“You should take Latin.” I have bombarded every student on every campus I have ever taught at with this phrase. So much so that normally students see me coming and instead of running away turn to meet me and see how long it takes for me to turn any conversation into an apologia for the Latin language. They think they are impervious to my wiles. They think they wont be the ones to give in. But they are wrong. Eventually many relent. Ultimately it’s the one who put up the biggest fight up front that tap out first. But what is my secret? How do I persuade? What follows is a written form of my most common tactics to the common accusations that Latin is useless because it is a dead language.
I love languages. I specialize in the “dead” languages of Greece and Rome. But the history and development of languages has always fascinated me. I was hooked the first moment I heard about Indo-European (which was first hypothesized by William Jones, whom I hope is a long lost relative). One thing I firmly believe about language is that grammar is primarily descriptive not prescriptive. Though it does give us rules about (prescribes) HOW to speak, it is mainly a reflection of (describes) how we in fact DO speak. Languages change. And as languages change, so do the rules. One group of people who just don’t get this is English majors. Maybe because they enjoy knowing the rules and condescending to those who don’t, who knows? But in keeping with the holiday season, I give you 2 things that are absolutely true about English but which will absolutely infuriate English majors. Continue reading