My interests reside primarily in modern activities: programming, watching movies, and learning about math and science. However, I have another interest which, at first, appears to have no relevance to anything modern at all: the Latin language.
Starting this year in high school, I decided to drop French and take Latin instead. While this decision was primarily rooted upon my distaste for the school’s designated French teacher, it turned out to be a good decision for an entirely different reason; as it turns out, I find Latin fun.
But–you might ask–why would I think Latin is fun? Well, quite simply, for the same reason that some people believe mathematics to be fun, and for the same reason that I rejoice when I’m writing seemingly boring lines of source code. The joy which I get out of programming and math is because of one simple idea: there are a set of rules which can be applied to tons of situations.
In mathematics, the rules are fairly straightforward: there are operators, variables, functions, and then different sorts of more complex rules as you move down the road (e.g. rules for evaluating limits, sums, derivatives, etc.). These rules can be applied to creating formulas for all sorts of scenarios. In programming, there are variables, operators, functions, classes, and different notations for all of these ideas. With only these small components, pretty much any program can be put together.
Similarly in Latin, there are nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., all which work together to express any sort of idea. Just like with programming and math, I can understand a set of rules the minute I learn them, but they don’t become a habit–a natural instinct–until I use them a lot. Consider algebra’s order of operations, for instance: at first they are something you know (to some people, they are known simply as PEMDAS), but then they become something you don’t have to think about. I went through a similar process when learning to type in Dvorak, but I won’t go into that here.
About half way through this last school year, I discovered that I actually liked Latin just as much as I typically enjoyed programming. This interest derived from learning the language through formally introduced ideas rather than simply hearing the language spoken and picking it up naturally.
This method of “analyzing” the language probably originated in classrooms as the result of Latin’s status as “dead,” or “unspoken.” However, the process of standardizing and labeling the language caught my interest far more than any living language could. Assigning a formal set of rules to explain a huge corpus of literature, literary dialog, and even Roman graffiti is the same kind of thing that Newton set out to do with his laws of motion (which, I might add, were originally published in Latin).
At some point in the school year, I realized that the classroom wouldn’t thoroughly indulge my interest. For one thing, Latin class only took place five blocks a week with each block lasting 35-40 minutes. Secondly, what ever was I to do in the summer?
As a response to these dilemmas, I bought a textbook and readily began to teach myself Latin. I probably spent several hours a day studying Latin, with no intention of improving my English vocabulary or getting an edge up in class. It was purely for the sake of pursuing my interest. I did, however, notice that I no longer had to do any studying or work for the class; nonetheless, this should be expected if you triple or quadruple your external study time.
This summer, I’ve continued to pursue my interest to the extent of finishing the textbook which I had bought during the school year. This textbook (Wheelock’s Latin) covered many grammatical concepts, although I’m sure that there are still some pieces of literature which I would find significantly difficult to understand. Now I spend some time every day translating various Latin literature for the sake of practice and enjoyment.
Latin opened my eyes to many new ideas of linguistics. On top of this, it made me realize that something doesn’t have to have blinking lights and a metallic exterior in order to be interesting. While I realize that most programmers and mathematicians probably wouldn’t share my same interest, I encourage all of you who find mathematics or programming fun to also try out Latin. In fact, any language may satisfy your interests, so long as you study it in terms of pure rules.