Why is There so Much Life Left in This Dead Language?
Latin may be a dead language, which is defined as “no longer the native language of any community,” but as far as scholars are concerned, it’s still vitally full of life.
The school began its sixth year in Santa Barbara this fall, as part of a network of Catholic schools that have adopted a classical academic model. Part of that curriculum is that every student reads the classic works of Greece and Rome, studies the history of the church, and takes at least four years of Latin.
“With all of its declensions, conjugations, and grammatical rules to master, Latin is a language made for a methodical mind, and in turn it trains its students to be methodical,” said Hauser. “One must slow down to make progress in Latin. Every word has to be weighed, analyzed, and understood in the context of its usage. Studying Latin instills in students a deep reverence for language, a reverence that is being lost in a culture that runs on instant communication. A strong command of language is a skill that never goes out of fashion.”
With a documented correlation between studying Latin and higher SAT scores, college grade point averages, and even math-problem-solving abilities, many other local schools emphasize the importance of studying Latin. For example, at Laguna Blanca, 7th graders complete a job interview in Latin, and at Ojai’s Thacher School, an impressive 75 percent of the students who took the National Latin Exam received awards. Latin instruction is also offered at all of the secondary schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
We hardly need studies to confirm this, however. “Anyone who has studied the Latin language in good faith can speak to its effects on the mind,” said Hauser. “What is more mysterious and more remarkable about studying Latin is that it ingrains in those students … a confidence in discipline and a love of language.”