Is Latin a dead language?

Is Latin a dead language?

by Cassie Wright

Updated February 20, 2023

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 Latin is 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?

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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 and English. Terms like “et cetera” and “versus” are used in English (often abbreviated as etc. and vs.) and come directly from Latin.

Plenty of words come from Latin roots. For instance, you can find the Latin root dorm in the French and Spanish verbs dormir and the English word “dormant”. So, 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.

Finally, knowing how to read in Latin opens the doors to some of the most important pieces of literature in history. This huge literary pool lies at the foundation of many modern and contemporary texts which reference more often than not the classics.

The same pleasure that you get by watching a movie in its original version, you can get by being able to read a text as it was drafted with the added bonus of feeling like solving a puzzle.

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 favorite dish at a restaurant or talking 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?

As for any language, the best way to learn and practice it is by immersing yourself in it as much as possible. Read articles or stories, listen to audiobooks, watch videos and complement them with a good dose of grammatical rules study.

Luckily, these days even language learning apps offer resources for Latin learners.

Latin basics

So, what do you need to know about Latin?

When you first start learning, 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 that might become handy to remember when studying Latin:

  • 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
  • Verb 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 make Latin a unique language to learn is that reading original material also allows one to journey back in time.

Learning Latin can offer a new way to look at philosophy and mythology (even if you feel like you know it). You might be surprised how much culture you can learn while studying Latin, regardless of it being a dead language.

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