Guest / Limited Access /

"That's Latin," said an ever-helpful commentator during the funeral mass for John Paul II. Like the belief that television is necessary, the idea that Latin is "dead" is as bogus as it is recent. It's true that Ben Franklin's autobiography pits the "living" tongues against that unspoken one, but the Sage's most important point was that French, or another romance language, can serve as a bridge to Latin. My students who know French or Spanish can vouch for this. Another who knows Russian has recognized Latin's influence on that language. And I have learned that even Welsh owes much of its vocabulary to the speech of the Caesars. Anyway, James Madison busted his rump studying Latin and Greek to pass the entrance exam at what would become Princeton University, and it didn't do him any harm.

"I won't say anything about the death of Latin," writes retired linguistics professor Tore Janson in A Natural History of Latin, "[for] the language is still very much alive." Save for those who have labored under the direction of cruddy teachers, everyone who has studied Latin knows that Janson is right. As he regularly points out, one obvious thing that keeps Latin in the category of the living is its presence in just about every sentence English-speakers utter. Here, for example, is the Pledge of Allegiance with the Latin taken out:

I … to the flag of the … of America and to the … for which it stands, one … under God … with … and … for all.

Indeed, something like 75 percent of the multisyllabic words in the English lexicon come from Latin, or from Greek via Latin, or from Latin via French. As I put it to my students, if Yiddish were erased from contemporary English we'd have a hard time talking about bagels, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Tags:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueThe Most Astonishing Easter Miracle
Subscriber Access Only The Most Astonishing Easter Miracle
It’s not that Jesus rose bodily from the grave.
TrendingRussia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Russia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Group gives Protestants competition for souls, but also an ally on religious freedom.
Editor's PickThe Three Myths of Cohabitation
The Three Myths of Cohabitation
Sociologist Bradford Wilcox reports the surprising results of his new international study on cohabitation and its impact on kids.
Christianity Today
The Universal Language
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

May 2005

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.