search?q=latin+german
3)English is a Germanic language and your stat on Latin in English is way out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_influence_in_English#Word_origins
4) Why remain anonymous (that comes from the Greek by the way)?

6:13 PM  
Blogger Vindex said...

As a high school student taking Latin right now, I can vouch for its usefulness- and if not, at least the joy it brings to some of those studying it! I'm a proud member of the Junior Classical League, a (surprisingly large) youth organization dedicated to Latin and some Greek appreciation [njcl.org]. Not having followed up on the studies you cited, the statistics on how it has not benefited other students may be true. But for all my fellow "Classy Classicists", I know that at least our Latin education is relevant, helpful, and fun- and that justifies its presence enough for me.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Vindex
One of the things Latin does not seem to have taught you is the difference between argument and anecdote. Individuals may find all sorts of subjects interesting and useful, this does not mean that they have to be taught in schools or be seen as part of the core curriculum. Just saying that something is 'useful' is not an argument.
I wish you well in your Latin studies but see no reason to teach a dead language in schools when there are so many more useful living languages to learn. The arguments, which I have presented in this and other blogs, show that the justifications for learning Latin in schools are, as you'd say - ad hoc.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more.
Latin has essentially taught me everything I know about grammar. This has helped me greatly learning the English language (I'm not a native English speaker) and learning ancient Greek.

Latin helps you understand documents from 400 B.C. to 700 A.D., it's useful for understanding a great deal of history.

You say you like the Iliad, which is one of the most archaic and brutish productions of western literature, and yet you don't seem to recognize the sheer BEAUTY of the poetry of Virgil, Horace, Lucretius, Ovid, and the touching prose of Cicero and Tacitus.

I can assure you that Greek is far more convoluted and complicated, because it loosely follows its own rules, it's full of exceptions and anomalies where latin is perfectly in order and WAY EASIER. Greek is also divided in a lot of dialects. If you can read the Odyssey you won't be able to read Plato's Symposium and vice versa.



I never ever understood the claim that sharing your knowledge or your view is "pompous" or "pretentious". So nobody can quote poetry or use latin terms now? Is someone allowed to do so while others aren't? Is it now "pretentious" for everyone? How does pretentiousness even work?
Must we all use burps and farts instead of punctuation?

1:31 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Dear anonymous
1. It is quite simply wrong to say that "Latin has essentially taught me everything I know about grammar" If this were true you would never have been able to learn another language as no living language has the same grammatical structure as Latin. And English does not descend from Latin or greek, so Latin grammar is not of much use.
2. Sure Latin can be useful for studying History but only at an extreme academic level.
3. You've made a typical non sequitur when saying I don't appreciate the beauty of Virgil etc. In fact I'm an amateur classicist myself and have rad most of the authors you name, in translation. My point is that we focus too much on Latin, at the expense of other living languages.
4. To drop in lots of latin phrases into speeches has long been a rhetorical device by those who want to show off their class or educational pedigree.
5. "Must we all use burps and farts instead of punctuation?" You seem to have lost the plot here!

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donald Clark is right.

And how did Latin come to be in the English schools at all? It’s one of those historical stupidities. About 900 years ago, when the warlords decided that their offspring needed educating, they looked around for someone who might know anything about being educated. At the time, that meant the priests. They were nearly the only educated folks around. The warlords noticed that the priests learned Latin, so the warlords had their children learn Latin. Nevermind that the priests were learning Latin because they needed to know Latin -- their Bible and all their correspondences with Rome were in Latin. And the priests memorized long texts (namely, the Bible), so the warlords had their children memorize long texts. And that’s where those two pillars of English upper class education -- Latin, and the memorizing of texts -- were borrowed from. Nevermind that the warlords’ children (pardon me -- the nobility) had no need at all for Latin or memorizing the Bible. It was the only education game in town 900 years ago, so they borrowed it. The practice has persisted long after its inadequate origins have been forgotten, with its practitioners still hunting for justifications.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, "retch", not "wretch"...from the Old English. Tsk.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Nanette Elfstocking said...

While it's true that English does not descend from Latin, it does not follow at all that 'Latin grammar is not of much use.' Every language I'm aware of has the same parts of the sentence — subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, and so on. The difference with Latin is that the part of the sentence of most words is indicated in the ending, and word order is no help, so you have to really understand how a sentence works in order to read anything. This is not the case with most frequently studied modern languages (with the partial exceptions of German and Russian), in which you can slap together a bunch of words and it will make sense, no deep grammatical understanding necessary. Most modern languages therefore provide no defense against sloppiness, while Latin promotes precision; indeed many discussion of Latin grammar veer into the philosophical: "What are you really trying to say? How would this alternate version express something slightly different?" These questions are very fruitful for anyone trying to tighten the connection between words and ideas — a useful exercise for anyone learning to write in any language. (Distancing oneself from one's own language is actually helpful.)

The same goes for clause (as opposed to parts of the sentence) analysis. All languages use clauses (though some lean heavily on verbal phrases for the same purpose), but no modern language teacher or textbook goes into the topic in such a detailed or systematic way as any standard Latin textbook (again with the exception of German). And yet it's essential to have a thorough understanding of these structures if you're going to do anything in a foreign language beyond order a cup of coffee.

Latin textbooks moreover smoothly integrate history, literature, and philosophy into the study of language, while most modern language are stuck at the Berlitz stage of ordering in a restaurant and planning birthday parties. I have studied three modern languages and taught one (Italian), and I've studied two "dead" languages and taught one (Latin), and it's always been a relief to go from the cultural poverty of modern language study, which assumes you'll only need to ask for directions or buy stuff, to a classical language, which, even at a basic level, stimulates reflection on things like friendship, love, and justice.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Nanette Elfstocking said...

Just to add to my comment — I haven't seen that we focus on Latin "too much, at the expense of other languages," but I'm willing to concede (and this, not its opposite, is the snobby position, I'm afraid) that Latin is not for everyone, not because other languages might be neglected, but because there are students who struggle so mightily with their native language, who are so afraid of the printed page, that they really need to focus on just English.
I taught at a school where Latin was considered a hard subject for strong students, and I always thought that Latin, taught in a special way, could help the weakest students more than a modern language. But I think it also depends on the individual student's strengths and weaknesses: students with theatrical flair will enjoy a modern language more than Latin, for example.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous David Hewett said...

Hi Donald, I disagree that Latin is useful for studying history only at an extreme academic level. Knowing Latin gives you access to the written expression of an incredible number of people over many centuries (many more than just the Romans, too: Erasmus, Thomas More, Ficino, etc). Reading these texts in translation won't do. You imply that you do appreciate the works of Virgil and other authors, but how can that be? You say that you've read them in translation, not in the language they actually wrote and thought in! Without Latin, you're excluded from them, at the mercy of the translator, removed from the original.

This is the use of Latin: access to some the greatest works every written, some of the greatest thoughts ever expressed. Now, if you want to throw out Virgil, Tacitus, and all the rest, that's fine; but let's not kid ourselves and pretend we can really understand and engage with them without knowing the language they used.

Supporters of Latin should not argue that it's useful for other languages or for understanding grammar. As you point out, those are weak arguments. Latin in itself isn't a special help with either of those. If you want to learn a Romance language, learn a Romance language; if you want to learn English grammar, learn English grammar.

When commentators say that Latin taught them a great deal about grammar, I think it's because Latin is traditionally taught with a heavy emphasis on grammar and the commentators may never have studied the grammar of any language, even their own, outside of Latin class. You are generally correct when you point out that English grammar is different from Latin grammar, but remember that the terms we use for discussing grammar come from Latin: subject, object, clause, etc (Greek, too: period, comma). Studying Latin has often equipped native English speakers to understand English better because they have had the experience of studying grammar closely and better understand the terminology used to describe grammar.

It is frustrating that snobs have used Latin to show off their learning. That, however, is surely not the fault of the Latin language! By all means critize snobs for their snobbery, but let the poor language be. It's not inherently snobby to know Latin, no more than having skill and experience in any other area of knowledge is snobby. Rather, the people who use their skill and experience in a snobby way are the snobs. Suppose a snobby doctor shows off his knowledge of medicine: is medicine thus a snobby field of study?

You seem to be most concerned about usefulness, but you don't explain what your definition of a useful subject is. Often times those who call for the end of the study of Latin (and other humanities) covertly, without saying so, consider a subject useful only if it directly leads to a profitable job. Is that true in your case? Does your conception of education focus on business and monetary profit? I don't think education should be so narrow.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous David Hewett said...

Hi Donald, I disagree that Latin is useful for studying history only at an extreme academic level. Knowing Latin gives you access to the written expression of an incredible number of people over many centuries (many more than just the Romans, too: Erasmus, Thomas More, Ficino, etc). Reading these texts in translation won't do. You imply that you do appreciate the works of Virgil and other authors, but how can that be? You say that you've read them in translation, not in the language they actually wrote and thought in! Without Latin, you're excluded from them, at the mercy of the translator, removed from the original.

This is the use of Latin: access to some the greatest works every written, some of the greatest thoughts ever expressed. Now, if you want to throw out Virgil, Tacitus, and all the rest, that's fine; but let's not kid ourselves and pretend we can really understand and engage with them without knowing the language they used.

Supporters of Latin should not argue that it's useful for other languages or for understanding grammar. As you point out, those are weak arguments. Latin in itself isn't a special help with either of those. If you want to learn a Romance language, learn a Romance language; if you want to learn English grammar, learn English grammar.

