Latin and Its Influence

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Contributed by Rose Williams http://www.roserwilliams.com/

(Note: the words in bold Italics are Latin, unchanged in form; the others are derivatives)

The Romans ruled most of Europe, most of the Middle East, and all of Africa north of the Sahara for a very long time. The culture of the Western World has been shaped in large part by two powerful influences: the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman. These strains, blended together from their four separate streams in the five hundred years of the Western Roman Empire, became a compelling ruling force and emerged from the collapse to dominate the Western culture that went forth to impact the entire world.

The Latin language has long been the basic tool of that impact. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, order and stability in its vast lands vanished. In pockets of civilization that still existed, Latin remained the shared language used for communication, law, education, religion, and exploration. As more ordered states slowly emerged from the chaos, universities and governments in the European countries and the United States used Latin, some until the mid-nineteenth century. The languages that grew from Latin’s dialects, Spanish, Italian, French, Rumanian, and Portuguese echo it strongly, while English, influenced both by the Roman colonization of ancient Britain and the conquest of England by the Norman French, today takes, directly or indirectly, almost 70% of its vast vocabulary from Latin, as through a large English dictionary will show. There are ten basic Latin verbs which give us hundreds of common English words.

Through the influence of the Western World the international fields of law, literature, medicine, science, and even religion still make great use of Latin.

Our legal words and phrases such as ex post facto, per diem, per capita, habeas corpus, republic, legislature, election, congress, and President are either Latin or Latin derivatives.

Mathematical, medical, and scientific terminologies are Latin. Not only the specialists, but also the rest of us, speak of flora and fauna, digits and integers, ratios and media. Medical terms from abdomen to vertebra are Latin.

As the Christian religion spent its infancy and childhood in the Roman Empire, it is perhaps not surprising that words such as pastor, minister, congregation, salvation, divine, and creation are Latin or Latin derivatives.

Thus Latin helps students develop a deeper understanding of English and the Romance languages. The students’ reading, writing, and speaking improve as their vocabulary grows in volume and depth and they learn to comprehend Latin’s careful and regular grammatical concepts. These facts help explain why Latin students consistently do better than other students on SAT tests and many other learning assessments.

Not only the words themselves, but many of the concepts we have today, were largely shaped by the Romans and the complex multi-cultural world which they ruled for so long. Language is a product of its culture, and it in turn limits its culture in certain ways. As people have great difficulty expressing thoughts for which they have no verbal symbols, they tend to develop new language elements or transform old ones as their society moves forward. Words develop in a language as its people feel the need to express certain concepts, and they change and grow as the people and those concepts grow.  Not only Latin words, but also the ideas they express, have moved through Roman history and out into other languages and cultures and greatly influenced the world. As crises and triumphs flow one from the other, the people and the language are carried along and shaped by them.

Among the great classical Roman writers who helped to shape our highest ideals is the statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lost his life as a result of his successful campaign to prevent the brutal soldier Mark Anthony from succeeding Julius Caesar as Dictator. In his De Officiis, written for the education of his son, he sets forth the premise that honestas, that which is honorable and just, and utilitas, that which is useful or pragmatic, will in the end never truly disagree: that ultimately the honorable act will be most useful to a person.

The Latin language and its speakers continue to affect the world.


About the Author:

Rose Williams is  a veteran Latin instructor at the high school and university level.

Rose holds a BA from Baylor University and an MA from the University of  North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She did postgraduate work in Latin and the Humanities at the University of Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington.

On a Rockefeller Grant, she conducted research at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, England and at the University of Pisa, Italy.

She is the author of numerous classics textbooks and teaching guides as well as humorous books of Latin phrases. She serves on various classics consultant boards.

Recently she was awarded the most prestigious American Classical League’s Merita Award which is intended to recognize sustained and distinguished service to the Classics profession generally and to ACL in particular.

Contact Rose via email rwill627@suddenlink.net

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Posted in Classical Methodology.