Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Latin: makes learning a new language MORE difficult!!

In an odd article, in the Spectator, Toby Young, who seems obsessed with Latin, recommends it as a compulsory subject in state schools, with a string of ridiculous anecdotes. He describes how a friend used Latin on an easyjet flight to communicate with others on the plane. “If I’m on an EasyJet flight with a group of European nationals, none of whom speak English, I find we can communicate if we speak to each other in Latin,” says Grace Moody-Stuart. (I’m checking the passenger list next time I fly easyjet, just in case the awful Grace sits next to me!) Young even claims, with no evidence whatsoever, that Latin would help inner-city kids speak better, as they’d practice unusual word-endings!
He does, however, produce one piece of academic evidence, which he claims gives us “chapter and verse” on the subject, a 40 year old study by from the journal Phi Delta Kappa, where a group taught Latin was compared to another similar group and positive effects found.
Latin is not the cause
Of course, he simply trawled back through the literature to cherry pick a study that fitted his case, ignoring the more recent, superior, work In Search of the Benefits of Latin by Haas and Stern (2003) in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
In a review of the literature, they found that Thorndike “did not find any differences in science and maths in students who learned Latin at school and those who did not”. And in the Haag and Stern (2000) follow up study, to the study quoted by Young, two groups of comparable students, where one studied Latin, the other English, were assessed after two years, “No differences were found in either verbal or non-verbal IQ or grades in German or Maths”. In general, they found an absence of transfer effects of learning Latin in reasoning. This had been predicted by Thorndike decades before, namely that transfer needs common ground in the source and target.
Now for the bad news: Latin makes it worse
The problem with understanding Latin is that you need to pay close attention to word endings; case markers on nouns and time markers on verbs. But in English and Romance languages word order and prepositions are more important. Endings play a minor role.
What Haag and Stern found, predictably, was that students who had learned one Romance language first found it easier to learn another Romance language, than those who had learned Latin. But it gets worse, as Latin caused incorrect transfer, such as the omission of prepositions and auxiliary verbs in Romance languages. In other words, learning Latin was detrimental to the learning of the new language.
They took two groups of German students, one who studied French, the other Latin as their second language. Both groups were then given a course in Spanish and the results measured. When the results were analysed by a Spanish assessor (who didn’t know who had taken French or Latin), the assessor found no group differences in verbal intelligence.
However, the French students made significantly fewer grammatical errors than the Latin students. As predicted the Latin students wrongly transferred the rules of Latin to Spanish. For example “misconstructions in verbs emerged to be either highly reminiscent of or identical to Latin verbs”. The French group turned out to be much better prepared to cope with Spanish grammar. Psychologically the Latin students had suffered from negative transfer using false friends in their new language. The fact that the grammatical similarities between modern Romance languages are much greater than that between Latin and modern Romance languages, means that the defenders of Latin are flogging a dead horse.
Incidentally, if you’ve heard the argument that Latin helps medical students learn and understand the considerable amount of medical vocabulary that has to be learned in medical schools. This also turns out to be false as shown in Pampush and Petto (2010)
This is not an unimportant or esoteric debate. Our state education system is in danger of being hijacked by minor celebrities, wannabes and TV chefs. Much of the debate is purely anecdotal, and worse, the anecdotal memories of a small clique of inner-London types who want to impose their worries and idiosyncratic ideas on the rest of us. It is important to counter this nonsense with the real evidence. The plural of anecdote is NOT data.


Kim Thomas said...

Have you thought of trying to submit something on these lines to one of the nationals? Because in my view you need someone to counter the stream of stuff we're getting at the moment about Latin, uniforms, rote-learning, sitting in rows etc.

Rob said...

"The plural of anecdotes is NOT data." Yes, and not least because anecdotes is already the plural. I'm sure you are right - those who make these claims for Latin are barking up the wrong tree - or just barking. I'm sure Latin can be very enjoyable and enriching, but it isn't going to help very much with the learning of present-day languages. I had to get Latin O level to do a degree in English Literature, and it was marginally useful: I could spot some references, and understood some obscure rhetorical terms. And if I come across an unfamiliar word with Latin roots, I can usually have a decent stab at its meaning. But that's it.

Richard Sandlar said...

