Et tu Bella?*

Ed Balls, in his infinite fucking wisdom, has decided that Latin is a useless subject in schools. Like Boris Johnson, I am outraged, not least because this is my livelihood at stake.

The joy and value of Latin being taught in schools and the defence of it being of course entirely separate from this Libertarian\’s sustenance being drawn from teaching Latin in schools.

Even Homer nods and all that.

* That should perhaps be Bellae, Bellum, Bellam, dunno….for my Latin education was cut cruelly short. On arrival at prep school I was greeted with the Cambridge Latin Course. The first parts of which were set around the Bay of Naples, whence I had just come to attend said prep school. The second part is when the family moves to Bath, my new home town after Naples. I really never did quite work out why all these people were talking about home in this funny language. My solution was to take the Latin exam at the end of my first year at senior school while woozy on the cider traditionally offered to the scorer of the Masters/Pupils cricket match (although it could have been the Old Boys match, the First XI or Eton/Harrow for all I can recall. Cricket being about the only thing worse than Latin.) and thus for proven incompetence I was allowed off to do something interesting, like Italian.

17 comments on “Et tu Bella?*

  1. I only did two years of Latin (many, many years ago), but I seem to remember that Bellum (war) is a neuter noun (third declension, I think), and that if you were speaking to one, you would use the vocative case, which happens to be “bellum”. (It’s often the same ending as the nominative.)

    Our Bella Gerens is using it as a female personal name so the vocative is probably “Bella”. (It would probably be treated as a first declension feminine noun, like Mensa. I still remember wondering why my latin teacher Miss Ord was talking to a table.)

    My thinking is that Latin, as with anything else, should be taught if anyone is prepared to pay (with their own money) for it to be taught.

  2. Ball’s cultural vandalism here is far worse than you think — civilisation can survive having to read Sulla and Cicero in translation, but… the actual reason that Latin used to be taught at grammar school level is that it prepares the young mind to handle complex thoughts and eases the understanding of many linguistic concepts and also, later on in life, it turns the gobbledigook that scientific/medical jargon appears to be into coherent, simple, self-explanatory naming schemes.

    Latin, Math and Physics’ value is to give you the language tools you need to think, understand and talk about the world in a scientific way.

    Limiting gifted students academically by refusing to teach core subjects to those who can’t pay, means that we also limit the number of competent doctors and scientists and so harm social mobility and the future quality of their work by selecting via their parents ability to pay, instead of the students’ aptitude.

    If you don’t believe me, check this link: http://www.bartleby.com/107/ then reconsider if you’d like to be operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t understand Latin… of course we could translate it all into simple English, but the price is that we’d lose Latin as the lingua franca of science with so easily enables scientists from different cultures to collaborate.

  3. Evelyn,

    “the actual reason that Latin used to be taught at grammar school level is that it prepares the young mind to handle complex thoughts and eases the understanding of many linguistic concepts”

    I never studied Latin at school, but did French and German. How does it help to learn Latin to get those concepts rather than say, French?

  4. The Cambridge Latin course? was that the one with Caecilius, who lived in Pompeii? Ego tremores sensi and all that.

    Tim adds: That’s the one. At one point they visit Baia which was the town across the bay frm where we lived. At another they talk of Avernus which was the local lake for us. Cumae, where we used to go on picnics.

    This is what I couldn’t get at that age. I knew the people there didn’t speak Latin. They spoke an Italian slang actually quite close to Catalan.

  5. Tim Almond,

    Latin is a heavily inflected language, unlike French and English. German, although inflected, is very like English, or so I’m told.

    Learning a language with a structure fundamentally different from one’s own trains the mind to think in new ways and to recognise new kinds of patterns; it also encourages the learner to think about his native language in different ways and to analyse its grammar and structure. French doesn’t do this for the English-speaker, I’m afraid, although German might.

  6. The point of learning Latin is that it helps the student master the academic register in English which is the language of the ruling class, used inter alia by the professions ,the broadsheet newspapers and academia.

    The whole point of learning bellum,belli ,bello is that you can have recourse to” bellicose”,say to describe Tony Blair,rather than calling him a sadistic public-school moron ,which is equally valid in fact but lacks the gravitas of the Latin.

    In general,I would say that learning Latin is more useful than learning maths,which after you have done simple sums in whole numbers is a waste of time.

    You run into intimidating Latinate words every day while, as I suspected at the miserable time, being tormented by a borderline Aspergerish/autistic teacher , I have never used Algebra once in my not unvaried life.

  7. come off it- latin is about as useful as art courses.
    A tiny number of people in the world can speak it. Might as well learn hindustani.
    Let the foreigners lean english – the bright ones already are. No other language needed.

  8. For the person who wondered how Latin will help them learn French see: http://www.bolchazy.com/al/latadv.htm

    Quote: “In the District of Columbia, elementary school students who studied Latin developed reading skills that were five months ahead of those who studied no foreign language and four months ahead of those who studied French or Spanish. ”

    ————

    “In general,I would say that learning Latin is more useful than learning maths,which after you have done simple sums in whole numbers is a waste of time.”

    Arithmetic is not math.

    Math is all about how to model the world.

    If you can calculate the true value of your investments, then you’re more likely to be successful than if you treat finances like a lucky lottery ticket.

    Knowing what compound interest is and how to use the exponential function also helps in life (people who know it tend to not incur debts other than for investment) Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY (you like this blog, so I know you’ll enjoy this video :)

    If you can figure out in your business which product makes the most money, you’ll do better than if you just produce and sell at random (see Operations Research for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operations_research — yes, the Brits invented this important branch of math in WWII, it’s the main reason why the Germans’ lost… and why we have modern industry as efficient as we do).

    If you find someones’ story fishy or think they are trying to dazzle you with ‘large numbers’ — math is your friend, you can apply simple techniques to check their claims: how much, how many, how long and so on, to give you an idea of the dimension and coherence of their story and scamsters won’t bamboozle you so easily either with pyramid scams and other assorted tricks.

    Yes you can live without math, but it’s akin to being illiterate and will cost you serious amount of money over your lifetime, because you have to take things at face value instead of being able to analyse them for yourself.

  9. Learning a language with a structure fundamentally different from one’s own trains the mind to think in new ways and to recognise new kinds of patterns; it also encourages the learner to think about his native language in different ways and to analyse its grammar and structure. French doesn’t do this for the English-speaker, I’m afraid, although German might.

    Indeed. Having not been taught English grammar properly, if at all, I found that learning Russian grammar (to the extent that Russian grammar can be learned!) was pretty difficult at first, but having mastered the basics I found it pretty useful in understanding the English grammar my schools had never bothered to teach me.

  10. In Scotland, we used “Ecce Romani” – you can still reduce people of my generation to a mixture of giggles or tears by starting off with Book 1, Page 1 “In pictura est puella. Puella nomine Flavia. Flavia est puella Romana.” The revised version appears somewhat less staggeringly boring.

    Apols for any spelling errors – it has been a long 30 years and I went in to Engineering not Medicine (so used the thinking but none of the spelling.)

  11. Evelyn:

    Of course you’re right but i think he was just laying out bait for whomever would go for it.

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