Have you ever heard a grown man proudly exclaim "hujus hujus hujus"? It may sound like nonsense to you, and that’s because it’s not English. Latin, as well as other extinct languages, are unfortunately not as commonplace as they used to be. However, instead of mourning the loss of these languages, we should explore their benefits beyond just nostalgia or gaining political power.
Learning a dead language can actually have practical uses, such as making it easier to learn other languages that stem from the same family tree. For example, Latin is the parent language of French and Spanish, making it a useful foundation for those looking to learn those languages. Additionally, learning medieval languages like Old or Middle English, Old Norse, Old French, or Occitan can connect you to a rich cultural heritage of literature that is both familiar and foreign. It can also be a rewarding experience to read texts from centuries ago that describe the same world we live in today.
While there is a perceived association between classical languages like Latin and Greek and elitism, this shouldn’t hinder our appreciation for their value. Classical languages may always be connected to the ruling elite, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be studied and enjoyed by a wider audience. Reforming education may be a challenge, but changing the way we think about and approach extinct languages can be a positive step forward. Embracing the diversity of language can ultimately benefit society in ways we may not even realize yet.
If you’re keen on exploring Indo-European linguistics but find the prospect of learning Latin or Greek either politically unappealing or uninspiring, consider studying Sanskrit instead. With roots older than both Latin and Greek, this language is related to both, making it an intriguing alternative that offers a unique perspective on the family tree of Indo-European languages.
Since the late eighteenth century discovery of the Indo-European language connection, Sanskrit has played a crucial role in European comparative linguistics. Due to this, it was taught in British universities and held a popular status during the 19th century. Although it still holds great academic interest, Sanskrit is no longer the ‘in’ trend it once was in Victorian Britain.
Many of us make erroneous assumptions about "dead" languages. We often throw out statements about the "logical" nature of Latin without possessing much knowledge on the topic, or we casually refer to things as "medieval" when they are, in fact, not medieval at all (as with witch burning). Instead of engaging in passive activities like watching Game of Thrones, consider delving into literature like Beowulf, a text that presents less violence and more beauty, and improves your language skills while connecting you to our past.