Right it is not easy to any language, for do this you will have to give your precious time.

Donald Clark said...

Unfortunately, the editorial class is the same group of inner-London myopics that are hijacking the system at present. I'll be debating these issues live with Toby Young on 3rd March.

Seb Schmoller said...

"I'll be debating these issues live with Toby Young on 3rd March."

Where and in what forum? Recorded?

Seb Schmoller

Anonymous said...

When I worked for IBM many years ago the top programmer in the company had a first in Classics. Latin had taught him to look at things logically. It's 46 years since I did my A levels in Spanish, French and Latin and I still find Latin incredibly useful.

Ken Westmoreland said...

I learned French and Spanish at school, learnt Portuguese, from that learnt some Italian, and have a passive understanding of Catalan, Galician, and Romanian - oh, and Latin too. After Spanish grammar, even such idiosyncracies of Portuguese grammar as the personal infinitive and future subjunctive aren't that daunting.

I have nothing at all against the teaching of ancient history, nor of ancient languages - the ancient can complement the modern. What I do object to is the way that they are put on a pedestal and revered as 'Classics'.

Indeed, if a knowledge of an ancient language is so important, then why does it need to be Latin or Greek? Why not Old Norse, to which English is far more closely related, and to which modern Icelandic is very similar?

You don't need to learn Latin to know about inflections or declensions and you don't need to learn another language to know about English grammar. We may no longer have a distinct subjunctive tense in English, but we can still say 'if I were to have'.

There is an international language based on Latin, Interlingua, which is more practical than Esperanto, which is mixed between Lation, Germanic and Slavonic languages. Unfortunately, it no longer has verb inflections, so 'io es' is literally 'I is' as per Ali G. That said, Grace Moody Stuart would fare better speaking Interlingua with Romanians than Latin, although I get by with them in a mix of French and Italian, and only if their English is limited.

Ecoblogger said...

For my part, I agree with the anonymous comment. I still find Latin helps me to break things down and more importantly, think about word meanings and roots in other romance languages. My other half has Afrikaans as her first language, and much of what she says in her mother tongue, I can understand from some latin word roots.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a bee in your bonnet about Latin. It's tiresome,and does come across as inverted snobbery.

The truth is that Latin and Greek are challenging and rigorous subjects worth studying in their own right. Taught in combination with Classical Civilisaiton options, they provide a valuable opportunity to study an ancient society using a combination of history and original-language sources.

I personally found it very useful, and it taught me a lot about grammar. Something which was sadly lacking in my English education at school.

Donald Clark said...

Anything more than:
1 ad hominem attack
2 you as a sample of one
What I find tiresome are Latin teachers and pupils who simply appeal to their own experience or are outraged at the very fact that someone has attempted to argue against their pet subject. I have no problem with Greek and Latin as objects of study. I do objects to them being part of the school curriculum. There are far to many other subjects that had precedence.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, it's quite transparent that your opposition to this subject is influenced by some idea that it's 'elitist'.

This 'outrage' you're talking about - no, I don't consider your comments to be outrageous, merely sad. Sad because you are wasting time and energy 'arguing against' a subject which has helped many gain valuable skills and cultural enrichment.

You might find my defence of Latin, Greek, and Classical Civ. (which includes both language and historical components) as tiresome, and I'm sorry if my own experiences offend you in some way (perhaps you don't like evidence which contradicts your prejudice). Unfortunately I don't know of any studies on the benefits of studying ancient languages and classical civ., but I see it as similar to the study of history but with the added appreciation, and focus on sources, gained from combining the study of a society with the study of its language (and no, a work in translation is not the ‘same’ as the original, and an A2 student can understand an unmodified text an critique translation – several translations are out of date anyway).

I would point out that I never had the opportunity to study Latin or any other classical subject at school (only much later), and regret not having done so. It is not my 'pet' subject, but I appreciate its value.

Apart from your derisive attitude, another problem I have with your posts is that you do rather miss the point in saying that it's ok to study these languages at university, but not at school. Classical scholarship at universities would be weaker today were it not for the provision of ancient languages and ancient history courses at schools. If more state schools offered provision in Latin, for instance, then the subject would benefit at university level. Not only that, but those from less privileged backgrounds would be more well placed to apply to study it at university. It's not particularly helpful to create an arbitrary line between the subject at school and the subject at university.

