Why all journal articles should be composed in Latin

In the 19th century it was unremarkable for a scholar to publish his thesis or book in Latin.  Many did so.  After all, to obtain admittance to a university every student had to demonstrate competence in Latin.  So every scholar should be able to read and write in Latin as easily as his native language. 

Let us compare this with the situation today.  On the one hand, most students couldn’t compose a verse in Latin to save their lives.  On the other hand, academics are forced to learn several other languages in order to study the academic literature.  Every respectable modern academic must have a good reading knowledge of English, French, German and Italian. 

The standard of too many anglophone PhD theses suggests to me that most of the students writing know only one language, and that English.  No doubt when they collect their PhD certificate and obtain a teaching post their command of languages improves instantly.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to learn Latin really well? 


11 thoughts on “Why all journal articles should be composed in Latin

  1. Amen.

    Then I could stop wasting time on modern languages. And I’d be better at those ancient ones I should be researching with.

  2. Exactly. It does make sense, doesn’t it.

    Perhaps the first step would be to reintroduce a requirement for a pass in Latin in an entrance examination as a prerequisite for admission at all universities.

  3. In my Antioch studies, I came upon a brilliant article in Italian that was written in 1998 (by Giovanni Uggeri) in the Journal of Ancient Topography. I have only ever seen it cited once despite it being a very long article with some novel ideas. As I read it I realised the reason it hadn’t been cited was because most of the Antioch scholars out there can’t read Italian (or Spanish for that matter). I can’t read Italian but my Spanish is fluent… so I could understand 90% of what Uggeri said.. so I guess I can read Italian.. pity the academic these days writing in a “lost” language like Italian, not to mention the fate awaiting Polish or Hungarian authors.. might as we be in Linear B..

  4. WARNING; “Disability Issue”
    Spare a thought for dyslexics like myself, who struggle to get to grips with an irregular language like English, and for whom being literate in one language would be achievement.
    Would your viva be in Latin?

  5. People don’t know Italian, do they? Yet there is more and more in that language. The machine translators aren’t much good at it either (which is weird). If anyone knows a good machine translator for Italian, I’m very interested!

    But lost articles in fringe languages must be a problem, although less of one as journals come online and machine translators improve.

    The problems of dsylexia would probably be less if the sufferers had to study one language — Latin — rather than three — French, German and Italian.

    I don’t know whether oral Latin is a necessity in the same way, tho.

  6. I learned Latin as a child, and it was fairly easy, and quite useful, especially if you wanted to write about invading Gaul, or how fast your chariot went.

    I am worried about the vocabulary issue, who is in charge of making up new words, ( it could get very silly – like Welsh). There is also a potential question of religious bias here; Roman Catholics may have an advantage over Protestants.

    I would advise those publishing in ‘fringe’ languages to include more pictures, which I for one would appreciate.

  7. You mean “would have *no* cause to use them”? But actually it isn’t that simple.

    My French is fairly reasonable, but I lack vocabulary in some areas. So I can quickly tell that French->English is done well. My German and Italian is much less good; but I can still tell that the translators for either are making a mess of it!

    So in fact machine translators are good for those who aren’t expert in the language but aren’t novices either.

  8. Indeed it was “No cause” – it’s so hard not to appear stupid if you are illiterate!

    Your point about translators is well made, I am even more totally reliant on them, but they almost invariably fail to catch the nuance of the specialist language and usage, which research inevitably entails. They probably require ‘discipline settings’, a bit like character sets.

  9. Although the dream of Latin as a international language is probably long dead, oral Latin would be more advantage than weary requirement. Because, if people spoke Latin well enough to do a viva, they’d have little trouble reading and writing it!

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