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I'm a Stack-Overflow user, and usually, there is a sidebar where 'Hot' content from communities is shown. Today, one of those questions was this: What should the corona virus be called in Latin? Which linked to a whole Latin-written news site, the Ephemeris.

That raised me the question: Why would anyone speak Latin in 2020?

Making the question a little more scoped, why would anyone write articles or even try verbally communicating in Latin those days?

After that question I went on a spiral of content, articles, news, all written in Latin! That raised me some flags, why are some academic articles written in Latin? This makes the whole purpose of sharing knowledge and discussing it harder, there are no automatic translators that can achieve a good accuracy on Latin, interpreting and digesting any academic article is already hard, using a language that that has a barrier of comprehension, makes it even harder, if not, impossible for some scholars.

Please don't take this as a condescending question, I do NOT want to offend nor confront people personal reasoning, I just want to understand what are the benefits or reasons in an individual choosing to learn a extremely hard language that he will hardly be able to communicate with anyone, apart from study and academic purposes since there are a lot of materials and texts written in Latin that require translation and deeper analysis, where a good knowledge of the language will help.

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    Not long ago, Latin was the lingua franca of educated people; nowadays that role seems to be increasingly filled by English. It's telling, though, that someone who knows Latin can read with relative ease a corpus of written works that spans several millenia, whereas I can only read Chaucer (14th c.) with great difficulty. I don't think, though, that this modest practical benefit is the actual point. – brianpck Mar 11 at 13:50
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    There are easier ways to spend your free time, to be sure, but learning Latin is really not "extremely hard". It depends a bit on from where you come. But for most Europeans and Americans (North and South), the writing system is identical to our own, the vocabulary is full of familiar faces (like "familiaris" and "facies"), and the grammar is different but not otherworldly. – Sebastian Koppehel Mar 11 at 19:54
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    Latin among languages is like C among programming languages. – stackzebra Mar 11 at 21:57
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    I started learning Latin on Duolingo 43 days ago. I feel like I am constantly encountering Latin phrases that I can now understand, not to mention Romance language ones. It really has pervaded all of Western civilisation. – Nacht Mar 11 at 22:43
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    @Nacht-ReinstateMonica I look forward to seeing Latin questions here arising from the Duolingo course. The course leaves some things out and does a confusing job with some of the things included. I hope we can provide the human feedback aspect that Duolingo lacks. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 12 at 8:01
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The actual set of reasons varies from person to person, but here are some:

  1. It's a hobby. Why do people still shoot arrows with bows? Surely it's not a very efficient way to attack prey or anything else. Some people like archery, and few of them can or feel a need to point to a specific benefit gained from it. Similarly, some people like Latin.

    This might feel like a non-answer, but for some — including myself — this is the main answer.

  2. You can get general benefits from specific exercises. If you want to stay in decent physical shape, you can play badminton. If you happen to like that particular sport, you get the general benefit. Similarly, Latin offers mental exercise that is beneficial.

    This can be taken to many levels: Latin helps understand linguistics or Romance languages, not just keep your brain sharp.

  3. There is a lot of interesting content in Latin, so it makes sense to learn it. Practically all things produced today are better accessible in another language, but this does not apply to older things. Latin was the European lingua franca for centuries, so historical research often requires the use of Latin sources. Similarly, research in fields like philosophy can easily have the original sources in Latin and it makes a difference to use the original texts.

    This benefit can also materialize through enjoyment: Roman literature in its original form is only available in Latin, and many people enjoy reading it. It is not quite the same to read Caesar in Latin than in English; no translation fully captures style and nuance.

  4. If the subject matter is related to Latin, it makes sense to discuss it in Latin. While not strictly necessary, it can be convenient to use the same language to read the sources and discuss them.

  5. Latin can be a neutral option. Latin is a language associated with Europe but not any particular country. (Italy and Vatican have the closest relation, but they both operate in Italian. Latin does play a role in Vatican, but it is more ceremonial than practical.) English is a very universal language, but the French or the Germans can be upset if their language is left out when English is used. Latin belongs to no specific party and can be neutral.