An associated problem is that I don't think you give much thought to the connection between the study of ancient languages and the study of ancient societies. The former informs and enriches the latter. An A-level student studying Latin (either on its own or in combination with a module on an aspect of ancient society) will gain a very good appreciation of a set text, and this enhances that student's understanding of the society which produced said text.

Of course, you may think that history teaching should start with the Anglo-Saxons, or 1066, and ignore antiquity (as if nothing of note happened in the ancient world).

I would not argue that all schools should teach Latin/class.civ. as a compulsory subject (for all its challenges and the skills it offers those who study it) - a modern foreign language is as good if not better an option (although MFL and Classics give you different things). This does not, however, mean that schools should not be encouraged to broaden access to this subject, and offer it as a GCSE option. If you want to study classics or ancient history at university, then Latin, Greek and combination courses are a good way to go. It can also help with more standard history degrees.

In short, I think you are fixated on this idea of a snobbish, useless subject, and have little interest in exploring what it can, as opposed to what it cannot, do for young people.

Donald Clark said...

I'm far from being fixated on Latin. I've been blogging for many years, this is one post in nearly 600. It's the fixation on Latin by right wing educationalists such as Toby Young (it's compulsory in his school) and Gove (Latin has a higher status than ALL vocational subjects in his Ebacc qualification. There is undoubtedly an 'elitist' element in this ideological, as opposed to pedagogical, push on Latin.
Calling me 'sad' because I've outlined some arguments against teaching Latin in schools is a bit strong, if not elitist!
I have absolutely no problem with the study of ancient history. If you check out my travel blog, I've spent a great deal of my life in Egypt, the Middle East and across the whole of the Roman Empire and Greece, studying ancient civilisations. My argument is against pushing dead languages in schools.
Classical scholarship will suffer, you say. So what. There's far more important things to be worrying about than expanding this area yet further.
We seem to agree on the point of it not being a core subject - but is now is. Far from not being interested in exploring the subject I seem to the only person who actually sought out the relevant research and stated in my case.

Anonymous said...

I feel our views are converging somewhat.

Toby Young may well be elitist, and he may well be pushing Latin for elitist reasons (I don’t know). I would, however pause before labelling this elitist if it means broadening access to a subject which hitherto has been the preserve of the few.

Saying that Gove gives Latin higher status than all vocation subjects is misleading – Latin is not a vocational subject, it is an ‘academic’ one like history, geography, etc. It may well be that Gove thinks that academic learning for university entry is more important than vocational qualifications, but that isn’t a reason to misclassify Latin. It’s an academically challenging subject which is a good measure of academic ability, and carries with it real benefits (and I’m keen to stress the point that Latin isn’t just about learning the language for the sake of knowing the language – it’s about gaining a deeper appreciation of both ancient society and a classical tradition which has had a profound impact on European culture).

So, the fact that Young and Gove may not be the best people to guide our education system, and that they like Latin, is in my view no argument against Latin.

I apologise if it came across as though I said you were ‘sad’ for criticising Latin – I meant to say that I find your criticism saddening. This is chiefly because I don’t think you have considered the case for Latin (and as I have said several times, Classical Civilisation) in sufficient depth. You may be right in saying that there is an element of ‘elitism’ to what I am saying – but it’s the same ‘elitism’ as makes me despair when I hear the Daily Mail / Telegraph reader rant against things which do not appear sufficiently ‘useful’ for their tastes (foreign languages, minority languages, humanities at university etc etc).

[Post too long, continuing on the next one]

Anonymous said...

I apologise if it came across as though I said you were ‘sad’ for criticising Latin – I meant to say that I find your criticism saddening. This is chiefly because I don’t think you have considered the case for Latin (and as I have said several times, Classical Civilisation) in sufficient depth. You may be right in saying that there is an element of ‘elitism’ to what I am saying – but it’s the same ‘elitism’ as makes me despair when I hear the Daily Mail / Telegraph reader rant against things which do not appear sufficiently ‘useful’ for their tastes (foreign languages, minority languages, humanities at university etc etc).

