Many of us have studied Latin simply because we enjoy it, and many have found use for it when studying something like philosophy or history where Latin materials are commonplace. However, I am not looking for personal experience or anecdotal evidence here.

Is there research on the effect of studying Latin? How does the individual and especially the institution benefit from Latin? The core question is this: If I want to convince my university not to discontinue Latin, what are the most impressive and trustworthy results about the benefits of studying Latin?

Latin is sometimes seen as unprofitable or otherwise useless, and I am looking for counterarguments — preferably quantitative. The first thing that comes to mind (and which I might be able to support with anecdotal evidence) is that the ability to use Latin material is necessary to get funding for research projects in fields where much of the material is in Latin. The second thing is that I suppose many people will greatly benefit from a basic knowledge of Latin although very few will need to specialize in it, and this may not be detected by some of the metrics used to assess the viability of a subject. The issue with these arguments of mine is that I can't back them up by anything but reasoning; I don't know of any research on the usefulness or lack thereof of Latin. Can you help me find strong and sufficiently well researched reasons to argue for Latin? I am not asking you to do original research, I am asking you to point to materials that could make a strong case for defending Latin.

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    Unfortunately, all the research I've seen speak to an American's (or sometimes a Brit's) experience. The same results would not necessarily apply to a Finn.
    – cmw
    Nov 1, 2017 at 2:42
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    @C.M.Weimer I would be interested in seeing that. I did not put any geographic restrictions and I don't expect to find much about Finland specifically. I imagine at least some of the benefits are global (within western countries, perhaps).
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 1, 2017 at 8:34
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    This is a very interesting feature of modern thinking, that pure reasoning is not sufficient evidence to act on, and that we need "quantifiable" evidence to make any authoritative decisions. Most of the classical Greek and Latin authors would disagree vehemently, and quite a few (Plato springs to mind first) would say that your rational arguments bear far greater weight than any fallible "modern scientific" study, not the least of which is because there are three kinds of lies
    – jpyams
    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:30

1 Answer 1


I am a novice student of Latin. I found the following summary from the Department of the Classics at the University of Illinois in Urbana - Champaign rewarding. I've reproduced it here in part, and highlighted in bold some of the parts that I believe address your request. I note this is not my personal nor anecdotal experience.

Why Study Latin?

1) The Romans left a rich body of literature, well worth reading for its own sake and widely influential on European and American literature. Our own culture, including our system of government, architecture, art and religion, shows the heavy influence of Rome.

2) Students of Latin see immediate benefits to their spoken and written English. More than 65% of English words come from Latin (and more than 90% of those over two syllables).

3) Latin students gain an expanded vocabulary and an understanding of word formation that can help even with unfamiliar words. These skills are particularly useful for students planning to enter fields with large technical vocabularies. Those of medicine and law, for example, are primarily based on Latin.

4) The study of an inflected language with a very different sentence structure than English is an excellent introduction to how languages work. Latin students have a huge advantage in learning other inflected languages, such as Russian or German. Conversely, speakers of Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Rumanian) have an edge in studying Latin: Latin is the source of 75-80% of all words in these languages.

5) The study of Latin also provides training in logical thinking, boosting cognitive processes essential for math, science, and engineering. Latin has been said to "cultivate such mental processes as alertness, attention to detail, memory, logic, and critical reasoning". Not surprisingly, Latin boosts SAT and GRE scores (out of 270 fields, Classics scored the highest mean Verbal GRE). Click here for further information.

6) Last but not least, Latin fulfills your foreign language requirement.

I would supplement those arguments with this section of an article from the Guardian:

The 'classics' are indivisibly attached to class difference. No matter how many state schools take it up, Latin and Greek have historically been the preserve of feepaying schools, Oxbridge candidates and, ultimately, the ruling elite. We may see the Roman and Greek world in television history programming and in blockbuster movies, but we read their words inscribed on the walls of buildings where power reside.

The connection between "a knowledge of Latin" and "the wielding of power" seems pretty clear to me. I will continue to search for an academic study describing the two, and update this answer when I find one.

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    Thanks! This is already useful, but of course studies supporting the conclusion would be a great addition.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 3, 2017 at 9:13
  • One improvement I might make would be to mention medieval and renaissance literature in addition to the classical. Nov 6, 2017 at 14:26
  • Prestige. Very good point. It would be worth looking at how other universities around the world 'market' their Latin course, especially elite universities. If the purpose is to convince your own university then prestige can be a powerful argument if it translates into money, as it must for those elite universities. One cannot separate prestige and money in this age of marketing. theconversation.com/…
    – Johan88
    Nov 11, 2017 at 14:53

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