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Greek and Latin “Dead” Languages

The "Dead" Languages of reek and Latin

Greek and Latin “Dead” Languages

Now, some of you might remember hearing that classical Greek and Latin are dead languages. Of corpse they aren’t! Sorry, I should have warned you in advance about my quirky sense of humor. Although it’s true that no one, other than scholars, speaks and writes in classical Greek or Latin today, both of the languages remain very much alive in their impact upon our culture and language.

In fact, these Greek and Latin zombies constitute more and more of our English language as new words in technology and the sciences are most often derivatives of these languages.

Let’s get started by proving to you that it’s the very-much-alive Greek and Latin that keeps you from understanding all the reading content in challenging texts.

You’re at the kitchen table on a Saturday morning with your phone and a cup of coffee. You’re in the middle of an interesting article, and the author quotes something from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers Number 1. The quotation reminds you that you placed the Federalist Papers on your reading bucket list after seeing the musical, Hamilton, last summer.

With caffeine-inspired motivation, you walk into the den to see if the Federalist Papers are in that set of beautifully bound Harvard Classics, collecting dust on your bookshelf. Eureka!

You pull out the book and open to this collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander HamiltonJames Madison, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. You take a deep breath and read Hamilton’s first sentence:

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting Federal Government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America (Hamilton, Federalist Number 1).

Now, most of us would stop right there after the first sentence and carefully place the Harvard Classic back on the bookshelf where it belongs. Why so? It’s not the order of the words that’s confusing; it’s not the phonics and sight words (you could, no doubt, pronounce all the words); it’s not a lack of knowledge about the historical context; it’s not that the words are archaic; and, most importantly, it’s not what the author means that’s hard to grasp. It’s the Greek and Latin that interferes with our understanding. In this sense, Greek and Latin are very much alive!

Read that sentence one more time, and pick out the words that are most challenging for you:

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting Federal Government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America (Hamilton, Federalist Number 1).

Hamilton was a self-educated man and he loved his Latin! Eight of the words in this single sentence are Latin derivations. I’ve highlighted them in red. And one, Government, derives from classical Greek through the French language.

After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting Federal Government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America (Hamilton, Federalist Number 1).

Let’s take a look at one more challenging sentence. This one is loaded with classical Greek. See if you can pick out the Greek words as you read. Hint: Pick out the tough words. Again, it’s the Greek and Latin derivations that make up most of the challenging English words.

Thomas Jefferson’s views on democracy were greeted with widespread cynicism, sarcasm, and even panic by European rulers.

Jefferson was fluent in both Classical (scholarly) and Koine (the common tongue) Greek! He even published his own translation of the New Testament (which was largely written in Koine Greek). Five of the words in this single sentence are Latin derivations. I’ve highlighted them in red.

Thomas Jefferson’s views on democracy were greeted with widespread cynicism, sarcasm, and even panic by European rulers.

So now that I’ve proved that Greek and Latin aren’t the “dead” languages they seem to be, what’s the best way to learn the Greek and Latin we need to read challenging English text?

Not by teaching lists of Greek and Latin SAT or ACT words; instead, Teach Morphemes, Not Academic Words, using my 25 Greek and Latin Power Words, and my DUAL Word Parts Worksheet to learn How to Memorize Greek and Latin Word Parts.

Wouldn’t it be great to have the Greek and Latin instructional resources to learn and teach these vocabulary short-cuts?

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkit Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8

Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits

Pennington Publishing’s Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits include 56 worksheets, along with vocabulary study guides, and biweekly unit tests to help your students collaboratively practice and master these Common Core Standards:Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)

  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

Also, check out my Vocabulary Academic Literacy Centers, and our Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

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