I’m glad that you have nothing against the study of ancient history, but my point, which I will stress again and again, is that the study of ancient languages enriches and enhances our understanding of the ancient society. I find ‘dead languages’ an ugly and dismissive phrase which ignores this, and ignores also the fact that the language is living in the sense that it is studied and crucial for any advanced historical enquiry into European history.

Anonymous said...

I am frankly puzzled that you don’t think that Classical Scholarship is important. Is historical scholarship unimportant? Both support the teaching of challenging subjects at university level, subjects which equip those who study them with very valuable skills. If anything, it’s saddening that so few A2 and university students ever study anything but modern history – that leads to an incomplete understanding of our heritage and history, and also missed opportunities in terms of studying alien societies and understanding them on their own terms.

I did not say that Latin/Classical Civilisation ought not to be a core subject – what I am arguing is that it is a perfectly legitimate choice as one of several possible core subjects. So let’s say that under the new Ebac a student must study English, Maths, Science, a foreign language, and a humanities subject. My point is that Latin/Classical Civilisation (I take it you know the different routes one can take with the study of Classical Civilisation?) should not be seen as an alternative to a foreign language, but rather as one of several worthy contenders for study as a humanities subject.

I think that where we differ is that whereas you think of Latin primarily in terms of learning a ‘dead language’, and so as an unworthy substitute for a MFL, I see it as an interesting blend of language and humanities. These differing approaches lead you to rubbish the subject at school, whereas I see it as one of several rewarding subjects one can follow to A2 standard.

It’s commendable that you have found research on the benefits of Latin in terms of learning subsequent MFLs (although I wonder what other research there exists), but what I meant was that I didn’t get a sense that you had considered the value of Latin as a component of a humanities course.

While it may infuriate you to see yet another use personal experience to ‘big-up’ Latin, I also have to query some of the research you cited. Clearly studying a modern romance language is the best way to learn other modern romance languages more easily, but this doesn’t mean that Latin is useless. English, and even MFL teaching in this country (in my experience) has been light on grammar and understanding how language ‘works’. Latin, even from the earliest stages, encourages pupils to think about grammar, and instils an understanding of grammatical vocabulary, forms etc. Latin was my first introduction to these things, in fact. I did some German, but found it intolerably difficult because of my lack of understanding of grammar in general, let alone German grammar specifically. Having studied some Latin – and I think a lot of this is to do with the way in which Latin is taught – it all became clearer, and I found French easier. Whereas a student who studied French will be better at Spanish than one who studied Latin only, I would have thought that one who studied French and Latin would be better still at Spanish. In short, what I’m trying to say is that Latin teaches one about language. Some of this may be an argument against recent teaching methods in MFL and English rather than an argument for Latin as such, yet this is what happened to me, and I think this is the current reality for others (I fear that I don’t have the time to make more detailed research!).

I think that, at the end of the day, Latin is only elitist if one wants it to be. With an open mind and a different attitude I think that a great many people can find enjoyment in the language, and end up with an enhanced cultural and linguistic awareness because of it. On top of that, as part of GCSE, AS/A2 courses in Classics, it is a rigorous and rewarding subject worthy of a place at any school.

Donald Clark said...

Let me be clear again. I don't think Classical Scholarship or Historical scholarship is unimportant. I've spent a lifetime studying these very subjects.
My argument is against the Latin option in schools, where time is limited and the curriculum crowded. Latin has been given core subject status by Gove in the Ebacc. (Of course it's an academic and not a vocational subject. This ranks it above ALL vocational subjects, which is plainly stupid. I have no real worry about bright kids who will go on to University, Latin or not. My concern is with the majority of young people who need a balanced curriculum and not a dead language. Let's be frank IT and vocational teachers across the land will be sacked in favour of Latin teachers. This, in my opinion, is not right.
Lastly, few enough young people learn a second language without gumming up the system with Latin.

Anonymous said...

It’s all very well saying that one doesn’t consider ancient history/classical scholarship to be unimportant, but for people to study it at university it is desirable for it to be more widely available in schools. Otherwise it becomes the preserve of an elite.