When commentators say that Latin taught them a great deal about grammar, I think it's because Latin is traditionally taught with a heavy emphasis on grammar and the commentators may never have studied the grammar of any language, even their own, outside of Latin class. You are generally correct when you point out that English grammar is different from Latin grammar, but remember that the terms we use for discussing grammar come from Latin: subject, object, clause, etc (Greek, too: period, comma). Studying Latin has often equipped native English speakers to understand English better because they have had the experience of studying grammar closely and better understand the terminology used to describe grammar.

It is frustrating that snobs have used Latin to show off their learning. That, however, is surely not the fault of the Latin language! By all means critize snobs for their snobbery, but let the poor language be. It's not inherently snobby to know Latin, no more than having skill and experience in any other area of knowledge is snobby. Rather, the people who use their skill and experience in a snobby way are the snobs. Suppose a snobby doctor shows off his knowledge of medicine: is medicine thus a snobby field of study?

You seem to be most concerned about usefulness, but you don't explain what your definition of a useful subject is. Often times those who call for the end of the study of Latin (and other humanities) covertly, without saying so, consider a subject useful only if it directly leads to a profitable job. Is that true in your case? Does your conception of education focus on business and monetary profit? I don't think education should be so narrow.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#4 - Latin is misleading? Really? That's one for Comedy Central, or for the British version: Latin has a few more than THREE cases, and, obviously, you haven't studied Latin because to state matter-of-factly that "Latin doesn't have articles" is quite misleading. Latin doesn't USE an article as Greek or English do, but it's similar pronouns (which are quite similar to Homeric articles/pronouns) are found in all major Romance Languages. Oh, your Latin quotes regarding logic - or the lack thereof - in arguments about this subject: off the mark.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous michelle said...

In one of your responses you say you never learned Latin at school. Hmmm... Maybe I should write something on how I never learned to play the violin, and nobody else should bother to learn it either since it is useless, a waste of time, teaches you nothing about playing the piano, and is such a pompous thing to do.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did the pompous speaker make you "wretch" (Ebenezer-y) or did it make you "retch" (vomit)? I hope you meant to use the latter.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Latin has five cases, not three. Duh.

Maybe you're bitter cause you sucked at it?

11:42 PM  
Anonymous magistra americana said...

Perhaps so many mistakes would not have been made in the article and in the comments if there were more study of Latin. I am teaching Latin in an inner city school in the US. And we are making all sorts of useful connections. Unlike some on this page, we know how to use "ad hoc"; we know there are seven Latin cases; we know there is no pluperfect periphrastic (It is a future periphrastic.) We see the richness is the use of language. We see how history repeats itself. We see how mythology has influenced art and literature. My former students are lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, media types, scientists. They are richer for the experience.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

A fine salvo of defensive arguments from Latin teachers and mostly 'anonymous' contributors.
1. Pedantic corrections of spelling errors etc (note that these always contain their own errors. magistra americana "I am teaching Latin" "US. And"
2. You can't understand Virgil etc unless you read it in the original language. Is he really suggesting that we learn nothing from translated texts? Has he cut himself off from all knowledge created in languages he cannot read? This is plainly stupid.

However, thanks to David Hewitt for contributing a reasoned and considered argument for Latin as an object of study - something I have no problem with. My arguments are against its position in the curriculum, not with the language itself.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree! In my 20 year career as a linguist I have at no point found my 8 years of school Latin useful. What a waste of time, when I could have been doing something else.

Allow me to correct you, though - Latin has 6 cases, & 3 genders (perhaps what you meant)

2:01 PM  
Anonymous David Hewett said...

Hi Donald, thanks for your reply and for clarifying that you have no problem with Latin as an object of study or with the language itself. I ask that you emend your original post to make this clear. Many of the titles of your reasons, for example, seem to be directed at the language itself as an object of study ("4. Latin is misleading," "5. Waste of time", "8. Illusion of utility," "10. Pomposity"). A notice that you are primarily concerned with Latin's place in the curriculum, not with its existence as an object of study, would be helpful and likely diffuse some of the more unthinking and unreasoned responses you have received.

I wish you would refrain from describing my remarks as "plainly stupid". I also wish that you would not attribute arguments to me which I did not make.

You wrote: "You can't understand Virgil etc unless you read it in the original language. Is he really suggesting that we learn nothing from translated texts? Has he cut himself off from all knowledge created in languages he cannot read? This is plainly stupid."

I asserted no where that we learn nothing from translated texts. We can learn something for sure, but by denying students access to the language in which the original was written, we deny them the ability to make judgments about the texts. They must take the translation on trust or depend on the skill of others who actually know the language to answer their questions.

I doubt that a 'good' translation can ever take the place of the original text. Translation is interpretation. Those who are forced to read only a translation are subjected to countless interpretations, a distortion of the original. Without knowledge of the language the text is written in, how can students question the evidence? How can they have an informed opinion about the history of Rome and most of Europe without knowledge of Latin? I hope we agree that we want students to question the evidence for anything that's presented to them.

By devaluing the study of Latin, we devalue the study of ancient history, medieval history, and renaissance history. Latin was the language of the Roman Republic, the common language of the Western Roman empire and Western Europe of the medieval and renaissance periods. Without knowledge of Latin, students are dependent on translations and cannot make informed judgements of the evidence. Yes, translations may give them a sense of the original texts, a vague distorted sense, but they are no substitute for the originals themselves.

Do we want students to be able to make independent informed judgments about Roman, medieval, and renaissance history or not? Or should they always be dependent on others? Without Latin we cannot understand Roman history at all, and we cannot understand much of medieval and renaissance history. Yes, the study of history does not entirely depend on the interpretation of texts, but nonetheless it is difficult to imagine, for example, studying the history of Rome without Livy, Tacitus, and others.

Moreover, no translation can properly convey the various linguistic and rhetorical effects used by an author. Much of the art of the original is lost and all of it is distorted by translation. Yes, something is communicated by a translation, but no translation can fully replicate the original.

So, no, I do not think my argument is 'plainly stupid'. Instead, it seems to me to be common sense that someone would like to read Vergil and Livy and Tacitus and Augustine and Erasmus and countless others in the language they wrote in! They are essential and fundamental to our knowledge of history and excellent artists. Should students learn to read them in the original? If we value a major component of classical, medieval, and renaissance history, if we value teaching students to make informed judgments about historical texts, if we value the art of Vergil and the rest, the answer has to be yes.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I will not emend the original post, as I believe that each and every point is correct.
You wrote, " Reading these texts in translation won't do. You imply that you do appreciate the works of Virgil and other authors, but how can that be? You say that you've read them in translation, not in the language they actually wrote and thought in! Without Latin, you're excluded from them, at the mercy of the translator, removed from the original.

This is the use of Latin: access to some the greatest works every written, some of the greatest thoughts ever expressed. Now, if you want to throw out Virgil, Tacitus, and all the rest, that's fine; but let's not kid ourselves and pretend we can really understand and engage with them without knowing the language they used."
These are your exact words. So let's unpack the consequences of this position. It means I was 'kidding' myself for the last 39 years in reading philosophy, as I don't read Greek, Latin (its many variants), German, French, Russian, Spanish, Danish, Chinese and several other languages. This is plainly 'stupid'. It is exactly the type of arrogance I've seen in the many replies from Latin teachers to this and other blog pieces on Latin I've written.
Knowing a language does not give you unique insights into philosophical ideas. The ambiguities of translation are usually covered by scholars in footnotes. What you need is understanding, background knowledge and a critical mind, not blind adherence to a language. The idea that you cannot engage with knowledge unless you know the language in which the text was originally written is not only stupid, it's absurd.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous David Hewett said...

"I will not emend the original post, as I believe that each and every point is correct."

I was not doubting that you believe you are correct, but rather pointing out that you give the impression that you are against Latin as an object of study, not merely it's role in the curriculum.

"These are your exact words. So let's unpack the consequences of this position. It means I was 'kidding' myself for the last 39 years in reading philosophy, as I don't read Greek, Latin (its many variants), German, French, Russian, Spanish, Danish, Chinese and several other languages. This is plainly 'stupid'. It is exactly the type of arrogance I've seen in the many replies from Latin teachers to this and other blog pieces on Latin I've written.
Knowing a language does not give you unique insights into philosophical ideas. The ambiguities of translation are usually covered by scholars in footnotes. What you need is understanding, background knowledge and a critical mind, not blind adherence to a language. The idea that you cannot engage with knowledge unless you know the language in which the text was originally written is not only stupid, it's absurd."

You don't engage with the substance of my argument, with the other paragraphs I wrote on this subject. Instead you redirect my argument into one specific position and attack it. I did not say that you got nothing out of reading those texts in translation. I instead said that we cannot understand and engage with them unless we read them in the language they wrote in. Instead, you have understood and engaged with a translator's interpretation.

I did not assert that knowing a language gives you unique insights into philosophical ideas. I instead said that you cannot really understand a text without knowing the language it is written in.

I'm surprised to be called arrogant, since I'm claiming to know far less than you claim to know. You claim that you understand works of philosophy written originally in a wide variety of languages, though you yourself do not read any of those languages.

