Gallagher, who has spent the past 8 years translating the Pope's messages into Latin, said of his experience:
I had the unique experience of writing (and speaking) Latin day and night for a decade. There are not many places in the world where your job is to compose Latin documents from scratch, but the Vatican is one of them.
Once on campus, Gallagher will teach a 3-credit class in conversational Latin as well as courses in intermediate and advanced Latin for both undergraduates and graduate students.
Gallagher's hiring raises some questions:
- Increasing demand from students?
- Who want to speak, not just read, Latin?
- From where does this interest arise?
The answer to those questions:
Beneath the radar over the past few decades, elementary and high schools have been offering Latin courses, oftentimes advertising them as improving a student's vocabulary, grammar, analytical, and public speaking skills. And those courses have demonstrated the veracity of those claims. More often, however, there was a utilitarian intent motivating students to take Latin: The language system assists students to score higher on the SAT vocabulary and analytical sections.
Hunter Rawlings, Cornell's Interim President and Professor of Classics, observed that the traditional approach to learning Latin--sitting down with textbooks and memorizing all of the forms that need to be learned--can be "impossibly boring and tedious. But, when you learn to speak it--as I never did--it's a living language, and many students turn on to it. There's now a movement."
The ability to manipulate the language--that is, to say what we want to say using the same vocabulary and style of the text we are reading--leads not only to proficiency in reading, but also to feeling the feelings of the author or of the characters. Otherwise, we get bogged down in parsing, declining, conjugating or whatever else distracts us from the thoughts and feelings contained in the text.
Image an administrator of a U.S. Catholic institution of higher education--like the President of Boston College, Notre Dame University, Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, or Gonzaga--prioritizing and securing funding for an endowed chair in Latin and then gushing, as did Cornell's Associate Professor of Classics Michael Fontaine, "We want to be the place where students go if they want to learn Latin!"
Hopefully they will now...after an Ivy League has already beaten them to the punch.
Let the discussion begin....
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