Having looked at the E-bacc details online, I see that Latin/Classical Greek/Hebrew are considered acceptable instead of a modern foreign language (as opposed to a humanities subject). Personally, I don’t agree with this system – why not Latin or Classical Civilisation instead of History/Geography? [To clarify, it is only from AS that Latin comes under the Classical Civ. Umbrella. Prior to that there are separate Latin/Greek GCSEs – but each of these entails an understanding of culture and history through language. Hence what I said about it being a mix of humanities and language.]

The question is, of course, how many state schools will actually choose to offer Latin over the usual MFLs, or indeed less usual non-European languages (e.g. Arabic, Urdu, etc etc). Few, I would say. Outside of Toby Young’s academies, the pupils who will do ‘dead languages’(for those who despise them) or ‘ancient languages’ (for those who don’t), will most likely be those who attend private, grammar, or otherwise academies in more affluent areas.

As for IT and vocational teachers losing their jobs, blame the government and the E-bacc, not Latin. It will still be taught, and vocational courses will still be followed at tertiary colleges. The fact is that the government has decided to opt for a system in which academic subjects reign, and vocational subjects don’t get a look in. To pick out Latin for a slating is missing the point somewhat. Under such a system, Latin always will rank above a vocational subject – simply because it’s academic.

If some more state-funded schools decide to introduce Latin provision, I can’t see the problem. Timetables may be ‘full’, but there are always competing demands between subjects – which is precisely why we have a system in place which enables pupils to choose subjects after Key Stage 3. If people choose to continue with Latin after KS3, and do it as part of an E-bacc, I doubt that many will regret it or find it does nothing to help them develop culturally and in terms of skills.

Under Gove’s new system, of course, there will be a choice between an MFL and Latin/Greek/Hebrew. The numbers taking MFLs after KS3 will, therefore, most likely increase.

What I can’t really understand is your objection to a Latin OPTION – it does seem like you are singling the subject out. Do you object to pupils in a state school choosing to take it as one of several GCSEs, or for able pupils to take it as an extra GCSE, under the current system?

Overall, I think your criticisms are misplaced – Latin is a good subject, and undeserving of criticism of ‘it’s a pointless subject’ sort of variety. If the government’s actions entail that Latin – along with other ‘traditional’ subjects – gain precedence over the vocational, then that is a problem with the government, a problem of politics, not a problem with Latin.

Donald Clark said...

There is a reason for Gove's promotion of Latin - elitism. A second reason is the promotion of the subject in public schools, where it's long been a marketing differentiator from the state system.
When I use the term 'dead lenguage' I don't despise the language. I'm simply stating a fact about the language being of no practical use outside of the world of scholarship. Scholarship alone is not a reason for school curriculum choice. If it were, then one could argue that every scholarly subject should be taught in schools. Why not hieroglyphics or cuneiform?
Latin is in our curriculum because of the dominance of the church in determining early curricula and the influence of 'classical' education models on early curricula in the public school system. It's inclusion, I repeat, helps squeeze out other more worthy subjects. It has a status it does not deserve.
If one were to imagine that schools did not exist and we had the chance to design the curriculum from scratch, Latin wouldn't get a look in.
We have problems with numeracy, literacy, ICT and a lack of relevant skills among school and university leavers. Latin won't help.

Anonymous said...

Again I don't think you appreciate how a Latin GCSE doesn't simply involve learning the language in isolation - it's also about culture and society. As such, and as I have said, it has many of the features of a humanities subject. To say that Latin is of no practical value outside of scholarship is similar to saying that history has no practical value. Sure, the content may not be directly relevant to the world of work, but the skills acquired are - analysis etc etc. To repeat, please dispense with this idea that Latin is about rows of terrified and bored pupils learning a language simply because people of status need to know said language. It is not taught outside its cultural context - look at the Cambridge Latin course if you really want some indication of what it's about.

Why we don't do hieroglyphics or cuneiform in schools - because they are too hard, too academic? Another reason, of course, is tradition - as you have alluded to. I don't think, however, that this tradition is necessarily a bad thing (unless you want to push a political point against it). There were and are good reasons for the teaching of classical subjects in schools, be it in the c19th or the c21st - the classical heritage is deeply influential, and has informed philosophy, politics, history etc etc.

