Bring back classics to improve English
Courses in Greek and Latin should be returned to the school system.
I don’t mean the study of these languages should be compulsory, but the courses should be offered and available every year. The quality of political thought would improve, and redundancy and wordiness in writing would be reduced.
Admittedly, when such courses were compulsory up through the 1920s and 1930s in many districts, they were often taught by gradgrinds and taskmaster disciplinarians who conveyed no sense of the greatness of Greek and Roman literature, philosophy and art.
In New England during this period, for example, the teaching of these foundational languages did not focus on reading and understanding the great books of the ancient world, writes the late president of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, in his book No Friendly Voice. Instead, instructors of the day insisted on young people “studying their language in infinite detail and as an end in itself in such a way as to create in the student a profound distaste for the ancient world and all its works.”
However, it was a mistake to get rid of courses in the classical languages entirely. Evidence of the lack of knowledge of these languages can be seen in much unnecessary wordiness and grammatical errors in current speech and publications.
We often hear and read the redundant phrase “one-year anniversary” on the radio and in newspapers. The Latin word for year is already contained in the first two syllables of “anniversary.” It would be better to say “first anniversary.”
In “Report on Business Weekend” in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, we read, “Social media is ubiquitous.” “Media” is the plural of the Latin word “medium”, and the verb in the quoted sentence should be “are.” The many social media include Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The phrase “media is” grates on my ears in the same way that “sheep is grazing on the hillside” would. A similar error is “data shows.”
If at least one person in each newsroom knew a bit of Latin, these errors and redundancies would be caught and corrected.
The great Canadian novelist, Hugh MacLennan, author of Barometer Rising and Two Solitudes, went through Oxford’s undergraduate program in classical languages. His writing was a powerful influence on the development of contemporary Canadian English.
A knowledge of Latin is the key to a better understanding of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian and other languages.
UNBC has its Northern Medical Program. Dr. Eldon Lee of Prince George, a retired gynecologist who teaches ancient Greek in evening classes in his home, says Greek is the source of much medical terminology. Dr. Lee says everyone who takes an advanced degree should study Latin and Greek.
I don’t know if I would go that far. But it is of concern that only a few Latin phrases can be found in Canada’s Criminal Code now, and they are only occasionally used in Prince George courtrooms. Are connections being lost with Roman law and its influence on the shaping of legal terminology? To its credit, the Northern B.C. legal community includes some lawyers and judges who have a very thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek.
The school board should develop optional local courses in Latin and Greek that are always available to students who might be interested.