19

We all know that Vulgar Latin is the ancestor of all the Romance languages. It is also known as a great source of classical literature and was used for many centuries as the "lingua franca" of international knowledge in Europe.

How useful is its study for any learner of two or more Romance languages, from the point of view of the hypothetical easiness we would get to learn them in the near future?

  • 5
    @fi12 It's not really opinion based. The OP is asking if its useful to understand vocabulary and grammar. Learning the parent language is probably helpful, and I can see people writing detailed responses why. – Sir Cumference Apr 5 '16 at 22:27
  • @SirCumference Perhaps the question could be restated to take into account studies or mathematical models that have been done to simulate this or determine its benefit or "usefulness". – callyalater Apr 5 '16 at 22:32
  • I am interested; this pertains to languagelearning.stackexchange.com/q/64/90. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Apr 6 '16 at 1:04
  • Perhaps the question could be clarified by asking "How is learning Latin beneficial when learning other Romance languages?" – Flimzy Apr 8 '16 at 9:00
  • The grammar of Classical Latin is so much more complex than that of any individual Romance language that you're better off learning one of them to use as a starting point for other Romance languages, instead of Latin. Of course, if your goal is to learn Latin for its own merits, there's no reason not to. – J. Siebeneichler Sep 22 '16 at 16:15
7

The four major "latin" languages lie on a continuum, with French and Spanish being the most different. Italian and Portuguese are most like Latin, but Italian is closer to French, and Portuguese is closer to Spanish. This happened for geographical and historical reasons; Portugal borders on Spain, and France and Italy are neighbors (France and Spain less so, despite a common border, because of the Pyrennees.

French deviates the most from Latin, probably because of its proximity to Germany; the French laisser and the German lassen both mean "let." It's worth knowing Latin to know in which respects a French word has Latin versus non-Latin (e.g. German), roots. Likewise, Spain historically had some Celtic and Arabic influences, and where Spanish deviates from Latin, it's probably in one of those two directions.

My Portuguese teacher told me that he felt that a knowledge of Latin was of help to students studying the two more "proximate" languages, Italian and Portuguese, and of some help for the two more "remote" Romance languages. And learning one would make it easier to learn a second. He also said that he wouldn't learn Latin just to learn one romance language, but the effort would be worth it if you wanted to study "several."

  • 1
    This is an interesting analysis of the languages, but makes no attempt to answer the question that was asked. – Flimzy Apr 6 '16 at 14:03
  • The edit now touches on the question, so it's an improvement. I can't say it really answers the question though. After reading your answer, I'm no better equipped to decide if I ought to learn Latin to help me with my Spanish, French, and Portuguese. – Flimzy Apr 8 '16 at 8:48
  • @Flimzy: Added a new last line. – Tom Au Apr 8 '16 at 13:06
  • You forgot Romanian :-) – Peter M. Jan 10 '18 at 22:45
6

The main advantage of learning Latin before Romance languages such as French or Spanish are based on similarities between Latin and those languages:

  • A lot of vocabulary in the Romance languages can be traced back to Latin, so it should be easier to learn part of the vocabulary than for people who have never learnt Latin or another Romance language.

There are other benefits, but these can also be had from learning languages other than Latin:

  • After learning Latin, you will be thoroughly familiar with the concept of verb conjugations that are not only affected by tense and aspect but also by person and number. If your native language has less elaborate conjugations, verb conjugations in French and Spanish will no longer look exotic after learning Latin. This benefit can also be had from learning other languages, e.g. Slovak or German.
  • You will be thoroughly familiar with case systems, but this benefit is not relevant to most Romance languages, except Romanian, which still has cases. This benefit can also be had from learning other languages, e.g. Slavic languages.
  • You will have acquired the skill to analyse sentences very carefully, together with the grammatical terminology that this requires. This can be beneficial when learning other languages, not just Romance languages.
  • You will hopefully have acquired study skills to learn vocabulary and grammar. This is beneficial when learning other languages, but these skills can be acquired learning any language, including living languages.

What you don't typically acquire by learning Latin or other dead languages are oral skills and listening skills, since the focus of Latin education is on reading and understanding ancient literary, historical and philosophical text.

Finally, this question is somewhat similar to the question Why do experts recommend learning Esperanto?. Esperanto has a great propaedeutic value as a first foreign language because it is much easier to learn than most natural languages. Latin, by contrast, is not easier (or not noticeably easier) than the Romance languages or than other natural languages in general, so it is not surprising that a search for the propaedeutic value of Latin does not turn up any studies. (I also performed this search on more specialised sites.)

So while knowing Latin has some benefits when learning (living) Romance languages, I would not delay learning any Romance languages by learning Latin first.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.