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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?
  2. jcsd
  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.
  22. Dec 15, 2008 #21
    oops. that should read "Pope". ... fixed it.

    What?? Watch the South Park movie and explain to me exactly how it's not absolutely brilliant. Sure, some episodes are not exactly quality stuff... but who could come up with 14 great stories a year for 12 years in a row? (in fact, there is a SP episode on how hard it is to come up with episode ideas, which turned out to be a great episode).

    And of course they would. Because South Park, whether you like it or not, is a vital example of pop culture and has been incredibly influential-- for better or for worse, a clear "before and after South Park" line can be drawn in recent media history. I don't see how a future course on 21st century would not mention it.

    Also I think that oftentimes what becomes a classic is not necessarily a piece deserving of becoming one. When was the last time a best seller was particularly well written, let alone brilliantly so? "The DaVinci Code" is one of our generation's biggest successes :yuck:
    Everyone knows "Tom Sawyer", which is quite a terrible book, but nobody remembers "The Ring And The Book."

    err... I'm not sure what my point is, but I'm sure it's something.

  23. Dec 15, 2008 #22


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    That anology doesn't apply. You can learn french, and probably be capable of reading more originals than you would be able to from learning Latin. Many many great mathematicians were french.

    Essentially french wins without even considering the usefulness.
  24. Dec 15, 2008 #23
    My point exactly is that it doesn't matter whether it's useful or not. Hence the music analogy: learning to play music is about the most useless and time consuming task one can undertake, but I've never met someone who would claim it to be a waste of time. If we judge whether something is worth doing purely on how useful it is... what is the usefulness of growing a garden, or hiking, or watching a movie, or studying anything outside one's field, etc.?
    Learning the language and reading the works is the end in and of itself, and there should be no reason to justify it in terms of how useful it may be for whatever other purposes other than what it is that it is.

    (for the purposes of the OP, then yes, Latin is probably not the best choice... or he could just as well stick to English. But I meant generally. I got the impression that you were saying that learning those languages is a waste of time.)
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2008
  25. Dec 15, 2008 #24


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    I would like to learn Latin, years ago a local gent wrote a history of our village ,a task that would have been impossible without a knowledge of Latin, as many records are still in this ancient form, AFAIK never translated/published.
  26. Dec 15, 2008 #25


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    But the work is translated!

    That's equivalent to not being satisfied with playing Mozart with a new violin. Having to get an old one of that particular time. But really? You need to realize that even if you have that old violin, it still won't be the same. Styles of playing violin has change in subtle ways, and different from person to person, that no can recognize especially something hundred's of years ago. The writing style has changed, the use of the Latin language will also most likely be different, you will never get what those have got from it before. To try and think that you will is just fooling yourself.
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