Violating the Hallowed Halls

Some time ago I put a blog item in in which I quoted at least one if not two authors who stated that the take on prescriptive grammar a person has reflects a much deeper world view. For a good many people, giving up the idea that the rules that make up a language must be mastered is giving in to……. well, to be blunt – barbarism.   What makes us human, what makes us Westerners, what makes us people of the Book, is our ability to deal in abstractions, to use analytical thinking to achieve high cognitive goals. An example of that, steeped in tradition, is mastering Latin. Mastering Latin means knowing the proper terminology for the various uses of the Dative case, as one example.   The very notion that a language is something anyone can learn violates the ethos that spawns “academies” and private schools generally (not all private schools adhere to this ethos). If we cannot be exclusive, why bother? If any Tom, Dick, or Harry can learn to read Latin, why would Latin be special? We study Latin because it is special, which, in turn, makes us special.   Am I exaggerating here? I’m pulling on some readings and on many conversations. Counselors loved to counsel students OUT of Latin when I was struggling to make a class b/c it made them feel so special to wag their fingers at kids about their temerity in wanting to take Latin, and basking in the reflected light of their arcane knowledge of how hard Latin is.   The very word “master” conjures up halls of ivy, ivory towers, monkish dedication, and hallowed halls. How many people describe a simple Latin teacher as “a Latin master”. Dragging Latin into the harsh light of “just another language” seems a crime to some of our colleagues. We’ve seen the anger at those who suggest we might let natural acquisition processes take place. Whence the anger? It is seen as a violation of the grand tradition of Latin.   Do I speak in hyperbole? Let me know how many Latin teachers or Latin students, for that matter, who take Latin on as a language as opposed to a museum piece.

The post that inspired this entry.


Actually, Laura, you and I may have very different ideas, here.  I am not at all convinced that “attention to standard grammar and standard vocabulary” make learning Latin or immersion experiences more positive.  What is clear to me is that Latin teachers as we exist today have no other experience than study of grammar and vocabulary as an object.  None of us has the experience of experiencing Latin subjectively as a language FIRST.  This study seems to suggest that given the opportunity of hearing and speaking a language that the same part of the brain is involved.

This has some serious implications for how we teach.  Forget focusing students on “standard grammar and vocabulary” and let us try to provide for them opportunities to hear comprehensible Latin and set them up to begin speaking meaningful Latin.  They can study “standard grammar” later.  I know that this will seem anathema to most Latin teachers, but we’ve all had the same experience.  That does not mean that we cannot reach beyond ourselves and attempt to provide a real language acquisition experience for our students.


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