Monday, April 30, 2012

Latin and the Global Economy

I never touched a trained mind yet which had not been disciplined by grammar and mathematics—grammar both Greek and Latin; nor have I ever discovered mental elegance except in those familiar with Greek and Latin classics.  -William Milligan Sloan

In the new global economy, English has taken the dominant role as the language of international diplomacy, international business, and international travel.  The highest level of mastery with our own language, then, is the door that opens to our socially and technologically integrated world.  Next to this is the door that opens to those who can quickly acquire a variety of new languages (through the knowledge of language structures and roots) as the situation may demand.   

Latin is the key to both of these doors.

Latin teaches a deep, thorough, grammatical understanding of language that enriches and expands a student’s understanding of English (and language in general).  Take, for example, the concept of the infinitive.  The Latin verb for “love” is amō.  The infinitive for that verb is amāre, a word which means “to love.”  Notice that the one word in Latin must be communicated by two words in English.  So, when writing a sentence in English about a deep feeling of love, should an author write “to deeply love” or “to love deeply”?  Because the concept of the infinitive is contained in both the word “to” and the word “love,” as demonstrated by the Latin verb, it is good style to keep those concepts together (just as in Latin).  This is the reason why traditionally we have been told by our grammar teachers that we should not “split an infinitive” (“to boldly go where no man has gone before” excepted!)

Now, you could try, and fail, to learn the concept of the infinitive through your native language.  However, there is a better way: Learn Latin!  If you know that amāre means “to love,” then you know conceptually and on a deeper level that you should not split up that idea (in the same way that the word amāre itself cannot be split.)  The whole of English grammar makes sense only in light of Latin grammar.  No student of English grammar, then, should expect to gain any level of mastery without a commensurate knowledge of Latin.