LATIN: THE BASIC LANGUAGE
published in the THE FORUM edited
by AUSTIN M. LASHBROOK in The
(Vol 64., no. 4. January 1969. Pages 162 – 166).
STUDENTS IN LATIN CLASSES at Princeton
(N.J.) solicited from prominent men and mien in numerous fields their opinions
of the culturaI and practical value of Latin. The 1968 edition of the result
contains excerpts from 119 letters. The following selection is based upon this
compilation. It was submitted by Mrs. Glenda bards.
RICHARD NIXON, President of the
I was especially pleased that you wanted my thoughts on the value of studying Latin, since it a one of my favorite subjects when I was in I school, and I studied it for four years.
In my opinion those courses were extremely valuable to me in the development of logical thinking and in giving me a better understanding English grammatical construction.
I hope you and the future students at Princeton High School derive as much pleasure and benefit from your study of Latin as I did.
ARTHUR J. GOLDBERG, Former
United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
It seems as though men are forever trying to prove or disprove the value of Latin as part of a liberal education. The importance of Latin, in my estimation, cannot be too strongly emphasized; calling it a “dead” language is a great misnomer. On the contrary, Latin is very much alive, because in mastering it the student becomes part of ice living culture of the Western world and thereby preserves for himself the wisdom of the past as a counsel to the present.
Latin has its value as well in helping us to understand our own language, for, with Greek, it forms the roots of the English tongue. Finally, Latin has a profound value in the link which it forms with the past. To know by studying their works, that men lived two thousand years ago who shared the same yearning for representative government, the same desire for a system of laws, the same respect for the integrity of the individual, is to realize that the same inner light of freedom illuminates the being of men of all ages.
For myself, Latin not only has taught me what I have just emphasized but has been invaluable and essential in my professional life as lawyer and judge.
Former Secretary of the
I am pleased to give you my opinion on the value of Latin, both in relation to a liberal arts education and as a preparation for more practical career opportunities.
I am certain that many of your respondents will deal with the classical aspects of the study of Latin. Therefore, I shall comment with respect to my own experience in the field of law and public service. Before entering political life, I was a practicing attorney in Arizona, and Latin seasoned my daily routine and became an integral part of my language and thought. Later, as a Member of Congress, I not only acquired many political duties but had to broaden my concept of law.
At present, as one of the President’s Cabinet, I am responsible for the Department of the Interior the agency which has jurisdiction over the major share of the Federal activities in the nation’s natural resources. Here the legal problems are of incredible dimensions, and I require a staff of attorneys to assist me in their administration, but I cannot escape the final responsibility on many legal decisions. Many of our statutes and practices with respect to land and water are ancient and some evolved from ancient Roman law.
Our legal problems are compounded by the fact that most of our administration of natural resources is also a problem in science, and one of the necessary disciplines of scientific study is the acquisition of a technical vocabulary. While this is not usually the most interesting part of a scientific career, it is imperative for communication, and an understanding of the unique language of science is basic to its proper use. It is only when the derivation and meaning of seemingly arcane words are comprehended that they cease to be abstract terms to be learned by rote. They then become part of a consistent language.
Latin occupies a special place in the language of science. In my present field of special interest —natural resources—the life sciences are fundamental to all of our problems relating to land, water, and living matter. If we did not have a unifying influence to facilitate communication we would be hopelessly fragmented and unable to talk among ourselves. Such a system was created by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus in the eighteenth century. The Linnean system of naming and classifying the world of nature, in use since 1758, requires that each unique organism shall have a genus and species name, and that the name shall be in the Latin form, regardless of its origin. This dictum-created uniformity is essential, and made a language that had been dead for the purposes of general communication the international language of the life sciences. Through Latin, biologists of the world speak and write a common language.
WILLARD WIRTZ, Former Secretary of Labor.
Latin is more of an immortal language than a dead one. It lives on with the modern Western languages, for many words have Latin derivatives. The study of Latin is an invaluable help in developing a feeling for the written and spoken word; it gives one a sense that language can be much more than mere communication; it teaches one the beauty of just the right word used in just the right manner.
A study of Latin is an enriching experience no matter what career one may eventually pursue.
CHASE SMITH, United States Senate, Maine.