I too have read some translations of Chinese philosophy, for example. I might know something about their ideas thanks to the translations I've read and the experts I've relied on who do know the languages, but I don't claim to understand what they wrote. For one thing, I can't read what they wrote. How can I be sure I understand their thought? I also have no way to check the translations or what the experts say about these works and ideas: how can I question them and understand why they've translated a text in a certain way or think what they think about these authors? Without knowledge of the language, I'm excluded from the debate.

"What you need is understanding, background knowledge and a critical mind, not blind adherence to a language". How can we claim to understand a text written in another language if we do not understand that language? What more important background knowledge for a text could there be than the language in which it was written? How can that critical mind engage with a text if it does not understand the language the text is written in?

What does 'blind adherence to a language' even mean? Surely I'm not blindly adhering to any language, but am instead providing a defense against your attacks.

The position I'm advocating is in fact humble and anti-elitist. Teach students to doubt their own understanding of something written in a foreign language until they've studied it in the original. Give students the tools with which they can question the experts.

Moreover, you avoid engaging with my points about the study of history and appreciation of an author's art from my second post, and my question about the value of education from my first post.

6:07 PM  
Blogger splendide mendax said...

I think this article is the most pompous thing I've read in a while actually. This guy here is making an argument that latin shouldn't be offered at schools, without even having studied the language, while using Latin terms, on many occasions not knowing what the terms actually mean, to make himself seem superior and educated.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

That's rich coming from someone with the moniker spledide mendax! As it happens, I'm well aware of the meaning of reductio ad absurdum. However, my use of Latin terms was, given my argument, obviously ironic. Do you have any actual arguments or is everything you say simply ad hominem?

5:34 AM  
Blogger brewdog66 said...

Donald: I enjoyed reading your article. I can't figure out if you're serious or not, but it doesn't really matter. Any discussion about Latin is a good one, even a negative one like yours, because it makes people at least think about the language. You "have no problem with attacking pomposity and snobbery"? Maybe you look in a mirror and have a discussion with yourself, because in your article, you come off as pretty pompous and snobby.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. It helped me discover that learning Latin is far more interesting and useful than reading articles on the internet. I think I'll go study a bit!

4:10 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

brewdog66 Read 'Devil' and 'advocate'. Of course I was a little tongue in cheek. However, I did put forward some clear arguments and evidence. I have also written about the academic evidence against the argument that Latin improves your ability to learn Romance languages. What is odd is the paucity of arguments from the Latin fans. Of one thing I'm certain, Latin does NOT improve logical thinking. Perhaps you'd need Greek to read Aristotle!

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yawn. I posted this blog entry to a list of Latin teachers and it generated almost zero response. The arguments for and against teaching Latin are not new, and are quite tedious, IMHO. Even Latin teachers are tired of the arguments that posit that we should teach Latin because it benefits all sorts of other things (learning other languages, cognitive thinking, etc.). The Latin teachers I am in contact with are building healthy programs that, often, are outgrowing other language programs by leaps and bounds because, guess what?, the kids LOVE it. Not only are they learning Latin, which is fun, they are learning about mythology, gladiators, history, philosophy, politics, and all sorts of things that are relevant to their everyday experiences.

A lot of the criticism of what kids do and do not get out of learning Latin often has to do with the tired, grammar-based way that Latin is taught -- at the end of which, as the author of this blog post rightly observes, students can barely read anything substantial. Many teachers I know are using modern language approaches for teaching Latin, not because they are delusional and think that anyone actually speaks Latin anywhere in the "real" world, but because communicative approaches help the learners internalize the language structure, and drive home the fact that Latin is a language (not a code or a puzzle) in which people did communicate with each other throughout many centuries, well into the the 18th century. Also, learning Latin this way does help you learn other languages, not because Latin is super special, but because learning *any* second language helps you learn other languages.

Is Latin useful? I think so. I personally have gotten a great deal out of learning Latin. I think Latin opens you up to a vast collection of (often as yet untranslated) texts, which are the production of writers and thinkers for whom Latin was their main language of intellectual interaction. Are people who don't learn Latin missing out on some grand and special secret code that others who don't learn Latin are somehow excluded from? Of course not. Generally, none of us has time to learn every language in the history of the world that would allow us to be deeper readers and thinkers in every literary tradition. I have spent many years learning Latin, but I would have loved mastering Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, the list goes on.

Does that mean that learning Latin is a waste of time? Not at all. It's a choice, and it's just as good and as fruitful a choice as delving deep into any language.

This whole discussion seems kind of pointless to me.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Robert Buckmaster said...

I entirely respect your right to detest Latin, but your reductio ad adsurdum's are silly, to say the least.

1. Just about every research paper I've looked at after 1970, the year in which the Sherwin paper was published, has spoken overwhelmingly in favour of Latin.

Efficacy of Latin Studies in the Information Age

An Exploratory Study on the Effects of Latin on the Native Language Skills and Foreign Language Aptitude of Students with and without Learning Disabilities

Does the study of Latin affect spelling proficiency?

A White Paper on Latin and the Classics for Urban Schools.

The Effect of Elementary Latin Instruction on Language Arts Performance

Studying Latin all through high school or university is hardly a 'marginal benefit' for acquiring foreign languages, unless the knowledge acquired is not retained afterwards. I found Latin immensely useful for learning French, and French for Spanish and German. Learning a language - even... shudder! Latin - helps a great deal in picking up other languages. If you're learning Latin to learn one of the Romance languages, that's absurd. You're rebuttal is irrelevant.

Even learning English properly helps with foreign language study. An enormous amount of class time is wasted teaching English grammar in foreign language classes.

2. Your argument can be summarised as follows: 1. all languages help, so forget Latin! 2. Pinker says Latin is not worthwhile - you better trust him!

I don't know what you mean by cognitive skills precisely. This seems a vague term. But there is research indicating Latin helps improve intellectual performance at schools. SAT scores and GPAs are higher among Latin students than among other foreign language students and non-foreign language students.

3. You don't say teaching Latin leads to Latin 'mavens' imposing unnecessary rules on English, but you do imply that by the inclusion of your contention as an argument against Latin. This implied argument is unsupported. It is fallacy to argue: certain people instructed in Latin have done bad things; therefore, instruction in Latin must be a bad thing. Perhaps we shoudln't teach people arithmetic, or else they might apply that knowledge to make bombs.

4. Studying just about any foreign language formally will deepen one's appreciation and understanding of English grammar. Latin is no exception. A Latin graduate is not misled to think English has 5 declensions and 4 conjugations. You seem to think Latin students incredibly naive. And who is going to sit through etymology classes or read etymology dictionaries except hobbyists or lingustics students and graduates?

5. The objection that a disclipine takes a great deal of time can be brought against any subject. You're assuming the conclusion that Latin shouldn't be taught. Not logical.

6. This is an objection to Latin, as opposed to any other language, how?

7. German is a very popular language among foreign language students. And I suspect to the hesitancy to learning Mandarin might have to do with its distance from English - it's not even Indo-European.

8. This argument assumes further study is not even an option. Somehow, over a period of millenia, there have been an enormous number of people proficient in reading Latin - perhaps there is a good teaching method, after all. And good translations are, well, translations.

9. Greek is a lovely language - so why not? So is French. I've studied both. Greek doesn't necessarily have to be taught INSTEAD of Latin to be appreciated.

10. English used pompously is annoying as well - perhaps we shouldn't teach English either? Plenty of people manage to speak pompously without a trace of Latin. And I suspect Latin classes don't tutor people specifically to use unnecessary Latin pepperings in English speech - that's not their job.

Are any of your arguments meant to be taken seriously, or is it an exercise in faulty reasoning?

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- all these comments, and only Hewitt comes close to the best reason for learning Latin: a great many texts are not translated into English. If you want to read them, you have to learn Latin.

There are other advantages, but this one simply cannot be argued away.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous (from the Greek!). I'm not arguing against the teaching of Latin in Higher Education, where most other 'dead' languages are taught for scholarly purposes. I am arguing against the teaching of dead languages in schools. The argument that one needs to teach the subject in schools to read the original texts is odd. First, very, very few attain the level of fluency necessary to read the original texts. Second, a top class translator is likely to provide a superior text to most lay readers of Latin. Third, Latin has many variants. Fourth, this is an argument that can be applied to any dead language. Indeed, I'd argue for the primacy of Greek above Latin in terms of worthwhile philosophy and drama (as does Professor Mary Beard). Why not teach cuneiform? The truth of the matter is that Latin is an old fossil that became stuck in the curriculum, not because of its intrinsic worth, but because of snobbery and tradition. It's had its day in schools.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Clark,
thank you for an interesting conversation.

Allow me to ask some provocative questions.

Do you sincerely think that all education has to have some practical use and if so, what other subjects do you oppose?

You deny that tradition has a value and virtue of its own, correct?

And finally. Your arguments 1-9 are more or less educational, very well, but not No 10. What would you suggest for a selective entrance school with rather elitist ethos to teach instead of Latin as a marker of a "better education", heraldry, fencing?

Respectfully,
Anonymos Deuteros

P.S. not a spelling error but transliteration from Greek, meaning 'other Anonymous'

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the main reason people learn in the first place - for enjoyment and self development. I am currently studying AS level Latin (and managing fine to decipher Cicero, of whom we also studied last year in GCSE)at a state school from a rough part of London. We have a fantastic time in lessons with encouraging teachers and not only has it helped me understand grammar better in English (and French) but it has taught me about people; our fundamental values haven't changed much over 2000 years. When it comes down to it, none of these arguments matter if you enjoy the subject.

