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Learning Latin

  1. Dec 14, 2008 #1
    Recently I've gained interest in reading the classical works of mathematicians and physicists and came to the realization that knowing Latin would be of great use. Is it worth the effort to learn the basics necessary to comprehend for example Gauss' works, or might I just as well get the translations instead? (I'm not particularly interested in learning Latin for the sake of knowing the language.)

    My question is basically: is it very hard to learn enough Latin to be able to read scientific works?
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  3. Dec 14, 2008 #2
    I took Latin in high school; it's a pretty easy language to learn.
  4. Dec 14, 2008 #3


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    The gain in learning Latin is almost nil. No one speaks it. No one writes it basically.

    The most recent great works have been written in German, French, and English. Why not stick to those languages?
  5. Dec 14, 2008 #4
    ^ Yeah, while it's nice to know etymology, Latin is pretty useless.
  6. Dec 14, 2008 #5
    Isn't Latin helpful in medicine and biology in general?
  7. Dec 14, 2008 #6
    :eek: I'm shocked at what I'm hearing! ... reading, rather ... Since when is learning the language of one of the most culturally influential cultures in history useless? Especially coming from your Aristotle Quote up there :biggrin:
    If anything, I think it's an amazing experience to read something written centuries ago, in a language that no longer exists, and realize just how relevant it still is.
    I plan to eventually learn Greek and German, and I'd like to think my efforts toward the former won't be a waste of my time.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2008
  8. Dec 14, 2008 #7
    if someone knew latin, greek & german they could probably understand any western language. i think that would be pretty useful.
  9. Dec 14, 2008 #8


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    Certainly is - "allergic rhinitus" is a lot more profitable than a runny nose
  10. Dec 14, 2008 #9
    i disagree that latin is "easy". i took it for about 9 months in college, yet can't speak it now. however, i don't think it's useless at all. so much of english has latin roots that it can be helpful, especially for scientific/technical english.

    i'd just get the translation if it were me. all those conjugations and tenses and such get tiresome.
  11. Dec 14, 2008 #10
    Latin is much easier to read and write than speak it.
  12. Dec 14, 2008 #11


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    The investment in time can be better made is all I'm saying. Not very hard to understand.
  13. Dec 14, 2008 #12
    I've read the Aeneid, so I know what you mean, but I'm just being realistic. Latin was a fun class in high school, but I recognize that my time would have been better spent learning another language. (My high school offered four years of Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, and Latin, as well as a year of Greek).

    It's really not worse than any other language, and Latin is extremely forgiving in terms of word order. Plus, if you don't know what a word means, you can often guess (though this is likely true of all Romance languages).
  14. Dec 14, 2008 #13


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    I've read a fair part of the English translation of Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (by Clark) and found it really good. I didn't go so far as learning Latin. But I often wish I could read French and German, because many good papers are not translated.
  15. Dec 14, 2008 #14
    You wouldn't think it if you are a native English speaker, but English is one of the hardest languages to get right grammatically. the vocabulary is relatively easy because it borrows a lot from other languages and because it's such a universal language, but English grammar is a mess. This is why you meet immigrants who have lived in English speaking countries for years and still speak tarzan-english.

    OK, granted it's not very useful in the stricter sense of the word. But I still think useless and pointless are not the same thing. Playing a musical instrument is a pretty useless skill that takes a lot of time to hone, but I don't think it's a waste of time either.
  16. Dec 14, 2008 #15


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    If you're asking because you want to read say Newton's Principia, they've had plenty of time to get that translated by now.

    I'm not aware of too many current articles being published in Latin however.

    On the whole though, I'd say it's a useful enterprise. I trundled my way through Caesar and Cicero and the Aeneid, putting Gauls under the yoke and exhorting the citizens of Rome and Dido's tragic end, and in the final analysis it's certainly more useful than say mastering the Gears of War or Call of Duty.
  17. Dec 14, 2008 #16
    :rofl: I've always wondered if, 400 years from now, students will be made to analyze classic works such as "South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut".

    I get this mental image of one of those annoying literature professors talking about the "delicious irony of the Christlike death and rebirth of Kenny," or some other overwrought analysis.

    I love literature (good reason to major in it, I would think), but sometimes I have to try really hard to not burst into laughter in the middle of class. Especially when a student-teacher presents some insane analytic theory on a text, which usually revolves around the penis.

    What is it about modern literary critics that everything must revolve around phallic imagery? they've all got erection-mania, methinks.
  18. Dec 14, 2008 #17


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    For what very little it's worth, Latin isn't a Romance language (though it is an Italic language). Romance languages are those descended from Vulgar Latin; Latin is 'two generations too old' for that.
  19. Dec 14, 2008 #18


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    With much of South Park foraging in bathroom and underwear territory for material already I suspect there will be little analytical discussion in that direct, though maybe there is some as yet undiscovered synchronicity that can be imagined with Pink Floyd or Rugrats in Paris.
  20. Dec 14, 2008 #19
    even Pope throws the occasional pun about pubic hair... it's something of a recent trend that literary critics started to over-over-read everything, sometimes to the point that I'm left wondering if I got the right edition of the book. I often get the impression they write papers on the work they wish the writer had written, rather than what was actually written. They've killed not only the author, but his book also!

    And I do love South Park, btw :biggrin:
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2008
  21. Dec 14, 2008 #20
    Why would future generations analyze "South Park" when we currently have our own generation of intellectuals and fiction writers, much like the ones of Poe's time. There were some great American writers and intellectuals of the late twentieth century and some are still writing on into the twenty first. I would hope they are the ones remembered.

    South Park has about the writing quality of a TV advertisement, with worse humor.
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