|languages||English, German, Greek, Latin|
I have a BA in Greek, MA in classical languages, and pending PhD in classics and philosophy.
Experience: 10 years
Learning an ancient language is instrumental. Throughout history one sees highly influential human beings enter the limelight after a classical education. In his Discours, French philosopher René Descartes reflects on his classical education as one in which immersed him in the literature of the Greeks and Romans. The celebrated British Utilitarian John Stuart Mill recounts, in his autobiography, his peripatetic walks with his father James Mill as tutorials on which the younger Mill would recall the points from his readings of whichever classical author his father assigned the previous day. In what follows let us simply remind ourselves of what one can expect from taking lessons in an ancient language, particularly focusing on Greek and Latin. The most striking benefit that studying these languages confers on one is a high score on the most sought out standardized tests. Philology also helps out with studying pre-professional curricula such as the set of courses in preparation for gaining acceptance into medical schools. Put another way, philology makes studying medicine easier and of course this is why Latin classes are inundated with premeds. The language of science is, as it always has been, Latin, in the first place, and Greek, in the second. Latin students can often and more easily learn and retain the mass of information that college biology courses throw at them than students who have not studied Latin. Correctly labeling the correct chemical compound with the correct suffixes comes easy to Latin students – even those who never had any chemistry at all! The study of either Greek or Latin, or both, does not have only extrinsic value. There are plenty of reasons the pursuit is good in itself. Naturally, we communicate in the simplest possible form. Simple, of course, is epistemically relative. What I say is simple is based on what I know, likewise for you. Because our English tongue has a constituent base of at least seventy-five percent Greek and Latin lexical roots, these being conceptually smaller, learning the languages arms one with the building blocks that make for elevated communication rooted foundationally in cognitive and linguistic terms. The cultural framework in which one acquires a working knowledge avails one to understand allusions, historical references, and other subtle insertions that one gathers from participating in society. One cannot possibly understand the historical significance of Christianity without having stepped into the form of life proper to it. The authors of the New Testament wrote in either Koine Greek or Latin, both of which drew from more ancient dialects. The lexical semantic significance of many key concepts in the Bible derive from earlier lexical entries. For example, the English ‘demon’ comes from the Greek daimon – which means, in classical Greek, ‘divinity’ without the negative connotations that we associate with demon. In the introduction to his Shame and Necessity, philosopher Bernard Williams, who had a traditional classical education, argues that ancient Greco-Roman culture is not separate from our own; instead, it is our own. By gaining the linguistic tools that one gathers from these dead languages’ wells, recognizing their profound influence on our cultural and social norms, and, eventually, thinking at a cognitively superior level than one would otherwise not have achieved, one comes to appreciate one’s acquisition of either Greek or Latin or both. One’s reflection proves that the effort was , as a whole, good in itself in virtue of how learning our form of life has helped us think and thus live better. One should be warned if one enters the domain of classical philology with merely extrinsic motives. Although a classical education will inevitably make a lot out of you and you will willy-nilly enjoy the fruits of your labor, one should heed the words of public intellectual Diana Ravitch and Martha C. Nussbaum when they speak of those who take up the humanities to go to the bank: “The scores had gone up, but the students were not better educated.” To keep one’s sight exclusively on the utility value of closely studying the dead languages for some fixed duration renders the critical faculty dull and unable to soar above and attain the reflexivity concomitant with a philology student’s motivational condition. Philology, from the Greek, means “the (civic) love of logos.” Logos has a host of senses including ‘account’, ‘argument’, ‘speech’, ‘discourse’, ‘word’, and ‘conversation’. “Philos,” philosophy professor Ronna Burger tells her undergraduates, “is like love.” With that said, one’s ambition should be the combination of a desire for understanding one’s own culture, language, history, and, ultimately, self.