Although Latin is a dead language that is not used in these modern times, it nevertheless has a most basic and important place in the curriculum of our high schools and colleges. There are two principal purposes of Latin. First, it is the basic language for the Romance languages, such as Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Rumanian. Second, it is a basic trainer in the development of the art of logic and reasoning. In this way it trains us to be better thinkers and clearer thinkers.
United States Senate,
Those of us who have had the privilege of studying Latin in high school have found this subject of enduring value. Our own English language has many of its roots in Latin, and because of this, one might say that Latin is, indeed, a “living language.” The study of Latin also acquaints us with a fascinating and important historical era—an era which gave us much of our cultural heritage.
H. PERCY, United
States Senate, Illinois.
Many thanks for your recent letter. In accordance with your request, I am enclosing a short paragraph on “The Value of the Study of Latin.” Best wishes for the successful completion of your project.
The humorist, Stephen Leacock, once said that boys learn to write good English by writing bad Latin. I think he cited the greatest value of the
In beginning the study of any foreign language, and especially one like Latin, upon which so much of our own language is based, the student must become aware of grammar as a tool and as a discipline. We speak English because we always have, and we speak it well because it “sounds right.” In Latin nothing “sounds right” until we have mastered the rules and the reasons. We come away with a new respect and understanding of English.
United States Senate,
We all recognize the cultural value of knowledge of the Latin language. It is justification. enough that people enjoy the works of the classical scholars in the original language and become familiar with a great civilization. However, many people doubt that any practical value accrues from a study of Latin. In a business-oriented society, this is a legitimate doubt, but from my experience I feel that it is misconceived.
The discipline involved in the study of Latin is often very important in the mental development of the student. In addition, the student of Latin has developed skills and abilities which will enable him to learn and use other languages with a greater facility. Similarly, because he has a knowledge edge of the basic components of our words, he is more likely to have a better understanding of the English language and a wider vocabulary. This also applies to technical language; and thus any student of science finds a knowledge of Latin especially helpful.
United States Senate, New Jersey.
The knowledge of Latin illuminates the study of English and the humanities. Valuable in itself as a way to become acquainted with the ancients whose thinking and practices have so greatly influenced Western civilization, it is also a most useful tool in the study of the sciences.
ROCKEFELLER, Governor of the State of New York.
There are many reasons for studying Latin. First, if you study it properly it will raise the general level of your intelligence.
Second, it will add to your cultural enjoyment by enabling you to read, in the original tongue some of the world’s greatest literature in
Third, Latin is the most terse and concise of all languages. If you will compare a passage in Latin with its equivalent in English, with its equivalent in English, you will find we have to use more words to express what is so -y expressed in Latin.
Furthermore, the person with a knowledge of has a better command of English, for much of our language stems from Latin.
C. WALLACE, Former
Governor of the State of Alabama.
Undoubtedly, you and many of your classmates have aspirations of someday entering professions either directly or indirectly related to the practice of medicine or law. The study of Latin is vitally essential to persons working in these areas, and to erase any doubt in one’s mind, it is only necessary to open any medical or legal dictionary to practically any page.
0. DOUGLAS, Supreme Court of the United States.
The intensive study of Latin gives one insight into the roots of the English language. It supplies ways to an understanding of some of the jargon if the law. While it introduces the student to prose that I usually found to be rather boring, its Retry in the original is often lyrical. Latin and Greek are the two ready links we have with the ancients.
EDGAR HOOVER, Director
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington,
Over the centuries, the study of Latin has brought to students everywhere the great culture of Rome. Here is where the student learns about -Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil. Not only does studying Latin do much to broaden the cultural outlook of the student, but it enables him better to gain a mastery of the English language through the frequent classical word derivation he encounters. Every American should take pride in learning how to express himself more effectively in his own native tongue, both orally and through writing, and the study of Latin is one of the best ways to accomplish this aim. In my opinion, the study of Latin is not antiquated but holds great value for all who would like to learn.
United States House of Representatives.
I feel that the decline in the study of Latin in7 our schools and colleges is extremely unfortunate and that the cause of American education is the poorer because of it. We may attribute this de-; dine, at least in part, to the fact that many students and some educators do not recognize the fundamental importance of Latin.