9:51 PM  
Blogger catmusings said...

I am currently busted my you know what teaching sophomores AP Latin and though it feels at times like a thankless endeavor, I find myself noting how more analytical my students are as a whole. My same students are in my Literature class and they are beginning to analyze literature more carefully as the year progresses. Yes, they could learn these analytical skills by taking a class that teaches them analysis, but why not Latin that teaches them to think, the roots of their Language, and what I like to call "mental juggling". While your study you cited seems to have an M.O. (ahem, Modus Opperandi- modus, nominative, singular, masculine "mode/manner", operandi, gen. singular, gerundive/future passive participle, going to be performed) for wanting to push forward progressive ideology in the field of education may support your claim, I see day in and out the benefits for my students. And that is something worth fighting for...regardless of whether it is "boring". I found math in high school particularly boring, but it was good for teaching the brain how to think critically. The biggest obstacle is to get parents who have not received a liberal arts education to be on board with this classical approach. They feel they turned out alright without Latin. However, it is crucial to put forward the benefit of our children and their well-being before our own pride. Perhaps you might teach and then find whether your concept on the futility of learning Latin holds up:)

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donald I see you like basic English
Well you are stupid.
You should not be putting people off things that from (their or is it there oh. . humbug) perspective now am starting to act like you do.
Tell me what type of education did you have? Oh and be honest. I would rather listen to a very normal person than listen to a silly educated man like yourself.
I am not the best at writing myself but I have listened to alot of stupid so called educated people. Excuse my miss spellings as your very academically smarter than me. but one thing I do know is spotting a silly uninformed man.
Can not wait to read about your privilaged education and who knows if you were under privilaged you might need a language like latin to help. Perspective Perspective.
Signed Mr Uneducated but can spot bs.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Why is it always the 'Anonymous' comments that seem so devoid of argument and sense. What a jerk.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't understand this love affair with Latin! It's as if it's a seductive woman towing all these people away by her wiles to waste their time. I have learned Spanish for the most part and have found that Italian and French are now much more accessible. And guess what? Now I can speak to Spanish speakers with ease! So, as far as helping people learn romance languages, I am a living example of the backward mindedness of this justification for learning Latin instead of jumping right into one of her living children. Also, learning any foreign language gives one valuable insight into the grammatical structure of their own. Yes, I am for the non gender specific third person pronoun, let's bring utility into our lives! I am convinced this whole deal is snobbery. I remember on my first crack at a college entrance exam there was a reading comprehension sample all about some man's perverse obssesion with Latin. I had no idea what the chap was droning on about. He driveled on about some mystical landscape while he acted sexual aroused about Latin. How befuddling! I did terrible one the test mainly because of this nonsense I believe.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I've enjoyed reading all of the comments, I have to quote my father, essentially a high school graduate: "You need to communicate the message to each another. If they understand, it is all that is required." I love Latin, I love Spanish, I can comprehend basics in other languages, but my father was a practical working man. The bottom line is not what is best, but what will communicate your message to those who need to know. Grammar, spelling, and all the rest are frosting on the cake.

2:06 AM  
Anonymous Lentosh said...

Donald, as a student of Classics I'm afraid the only thing I found correct in your article, was your spelling.
Your opinions on teaching Latin are misinformed, and your accusations of "subliminal snobbery" upon those who are passionate about it are frankly insulting.
Some of what you write is just plain wrong and has been proven so by people commenting here, and I advise you never blog again about something which you clearly know nothing about.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

As a student of Latin you are remarkably long on opinion but short on argument. The benefits of a classical education are clearly lost on you! I suggest you read a little Socrates (via Plato) to pick up a few tips on reasoned debate. Then again, you may have avoided this as your Greek is not up to scratch!

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Boo said...

Dear me, it sounds like you, Mr Clark, are incredibly bitter that you do not have the mental capacity to study the ancient languages.
I find your naive 'article' laughable!
Latin is all around us today, in abbrieviations, medicine, science, law, mottos, architecture, mathematics, satire and comedy, not to mention that nearly every word we speak has its roots in Latin.
Latin is one of the original Proto-Indo-European languages, leading, as you say, to the Italics, but also linking to the West Germanic and Anglo-Frisian languages.
The grammar and preciseness of Latin is WHY we still have it around today. Because Latin has so much more force than babbling English. It makes far more logical sense than any other language ever spoken on this planet, and seeing as most of them are derived from it, learning Latin helps you understand how to utilise those languages properly and to maximum effect.
And as to your statement that GCSE Latin is useless, I read Virgil, Cicero and Tacitus for my GCSE. Unadapted. (for your knowledge, they are some of the greatest classical writers of all time).
Until we understand our past, we can never understand our future, but I guess that that is why you, Mr Clark, are sitting at your computer writing rubbish, uninformed articles rather than developing your mind.
Vale victis.
(Google translating that won't give you the true meaning.)

7:07 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

There was me thinking that Latin was a civilising influence! We all of course buy the idea that you're some sort of superior being, having read Virgil, Cicero and Tacitus. In truth, you're just another poorly opinionated snob, and proof in itself that the study of Latin is closely correlated with abuse, poor arguments and childishness in debate.
Most languages are not derived from Latin. It is not the most precise language on the planet. It is a dead language.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Daisy said...

I wanted to send a response collapsing each minute detail of your argument (which would have been easy to do) in the hope that you might concede defeat on some of your more ridiculous points. But after reading the many comments and your responses to them it is clear that your stubbornness supersedes any ability to reassess the views you posited, or even to agree with a converse view.
Therefore, I won't break down your argument, but am still compelled to draw attention to the astounding inverse snobbery that your passage reeks of. I learnt Latin, at a state school, and would never think to attack another subject as you have done. Of course, Latin is as useful as what you call "living" languages, but even if it weren't, what inferiority does the study of Latin literature have as an art in comparison to, say, art lessons? Should we all go about ranting that people shouldn't study art in school because it isn't as useful as physical education for instance? What a cold, depressing view of the education system if this is how it and it's students ought to be judged.
You continually call respondents names such as "poorly opinionated snob", often for no better reason than the fact that they enjoy studying Latin. You are clearly the snob here, harbouring such festering bitterness, and making presumptions about people's class purely based on their interests.
Furthermore, you're statement that "Latin is closely correlated with abuse, poor arguments and childishness in debate" is an astounding generalisation, personal and offensive to every single student of classics.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Daisy. I responded to Boo as he failed to engage in debate and went for the ad hominem approach. I quote "it sounds like you, Mr Clark, are incredibly bitter that you do not have the mental capacity to study the ancient languages.
I find your naive 'article' laughable!" If that's argument, I'm a cloth cap!
I always respond to abuse in kind. I called him/her a poorly opinionated snob because of his/her personal attack on me and that was the context of my sentence about poor argument. What astonished me is how many Latin fans just throw back abuse and not arguments.
Listen, bring on your detailed arguments. That's what blogging is all about - debating the arguments.
You say I'm rude but your opening gambit is astounding, "I wanted to send a response collapsing each minute detail of your argument (which would have been easy to do) in the hope that you might concede defeat on some of your more ridiculous points." WOW - what arrogance and a complete cop out. Why can't you debate the points one by one? Bring it on.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Latin is not on the National curriculum. Why bring the subject up at all?

1:53 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

John. Maybe you've been stuck at home reading nothing but Latin for the last two years. This post was written in 2011 when Gove put forward the ill-fated EBacc that had Latin as a core choice subject above all vocational and many other subjects. (One of the reasons it was abandoned, was its backward looking slant.) In addition, I'll bring up whatever I want in my blog - who the hell do you think you are the blog police?

10:51 AM  
Blogger M W said...

I think once you reach the point of looking for reasons not to teach or learn something, you are looking from the wrong end of the spectrum. I fail to see how learning Latin is detrimental to the education process. There was a fascinating study done by Valdosta State (Georgia, USA) that showed good reason to teach and learn Latin. Google "Valdosta State Latin Study" or something along those lines and you'll find it. I may be reached at waugustus1 (gmail account) if any of you would car to discuss this further.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Not convinced by this argument. There are plenty of reasons not to teach and learn things. First, there's only so much room in the curriculum so preserving a dead language squeezes more contemporary subjects out. Secondly, if that subject is taught on the basis of specious arguments, then let's expose those arguments (that's what I've tried to do). Can I suggest you Google the article and summarise it here - then I'll respond. Thanks.

6:29 PM  
Blogger brewdog66 said...

Why is this discussion still ongoing? Talk about absurdity - on both sides. No argument is ever going to convince Donald that teaching or studying Latin is worthwhile. Isn't that clear to anyone by now? If Donald has found no value for himself in Latin, why not take him at his word and let him be? I have found much personal value in the study of Latin. I believe, for example, that Latin has enriched my understanding of most English words and how we seem to use them in our everyday speech, also in our writing. I also enjoy reading Latin for its own sake; I like its sounds and rhythms; I enjoy the feelings of connectedness to the Roman world; I like its "otherworldliness." Donald doesn't feel these things. Donald's enjoyments seem to be in ancient Greek, which is great - I'm happy for him. I really don't understand why he seems so eager to tear down Latin, but I am guessing that like a good ancient Greek philosopher Donald much likes turbiditas and contentiones.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

brewdog66 - I'm not against learning or studying Latin. I'm against the regressive forces that see it as a relevant study in schools as part of the curriculum, sometimes compulsory. Latin is and always will be a language worth studying ta an academic level. My arguments are against it being seen as a core subject in schools. There is neither time nor reason to crowd out other subjects with a dead language.

