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Over at Discovery News they’re claiming that Latin isn’t a dead language due to the fact that Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign in Latin, and at least one reporter understood him.

I think most people don’t understand what it means for a language to be dead.  According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, a dead language is “a language which is no longer spoken by anyone as their main language,” and the specific example used to illustrate the definition is Latin.  That’s telling.

I grew up around Latin.  My Geeklets are doing the same.  I learned to sing various hymns in Latin when I was a kid.  Such as:

Typically sung during Benediction

Typically sung during Benediction

When I was older, I learned to sing the Mass itself in Latin, and in Gregorian Chant, at that.  But I still think Latin is a dead language.

Many priests celebrate the Mass in Latin every day, thus:

Latin on the left, English on the right.

Latin on the left, English on the right.

When you grow up hearing Latin spoken every Sunday and learn to read along in English, you become familiar with the language even if you don’t know all the declensions and conjugations.  Like Yours Truly, SuperDad and the Geeklets are comfortable hearing Latin in church and would be surprised if, all of a sudden, it was all English instead.  Or Spanish.  Or Greek.  But that still doesn’t mean Latin isn’t dead.

(Image: Latin embodied as a zombified corpse, rising from its wormy grave, howling under an inauspicious moon: “I’m ALIIIIIVE!!”)

The two oldest Geeklets are learning to serve Mass.  This involves an eight-year-old and a six-year-old reciting phrases like “Deo gratias” and “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” and pronouncing “Amen” more like “AH-men.”  Here’s the book they study from:

No English translations here . . .

No English translations here . . .

So we have Latin in our house.  We grow up with it.  We are more familiar with it than most American families.  We hear it in church every Sunday, we know other families whose kids are learning it, and we occasionally even sing in Latin.  And yes, it really is a dead language.

That being said, I hope Latin doesn’t become completely obsolete any time soon.  I’d miss my favorite dead language.

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