Latin Roots in Other Languages

westminster cathedral london england e1399321783856I’d recently been looking up the Latin of some old prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer (2,000-plus years is pretty old, as prayers go!), and I still had the Latin fresh in my memory when running through a Rosetta Stone session in Spanish. Learning new words is always fun, and the immersion approach of Rosetta Stone works well for me—even in a language I’ve had little exposure to, such as Spanish. But it’s still a new language to me, and there’s so much to be discovered—except when I reached the image showing a bright-blue sky and heard the recorded voice saying cielo to me.

Hang on, I know that! Pater noster qui est in caelis. Despite ecclesiastical Latin not being commonly spoken, I have it fixed in my mind that caelis is pronounced with a soft ‘c’, and so the sound is virtually the same as cielo. It’s quite a surprise when a language so very, very old jumps out at you through a modern language taught in ultra-modern methods. It caught me off guard.

But, really, it shouldn’t have. We all know that people call French and Italian Romance languages, and it’s easy to see why. Both are such beautiful languages that anything can sound romantic, especially to those who don’t know the words. And, who doesn’t know someone who has fallen in love with a Romance language, a native speaker of a Romance language, or both? Not for nothing does Paris have a reputation as a hub of romance. The fact is, though, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and several other languages are Romance languages because they share a Roman root: Latin, the language the ancient Romans spoke.

I’ve always thought everything sounds better in Latin, and perhaps the continuing popularity of composer Karl Orff’s O Fortuna! shows I’m not alone. It’s easier to experience thrilling and great music, and imagine it to be some great incantation or ancient hymn, when virtually no one knows what’s actually being sung. This extends to other media as well. Once you understand even a little Latin, though, many modern European languages become much easier to learn and comprehend. It makes me wish I had the time to learn Latin properly, but the more I want to do with my time, the less I seem to have. Virgil was right, tempus fugit. Time flies.

Learn more about Mike Hayes’s adventures in language learning.

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