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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  • Ted Abbott

    The Catholic prayers are quite beautiful in Latin and Spanish and in Tagalog or Cebuano as well.
    A pilgrimige to Cebu in January to the Sinulog for the Feast of Señor Santo Niño would be a perfect language / culture retreat.

  • William Gill

    Mike, I concur with your statement that “Once you understand even a little Latin […] many modern European languages become much easier to learn and comprehend.” And, I will up the ante by sharing that I experienced the same upon studying Demotic (Modern) Greek, which predates Latin. Understanding the language structure (syntax, morphology) of Greek shed so much light on why things are the way they are in the languages that I speak (English, Spanish, and working on Portuguese). Which, really, attests to the truth that knowing where something comes from empowers one to better determine to where something is going. Even for languages.

  • Lady Tinker Wolf

    I find that having a solid repertoire of language knowledge – even of just a few languages – helps you connect with others. For example, I’m learning Swedish because of my heritage and, with a background in German, I’m able to recognise pronunciation and diction. Being able to speak English, American and British, has given way for me to be able to understand Swedish slang. Even having knowledge of compound words (which everyone uses) has helped me learn the language and I’ve begun to realise… it’s really not that different from anything else I speak.

  • Golden Bears

    2,000 years old is not a very old prayer at all.

    Rosetta Stone is a wonderful software, however.

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