Is Latin a dead language?

by Cassie Wright
July 01, 2020
How do you learn a language that has no native speakers? More importantly, why would you choose to learn a language that no one speaks? Most people think of Latin as a dead language that’s only ever used in films, old books, and Harry Potter spells. Unlike other languages, no country has Latin as an official language. You don’t need to know how to speak it in order to travel or interact with others. So, how can learning Latin be both entertaining and worthwhile?

Should you try to learn Latin?

Since there are no native speakers of Latin, it’s considered a dead language. So, why learn it?

It’s true that you won’t find Latin spoken in a restaurant or on the street, but you’ll find its influence in all of the Romance languages as well as English. Words like “et cetera” and “versus” are used in English (often abbreviated as etc. and vs.) and come directly from Latin.

Other words use Latin roots. For instance, you can find the Latin root “dorm” in the French and Spanish verbs “dormir” and the English word “dormant”. If you already know that the Latin word “dormio” means sleep, it’s easier to guess that the verb “dormir” means to sleep and “dormant” means inactive.

In addition to Latin finding its way into everyday words, you’ve probably come across a Latin inscription on a building or on money. If you’ve ever wondered what they mean, learning a bit of Latin might help you figure it out.

How do you practice?

Have you ever taken a Latin class in school or known someone who studied Latin?

If you have taken a Latin course before, you might not remember learning how to order your favourite dish at a restaurant or talk about your hobbies. In fact, some of the study material might have felt a little dated.  

After all, how do you practice speaking a language that no one uses anymore, especially when no one really knows what it should sound like?

Luckily, these days even language learning apps offer resources for Latin learners. You can also find audio recordings of Latin texts to practice listening.

Latin basics

So, what do you need to know about Latin?

When you first get started, words like declension and conjugation seem pretty scary, but it’s just like getting to know the rules of any other language.

Here are a few tips to know:

  • Words in Latin are either masculine, feminine, or neutral.
  • There is no English J or V sound and no soft C sound.
  • Nouns and pronouns change based on the way they’re used in a sentence. These are known as declensions. For instance, the word “puella” (which means “girl”) changes to “puellae” when you want to use it as a possessive noun.
  • Nouns also change if they’re singular or plural. So, “puella” becomes “puellae” in plural form as well.
  • Verbs endings in Latin also change based on their tense. There are 6 verb tenses.

Top reasons to learn Latin

Ultimately, if you’re trying to learn English or one of the Romance languages like Spanish or French, knowing Latin makes it a lot easier to understand words you don’t know.

One of the things that makes Latin a more unique language to learn is that reading original material also requires going back in time. Learning Latin can also offer a new way to look at philosophy and mythology (even if you feel like you know it). In other words, you might be surprised how much culture you can learn while studying Latin, even if it is considered a dead language.

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