Rethinking Latin

Photo: iStock.com/rarrarorro

It's time to stop seeing Latin as a 'dead language', argues Dominic Hodgkinson, Head of Classics at Dauntsey’s School, and instead see it as a humanity that can enhance our understanding of the world today.

When I talk to parents about studying Latin, they generally fall into two groups: those who are ardent advocates of the subject, fondly recalling happy memories of the subject in their own school days; while others dismiss it as a dead language, with somewhat less positive memories of their experience in the classroom.

Therein lies one of the misconceptions about Latin. I would argue that it should not be ranked alongside French, German and Spanish – as a language – but instead considered in the context of history and religious studies, as a humanity.

It is so much more than a language. It won’t help you order a coffee in the language of the country you happen to be visiting, but it might teach you a lot about where you come from.

The study of Latin is not confined to vocabulary and grammar; it’s not just about conjugating verbs, although that is important. Latin invites you into a world of ancient gods, to a myriad of engineering and architectural innovations, to a vast and powerful civilisation whose legacy lives on today in many European countries and the way in which we all live.

The words and grammar that you learn in Latin underpin the English language – and many other Romance languages, such as Spanish and French. Pupils find it enormously rewarding to identify the connections between Latin and English and, as a result, their appreciation of English language and literature improves significantly.

Dominic Hodgkinson is Head of Classics at Dauntsey’s School.