Is Esperanto becoming the new Latin

Last year's Summer School - a bit of Latin is included, naturally. Details for this year are here.

The weekend The Catholic Universe has printed quite a long letter of mine on the subject of Latin and Esperanto, in response to an equally long letter praising Esperanto in last week's Letters.

Last time I mentioned Esperanto on this blog - as an aside - I got some rather irate comments, so this time, well, come and get me! My sympathy with the idea of an artificial language of any kind is simply zero. If people want to learn Elvish, Klingon or Esperanto, they are, I suppose, no more wasting their time than if they were playing patience on their IPhones (which seems to be de rigour on the commuter trains out of London these days). I don't want to criticise such harmless recreations. But to propose it as an educational task for children is as insane as suggesting it as a substitute for Latin (or any other language) for comunication within the Church. Artificial languages are languages without a history, culture, or literature, or at least without one going back before (in the case of Esperanto) 1870.

I have far more time for the revival of dead languages, even if this seems equally Quixotic. People learning Cornish or Manx from books are putting themselves into contact with a culture which cannot easily be expressed in any other language. Great written (or indeed aural) works of art and science, which are among the most important aspects of a culture, can only fully be appreciated in the original. If the language dies, works written in it die as well, and the culture is mortally wounded. This is why anyone who takes Irish culture serious must be serious about the Irish language. Anyone who cares about the acheivments of Scots Gaelic poets must care about the preservation of Gaelic. Interestingly, one of the Latin Mass Society's early supporters was a proponent of the Welsh language.

As well as being the repository for a major part of the Church's thought and culture, Latin, of course, is not a dead language. It is not no-one's cradle language, but it is remains a working language. Things are composed in and translated into Latin, which isn't something which happens in dead languages.

If you want to learn Latin, come on the LMS' own summer training course in the last week of July.

To the Editor of the Catholic Universe.

Catherine Venture (Letters, 27th May 2016) writes to promote Esperanto as an international ‘bridge’ language.

Given its steep decline in popularity in the UK, I suppose it needs all the help it can get. But since it is based on the Romance languages—the European languages derived from Latin—with a bit of Yiddish thrown in, it would be more logical to suggest studying Latin as a ‘bridge’ language, a function it actually served for many centuries.

Ms Venture objects that ‘Latin is only ok for the Classical scholar’, inviting the obvious retort the Esperanto is only ok for the Esperanto scholar. Unlike Esperanto, in which there are no Government-recognised qualifications, Latin is taught in 600 state schools, up from 100 a decade ago. Esperanto is taught in four.

No doubt Esperanto is easy to learn—at least for speakers of major European languages—but Latin was described as the ‘language of the Church’ by Pope Benedict XVI. Pope St John Paul II said it was a ‘disgrace’ not to know Latin, and that the Church has an ‘obligation’ towards it. Bl. Pope Paul VI called it a ‘divine’ language, and Pope St John XXIII praised Latin, ‘full of majesty and dignity’, precisely because, as Ms Venture says of Esperanto, it is ‘equally friendly’ to native speakers of all languages.

The Church desperately needs a common language, for communication between her children who come from every nation, culture, and language on earth. What Catholic Esperantists miss, of even greater importance, is the need for a common language of communication between the generations. It is essential for serious students of the Church’s theology, law, history, and literature, to be able to read what their predecessors wrote, in the original.

For the Church, the only possible ‘bridge language’ is Latin. It is time all Catholic schools recognised their obligation to open the door to the treasures of Catholic culture and thought to their pupils, by equipping them with Latin.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Shaw
Chairman, The Latin Mass Society
For more on the study of Latin in the Church, see the Position Paper on Latin in Seminaries.

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