Probably no other skill is as useful to Americans in general as the ability to use the English; language. The study of Latin gives us a better. knowledge of English. Approximately half of our English words are derived from Latin. In School SO and Society, in 1943, H. N. Hildebrand, Chairman of the English Department at the University of Illinois, was quoted as follows: “The greater the knowledge the English student has of Latin as a written language the better he will be able to write English.”
In some of the professions, notably law and medicine, much of the terminology is of Latin origin. The study of Latin is invaluable to students preparing for these professions.
Sometimes unrecognized is the value of Latin in developing mental discipline and habits conducive to effective study. It has been called an“exact and exacting” subject. Logically organized and cumulative in its nature, it demands regular attention and preparation. It will be richly rewarding to a student who will give it his time and attention.
Not least important is the cultural value of the study of Latin, and herein lies the difference between vocational training and education. Translations of the classics of antiquity are, of course, available, but impressions gained from them alone are, at best, secondhand. The study of versions relates us more intimately to the rich heritage of our past, to “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.”
ROBERT CLEVELAND, Director, Office
of Public Services, Department of State.
I am sure the Under Secretary would agree that a knowledge of Latin is most useful in learning other languages. Today the ability to communicate with other peoples in their language is an invaluable asset, not only in the conduct of our international relations, but among private individuals as well. In my own case, as a Foreign Service Officer, my four years of Latin eased my understanding of French, Italian, Spanish, Rumanian and even, to some extent, Serbo-Croatian.
A knowledge of Latin can be of help to students in many fields. Its application to the study of languages is obvious. Future doctors and lawyers will find it useful since so much of the terminology of their professions is based on Latin. To a lesser extent, the same could be said for the sciences and engineering. Writers, teachers, students of history may also find their work enriched by a background in Latin.
There is merit, however, in the argument that Latin can become a time-consuming drudgery for the teenager who does not intend to pursue a professional career. It can be interesting and very practical to study Latin. But there are many students who would serve themselves and their school better by devoting their time to another subject. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of sound counseling in this regard.
V. LINDSAY, Mayor
of New York City.
I studied Latin with more diligence than success while attending St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire.
Although it was not one of my favorite courses at the time, in retrospect it seems to me that the study of Latin gives the student a valuable familiarity with the derivational structure of the English language. Moreover, a course in Latin constitutes excellent mental exercise and cultivates scholastic discipline.
B. KEATING, Judge,
State of New York, Court of Appeals.
I majored in Latin and Greek in college and then taught it for a year after I got out, before I went to law school; therefore, I am much interested in your project. In my judgment, Latin is a valuable subject, both because it gives one a better understanding of an important period in world history and leads to cultural enrichment, and also for a very practical reason: so many words in the English language are based on Latin that it is very important to one’s vocabulary and particularly spelling. It has been my observation that spelling seems to be a lost art among the young people who go to college today and who, if European students, would be considered illiterate because of their atrocious spelling, no matter bow brilliant their minds might be.
Poet, New York.
I’ll be forever grateful to my Latin teachers, as it is only my memory of Latin that enables me to have fun with the English language.
of Poetry, Oxford University.
In 1961 after I had given my Latin “Crewian Oration” at the Oxford University Encaenia, one of the illustrious men who were being awarded honorary doctorates that morning told me how much he regretted his own lack of a Classical education. “Nobody can understand English really well without a knowledge of Latin” he said almost passionately. “I’m seeing that my children get it.” This did not come from the American Secretary of State Dean Rusk, an Oxford graduate, who was one of those honoured, but from my fellow-countryman: Charles Chaplin.
It is a sobering thought that unless William Shakespeare had received his education exclusively in Latin the world might have been deprived of its greatest poet and dramatist. After four years of nothing but Latin grammar (with occasional excursions into translating Plautus, Terence, and Seneca) plain English must ha seemed a welcome contrast to the boy Shakespeare. If it takes a rebellion against an over dose of Latin to produce another Shakespeare to enrich our language, by all means, let us have more Latin.
Secretary, National e Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
As I reflect on my own experience with Latin, I am inclined to feel that it had considerable value in illuminating the structure of 1anguages generally, and in permitting a direct acquaintance with some of the classical literature on which much of our Western culture is based. I therefore believe that Latin serves as an important tool in our intellectual develop However, I don’t believe that I would advocate the compulsory study of Latin, since it can have, real meaning only for those who have a desire to learn it.
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