You say that including Latin, or Classical subjects excludes more worthy subjects - which ones? I repeat the central point that classical subjects are good, rigorous subjects which equip students with a) stuff worth knowing for its own sake, and b) valuable skills. In this they are no different from such subjects as History and English Literature.

As for your notion that classical subjects should not be included in a redesigned curriculum, not only would we have to imagine that schools did not exist, but also that much of history never happened. As it is, most pupils will study no ancient history outside of primary school, and little medieval history after Key Stage 3, and will have a skewed historical education.

We have problems with numeracy, literacy, ICT, and a lack of relevant skills. Granted.

Classical subjects will not help with numeracy, may help with literacy, and would most certainly help with relevant skills - as would any other humanities subject if taught well and studies rigorously.

I sense, however, that much of your objection is to do with classical subjects being taught to less able pupils when they should really be looking to focus more on essential numeracy, literacy, and vocational training. There is a fair case to be made for a much greater emphasis on vocational/technical pathways in schools (in Germany 25% go to traditional universities, 50% to technical colleges etc), as opposed to Gove's system which privileges academic learning. Again, this is a problem with the system as a whole – not a problem with Latin. If all children are to be forced to learn academic subjects other than Maths, English and Science, I don’t see why classical subjects are less worthy than others.

So to reiterate my key points:
1. Latin is misrepresented as learning a language for no apparent reason bar status and tradition. In fact, at GCSE, and still more so at AS/A2, it is taught within its historical and context, and engenders a deeper understanding of that context. Latin therefore deserves a place in schools as an option (just as history is under the current system an option at KS4), and arguments to the contrary are largely based on a misunderstanding of the subject and perhaps also some misplaced resentment/prejudice against an 'elitist' subject.
2. Arguments against Gove’s system are mistakenly deployed against classical and other traditional subjects.
3. Please let’s stop the Latin-bashing. It’s a perfectly reasonable choice at GCSE and AS/A2, and it isn’t right to attack the subject on the basis of points 1 and 2 – or simply because Gove likes Latin and one doesn’t like Gove.

Anonymous said...

How can a subject, if made compulsory in all schools, be 'elitist'?

Unknown said...

I found, in my study of 1, that latin has helped me understand spanish and french. I believe that it has helped me understand english language as I've learned new words and understood the grammar better too.

i do think that its a bit much to make it compulsory however.

p.s. my latin teacher was also very attractive which to a 15 yr old boy was also a good motivator for learning :) perhaps I"m biased.

Ken Westmoreland said...

Yet more tedious self-justification for Latinist ideologues.

I have to laugh at Ecoblogger's claim about Afrikaans, which, having been derived from Dutch, is a West Germanic, not Romance language.

Take the following sentences:

My drink is in my hand
My pen was in my hand

They could be either English or Afrikaans.

Aping Latin lumbered English speakers with myths about splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions, neither of which are possible in Latin, but are entirely natural in Germanic languages... like English!

Unknown said...

How does it not help with other Romance languages? The verbs, the relatives, the interrogatives, the personals, demonstratives - they're all pretty much the same. I can look at Italian and essentially get the jist of it without ever having learned it. Latin has more in common with the Romance languages than, for example, French has with Spanish. Therefore, your argument that one should learn one Romamce instead of Latin itself is valid, but unsound.

Donald Clark said...

Read the article - it explains in detail why Latin causes incorrect transfer, such as the omission of prepositions and auxiliary verbs and wrong endings. Two romamnce languages are more similar to each other than Latin and any Romance language, so it makes more sense to learn a Romance language first than Latin.

Anonymous said...

I know this post is old, but I just wanted to say that I found it while trying to research if Latin helps one learn Japanese (not that I'm learning Latin, but I was talking about Esperanto and people keep equating its benefits to Latin but not explaining what it has in common/what benefits Latin has exactly - so I tried to look it up).

It's really interesting to see that almost everything that everyone says online about Latin is false in terms of how it helps with other languages. Yet the false info is still on tons of other blogs and articles out there. To be honest, I don't Google much in English anymore because the amount of false or extremely outdated information in it is staggering (even on simple things like health, nutrition, and historical facts).

