Each year the Department awards prizes to students excelling in their studies on aspects of ancient languages. This year third-year Jess Fallon was awarded the Alfred Moorhouse Prize for best Latin and Greek knowledge. She writes about herenjoyment of ancient languages here:
The idea that you enjoy what you’re good at and are good at what you enjoy definitely holds true for me with the study of ancient languages. From timidly attempting beginners Greek but never dreaming I’d be any good at it, I ended up enjoying it so much that I continued it for three years and also took up Latin, coming out of it all with a first class degree.
Having always been interested in English language and etymology, learning Greek and Latin was a no-brainer. I have a better understanding of how language has developed, and a vastly improved understanding of English. There’s a certain satisfaction in the lightbulb moment of realising where a word comes from, and there are plenty of those moments in an ancient language class. Words and phrases I’d been using all of my life took on a new significance once I learned what the vocabulary actually meant. Language is unlocked when you understand that words are made up of building blocks and discover the meaning behind those components – and that goes for many modern languages, which is something I’d like to try my hand at in the future.
I am confident that knowledge of the past improves understanding of the present (history repeats itself – even Thucydides knew that) and that the best way to understand a civilisation is through their language. The value of learning Greek or Latin when studying their culture is hard to overemphasise. Through studying Classics I’ve been able to access texts I would never have been able to comprehend half as well otherwise, and these are texts that continue to influence literature centuries on. I firmly believe that there is no such thing as an accurate translation; the nuances of a language cannot be accurately replicated in another so the best way to read anything is through the language it was written in. Yet studying Classics goes beyond the invaluable skill of being physically able to read what the ancients said; I began to get a feel for the language and the people who used it, such as what they found important and how they viewed the world, which I find equally as invaluable in comprehending their societies. History, culture, and language are all inextricably linked and through learning one you learn about the others, but through missing one you’re missing out.
Learning the ancient languages has added value to my degree in many ways beyond a closer link to my own language, the civilisations I am studying, and their texts. I’ve gained the experience of teaching both Greek and Latin (and seeing the lightbulb go off in pupils’ eyes when they themselves realise the etymology of words they use every day), won two awards for my language skills and benefitted from small seminar style classes. Also, my analytical skills have been truly put to the test – anyone who can figure out where the main clause is in one of Caesar’s sentences deserves a gold star.
More importantly, I’ve had fun with great friends. Learning ancient languages isn’t the stuffy, repetitive task it can be portrayed as and it’s not just for certain members of society. Classics is becoming more accessible which is evident from the number of schools offering language qualifications to the rising popularity of Classics-inspired films at the cinema. Anyone can gain a wealth of fulfilment from learning ancient languages; I certainly have.
Written by Jess Fallon