Latin’s a dead language,
As dead as dead could be.
It killed off all the Roman’s,
And now it’s killing me.
As the above ditty often found in old Latin textbooks indicates, Latin is a dead tongue; nowhere in the world is Latin spoken as a first language. One might inquire as to the purpose of studying such a seemingly purposeless subject. Would it not be better to study Chinese, or Japanese or Indonesian?
While these languages certainly have their relevance for Australian children in the twenty-first century, and is of use in understanding our neighbours, Latin helps Australian children to understand who they are. Western civilisation has a Latin foundation: Latin in language and Latin in its political, legal and cultural institutions. So many great works of prose, poetry, and music have been written in Latin, and exposure to them in the original language ennobles the mind through the noble sentiments such art communicates.
In a Catholic School, where the sacred liturgy is offered in Latin, studying this language has an immediate importance in the life of the school. The children learn, moreover, to sing the ancient Gregorian Chants at Missa Cantatas (Sung Masses) and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Even were one never to make use of Latin after school, this particular discipline gives many other benefits. The student of Latin, for instance, can easily go on to learn Italian, French or Spanish; even non-Romance languages can more easily be picked up, thanks to a deeper grammatical understanding that the study of Latin ensures.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Latin, however, is that it trains the mind to think analytically and to pay attention to detail. Every sentence must be as carefully constructed as a masterpiece of joinery; every part must fit perfectly, if the end result is to be a thing of beauty. There are so many word endings in Latin, so many possibilities to make errors, that no progress can be made without a great deal of concentration and sense of pride in one’s work. The memory is another beneficiary of Latin study, since not only vocabulary, but long lists of declensions and conjugations must be learned by rote.
Latin as a school subject has been neglected on account of its apparent uselessness. We maintain that if it improves our cultural literacy and helps equip the mind with the skills outlined above, Latin is a subject that should at least take equal place among the other subjects.