Learning Dead Languages In The Modern Day

Latin, a language that hasn’t been spoken since approximately 675 AD, is the basis of romance languages like French, Italian, and English. The Latin language rose and fell with the Roman Empire. During the Classical Period, the language was used in three ways; classical oratorical Latin, written Latin, and colloquial Latin. Latin stays alive today mainly through the Roman Catholic religion and people who study classics.

Homeric Greek is another dead language that still stirs up enough interest to be offered as college and high school courses. This classical language stays alive through modern day Greek, spoken in Greece and Cyprus, which is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union.

AP Latin Scholars pose for a picture outside their favorite building

Between the two languages, most classics enthusiasts lean towards learning Latin. This is because for people who fluently speak a romance language, Latin is fairly easy to grasp, whereas Homeric Greek involves a whole new alphabet. It’s also because a lot of people hear that Latin is a great assistant when learning medical terms or studying for standardized tests like the SATs.   

Learning a second language is an extremely difficult task, yet according to ilanguages.org, 43% of the world’s population is bilingual. Learning a dead language is completely different, because Latin and Homeric Greek are not spoken, and translations rarely make fluid sense in English.

Jackson Pierce 18’ has been taking Latin for four years, the whole of his high school career, and is now in an advanced placement version of the class. He said that the reason he’s continued with it is because of “the whole environment, the students and teachers involved are all super nice and genuinely interested in learning.”

“During my freshman year, Latin sparked my interest in the language. I initially took it just for a language credit, and because I thought it would help me on my SATs, but by my sophomore year I had taken a real interest in the language and its history,” said another AP Latin scholar, Shannon Danis 18’.  

Danis stated that she continued her studies in Latin because it was a great assistant for her English skills. She also reasoned that with Latin there’s always something interesting to discuss. Whether it’s mythology, or the founding of Rome, or who Julius Caesar was, Danis is intrigued by all of it.

Although it is difficult to learn another language, studies have shown that the reward is greater than the struggle. Being able to communicate in/comprehend another language gives you an edge in the career finding process. It also opens up the choices of where you can work. If you learn Chinese as a second language, you may take a job as an interpreter, or a job based in China. If you learn Latin or Homeric Greek, you can work in classics, archeology, at a museum, or simply study abroad in places like Rome or Athens.

Pierce added that speaking two languages makes you more cultured. Even a dead language can teach you so much about the world, and you’ll have that knowledge under your belt for the rest of your life. “It helps us better understand english and other languages, it kind of shows us that English wasn’t always the almighty language.”

“In general, learning a second language is an extremely useful thing to have under your belt,” said Danis. She also believes it’s important to broaden your horizons when it comes to languages and different cultures.

Learning a second language is very difficult, but to learn a dead language is a whole other story because you don’t have the option of practicing through small talk or watching movies in the language. Danis also explains that using real life/modern day examples of what you learn in Greek or Latin classes is a huge struggle, because it isn’t often that you find sources to help you learn.

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Educating students for more than 200 years.