    Years ago I was invited to a dinner to discuss matters like collaboration between Nordic countries. The languages spoken in Northern Europe are all associated with a specific area, and the choice of any one of them makes others feel left out. This is not a big issue for many daily things, but for ceremonial things it matters; if we were to have a common Nordic anthem, it should be sung in a language that includes all countries equally. Latin is a good option for such situations. Many dinner guests did laugh at this notion, but the only diplomat among us, the Norwegian ambassador to Finland, agreed seriously.

    Similarly, there was a motion to produce an anthem for the EU. The text was composed but it never reached any official status. It was written, of course, in Latin.

    A great example was given by Manziel in a comment: The official name of Switzerland is Confoederatio Helvetica. Using any of the many official languages would have promoted one group above others, but Latin does not.

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    Philosophy, law, biology, medical sciences. The highlighted ones require you to learn some Latin to these days (at least in Hungary). – user3819867 Mar 12 at 9:12
  • @Joonas llmavirta: "Roman literature is only available in Latin"? English translations are available (Perseus; Penelope.uchicago.edu) for I-won't-say-everything but I've always found something; even if it took hours on the most obscure little websites. – tony Mar 12 at 9:33
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    @tony There are a number of translations to a number of languages. I meant in its original form. I'll edit to clarify. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 12 at 9:39
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    Switzerland is a perfect example for point 5. With 4 official languages it is almost impossible not to make anyone upset if you choose one the spoken languages. The official name 'Confoederatio Helvetica' in latin resolves the issue as nobody is advantaged – Manziel Mar 12 at 12:25
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    @anongoodnurse Vatican does make occasional use of Latin, but it's certainly not the main language. I've encountered priests there who don't understand if I speak Latin to them. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 13 at 7:46
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Expanding on brianpck's comment above, as a 'dead' language anything you read or write in Latin now will likely be just as readable in another 1000 years. Something written in English, French, German, or any other language, will probably not be as easily read after that much time. Latin incorporates some new words, but the basic language and its utility remain the same.

In addition to that, the use of Latin in science and legal matters also makes it useful to know.

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    Humans are constantly evolving, that means that we constantly optimize our way of communicating, EG: "Do not" -> "Don't", "Thomas A Swift's Electronic Rifle" -> TASER, thus, languages are created and evolve, just like every language came from the "First/Mother language". The same happened to Latin, if Latin does start being used again, what would stop it from changing, just like our modern languages today? They do also have a very structured list of rules. – Nick LeBlanc Mar 11 at 17:22
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    If Latin ceased to be a dead language and became something used every day by people, I would expect it to evolve just like you say. And you are right- Latin did evolve, although the Latin people learn and talk about is usually only either classical or ecclesiastical Latin. Of course, if Latin became a living language used every day again that would pretty much answer your original question. :) – Adam Mar 11 at 17:32
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    Latin actually does still evolve though. Like, the grammar itself doesn't evolve, but I distinctly remember that every couple years Latin adds new vocabulary so it can still be properly used in modern society. mentalfloss.com/article/597781/latin-words-phrases-modern-world for more information. – Nzall Mar 13 at 8:31
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    @Nick - I like how you sneaked in the latin 'e.g.' in your comment there – Tally Mar 13 at 15:20
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The Corpus Iuris Civilis is in Latin. To the extent that Roman civil law applies or has been adapted in a given country, it's useful to have recourse to specific Latin phrases that may not have precise equivalents in modern languages. The same can be said of both Latin and ancient Greek when it comes to, say, philosophical and theological discourse, or the proceedings of church councils.

