Thursday, November 15, 2007

English through Latin?

In a superb post, rightwingprof takes issue with the suggestion by some that Latin should be taught to learn English grammar. RWP offers many powerful arguments, among them the obserbvation that English grammar is very different from Latin grammar. Why sweat through Latin to learn to distinguish between who and whom? The effort doesn't survive a cost-benefit analysis. I particularly like this analogy:

I’m not saying students shouldn’t study Latin — far from it. I am saying that students shouldn’t study Latin in order to learn about English. It’s like taking apart a jet engine in order to learn how to fix your car. Most of what you learn taking apart the jet engine doesn’t help you with your car engine.
So by all means, let's teach the correct usage of who and whom. And for good measure, let's work on combatting the horrendously ignorant use of "I" when "me" is called for, as in "between you and me" (not "I", aarrgh!). But we don't need the whole enchilada of Latin for that. Also, we don't need to study all of Latin in order to learn Latin plurals and know that the singular of bacteria is bacterium and that data is the plural of datum, or learn Greek to know that the singular of criteria is criterion and the singular of phenomena is phenomenon.


Liz Ditz said...

Have you read Louisa Cook Moats' Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers? (Link is to the Amazon page).

Moats lays out the "layers" of English, including the Latinate level.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Latin should be learned primarily to enhance one's grasp of English, yet that is certainly a worthy secondary goal.

Once at a faculty meeting I was given a list of prefixes and suffixes that we were supposed to teach. One suffix on the list was "-tation." If the author of the list had a basic grasp of Latin, this would not have happened.

It is frightening to think how many erroneous understandings have been passed on from teacher to students because the teachers (or schools, or districts) lacked a profound understanding of ANY language, English included.

(I am a public school teacher who studied Latin and Greek for their own sake long ago, and have found them useful in many more ways than I anticipated.)

Anonymous said...

Having moved to England I faced the uphill struggle of trying to learn English as second language compared to my native language I found it very difficult, with pronunciation being different on words spelt similar and words with several meanings and so on. I had several language tutorials as I found the easiest way to learn was by hearing and speaking to an English person as the books and CD’s aren’t realistic of general English language.