I never understood the point of studying Latin to study English vocabulary. Actually I'll put it here: I graduated high school in the USA in 2009; I never took SATs or another text like that, but I still got into University without a problem, because there's a loophole! Community college doesn't require those big tests, and if you have something like a years' worth of community college credits, suddenly Universities don't care about your SAT scores. Oh, or you could go to University in Norway or Iceland where it's essentially free even for non-citizens : P

Either way, you could simply buy a vocabulary book and study that instead of another language, if SAT words were your goal.

As for Old Norse - It's viewed much more highly in Iceland than Latin is, and everyone studies Old Norse in school, even foreign students who are getting degrees in modern Icelandic (Imagine if all English majors had to study Anglo-Saxon!). If I had to guess I would say all the Germanic-Nordics view Old Norse as about the same "eliteness" as Latin, except that Old Norse is more practical for them (not only does it explain a lot of exceptions in their own languages, but in some places you can just take a short walk and find runestones for reading practise for example). But at the same time, they realize that Latin was simply a bigger language than Old Norse was. But, combined, German + Old Norse is much more important for historical and cultural reasons for Scandinavia, I would say. Either way, a Swede won't/can't learn Old Norse or Latin in high school - they're forced to learn modern languages instead.

The same goes for Anglo-Saxon. I've heard that some schools in England teach that instead of Latin. But in general, doesn't it feel pathetic when even in the year 2014 we treat a foreign language, Latin, as if it's better than our own, Anglo-Saxon? They're just languages - if it's necessary to learn an old one, it should be the one English stems from.

Donald Clark said...

At last - someone with some objectivity on the subject.

Patchwork10 said...


Unknown said...

I don't think you are being portraying a fair pictura when you claim that latin, somehow, makes learning related descending languages harder. We have to be critical here and not just present such a unilaterally leaning overview of the issue. For instance, when you say learning it makes it harder to learn other languages like english and spanish, thats becaue these are analytical language with low to moderate inflection rate and highly dependant on word order and prepositions to make sense. But you cannot compare apples and oranges. Why not make the case that learning latin would probably develop your grammar understanding for learning languages with similar/parallel grammatical models, namely, with freer word order and with a rich case system (Russian, hungarian, finnish, turkish, etc.) And I assure you that the hungarian-speaking world have produces plenty pioneers in the sciences in the last century. Learning similar things (english, french, spanish, italian) won't help anyone develop more than a cut/past, mechanical word replacement idea of what learning a new language really is. Next time, try to be more critical, it's obvious on which side you are on.

Donald Clark said...

Hi Ed I presented 'evidence' for my claim, actual stidues that support my arguments. That is the nature of critical study - ot just anecdote. Anecodtes are unilateral, objective studies are critical. It is the 'Latin' camp that makes the claim, which you refute, that learning Latin makes it easier to learn, say Spanish.We seem to agree on that. I made no claim about its efficacy in Russian, Hungarian etc. As most UK kids learn French, Spanish and `german, and the Latin camp claim that learning Latin helps them learn these other langiages, my point is made. Not sure what you see as being critical here.

Unknown said...

Oh, I see. Sorry, I tend to get defensive, I'm passionate about these stuffs (although not really knowledgeable) the keyboard warrior syndrome, I guess. Back to the subject, and this is strictly my opinion based on my observations as a spanish speaker and italian learner, I have notices that lexical consistency is not romance languages strong suit, it's sometimes hard to instinctively figure out the meaning of new words, even though their meanings are related to known words. More on this, even the afixes used to build new words don't share the same meaning, rendering vocabulary a rather inconsistent and counterintuitive nature, I think english has this problem but to much lesser extent ( with verbal phrases). This makes for a rather inproductive new word formating system in the case of romance languages: ritenerre (italian consider), retener (spanish retain), volver (to be back, do again), revolver (to shake something)... these are all offshoots of latin terms with stronger semantical assosiation to derived and related terms, producing less vague expression. I don't know latin, but i intend on learning it, may be It should not be the first priority for schools curriculum, but it should not be enterily forgoten, or left out. May be it would become more useful aftee learning another romance, thus avoiding the transfer you mentioned. Thanks for your humbleness and understanding when dealing with my previous comment. Blessings!

Donald Clark said...

Sorry Ed. I genuinely have no idea whatany of this means.