by Brent Rosenstein
“Latin is a dead language, it’s dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me!” This schoolyard rhyme has rung true for many students of the Latin language over the years, often wondering why they subject themselves to the intricacies of a language that no one really speaks anymore. However, Latin is not really as dead as it may seem. Certainly, the language suffers from a distinct lack of native speakers, a necessary trait for a language to be “living” in the traditional sense. However, that is not to say that no one speaks Latin anymore. In fact, it is still widely used by people all around the world everyday.
The two primary uses of the language come from the two sectors that most people tend to associate with Latin: religion and academia. The ecclesiastical usage is probably the largest domain for “everyday” Latin today, with Roman Catholic officials in the Vatican using the language for regular operations, press releases, and even casual conversation and joking around.1 The academic world, by contrast, puts little emphasis on the conversational usage of Latin, focusing more on the ability to read and interpret various historical sources, from Roman times until the present. Given that the best way to read something is to do so in its original language, Latin continues to be invaluable to the study of Europe’s past. Learning the lingua latina has also been shown to improve the grammatical understanding of other languages, including English.2 This gives it a much broader application, making it useful for anyone who speaks or works in English or a Romance language.
|Screenshot of CNN.com, "Pope Joins the Twitterverse"|
|"Romans Go Home" iPhone case|
Finally, there is what may be the single most important usage of the Latin language in the modern world: understanding Monty Python skits - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8.
1Robin Banerji, “Who Speaks Latin These Days?,” BBC, February 12, 2013, sec. Magazine, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21412604.
2Ibid.; “CSU Foreign Languages & Literatures | Latin,” accessed March 31, 2013, http://languages.colostate.edu/languages/latin.
3Banerji, “Who Speaks Latin These Days?”
4“Vicipaedia,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, March 31, 2013, http://la.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pagina_prima&oldid=2403593; “Harrius Potter,” Vicipaedia, March 26, 2013, http://la.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harrius_Potter&oldid=2489787.
5“Pope Benedict Sends First Personal Tweet,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/12/world/europe/vatican-pope-twitter/index.html.
6“Latin Becomes a Living Language on Facebook,” accessed March 31, 2013, http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=145923442130.