HAMPDEN, Maine — While some people might consider Latin to be a dying language, a recent competition hosted by Hampden Academy showed it is very much alive in Maine.
“We definitely prefer the term static language, as much as it’s not one of the more widely taught languages anymore, but it’s still used a lot in law or medicine and other areas,” said Heidi Paulding, a Latin teacher and club adviser at Fryeburg Academy.
“When you have kids giving up a Friday night to go and compete against each other in Latin subject matter, it shows this isn’t a dead language,” said Ben Johnson, Latin teacher and club adviser at Hampden Academy. “And I think students who have studied Latin do the best or the second best on the verbal portions of the SATs.”
According to the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages, the increased level of literacy for Latin students on the Scholastic Aptitude Test has been documented in 1981-82 studies by Richard A. LaFleur, Franklin professor of classics and coordinator at the University of Georgia’s Introductory Latin Program, and 1996 articles by Virginia Barrett, a member of the National Committee for Latin and Greek.
Also, tests conducted by the Educational Testing Service from 1988 to 1997 show that Latin students outperform all other students on the verbal portion of the SAT.
Paulding, who also serves as Department of Foreign Languages chairwoman, says 15 schools are currently Maine Junior Classical League members and estimates there are another “30 to 50” schools in the state with active Latin programs and/or clubs that are not yet members.
“In terms of keeping Latin alive, I’ve seen data that suggests that studying Latin will push you over the top in the language part of the SAT scores, more so than other languages,” Paulding said, referring to the language being inflective and requiring a problem-solving approach to determining the meaning of words and sentences.
If she sounds passionate about the language, well, it’s because she is.
Fryeburg wasn’t the typical club at last week’s Maine JCL Certamen Night, which attracted about 150 students from nine high schools including Hampden, Fryeburg, Bangor, John Bapst of Bangor, Camden Hills in Rockport, Nokomis of Newport, Greely of Cumberland Center, Winthrop and Leavitt of Turner.
“Certamen means contest or struggle. It’s basically a quiz bowl,” said Johnson of Hampden Academy, which entered nine teams comprising three or four students each in the five-hour competition on March 15. “This was our big winter state competition, but the spring conference competition in May is the biggest.”
Team representation ranged from a low of three students (Bangor) to a high of 35-37, which three teams brought to Hampden. Fryeburg, ironically, wasn’t one of them, despite having 90 students enrolled in its Latin program.
“We only brought four students, but one of our single guys came in sixth in Latin II and brought home a trophy,” she said. “I usually bring at least a dozen, but we lost a lot to the music competition the same night.”
Teamwise, Nokomis’ Foedus Virorum Extraordinorum team won the Latin I competition while Latin II and advanced titles were taken by Camden Hills teams: Camden Canes Feroces and Camden Mea Navis, respectively.
Questions are broken down into three areas: mythology, Roman history and Latin language, which includes grammar and use, vocabulary and derivatives.
A couple of examples of the kinds of questions students answer are as follows:
• (Latin 1 level) In what year did Mount Vesuvius most famously erupt? Answer: 79 A.D.
• (Latin II level) Other than Pompeii, name two other towns that were destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.? Answers: Herculaneum and Stabiae or Oplonti.
Another question might include a list of words and ask which of the following words do not come from the Latin root lego/legere. Many other questions pertain to mythology, art and architecture.
“There are many historical, mythological, philosophical and geographical aspects of Latin that still impact so many areas of study today,” said Johnson.