Last school year, as I was entering sixth grade, I had to choose a second language from a bevy of choices. When I chose Latin, my friends and even my parents questioned the utility of spending the rest of my second-language education on an unspoken and unused language. Despite their objections, I stuck to my choice. I had no idea of what was in store for me.
Many dismiss Latin as a “dead language,” but very soon, I realized that Latin is far from dead. In fact, 60 percent of the words we speak in English today are derived from Latin. Latin is the basis of many Western languages—Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Italian being just a few. Latin is just as dead as your great-grandmother or the founding fathers of this country. We still and will always live by the legacy of this great language.
Latin, as it turns out, is a very stimulating language. Beyond just the grammar, the vocabulary, and reading and pronunciation, Latin has offered me a great many experiences. Ranked high among them is the thrill of participating in Certamen, a fun trivia game based on Latin. Certamen is very much like a Quiz Bowl, with teams of four competitors. Initially, the participants attempt to answer a toss-up question without consulting with other team members. Those who answer correctly earn points for their teams, and an opportunity for the team to answer two bonus questions for additional points. My interest in this game took me many places and connected me with many new friends. I started slowly, but as my knowledge of Latin language, its culture, and history grew, I became passionately involved. Initially, I played this game with friends during Latin Club time. Soon, I found myself going to the state Latin convention!
I think that of all my experiences with Latin, the state convention is the most memorable.
Each year, under the sponsorship of the national Junior Classical League (JCL), the state chapters convene for advancing classical language education. The California Chapter JCL was held at Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif. As I prepared to leave for the convention, I was quite apprehensive. But as the first day’s events unfolded, I began to soak in the convention atmosphere. Over a thousand middle- and high-school Latin language students and teachers poured in from all across the states of California and Nevada for three days of intense exploration of Latin. Every moment was filled with social activities, competing, test-taking, and Certamen. True to the motto Carpe Diem (seize the day), I grabbed every opportunity to participate in the day’s events, ranging from delivering a speech in Latin about the great orator, Cicero, to playing Vivaldi’s composition on the violin. The best part of it was the final assembly, where all the conventioneers gathered in a gym, segregated into groups based on the schools they represented. I was caught in the moment, as I, along with all my team members, cheered for my school—in Latin, of course! It felt exhilarating to participate in this massive outpouring of team spirit with many others who shared my passion for Latin.
So how has Latin survived so long and why is it so widespread? Latin was used widely at the time of the Roman Empire and soon spread throughout Europe because of the Roman Empire’s vastness. When the empire fell, the influences of Latin remained strongly with every society it crossed. Latin has influenced the development of the Romance languages—Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese—not to mention Balkan languages and dialects. Without knowing it, people all over the Western world have adopted a derivative of Latin as their language.
Of course, Latin’s influence on the languages of today has occurred over a couple of thousand years. This means that as a Latin student, I had the opportunity to learn not just the vocabulary and grammar, but also the culture, art, religion, law, government, mythology, derivatives, history, and science of the times when Latin was dominant. In what other middle-school course can a student learn about great heroes such as Hercules, Julius Caesar, and the architecture of the Colosseum, all in one class?
“How will this help my future?” I can just hear this question coming from students considering Latin. Well, I have some good news for you. Latin will help you more than any other language can. The vast variety of topics you will learn as part of language study will provide you with a better understanding of the world around you.
As Dorothy Sayers observes in her essay, “The Lost Tool of Learning,” “… even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.” As if to prove this, students who take Latin perform summa cum laude on standardized tests and write better essays. One of the reasons for this is the habit of a Latin student to read closely and watch carefully for grammar. Latin requires keen attention to detail, as Latin sentence structure places no restriction on word ordering, and a single letter can dramatically alter the meaning of a sentence. Latin also has a very rich morphology—the concept of changing a root word using certain rules, so as to convey its role in a sentence. As an example, “dogs” is a morphological variant—the plural form—of the singular “dog.” In fact, Latin morphology is so extensive and complex that a single verb root can accept nearly 500 other morphological variations, each with its own special role in a sentence. Evidently, mastering this makes understanding word morphology in other languages a snap.
As I reflect on the full school year of Latin study that I completed, I can only reaffirm the value this great language offers for expanding your mastery of reading and writing skills. And of course, this only confirms that Latin lives forever, or as we say in Latin, Vivat Latin. Ramya Rangan is a seventh-grade student at the Harker Middle School and resides in San Jose. She won several awards, including the Combined Beginner Latin Student award, at the California JCL convention held in April 2006 at Miramonte High School, Orinda, Calif.
I Yearn for a Desi Way of Life
By FARZIN AVARI
it seems, all day every day.
I want to hear Hindi.
I want to see desis from all walks of life.
I long to see faces dotted on the forehead
with tikas placed by worried mothers and grandmothers.
I yearn to smell pav bhaji, vada pav, bhel puri, and pani puri as I walk down the street,
but I yearn to eat them even more.
I yearn to see my Bupaiji and Bupavaji.
I yearn to visit their farm in the village,
to smell the garam, garam tandoori chicken
and roti straight off the tava.
I yearn to hear the honking of rickshas and taxis, and the non-stop Bollywood music playing from every street corner.
I want so much;
sometimes it hurts so much
that all I can do is cry.
Above all else, I just want to blend in with this new home of mine, and not to be looked down upon as if I am not a part of the group.
Farzin Avari is a senior at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Ga. He was born in Navsari, India.