Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Latin is a dead language". Methinks not!

About a year ago, I decided to take on the task of tutoring a group of high school students through Classical Conversations Challenge II level.  This commitment includes being prepared to tutor Latin.  Having never studied Latin, I wasn't sure where to begin. I wanted my studies to be formal and systematic, and maybe even fun. But, as I read about the many methods to study Latin, I also came across numerous articles and book chapters that included the phrase, "Latin is a dead language..." usually followed by, "but here's why you should study it anyway".  That phrase alone is enough to keep most of us disinterested in pursuing Latin.  It makes the study sound pointless and futile; "well, it's really a dead language no one speaks anymore, but it's good for you, so do it anyway."

All this time, I accepted the premise that Latin is no longer spoken anywhere in the world.  It is, however, the basis for many modern languages and therefore beneficial as a foundation for other language study.  That's all fine and good.

Then, last week, while studying something completely different, the topic of Latin sprang up in a highly unexpected place.  Let me explain. I have a fascination with health, fitness, and nutrition.  In my down time, I study books, articles, websites and podcasts related to this triad of topics.  So, last week I listened to the Rich Roll podcast as he interviewed Matt Ruscigno, a registered dietician and endurance athlete.  In the course of their conversation, longevity was mentioned as well as the title of a book I'd never read.  The Blue Zone.  Being the book addict that I am, I immediately searched for it at the library.  The author highlights regions of the world where higher percentages of the population live astoundingly long lives.  Not just longer lives, but lives full of health and vitality long into their 80s, 90s and 100s.

The basic subject matter of the book is intriguing, but what made me stop in my tracks, put the book down and laugh "AHA!" aloud in an empty room was what I read on page 34.
     "The original Sardinians, in fact, did not keep their ancient Nuraghic languages.  The Romans had subjugated them long enough that, by the time they escaped to the mountains, they had adopted Latin, which has survived the centuries remarkably intact.  In the Sardinian dialect spoken in the Blue Zone, for example, the word for house is still the Latin word domus.  Their pronunciation more closely resembles Latin too.  The English word sky is cielo in Italian but is kelu in Sardinian, preserving the hard K sound as it was pronounced in the original Latin caelum (ka-AY-lum).  The same goes for sentence structure.  A modern-day Italian says io bevo vino (I drink wine) but Sardinians would say it as an ancient Roman would have, io vino bevo (I wine drink)."

It appears that Latin is not a dead language after all.  When I read the paragraph above to my Latin students, one of them announced "I think this calls for a field trip!"  What a way to breathe new life in to the study of a not-so-dead language!

No comments:

Post a Comment