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discipulus Donald Clark S.P.D.
On 3/15/2013 or Idibus Martiis MMDCCLXVI A.U.C (2766 ab urbe condita (from the founding of the city))
In #4, there more than three cases for nouns.
Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, vocative, and for some locative. The three genders are masculine, feminine and neuter. There are five declensions. It doesn't matter that there aren't articles in Latin. English speakers don't always use them. Latin can be misleading but there are English speakers don't know their own language. One of my experiences with Latin is it taught me more about English. At my grade school, we didn't learn much about English so in high school, I was behind most people in my class in English specifically. After taking Latin for a year, I began to understand English better and I am now in the top of my class for almost all classes. (not speech, I hate speech and so does everyone else in my class). Don't use Google translator for Latin. After less than one year of Latin, I knew more than Google translator. I can see all your points and most are reasonable but I must say that I will still take Latin. Vale!

11:40 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

An illusory effect. English has its roots in Anglo-Saxon Old and Middle English, not Latin. You would have been better off giving more focus to English.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Akasha said...

Donald, you're just a troll, that's what you seem to be. You said you haven't studied Latin, then don't comment on it if you don't know it. Latin is a very useful language and English has many Romance words. Study some German and any Romance language and you'll see that English received too much influence from Latin and Romance languages. And, you have some grammar mistakes in your article. Pick a grammar book, kid. Your position against Latin has no arguments since you don't know the language itself; study the language then you may have arguments to criticize it. I wonder if you speak any other language other than English as you don't seem to know that learning a foreign language helps you a lot regardless of whatever language it might be. All languages are useful in their own way.

I've got nothing else to say, several users here gave you already good arguments.

PS: No translation ever can be of higher quality than the original no matter how good the translator is. No translation ever can render the real meaning, feelings and nuances that the original language expressed. This is a fact which only those who speak at least a 2nd language and have read original works and translations will understand. All this comes from a translator himself.

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Idem discipulus Donald Clark S.P.D.
Gratias tibi ago. This blog has helped me with my project. This may sound weird that I am thanking you but it did help. Vale!

6:09 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Akasha - Amusingly abusive, juvenile, illiterate and ill-informed comment. Clearly, Latin has not improved your ability to debate, understand language acquisition, grammar or English. Your writing also leaves a lot to be desired. I particularly liked " And, you have some grammar mistakes in your article." Don't start a sentence with a conjunction!

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Akasha said...

There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction. Such mindset is the one that purists have, the same people who say that is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition and want people to speak all the time using ''with/to/by which/whom'', etc.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

OK. "English received too much influence from Latin and Romance languages", now that doesn't even make sense, syntactically or semantically. You're the one that made the accusation about grammar. If you want to pick trivial fights don't start with trivial accusations - kid!

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discipulus Akasha S.P.D.
Sorry Akasha. Even though I am for Latin, you are wrong. Many people do use conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, but that doesn't mean it is right. AND there are people who end sentences with prepositions. Vale!

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Latin has 7 cases, the nominative, the accusative, the genitive, the dative, the ablative, the vocative, and the locative. The last 2 cases are not used that much because the nominative usually serves the function of the vocative and the ablative can be used instead of the locative. Anyways,I find it quite absurd that you guys are fighting back and forth like children. I'm a Biology professor who also happens to teach Latin and I can tell you all that learning Latin changed my life. Again, this is a personal experience but I would like you to stop this nonsense. Latin does help and it applies to all other aspects of your life whether you can see it or not and it is your problem if you just can't see it. That's my comment.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

The anonymous Biology teacher has spoken! Not a rational argument in sight but he/she has spoken....

11:09 PM  
Blogger Ken Westmoreland said...

I agree with much of what you say - Latin is a language for show-offs, who think it absolves them of the need to know another modern European language. Indeed, Classics is an ideology or ersatz religion.

Funny that you mention Enoch Powell, as he spoke French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, unlike many Latin faddists.

Latin is not the basis of English, despite what the self-serving Classics lobbyists think. English is a West Germanic, Indo-European language, but they don't want us to know that, do they? If it's any consolation, the Romans had the same cultural cringe towards Greek as we have done towards Latin.

I would not, however, dismiss modern Romance languages completely, as Spanish and Portuguese are the main languages of Latin America. However, they lack the prestige of French and Italian, and this will work against them.

I will never, ever, learn Mandarin, not because of anything against Asian languages (I speak Indonesian, which has a rich heritage due to Sanskrit and Arabic influence) but because I hate the whole faddism about it. Given the choice, I'd rather learn Cantonese, spoken in Hong Kong.

If you think Greek is sidelined, so too is Sanskrit - as indeed are Gothic and Norse, which have far more in common with English. Indeed, one is as likely to find words cognate with English in sanskrit as in Latin and Greek - hence the Indo-European.

I agree about the value of studying etymology - Mark Forsyth's Etymologicon should stimulate a wider interest in it, and in philology, a far better basis for learning languages than Classics, and indeed, than linguistics, with Noam Chomsky's 'Colourless green ideas sleep furiously'.

7:14 AM  
Blogger L4xord said...

Ok, I think we should all stop arguing. In some topics and for some people, you simply can not persuade someone to see your point. It may be that they are simply ignorant or stubborn but sometimes it simply can not be done. So, why don't we just stop arguing as people are being immature and many are trying to insult in a witty way that Catullus or Martial would not be proud of.

P.S. I study Latin. It has been extremely useful when trying to comprehend and understand English words that I have just been introduced to. I can communicate in a conversation to maybe an above basic level in Latin. Speaking Latin is an extremely fun way to learn the language and you would probably be quite amazed at the amount of Latin speakers in the world.

:)
salvus sitis! cum linguam Latinam discas, argumenta supervacua et stupida tua audiam...

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a lot easier to cram vocabulary words using flash cards for the SAT/ACT test than to read "De Bello Gallico".

11:37 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

This is vacuous. Lots of things are harder/easier than others but lots of things are more useful than others. Latin, anonymous, is less useful than any other widely spoken language.

9:27 AM  
Blogger L4xord said...

"is less useful than any other widely spoken language."

This is interesting, what exactly would you consider would be the benefits of learning a more widely spoken language?


The real only main 'umbrella' benefits in my opinion (that I can think of) would be:

1. You can converse. Yay... you can go to say for example France and communicate.
2. You can read in your language. Most books in what ever language your learning should be readable for you.
3. These above benefits may enable you to learn more about the culture.

Latin seems to be able to do all of these and possibly more.

What exactly makes you think Latin is less useful than a more widely spoken language?

11:11 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

This borders on teh surreal. A living language is spoken by millions, sometimes billions. No one speaks Latin in anything other than an artificial or academic context. No one has Latin as a first language. Most of us live in the real world, not some classical fish bowl. Read my other posts on Latin - I am NOT against its academic study, only the largely fictional excuses used to shoe-horn it into the schools curriculum.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you're one of the most ignorant men to have ever walked the planet. one of the worst "articles" i've ever read..good job, douche

12:37 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

There goes another reason for taeching Latin - that it's a civilising influence!

5:03 PM  
Blogger RoisinSinead said...

Firstly, I'm obviously biased because my degree is in Classics. Just thought I should point it out. But points 3, 7, and 10 seem to be pretty much chip-on-shoulder material, which irritates me because this attitude is old and tired. If your argument for not learning Latin is that it's for posh eejits, you're part of the problem. I teach both Latin and Greek to children, and they're doing it for fun. No exams, no pressure, no social "type" that they all fit into. They just enjoy it and are interested.
You do have valid points, of course, but this undercurrent of reverse snobbery - and the rather aggressive final few sentences - could be equally applied to many subjects, such as music, art, literature, etc. Your attitude implies that the only worthy subjects of study are those which provide immediate and material utility. That's a valid opinion, obviously - but a rather more fundamental statement than your article seems to make on the surface, and a much more contentious one.
Regarding number 1, the metastudy found that "the study of Latin does not NECESSARILY increase the ability to learn another language". To match your own smugness: sorry, it does. Perhaps not for everybody, naturally, but in my own experience learning Latin (and Greek) has meant that I am extremely well-equipped to gain a large amount of linguistic knowledge in other languages very quickly, even those that are not Indo-European (yes, that's right! I'm not a snob who only learns French because I think it'll make me refined!). "The argument" on behalf of which you speak so confidently is not actually restricted to Romance languages - it is about the tools and methods of learning a language. Latin grammar is more complex than French or Spanish or Italian, and therefore prepares you much more comprehensively for the intricacies of Arabic, Urdu and Hindi, or even Japanese, as I can personally attest. The morphology of Arabic is incredibly complex, and anyone who has previously studied Latin (or Greek, Sanskrit, etc.) will pick it up far more rapidly and easily.
Finally, I sincerely hope that point 9 is a joke. Your entire article has been DEAD LANGUAGE SO USELESS HATE SO MUCH POSH GITS ARGH (end quote) and then you suggest Greek?! Your arguments here are totally spurious, given your previous position, and you are clearly not writing from any real intimacy with either literature. Also, there are many originally Greek works that survived only in Arabic, so you might just as well suggest that.
Overall, your article expresses the worst side of what is actually a perfectly valid point of view. The pomposity and snobbery that you declaim is suffocatingly evident in your own style and tone, but in reverse. If you don't like Latin, if you just aren't interested, if you are SO uninterested that you cannot possibly understand why someone else might be - that's fine! I'm not arguing with that. But please try to find a way to express this without resorting to such wildly subjective points at best, and trite insults at worst. If your aim was reductio ad absurdum, you succeeded.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

It's an old British habit to say that anyone who opposes something that is the preserve of the independent schools sector suffers from inverted snobbery. You're the one throwing ad hominem arguments about. One of the problems with people like you is your arrogance on the issue of evidence. Anecdote (your personal evidence) is not data. The plural of anecdote is not data. Get some arguments, use reason and stop the name calling. The benefits of a Classical education clearly do not include manners.

