It’s All Latin and Greek to Me

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving (which is odd, considering we’ve never done it before in my family)! Today, I’m going to discuss the classical languages of the world. For language to be “classical,” as described by George L. Hart at UC Berkeley, “it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature.” Personally, I would say that classical languages should have also have had a relatively large sphere of influence in the ancient world, and “overwhelming significance as carriers of culture, as Edward Sapir describes in Language (1921). The, “ancient world,” is essentially the world during and before the 17th century, as I understand it. Sapir distills the classical languages of the world down to Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Arabic, and Chinese, all of which conform to Hart’s description of classical languages.

Classical languages are unique in that not only is there a great deal of extant literature written in these languages, but these languages continue to be of great importance to the world’s living languages. Sanskrit is still taught in schools in India as a core subject. Sanskrit is used to supplement students’ abilities to read and write in their own languages, because many languages in India borrow greatly from Sanskrit, with the exclusion of Tamil. Students can understand and learn vocabulary in more advanced works, even if they’ve never actually seen the word before, because they have rudimentary if not decent understanding of their languages’ classical roots. Latin and Greek, to a degree, occupy a similar position in Western societies. Middle Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Classical Chinese, are used as frameworks of study of modern varieties of Chinese, and Classical Arabic is regarded as sacrosanct in the Arab world, though I’m not certain of it being a focus of academic study in the Middle East.

Relatively recently, the study of classical languages has become declined considerably in modern society. Latin and Greek are not common courses of study in high schools, despite the fact that standardized tests such as the SAT require students to learn many words of Latin and Greek origin. I think that they should be mandatory courses, for no more than one year, two at maximum. It certainly would improve the reading and writing abilities of students in their English classes, and make foreign language classes much easier.

This was a pretty brief piece this time. Feel free to share your thoughts here, and share it with your friends!