Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

BELDING: Resurrect Latin in the Core


Cura Personalis, Utraque Unum — two phrases that lay the foundation of Georgetown University’s values and Jesuit identity. These sayings predate the university as their Latin origins indicate long-standing, ancient values. Legend has it that St. Ignatius of Loyola first described Cura Personalis in a letter he wrote over 600 years ago. Utraque Unum (together as one) is even older, found first in Greek within Ephesians and later translated into its best-known Latin form.

Over 200 years ago, Latin and Greek were part of the Georgetown core curriculum. However, according to Robert Curran, a professor emeritus of history at Georgetown, students wanted to get rid of the Latin requirement as early as 1866, as other prestigious universities had begun to do. Eventually, President Patrick F. Healy, S.J., changed the curriculum to heed the students’ requests.

Yet without these core requirements, we as students have lost a unique perspective on the world. I think our community should reconsider the presence of ancient languages within our curriculum and begin to understand the value they bring to our society; as Georgetown students, the active support of reintegrating Latin into the core curriculum is the first step.

Originally, the core was formed on the basis that Georgetown students should have a strong, common foundation upon which we could build our education. With a common education, values dear to Georgetown are better instilled and better exemplified while also ensuring an equitable education that lifts every student up, regardless of background. 

What better foundation for an education than the foundation of the language we speak? Whether through the vocabulary, grammar or syntax that stems from Latin, the core’s goals of helping students in finding new perspectives and approaching new topics with curiosity are all strengthened with an education in Latin. As a Classics major, I can attest to this. 

For starters, a basic understanding of Latin translates to a stronger grasp of English grammar. Learning the different cases of Latin — suffixes that denote the function of a noun — provide key insight into decoding the basic structure of any sentence. Take who versus whom: an example of the accusative case in English, a relic from when older English more closely resembled Latin grammar. The accusative case in Latin is specifically reserved for identifying the direct object, which will typically end with the letter “m.” As expected, this is the exact case with the English word “whom.”

Understanding the function of these cases helps in improving eloquence. A knowledge of Latin grammar can help you recognize the different functions and structures in the sentence. Because grammatical meaning relies solely on nuanced word endings rather than word order, there are countless possible approaches to sentence construction. Every sentence is like a new puzzle. 

With Georgetown being such a hub for students who wish to enter the realm of politics and public advocacy, integrating Latin into the core curriculum — especially its emphasis on grammatical structures and foundations — should be an intuitive next step in equipping students with an adequate toolkit for better speech and communication skills. After all, a better understanding of how grammar works to change the meaning of a statement results in an improved ability to craft more convincing, impactful arguments.   

Another benefit is the vocabulary. Over 60% of the English vocabulary originates from Latin roots. Already in this paragraph, I’ve used two words from Latin: benefit and vocabulary. Take “benefit” and split it in half. Bene means well or good, and is where we get words like benevolent, beneficiary, benign and many others. Fit means to make or become. Combining the two yields the literal definition “to make good.” Therefore, when something benefits you, it makes good for you. 

Vocabulary comes straight from the Latin vocabulum, which means a list of words. However, you can also recognize the root word voco, which means to call. Therefore, a vocabulary is something that you call. Other words coming from this stem include advocate, equivocal, invoke and more. Given that this single Latin root brings insight to several related English words, understanding the entire language would reveal just how much influence it’s had on modern-day speech and even allows for a more versatile manipulation of English.  

Despite what Latin can bring to the table, it is often met with criticism. The biggest complaint that I always hear is that it’s a “dead language” with no more native speakers and relevance to our current world. But I would contend that people just don’t understand or want to learn about the value Latin brings into our mindsets and problem-solving toolbox. While it may not be spoken, there is still great value in appreciating the critical thinking skills the language brings. 

Regardless of the benefits that may come with learning Latin, there will always be pushback. The notion of Latin being a “dead language” is far from accurate, particularly when we delve into its enduring legacy and profound influence on modern languages. And with this in mind, Georgetown should recognize the benefits that students can reap from an education in Latin and reimplement it into the core. 

Brinley Belding is a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. This is the first installment of his column “Just Thinking.”

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