Battle of the Roots! Latin vs. German

The other day in my English Undergraduate TA class, I debated with a fellow student who asserted that she thought Latin should be a required subject for all middle or high schoolers to learn. I argued against it, since I believe our Germanic roots are equally as important.

For those of you English language nerds, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the language’s Anglo-Saxon/Germanic roots that were mixed with Old French/Latin roots sometime around the first millennium AD. Over the years, the Latin-based vocabulary and grammar has overshadowed much of the Germanic. Chances are, you probably didn’t learn about this until college or after, and while this isn’t really problematic, it does have implications for secondary education.

While the professor shut the Latin v. German debate down just as soon as it started, I gave it more thought in conversation with a friend of mine. I thought of a couple more reasons why compulsory Latin education might not be ideal.

  1. Most languages currently available in secondary schools are already Romance languages. Just learning these can teach students a lot about their own diction and grammar use in English, and often the learning of these languages is very practical. I have never met a Latin student who used it in casual or professional conversation or correspondence.
  2. Latin’s grammar rules often don’t fit together well with Germanic grammar rules and diction. Though I often write the phrase in academic essays to avoid getting points docked off, I cringe when I see the phrases “of which to be” or “to whom” just to avoid using a preposition at the end of a sentence. Latin has its place, but German-rooted languages tend to be a lot more direct and concise.
  3. Compulsory education in any language aside from a nation’s official language(s) also asserts a kind of cultural superiority, which then deems other cultures inferior. I learned both French and Chinese in high school and college. I actually felt I learned more about the English language through my studies in Chinese since it was a very different language. While requiring students to learn Latin might help them learn their English word roots which may help them take the SAT (a subject for another day), Chinese or Spanish could be just as easily required for their extended practical use in light of the US’s current economic and socio-political situation.

Personally, I would like to learn Anglo-Saxon. I think it sounds and looks cool, and would give me a new perspective on the evolution of the English language to the present. I’ve never heard of a high school that offered it, but I would have gladly taken it if it where offered in mine.

So what do you think? Do you think Latin should be a required subject in secondary schools? Should more schools offer Anglo-Saxon in high schools? Let me know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Battle of the Roots! Latin vs. German

  1. I actually had to take Latin all through middle school! I don’t remember very much of it, except some very basic conjugation: sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt – I am, you are, he/she is, etc. Also, I remember being excited to discover how many English words have Latin roots (e.g., “puer” is “boy,” like the English word “puerile”). But to be honest, I don’t think my many years of French were that much more helpful! I guess one has to consider the goal of language learning: do we want students to be able to contribute to a global economy? Then maybe Chinese or Hindi or Arabic is the answer. Communicate with our many, many Spanish speaking fellow citizens and neighbors? Maybe we should teach Spanish. Learn a language for its own sake, or because it helps students to understand their own language better, or because it can increase understanding of antiquity? Then hey, maybe there’s a place for Latin after all! I’m curious: how did you professor shut down the argument?

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    1. I think much of my blog post does have to do with goals. As for your question, it might help to say that our discussion was about deep vs surface learning approaches. One student suggested that a deep approach could be showing connections to other subjects, and Latin was brought up as an example. It was nearing the end of class, and the conversation could very well have become heated, so our professor asked for a couple more ways to try a deep approach to learning. I could see the reason behind her doing this, but I wish we had had that conversation since we’re all English UTAs and the whole Latin/German debate is important.

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