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Latin Language, Version 2.0

September 5th, 2012

Latin Language, Version 2.0
By Jennifer Betcher
At the Vatican, headquarters of the Catholic Church, ATMs still process bank transactions entirely in Latin. It is the universal language of biological taxonomy, and is considered the basis in the formation of most words new to the English language. Latin editions of Harry Potter, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Cat in the Hat are currently available in print. By all accounts, Latin is by no means a dead language…yet.
Up until the 18th century, all books were published in Latin. The ability to speak and read it was once the test of a true scholar, especially in ancient Rome when reading Virgil was as compulsory to success as reading The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times is in today’s world. Nowadays, Latin’s use among priests and seminarians at the Vatican is on the decline, and parents are more likely to enroll their school-aged children in Mandarin classes than Latin. In an attempt to revive its use ecclesiastically as well as secularly, Pope Benedict recently announced plans to set up a Papal Latin Academy at the Vatican to augment the office of the Holy See’s duties for fostering the language.
Latin is currently undergoing a small upsurge in popularity. It is unknown whether that’s due to the wide-spread readership of the Harry Potter book series (as proffered by Michelle Hu in her 2008 New York Times article A Dead Language That’s Very Much Alive) or to its revival among educators who find that teaching Latin helps English speakers improve spelling and helps students more easily infer the meaning of difficult vocabulary. Its knowledge also aids science and medical professionals, whose jobs revolve around a myriad of Latin-based terminology.
As Latin’s popularity grows, so does the scrutiny of its scholars as the language is adapted to the modern world. Tom Kington, in an article for The Guardian, references Pope Benedict’s own writings in Latin, which include modern-day terminology such as “delocalization,” translated into Latin as “delocalizatio,” much to the chagrin of Jesuit experts. According to father Roberto Spataro, lecturer at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, critics believe modern additions to Latin should be crafted more creatively, not just made to “sound” Latin. Modern additions to Latin, strictly regulated by the Opus Fundatum Latinitas, include: inscriptio cursus electronici (email), inter rete (internet), exemplar luce expressum (photocopy), bracae linteae caeruleae (blue jeans), and liber maxime divenditus (bestseller).
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