Latin lovers, unite

June 16, 1995

Nick Tate (THES, May 19) is right to point to the deplorable level of Latin literacy in our schools.

Students at German universities who do not possess basic Latin skills, but who are studying core arts subjects, such as history, philosophy or modern languages, are widely required to take an examination in Latin (the "Latinum").

In this country, by contrast, students are permitted to study, and take degrees in, these subjects without knowledge of the language which has been the common currency of European culture until the present century.

Like many of my colleagues, I have to teach aspects of that culture to students who can read no language other than English. Everyone suffers: the students are deprived of the skills and resources they need to engage intelligently with the past, and the study of the past itself becomes impoverished.

We risk degenerating to the position where we produce almost no one capable of reading, let alone editing, the textual sources of our heritage.

Basic competence in Latin should be a prerequisite of the study of European culture at university, much as competence in mathematics is required of anyone reading for a degree in one of the natural sciences.

Richard Gaskin

Graduate Research Centre

University of Sussex

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