TJCL Torch 2018 Fall Torch - Page 14

Why Study Latin? We who study and teach Latin, and Classics in general, understand and appreciate not only the beauty of the language and the intrinsic interest of the field, but we also reap the benefits of our diligence.  What happens, however, when someone who does not study Latin asks us: Why should I study a language that is no longer spoken? Or again, someone may have heard that learning Latin helps with medical school or law school, but they may think that it's all about the vocabulary and they can learn that in other ways.  Are we prepared to answer these folks with reasonable, understandable arguments?  I offer below a few remarks that may provide a starting point in this direction.  I will focus on only three ideas: systematic thought, critical thought, and memorization. First of all, studying Latin and Greek inculcates the habit of thought called systematic thought. Students have to learn and understand multiple declension patterns, verb conjugations, correlatives and so on, all of which constitute individual systems. Then, we have to understand how those systems work together to allow someone to express complex human thought. Just so, in the medical profession, there is a skeletal system, a muscular system, and a nervous system, and students have to learn and understand those systems independently but they also have to know how they work together for good health. Also with law, there is federal law, state law, and local law, all independent systems, but all working together to promote the good of society. This attention to systematic thought makes studying Latin and Greek extremely helpful not only for medicine and law but for any profession that employs a system, i.e. practically every field there is! Modern languages are not taught in the same way as Latin and Greek. Rather, they focus on vocabulary acquisition and ease of expression, whereas classical languages insist on mastering all those systems. That is my number one reason that studying Latin and Greek is so helpful in intellectual development. Next is critical thinking skills.  Everyone likes to talk about how helpful it is to increase one's capacity for critical thinking.  Generally what they mean by critical thinking is asking why a particular expression or object is the way it is.  Latin and Greek students do this constantly.   Why is there an i on the end of a word, what is the significance of using the passive voice in this sentence, why is that word in the genitive?  We are constantly asking 'why' about every detail in every word in every sentence, and that again allows us the luxury of developing a very high standard of critical thinking.  That habit of asking why becomes a part of everything we do! That is why students of classical languages are so careful about their use of the English language as well.  We understand the difference, for example, between result clauses and purpose clauses, and we know how to form them in multiple languages.  Critical thought empowers people to use and, yes, to manipulate language in ways that others simply can't. Finally, we come to the lost art of memorization.  Latin students are forced to memorize large amounts of material from all those forms, to the vocabulary, to the rules of syntax.  Memorization is a skill that will stand anyone in good stead.  The ability to recall information at a moment's notice is critical in some situations and is always helpful.  Few subjects demand so much long term memorization as Latin and Greek.   So there you have it.  Three quick ideas that you can offer to those who would say that there is nothing to be gained by studying Latin and Greek.  The Princeton Review says: It is hard to overestimate the value of a degree in Classics, and they note further that Latin students are the most successful students in law school and medical school year after year. ( majors/64/classics).   We haven't even touched on the pure joy of reading some of the best literature ever produced in the western world! So, spread the good word: Lingua Latina omnes in omnibus adiuvat! Timothy F. Winters, Ph.D. Professor of Classics Director of Honors and The President's Emerging Leaders Program Austin Peay State University