PS
You are clearly biased.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took Latin in high school and it immensely helped with our district wide testing. I knew how to break down words and terms to fully understand it, something no English class, even in college taught. Those that took Latin scored higher than a large majority that didn't, even those that fell behind in the class. I don't think it's a dead language, that would assume that it's of no use and can't benefit in any way. Well sir, you're wrong. If it benefited me, it has, is and will continue to benefit others.
I already know Spanish so it was easier for me because the sentence structure and tenses are like Spanish, so it would be harder for someone who only knew English. But even those individuals had fun. Perhaps we just had a great instructor. Is it possible you just had a bad instructor that ruined the whole Latin experience for you? I was disappointed my college didn't offer Latin since I wanted to continue learning in a classroom setting instead of just at home. It's nice being able to go see an ancient artifact or something with the old language written on it, read it properly and know what it means.
I'm not going to argue every number point, there's no need for anyone to ruffle their feathers. It's your opinion and you're entitled to it. But as long as you phrase it as such. To say anything else just because you believe it so and it must be that way, is wrong. If I'm the exception to what you're trying to point out, then there are thousands of other exceptions as well. Don't rule them out as if they don't exist. Yes there are thousands who don't want to learn the Language, who think it's useless and want nothing to do with it. That's their issue. I have a few friends who were like that and stuck their nose up when they saw me with my Latin book, basically saying my pursuit of the language was a waste and stupid. One day I showed them my studies. Now they both have a deep respect for the language, and one of the two is teaching it to his son who is doing great in school and has a vocabulary above his grade level as well as top marks in his English classes.
I suppose to each their own.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I repeat, I'm not against you or anyone else, learning Latin. I am against it being taught in schools or being part of a contemporary curriculum. The evidence you quote is personal and anecdotal. This type of evidence is famously subject to Conformation bias, so we have to look ate the real trial work to determine who is right. Re Spanish, can I suggest you read the post that presents evidence on Latin and whether it helps you learn another language.
http://planblearning.com/Articles/Latin/

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I think about this post has been accurately expressed by all who commented in defence of Latin (per se and as it being taught), specially with the phrase "Only the narrow-minded call Latin a dead language"... So I would only like to ask three simple questions to Mr Donald Clark. First question: have you ever properly studied Latin? I mean, having gained a considerable amount of knowledge of it in order to be able to form reasonable criteria to judge its academic and intellectual capabilities, as well as its relation to modern sciences and fields of study. I ask because all I can read is a conglomerate of citations to other authors with apparently have good enough credentials to you. Second question: do you posses a high level of spoken or written word in any language(s)? Third: Do you know that 90% of English words are Latin rooted?

11:45 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous.
The benefits of a Classical Education clearly don't include reason or research. You are clearly no linguist as the statement "90% of English words are latin rooted" is quite simply wrong. The top 100 words in English are Old English (actually three of them are Old Norse). Rather than ad hominem attacks, do some reading.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very fine game you have instigated here, Donald! I decry those who have resorted to name-calling rather than rebuttal, and respect your right on your blog to respond in kind.
Nevertheless, you don't seem to have responded to the suggestion that in your original point 10, it is you that initiated an ad hominem approach in the words "that hideous snob Rees Mogg", whom you are then keen to associate with Enoch Powell. Are you taking issue with Jacob, Nancy, or William? Is your assertion that Powell was the last to do so driven by anecdote, data, or personal distaste. I don't believe for one moment that he was the last to do so, but it was your point, and remains yours to prove.
I look forward to your doing so, or else furthering point 10 by explanation.

4:53 PM  
Blogger S.W. Long said...

In my experience, someone with a Classical education would rarely tell someone to NOT learn something, whereas progressives in modern education are the ones trying to tailor, censor, and sanitize what children are learning. If a boy or girl has the will to learn a language, any language, let no one discourage them!
I agree with the author on initial points: Latin should not be taught as a stepping stone to modern languages when the only way to learn modern tongues is to be immersed in their living forms. However, I do believe Latin should be taught for no other reason than it's immense cultural importance.
True, Greek has the deeper intellectual tradition, but that tradition was transmitted down to us through Latin. The Renaissance was an exercise almost entirely done in Latin. Petrach's discovery of Cicero was the catalyst that provoked the subsequent centuries of Western thought. When you learn Latin, you plug your mind into a river of thought that stretches back through thousands of years. Translations are great, but if we don't keep replacing them with newer or better translations, the knowledge within will inevitably perish. It's one thing if you kill the language but the intellectual content survives, but it seems to me that if you kill the language you kill the ideas that it expressed.
Latin should never be compulsory. In fact, I think there are very few subjects that should be compulsory except some basic science, reading, writing, and math. Everything else should be left to the innate curiosity of children.
Latin has nothing to do with class, but encompasses the writings of slaves, the rich, men, women, europeans, africans, and who knows what else.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Ken Westmoreland said...

Another self-serving comment by a Classicist. So Africans used Latin, did they? What tripe!

As for telling people not to learn something, some of the most narrow-minded and dismissive comments I heard when I decided to learn particular language were from people who studied Latin.

Latin doesn't, and shouldn't preclude you from doing other things, but many people who've studied it

When you learn Latin, you plug your mind into a river of thought that stretches back through thousands of years.

Who makes this stuff up? Some third-rate advertising copywriter? I have never come across a discipline more full of entitlement and self-justification than Classics.

By all means let Latin and Greek be taught, along with other ancient languages, within the almost forgotten discipline of philology.

No problem with the use of American vocabulary, but surely, if studying Latin gives you a firm grasp of English punctuation, you should know the difference between 'it's' and 'its' - 'Latin should be taught for its immense cultural importance'.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Ken Westmoreland said...

This line should have read:

Latin doesn't, and shouldn't preclude you from doing other things, but many people who've studied it think it absolves them of the need to learn anything else.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on the arguments and counterarguments you (the blogger) gave against the learning of the Latin language, I was able to conclude that your reasoning and impervious resolution to abase all arguments that appeal to values other than practicality holds because you are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge that there are values higher than mere utility.
It must be noted, that your preoccupation with the value of utility affects your perception of reality in profound way. This is made evident by the fact that when any commentator appeals to the beauty, logic, or cultural value of Latin you respond not by claiming the opposite, but rather you merely state that these values should be superseded for the sake of contemporary expediency and practical consequences. This utilitarian outlook diminishes the quality of men’s lives. Where one might see a majestic mountain range, you would see something “pretty” but of no estimable value unless something practical could be done with it. Where one feels a poem, you hear a conglomeration of words that serves no direct end. You might protest and say that you do see a majestic mountain range and that you do feel a poem; this is a good thing and only means that you are able to recognize higher values, but that you are just unable to see its relation to Latin learning.
Unfortunately, modern urbanized societies have a predilection for possessing undue regard for utilitarian values. This is probably one of the the reasons Latin has lost its savour and vital importance only in this and the last century. This over-estimation of the utilitarian has placed those who argue for in unfavourable circumstances- they attempt to argue for the practicality of Latin. Now it is entirely possible that Latin does have practical consequences, which are namely: improvement of grammar; eloquence; improved writing ability; facility for learning other European languages; improved cognition and a host of other practical benefits which come from modern anecdotal evidence (me) and twenty centuries of anecdotal evidence (Erasmus, Thomas More, Clarence Thomas, President James Garfield, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc). You cite a study to argue against all these men, but I must honestly confess that some “study” by some “experts” hardly impresses me.
The fact of the matter is that while these consequences are important, they are hardly the cause and purpose of Latin learning. Latin should be taught because of its cultural, aesthetic, and historical values (one might also add its deeply spiritual dimension as well since it is the language used by the Holy Roman Catholic Church). It is a noble language. Now, let us suppose that you accept what I’ve written. But you still protest: “Why not a modern useful language?” The fact of the matter is that any modern language cannot be taught in the same way, and with the same degree of import as can Latin. Any modern language will be taught principally with utilitarian values in mind: Spanish, German, and Mandarin are all taught for primarily business and practical purposes. For the most part, modern languages are not taught so that one can read and appreciate the literature and philosophy in the original language, but rather so that one might have access to pecuniary advantages.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “the Glory that was Greece, the Grandeur that was Rome” but you say that their glory and grandeur is limited to classicists and medieval historians and cultured persons (Sorry, I inferred this last one). I disagree.
Objective Hierarchy of Values (Degrees):
1. Holy/Unholy
2. Mental values (aesthetic values, values of justice, ability to comprehend truth)
3. noble (good)/ deficient (bad)
4. useful/ not useful
5. bodily comfort/discomfort
You have a preference for the last two degrees, which I have inferred from your diatribe against Latin learning in favour of “practical” subjects.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hiding behind anonymity and then writing a piece that simply puts words in my mouth is odd way to debate. Nevertheless, I do think that some of your observations are interesting and worth debating.
I am not a pure utilitarian, although I have read my Bentham and Mill. In my recent debate,c haired by mary Beard on Latin, I made it clear that I am not against 'Latin' per se, but against it being taught in schools and given a status above that which it deserves. http://bit.ly/190drGG
"Where one might see a majestic mountain range, you would see something “pretty” but of no estimable value unless something practical could be done with it. Where one feels a poem, you hear a conglomeration of words that serves no direct end. You might protest and say that you do see a majestic mountain range and that you do feel a poem; this is a good thing and only means that you are able to recognize higher values, but that you are just unable to see its relation to Latin learning."
This, to be frank, reads like a schoolboy rant in a rather poor essay. You don't know me at all. I have been heavily involved in te arts for many years, am Deputy Chair of a major Arts organisation and adore the Classics BECAUSE of its poetry, philosophy, politics and science.
Now I have some sympathy with your final argument on the cultural value of Latin. That is an interesting debate. But here I side with 'the Glory of Greece'. Give me Homer over Virgil, any one of Socrates, Plato or Aristotle over their Roman equivalents, any one of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides over all Roman dramatists out together. Give me Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes.... you get the point. My arguments are against the bias towards Latin in schools, which is a complex issue around the history of schooling, cultural bias and so on. I infer from your laughable 'Objective (sic) Hierarchy of Values' and reference to teh Holy Roman Catholic Church, that you have a rather fixed view of the world and found your piece pompous and rather lacking in 'higher values'. This is called 'social media' for a reason - don't hide behind anonymity.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous wordwhiz said...

