Classics student Jessica Haggart awarded Barstow and Smyth prize

Every year our Department awards prizes to students who excel in their subject. This week Jessica Haggart talks about her experience learning ancient languages.


When I first started learning Greek I viewed it as code cracking. You could input something that didn’t make sense and then get something out that did. For example, when learning to recognise and learn the Greek alphabet, we were introduced to words that transliterated from Greek to English, such as δράμα (drama) and Αθήνα (Athena). As with learning any language both Greek and Latin allow for the creativity that comes with the ability to manipulate words but they also have a structure and rules that are to be followed. For someone who has made it through A level maths this methodical and logical approach made some sort of sense.
A recent trip to France emphasised to me how far reaching Latin’s influence is on the languages used today and I think that’s part of what makes these languages so interesting. They are the foundation for so many other languages and as such learning them provides a gateway to these other languages. While in France I came across a word I recognised (dormez) and realised that the reason I recognised it was because of its similarity to the Latin (dormio). As simple as this connection may seem, it’s moments like that which reinforce why I changed my degree to Classics. Even if it was just one word, I was able to understand a language that I have little knowledge of. I think it’s important to remember that despite their ‘dead’ language status these languages are still very much in use, even if we don’t always realise it.
Being given the opportunity to learn Greek and Latin as part of my degree has meant that I’ve been able to read unadapted texts and discover new meanings in them that are sometimes not apparent in the English translations. Another impact that studying Greek and Latin has had, is that I now have a much better understanding of the English language. It’s fair to say that whilst most of us use English as our first language, we often lack an understanding of its grammar. Before studying Greek and Latin, there were many constructions that I instinctively used, that I didn’t recognise because I wasn’t taught them. However, in the process of learning Greek and Latin these gaps have been filled in. After all, what’s a better way to improve English than studying the languages from which many of the words have originated?’

Written by Jessica Haggart