A related point is that Latin is used where uniformity is desired. This is why species are named in Latin. This was also the reason the Roman Catholic Mass was in Latin until the 1960s...so that it would be the same everywhere. Now it's not even the same from one day to the next in the same country (since, e.g., different English translations of the same text are sometimes used depending on whether it is to be spoken or sung--which is appropriate on aesthetic grounds but rather obscures the fact that it's the same text). It's also difficult to get the world's best composers to write musical settings for the Mass in obscure languages...another aesthetic reason to keep Latin. Rather, words in other languages are set to tunes originally written for Latin, which is OK (it sometimes works), but eventually people want context for "sung to the tune of Stabat Mater", for example.

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  • Note that the Latin Mass (ordinary or extraordinary forms) has never ceased to be an option. For example, papal masses with broadly international audiences have continuously been celebrated in Latin to this day – Rafael Mar 13 at 10:22
  • @Rafael Yes, but it did cease to be a matter of uniformity. – C Monsour Mar 13 at 11:35
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Why would anyone speak Latin in 2020?

Because at least there are parts of it we all readily understand & it gets the idea across succinctly.

Take this comment

... we constantly optimize our way of communicating, EG: "Do not" -> "Don't", "Thomas A Swift's Electronic Rifle" -> TASER ...

The "EG" is Latin exemplī grātiā, less verbose than “for the sake of an example”.


But its late in the PM for me, time to sleep.

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  • +1 for a very good explanation of Latin use in the current day, and also for explaining why you need to get some rest. ;) – dgnuff Mar 13 at 0:44
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Latin speaker here. This is a great question, and I am asked this question all the time.

I taught myself to speak Latin while I was in middle and high school (mainly eighth through eleventh grades). My main reason for doing so was that I enjoyed Latin as a written language so much (our classes were mainly reading and translating, with some reading out loud in Latin) that I wanted to create meaning in the language on my own, and that meant speaking, and later writing as well. I had no reason other than the desire to communicate and to master this new form of communication in all possible modes.

Communicate with whom, you may ask? Since the summer of 2015, when I attended my first Latin immersion program, I have conversed in Latin with well over one hundred people from six continents and at least sixteen countries. I speak Latin daily and use it to communicate with my Latin professors and grad students in Classics on a regular basis. (Granted, I chose my college because it has an active [=spoken and written] Latin program, so I self-selected this proximity of Latin speakers for at least undergrad.)

In the past few decades, there has been a "living Latin" movement among Latin instructors, including some professors in Europe (and a few in the US) and quite a few secondary teachers of Latin in the United States, that advocates speaking and writing Latin as well as reading literature and learning the grammar of the language. There are many different branches and different theoretical and practical approaches that make up this movement, but most of them share the goal of allowing the student to live fully in the language, such that the experience of reading great works of Latin literature is transparent and instantaneous, unmediated by translation or the grammar of their native language. See more info on this here (https://camws.org/meeting/2008/program/abstracts/11d1-5.Llewellyn.Soter.PatrickR.McGowan.Engelsing.html) and here (https://www.fluentin3months.com/speak-latin/).

For the first few years, I taught myself to speak Latin by constructing sentences out loud, which is hard. After that, I discovered (or was informed of) spoken Latin resources that came out of the living Latin movement in one way or another, and used resources like this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a61Dc_EFuI4&t=374s) to learn what spoken Latin sounded like. Being able to hear Latin gave me the mental model I needed to speak Latin conversationally. Even though I began speaking Latin on my own, I gained a great deal from the previous efforts of modern speakers of Latin, and eventually became part of a community of Latin speakers.

I speak Latin because I like speaking Latin. That is the simplest reason, and one that I can simply state, and not explain. I am of the view that, if I am going to learn a human language, I need to be able to speak and write at least some things in that language; otherwise, that language is not reaching its full potential in my use of it. (I am still working on this with ancient Greek; the effort to learn to speak ancient Greek is harder, since there are fewer speakers of ancient Greek than there are of Latin, and not as many resources either, although the latter condition is changing.)

I speak Latin to communicate and converse with other people, now, in this century. I speak Latin regularly with my professors and with friends who study or teach Latin. In the past month, I have discussed college sports, research design, and current events with other people in Latin.