Well, here we are in 2013, and I've just stumbled across this remarkable exchange. After my study of Latin (in an American high school) I found that I could understand many subtleties of history; could make some sense of Catholic church teachings; could sing in cantatas derived from the Latin mass; could -- for pay -- use my Latin experience to decipher medical terms. I also learned German more easily. I enjoyed figuring out some legal terms that would otherwise remain obscure to me. I better appreciated various English-language literature -- such as the irony of Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," and several puns in Shakespeare. I am glad I was privileged to read Caesar's "Commentaries" in the original. Some of these things were practical (medical transcribing) and some of them were simply enjoyment. Am I a snob? Perhaps. But I don't regret learning Latin, "dead" though it may be. (Sanskrit is dead too, but people study and use it -- and NOT to be snobs.) Now whether EVERYONE should learn it is a different question. Perhaps one semester, and one could choose whether to continue?

4:00 AM  
Blogger Titus2mom said...

Having survived a public school education in which Latin was not offered, I never knew what the study of Latin was until it was presented to me as a beneficial learning tool for my children.

As I proceeded to study it myself to ascertain whether this was true, I discovered so many wonderful benefits of Latin study (not to mention the advantage I"d have had in knowing Latin when studying to become an RN) that I dove right in, teaching the Latin grammar to my children not in secondary school, but in elementary, where the advantage of Latin grammar study is most beneficial. I've taught my children Latin for the last 7 years, (different ages) and now teach at a private school. The lights that turn on as their minds wrap around the different constructs and then relate them to their own English language are simply fun to see. Perhaps, Mr. Clark should study Latin for a couple years, and then evaluate whether his untested theory is correct. But he ought to take care lest his mind is adversely affected by the enemy language, and it becomes his friend.

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Glorfindiel said...

You know what? You're absolutely (maybe just kind of) wrong. I've learned plenty Latin prefixes and such now used in English and I can safely say that it helped me in understanding words out of context and explaining them to others. Rather than learn an actual language that is still used, I would want to improve my English skills. For people like me, wouldn't you want to have a choice for them? I despise French as a language (although some of the people are a little rude also) and Spanish is something I've never wanted to understand, so Latin is my best choice. Anyway, as counterarguments (kind of since I get off topic):

1. It increases understanding of why exactly some words are meant to be the way they are. I tried to learn French before I learned Latin and I didn't get it at all. Now I realize that the many French words I tried to learn are very closely related to those used in Latin. French and Spanish ARE close relatives of Latin.

2. What about the teachings of famous dead people? Don't you guys dwell on those?

Ah, wait, my father just gave me another idea.
Many things from the past are written in Latin and we have to help uncover the meanings of these things. Latin can help uncover history. Historians use it to learn about events from the past. Hey, maybe I wanna go read these things.

Back to 2. There are people on this... You know what, I'm getting bored, here: "Latin in Alekseevskaya: Latin has been an official language of Alekseevskaya since the early 21st century. All leading House members and government officials must be fluent in Latin. Latin is the third language of Alekseevskayan students following Russian or Serbian and is used in the military as a command cipher."

http://www.nswiki.net/index.php?title=Latin

And hey, I'm Russian. Just so you get an idea of what kind of person wrote this... comment.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Toxicologist said...

Dear Mr.Clark,
I am an Italian doctor,of course i studied Latin;when i was 14 years old i was a weak oppositor about studying Latin,many friends of mine were strong oppositors,the objections were his own:"It's useless","It is a dead language","It is better studying a living language",etc,etc.
I did not change my mind,the objections were quite,not completely,right but they count nothing!Latin don't need to be useful to be studied,the same for English,regardless of its diffusion.A good knowledge of these two language so important for Western society and for the rest of the world,it is not vanity but a real need for a learned person.
Best regards.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Ken Westmoreland said...

I was once told by an Italian that English was 'easy', which I regarded as fatuous, having experience of proof reading essays written by non-native speakers. It is also Eurocentric, although Scandinavian languages have even fewer verb inflections than English.

I am delighted to see the message above, which proves that despite learning an inflected language like Italian, never mind Latin, one can still write something so sloppily in English.

Italian speakers studying Latin is the equivalent of English speakers studying Saxon, Old Norse or Gothic. Conversely, Italian speakers studying Saxon, Old Norse or Gothic is the equivalent of English speakers studying Latin.

And as for the ramblings of your Russian correspondent, learning Latin in order to understand French is like learning Old Slavic in order to understand Russian.

By the way, Dottore Toxicologist, the valediction 'best regards' is a vile piece of Euro-English, a mistranslation of the German besten Grüssen.

As Cicero said while speaking out against Greek influence: 'Nothing becomes a man so much as that which is his own'.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous toxicologist said...

Dear Mr.Westmoreland,
i wrote the message while i was doing other things and,for my mystake,the message left before i could control it.It is true,there are errors about which i wrote two messages never published.
I would have surely studied ancient Germanic languages if in Italian there was 50-60% of Germanic words.
I read daily several scientific articles and reviews,they are written by British,American,Canadian authors and they have on average 65-80% of words of Latin origin;really strange!English is Germanic in colloquial language,a Romance language(For what concerns lexicon)when speech becomes higher.
A personal question..in which aspects is English civilization Anglosaxon?According to me your civilization is a Nordic version of the Roman one,try to answer and I will change my mind about Latin,perhaps.
Best wishes(And sorry for my errors)

12:01 PM  
Blogger hIppolytos said...

Latin will always be an important language. In fact it makes you learn enlgish better as well. If you arent good at learning Latin or you learn it in an outdated or bad way which doesnt allow you to really know it, or transfer your skills, you wont be able to use it for another language. However, that it doesnt help is rubbish! Even when learning Tamil, the same skill set applies, even Chinese, much different. Your attacks at latin grammar being used "proscriptively" is different than the skills used to translate. They are centred on descriptive grammar, and that is different that proscriptive grammar.Proscriptive is just a matter of opinion.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

You are quite wrong in saying that Latin helps you learn English in that, 1) it is quicker to simply learn English (which does not have a declensional grammar) 2) it sometimes produces wrong or poor Englsh rules and nonsense recommendations such as 'never split an infinitive'. http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/latin-stone-dead.html

3:22 PM  
Blogger Titus2mom said...

1) I wonder what a comparison of English grammar scores high school students with Latin study vs those without would show.

2) I still find it amazing that Mr Clark argues so vehemently against Latin while never having studied it. I believe I'd make a better argument against Geometry since I've maneuvered through it, but have yet to use a Euclidean proof since high school.
I can't be that some disciplines have inerrant value. Could it possibly be that because of it's highly structured form, that Latin is to words what Math is to numbers? Nah. That would be too good to be true.

3:30 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Titus2mom
You should,perhaps, have taken some science at school. In the previous post I pointed towards studies that show a poor transfer (even destructive) between Latin and other languages. You wonder, I quote evidence. Ihave studied Latin and can tell you that, as a declensional langauge, no linguist would make this old school claim about Latin being the 'maths' of languages. Of course subjects have inerrant value but why the obsession with Latin? History, snobbery - all sorts of reasons.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are quite simply an opinionated moron. Your time in the classroom would have been far better spent learning Latin, rather than earning some degree(s) that makes you think you are in a position to judge any language, whose efficacy has been upheld for over a thousand years by men far wiser than yourself.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I've received lots of posts along these lines, devoid of argument and full of claptrap. It is clear that Latin has done little to help you with reasoned argument. By the way Latin has been around for over 2000 years, not 1000. Never fails to amaze me how ad hominem Latin fans can get, especially when they hide behind anonymity. Wisdom is hardly a quality displayed in your post.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Apostolos Syropoulos said...

