Latin language the "secret key to Western civilization" says Dr. Laurence Kepple

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Information from the Latin Wikipedia on Boston is limited so I'm going with Massachusetts: "Nomen Massachusettae ipsum de hominibus indigenis, "Mass-achu-setts" nominati, datum est. Latine, Mass-achu-setts significat 'in loco collis magni'."

Edit: Forgot to include the article source!

That's not a bad way to put it if you're a Latin teacher and want to give people a concise reason on why it's worth learning, and that's the way a teacher in Melrose (a city located in the Greater Boston area) has put it, as always with a pertinent example of how knowing Latin helps one with English etymology:

Take for instance “duco,” one of many Latin words used everyday, unbeknownst to its speakers and writers. It can be seen in words such as "induction," Kepple said, which essentially means to “lead in,” as in an induction ceremony when new members are introduced to a group.

Even a first-year Latin student can learn similar simple building blocks that are used repeatedly in everyday language, using the composition of the word to deduce its meaning, rather than having to memorize a dictionary definition, Kepple said.

“Just a few Latin roots give you the ability to decode hundreds and hundreds of complicated words, whether on the SATs or in more advanced science and technology courses,” he said. “That’s why I call Latin ‘the secret code of western civilization.’ Everything was written in it and the language we use today has tremendous borrowing from Latin.”

Kepple hopes to impart that message at a forum he’s holding for parents and students on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, where he plans to explain how studying Latin can help students get into more competitive colleges and secure more financial aid.

I'm not sure if he's held these forums before but it if so it would be interesting after the forum is held to see if there is any more interest at the moment given the current economic situation, where gaining an advantage in securing a job is that much more crucial than before.

And he even brings Barack Obama and his skill at rhetoric into the mix. This guy seems like a really good salesman for the language.

Kepple said “the ancients were really the nuclear physicists of persuasive writing” and used the example of President Barack Obama to illuminate the importance of
persuasive speaking and writing.

“[Obama’s] ability to use language was an important factor in his ability to succeed,” he said. “How do you use words to get your point across effectively? That’s what the ancients were so good at. The class was able to see what are the most advanced techniques ever developed and they started using those in their own right. Persuasive writing and persuasive speaking are just dramatically powerful tools for any student to have. The ancient lore of rhetoric is a very effective way to gain a competitive edge.”


Unknown said...

I strongly agree that a knowledge of the Latin vocabulary helps to "decode" the approximate meaning of a lot of words used in modern Science and Humanities.

However, it is necessary to learn neither the Latin grammar nor the "dead" part of the Latin vocabulary for that. Learning just the part of the Latin vocabulary that survives to this day embedded in some modern language words and borrowed expressions is enough.

I argue that learning Interlingua and complementing that study with a bit of Etymology study is enough to achieve that aim of "decoding". And this would encompass the learning of the often-used Greek-derived morphemes too, not just the Latin-derived ones.

Anonymous said...

The Latin grammar and comprehension of ancient texts and cultures helps in other ways. Strong use of grammar and rhetorical strategies in speaking and writing helps students immensely with written and spoken communication in English and other languages. As Arthur Kaynor from Harvard, the other guest speaker, explained, "In a world where everybody judges you very quickly based on your verbal and written skills, I think it’s important to have the skills to write strongly and speak persuasively."

Also, I think you mistakenly claim that only parts of Latin vocabulary are useful for modern languages. In the caption for the NASA image on the right, for example, the words 'image,' 'day,' 'expedition,' 'segment,' 'International,''Space,' 'Station,' and 'March' (at least) all have roots in Latin. I know 'photographed' is Greek. My point is that there is not just a small list of words that show up in modern languages. In fact, most words in Spanish, Italian, and French have Latin roots, and English is a combination of Latin, Germanic, and Greek roots.

Anonymous said...

To follow up the comments regarding NASA, consider this. To prepare space capsules for re-entry, heat shields incorporated what NASA called "ablative material." "Ablative" is a Latin word that means "carried away from." And that's exactly what NASA's ablative material was designed to do -- to burn off ("be carried away from") the heat shield during the process of atmospheric re-entry.

Unknown said...

I fail to see a relation between good rhetoric/communication abilities and Latin grammar. As far as I know, this presumed relation is often mentioned but never explained.

It is not necessary to learn Latin to become a good communicator, and someone who has learned Latin is not necessarily a good communicator. An individual can study rhetoric in English. And fluency in Latin per se does nothing to improve an individual's argumentation/persuasion skills.

I believe this mythical relation is often mentioned because, over many centuries, logic, rhetoric and (Latin) grammar were studied together as part of the "trivium" curriculum approach []. And people often (wrongly) assume that correlation implies causation.

Having said that, it is always good for the intellect to learn another language, be it Latin, French, Japanese, or any other. In this regard, Latin has no special, magic powers when compared to other languages.

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