I speak (and write) Latin to immerse myself fully in the idiom of the language, such that I can pick up a Latin text from 20 years ago, 200 years ago, or 2000 years ago, and read each with similar ease to how I read English. I can read history, mythology, ethnography, oratory, scientific texts, and breathtaking poetry in Latin; the effort (going on ten years) is absolutely worth it.

I speak Latin because doing so is great mental exercise, and forces me to think and craft the expression of my thoughts in a different cultural and conceptual paradigm. Latin is so much more than the predictable grammar rules I first fell in love with; many people like Latin for the "puzzle-like" challenge it offers, but I have come to love experiencing Latin as a medium of communication and human connection.

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    Welcome to the site and thanks for sharing your view! I look forward to seeing more questions and answers from you. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 16 at 7:21
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It is a 'dead' language. That might sound negative but it conveys a very important benefit which is that it nolonger changes in the way that current living languages do. So if you read or write something today it will have the same meaning when the next generation come to read it unlike something written in a 'living' language like English which mutates quite quickly and suffers from a diversion of idioms across the communities in which it is spoken.

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  • Welcome to the site! It can indeed be quite a nuisance that in living languages words change meaning or at least nuance pretty quickly. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 12 at 19:37
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Latin and chess are amongst the finest trainings, for the mind, I have come across. Both of these compel the student to think, think & think again--still, the answer may be wrong! The frustration; the fury; the expletives; the delight, when, occasionally, the answer is correct.

There are, of course, other intellectual challenges: Times Crossword (aficionados only); "STEP SOLUTIONS--The Student Room"--students submit detailed answers to Qs from Cambridge (Maths) entrance exams (One for Joonas?); Mandarin Chinese--only 8-dialects (Mitomino?).

The key to fighting any of these battles is interest. If you are not interested, don't even bother to start.

(Alternatively, given the volume of enthusiasm, for this Q., perhaps it should have been titled: "Why NOT speak Latin in 2020?"; "Why Aren't You Studying Latin in 2020?).

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Aside from Latin as a language to speak, Latin word-formation is used in medical sciences, and for example many drugs are given official names in English, French, Spanish, and Latin, and the Latin word is used in several languages as the official name in that language.

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Several reasons:

  1. As a lingua franca. Since it's not spoken by anybody, it has no specific allegiance (except maybe to the Christianity, but that's universal enough as to be a non-issue). As a result, you can use it without offending anybody.

  2. For long-term archival. Since it's generally only used in writing, it has not really evolved; you don't have "do" and "not" joining to become "don't". As a result, something that you write in Latin today will still be legible 1,000 years from now, provided that Latin is not resurrected as a popular language.

  3. Exercise for the mind. One of Latin's quirks is that word order is meaningless; "cave canem" means the same thing as "canem cave", namely "beware of the dog." As a result, you have to exercise your mind in order to fill in the gaps.

  4. Uniformity. Latin is Latin is Latin; there are only two mainstream dialects, and one of them is only used in the Church. As a result, you don't have to worry about using a word like "y'all" that is almost meaningless in other places.

  5. Usage in other languages. One thing that Latin has going for it is that it is relatively terse. As a result, European languages use it to shorten things down. For example, "e.g." is shorthand for the phrase "exempli gratia. While this might sound like a mouthful, it is significantly shorter than "for the sake of an example", its English equivalent.

  6. Law and Medical Sciences. Due to it's past usage in these fields, they are chock full of Latin words and phrases like "pro bono" and "mitosis".

  7. Because it was used in the past. A lot of important works like St. Augustine's The City of God and Virgil's Aeneid are written in Latin. As a result, it is necessary to know Latin if you want to study them.

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  • Didn't Herodotus write in Ionic Greek, not Latin? – Draconis Mar 13 at 22:48
  • @Draconis Oops; my bad. I am updating it with a different book. Thank you for catching that error. – The Daleks Mar 13 at 23:00

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