Nowadays in Greece, high-school students are taught at least 3 hours per week the Ancient Greek language plus 2 hours ancient Greek literature, which is translated. This has not helped students learn better modern Greek and it hasn't helped them to thing better. In a sense, I feel these dead languages have nothing to offer to students. What is really important is the literature and people should study the writings of Plato, Aristotle etc.

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Classics Major, I have to admit an obvious bias on the subject. Further, I would also like to heartily congratulate you on arguing for the teaching of ancient Greek once more!

But unfortunately, your arguments are straw men. The real argument for Latin (as well as Greek, Arabic, Russian, German, or whatever) is to be able to understand it. If you read Homer, Plato, Cicero, Vergil or a host of the other founding works of Western Civilization in translation, you have not read them at all. You may as well read Reader's Digest and say you understand Dickens, or got to West Side Story and say you understand Shakespeare! It is absurd. You miss out not only on style but on substance; ultimately, it means that you have to take someone else's word for it.

Furthermore, I challenge anyone to find a more rigorous intellectual challenge than a university Latin course. The problem isn't with Latin, it's with the way Latin is taught, a system stuck in the middle ages that treats the beauty of the Latin Language as a series of tables and arbitrary rules! Latin is like any other system of communication. Do you think that Romans sat around reciting declensions all day? Latin should be learned as a language, and learned for its own sake rather than as a part of some larger socioeconomic conflict between the British upper and lower-middle classes.

4:56 AM  
Blogger JOJO Ford said...

Get over yourself. If you don't want to learn latin, don't tell us, people who want to learn the language, that it's a waste of our time. 1. It's not your time. 2. Don't be hatin. "Patior habitas" get a life

2:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm learning Latin myself, but I agree wholeheartedly that it is almost utterly useless. I just think it's fun to match all those endings.
:P

10:58 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

There was me thinking that there was an argument suggesting that Latin improved intellect!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Tariq Azmat said...

For your argument #5.
My concession is it is indeed a ''dead language'', but that does mean it should not be learned. Their are many languages that have Latin embedded within them, which allows one to broaden his perspective on his own native language. I apologize for my grammar

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just found your blog by some unfortunate chance! I am so incensed by your comments on the teaching of Latin in schools that I am compelled to write a response. I find your views on teaching Latin a typical product of a socialist movement that were hell bent on destroying the Grammer school system which had helped so many children of a working class background (myself included) achieve what otherwise would have been impossible -ie, a chance of going to university and making a better life for themselves! To say that teaching Latin was a waste of time shows your contempt for the working class - why don't you get out of you ivory tower and see what is happening in schools now! The fact that someone can leave school in 2014 hardly able to read or write is a disgrace!! The only politician to try and reverse the damage of this warped ideology is the much maligned Gove (from a working class background who went to a Grammer school no less!)do you feel proud that you consigned so many children to having nothing to aspire to?

1:10 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...


Anonymous. A political rant is not an argument, neither is the repeated use of exclamation marks! Factually, Gove did not go to a grammar school as they did not exist in Scotland. He went to a private school. I am a working class lad who went to University because of the Comprehensive system. However, my arguments are not about the structure of secondary schooling but the teaching of Latin in schools. It is clear that learning Latin did little to improve your ability to debate and discuss serious issues, mistaking rhetoric for reason. What it did do for you, is produce the sort of pompous ass that mistakes personal anecdote for evidence.

8:50 AM  
Blogger blaw0013 said...

What happens if we replace "Latin" with "Math" all the way through the argument (or "rant" -- either is good to me). I think we're left not so far from throwing out School Mathematics from the curriculum as well, which has my blessings -- as a Professor of Mathematics Education (tenured, thank goodness, so I can speak such blasphemy).

11:24 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

As a Professor of Mathamatics Education, I'd have expected more than an ad hominem attack (rant) and non sequitur. But there you are, standards in education are clearly slipping. Maths differs from latin in that it is a dead language, no longer used in any practical sense, maths is not. However, I have also argued against the obsession with maths in education and it's use by PISA as a stick used by posliticians to beat other subjects over the head. Note that I have also been reponsible for the funding of a functioanl maths MOOC and other functional maths programmes that attempt to reverse the current obsession with 'maths as an intrinsic good' in education.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same argument could be made for any other course taught at any university!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

No it couldn't - only dead languages with a history of cultural elitism.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say, I'm surprised at how much effort Mr. Clark has put in, justifying his personal attacks on commenters and generally being a complete troll. If you, Mr. Clark, think you are going to persuade anyone to stop Latin from being taught with this lousy excuse for an article, then you're wrong. Right now every Latinist is laughing at how you attack Latin, while saying you only want it taken out of schools.
I hope you get a kick out of making fun of people's intelligence, vale mendax.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Always pleased to see how anonymous 'Latinists' use reason to defend their cause. It's always a sign that something is dying when its proponents behave like kids in the playground and start using words like 'Troll'.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Mr. Clark. I am a high school student who takes Latin, and I disagree with you. Yes, English is not a Romance language; however, much of its polysyllabic words derive from either Latin or Greek. (You tell us to learn Greek so we can read the works of Aristotle and Homer, but they are written in Ancient Greek, which is even more outdated than Latin.) Also, statistical facts prove that students who take Latin tend to score higher on the verbal section in the SAT. You may argue that a student can study etymology in order to prepare for the exam, but taking Latin forces a student to learn word roots and grammar. English is Germanic in structure, but rigid rules of Latin (declensions, tenses, moods, voices, etc.) assist with the very tedious grammar sections of the SAT.

Not only does Latin assist with learning words and grammar, but it also opens students' eyes. It sounds cliche, but it's true. The Western Roman Empire was one of the greatest civilizations, yet students have no idea who the Romans are. AP World History textbooks cover about two sentences about the empire, the exam two very basic questions. There are so many literary allusions about Roman/classical history and culture that slip through students' fingers because they don't understand them. Who is Caesar? Who is Vergil? Who is Phaethon? (Greek mythology is part of the curriculum, but you wouldn't know how much Latin's curriculum encompasses because you haven't taken it.) Latin keeps students from total ignorance. As pompous as that sounds, it's true. Latin brings out well-rounded individuals. Of course, you can study the classics on your own time, but how many people know or want to do that? Learning Latin in school force feeds us knowledge.

-Nicole

P.S. Calculus is part of my school's prerequisite for graduation. How is Calculus any more useful than Latin? Calculus is literally useless for most high school graduates. Why shouldn't we kick out higher level math from the curriculum? Math is useful up to elementary school.

5:40 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Posts like this make me despair. Our children are being lulled into thinking that SAT tests are the goal in education and coming up with endless ad hoc excuses for Latin, just because that's what they get at 'school'. Depressing post.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donal your arguments are EXTREMELY weak

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone can counter your points Donald

6:46 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

So Latin has taught you to capitalise (shout) an adverb and mispell my name. The benefits of a calssical education seem to be rather slight?

7:53 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anyone can counter, apart from you, obviously. The reductio ad absurdam tag was spot on.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Jeanette Warren said...

You have to love it when someone named Any Mouse uses all caps to say and argument is weak and easily countered, yet offers no counter argument. Thanks for the article Donald. I think it was spot on, but I will still be using some Latin to standardize my cataloging.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took a total of 7 years of Latin from 5th grade up to Junior year in HS.

In the 20 years since, I have yet to find anything to apply it to. It is probably the only subject I studied that I haven't found a reasonable application to.

Having also studied other languages which did prove useful at times, I will ensure my kids don't make the same mistake.

Your point about studying the other languages that Latin prepares you for is a good one.

I wish I could have all of the time I spent in Latin class back. I'd gladly give up the knowledge I gained.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I personally disagree with your points, I have no problem with the fact that you don't value Latin. You're entitled to that opinion. I even think it's a fair point that it shouldn't be required in every single school. Having classical schools as an alternative allows families to opt in to Latin education if they also value it.

However, I am offended by the way your blog post attacks the teaching of Latin generally and vilifies Latin teachers. We are not all in this because we are snobs. Those of us who have first-hand experience in a Latin teaching school have seen many students embrace and profit from the study. In our experience, it has been anything but useless. That's why we support Latin education--not because we want to graduate a bunch of hoity-toity classicist snobs. Your characterization of people who support Latin education is simply rude, and the person it actually shows to be a snob is you. If you portray every person who disagrees with you as a snob, you show yourself to be immature and to lack composure. Can't you make your point without such a sweeping generalization? As it is, your attitude makes you seem like a less careful and balanced researcher, which calls all of your points into doubt. It also makes me notice that you felt the need to start by lampooning the other side, using D-list celebrities that even those who support Latin don't listen to. Are your arguments really so weak you need a straw man? Your delivery calls your entire argument into question, as rudeness is usually a mask for defensiveness, which suggests that you don't even think your points are strong enough.

As a side note, pointing out that someone commented anonymously doesn't invalidate their argument. It just proves they don't have an account on this blog site. Please stop using this argument, as it makes absolutely no point and just shows a fear that your rebuttal is not sufficient.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

You disagree, you say, then present not a single argument from your side. It's a blog piece. Chill out and engage your critical faculties rather than being 'Mr Offended from Tumbridge Wells'.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comments inspire me to continue learning Latin.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I found arguments for teaching it in school banal and wrong-headed. http://www.planblearning.com/Articles/Latin/

8:50 PM  

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