Why Latin Why learn a dead language? Why learn Latin? It is true that Latin is a dead language. You are not going to have a conversation with Julius Caesar, or Virgil or any other dead Roman for that matter. However, some dead languages are more dead than others. Modern languages have evolved from dead languages and quite a few evolved from Latin. Spanish and French and to a great extent even English owe a lot to Latin. Learning Latin gives you a solid base to learn many other languages. Latin is a little easier to learn than other languages in that it is more regular and has a smaller lexicon (vocabulary). This is because Classical latin has not changed for about 1,500 years. Also, much of our values, art, and scientific principles came down to us through the Romans. As Rome conquered the known world they spread many of these including Judeo-Christian beliefs, philosophies and religion. Learning Latin gives us a valuable look into the origins of many of the things we call American. Many of the plot lines we see in modern movies and books existed in ancient Rome. Even Shakespeare borrowed heavily from the Classic Roman Stories (who borrowed much from the Greek and Arabic). Latin vocabulary gives you an advantage over fellow students in fields like law, biology, medicine, and various other scientific fields. For the above reasons, academia loves Latin and Greek. Colleges and graduate programs love to see these classic languages on your transcripts. Some even say that Latin and Greek are given more prestige than they deserve in academia. Whether you agree or not, these dead languages can give you an advantage over other applicants. Pronunciation One of Rome's greatest contributions to our culture is our alphabet. In ancient times, an Arabic people in western Asia created a phonetic alphabet from Egyptian pictographs. They called the first letter aleph which meant ox because it looked like the upside down head of an ox. Later the Phoenicians, who are related to the Arabs and the Jews, spread this alphabet across the Mediterranean and the Greeks modified it by adding more vowels. There were many dialects in ancient Greece and the Romans received this same alphabet in more than one form from different Greek tribes (Mainly from the Etruscans). The Romans modified the alphabet further and passed it on to the modern world. This is why English, German, Spanish, French, Romanian, Portuguese, Italian and other European languages use a similar alphabet. Interestingly, in 1928, the country of Turkey abandoned its own alphabet in favor of the simpler Roman one. The Roman alphabet is not exactly like the one we use today. English added the letters J, U, and W. The Romans had a slightly different and simpler pronunciation of the alphabet. During medieval times something called the Great Vowel Shift occurred in English. From this time on, our pronunciation of the vowels differed from that of other European languages. Roman consonants sound like English ones with the exception that r's were tapped. This is kind of like the trill in Spanish, but much shorter. V was a consonant and was pronounced like w. Also, all the consonants produced just one simple sound. S's never sound like Z's. G's never sound like J's. C's never sound like S's. As for the vowels, long a (ā) made the sound it makes in the word father. Short a (ă) made the sound it makes in the word dynamite. Long e (ē) made the sound it makes in the word they. Short e (ĕ) made the sound it makes in the word pet. Long i (ī) made the sound it makes in the word machine. Short i (ĭ) made the sound it makes in the word pit. The letter i was also a consonant when it came before the letter a. In this instance it made the same sound as the English consonant y does in the word yes. Long o (ō) made the same sound it makes today. It says its name.Short o (ŏ) made the sound it makes in the word lots. It sounds a lot like long a. Long u (ū) made the sound it makes in the word Luke. Short u (ŭ) made the sound it makes in the word put (it makes the sound the two o's make in the word book). There were a few diphthongs also. Most notably ae which made the sound the English diphthong ai makes in the word aisle.
Read this famous poem out loud and see if you can guess which it is. Mica, mica, parva stella! Miror quae nam sis, tam bella, Splendens e minus in illo, Alba velut gemma, caelo The first thing you need to understand when learning a new language is that things rarely translate directly from one language to another. The way you say something in Latin is almost never the way you would say it in English. The basic meaning is the same, but often in a very vague manner. Other languages are not simply coded versions of English. They use different rules and a different form of logic. Understanding this new way of thinking and expressing yourself is what fluency is all about. This process can greatly improve your mental capacity in that it creates new pathways in your brain. You can memorize thousands of new words and be less fluent than a student who has memorized a few hundred words. Take for example the verse above.Here is the direct translation of the Latin followed by the original English version. A grain, a grain, little star, I wonder what you actually are, so beautiful, Shining out of something smaller in that place, A pearl like a gem, in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Have you ever heard the saying "something was lost in translation"? Adding to the problem of translating from one language to another is that the rhyme and rhythm of a song or poem from one language will not work with the same words of another language.The author of the translation above chose to focus on the rhyme and rhythm of the above verse rather than the definitions of the words. However, you were probably still able to figure out which song it came from. If you translate directly into Latin, the verse will lose its rhyme and rhythm. Below is a translation that is more direct. Scintillat scintillat stella parva, Nescio quid es, Usque adit alte supra mundum, Etiam in aeri, sicut adamas. Even this does not translate as well as we would like, but this is about as close as you can get without changing it so much that a Roman would not be able to read it. It sparks, it sparks the star little I do not know what you are, All the way, you are high above the world, Even in the air, like a diamond.
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