Latin heard, written, and spoken

John Byron Kuhner writes that “for the first time in at least a century, Princeton teaches Latin in Latin:”

The campus of Princeton University has been designed to produce an impression of timelessness. The collegiate Gothic buildings, which resemble 16th century buildings at Oxford, might belong to the late 19th century — or to the 21st, like Whitman College, a lavishly beautiful Gothic ensemble named for the eBay magnate and built in 2007. To obscure Whitman College’s newness, Princeton planted full-sized trees next to the buildings. To hide the age of other buildings, a small army of repair crews descends upon the campus every summer, to head off any possible sign of decay. And yet they strive never to make anything look refurbished: everything is carefully left to appear as it was. The leaves color and fall in autumn, snow piles up and melts, spring grows into summer: but the buildings appear immune to time’s vicissitude. In old pictures, the students and their fashions come and go like the changing apparel of nature, but the buildings, the physical manifestation of the university, do not change.

Princeton’s Latin 110 course might appear to be more evidence of this changelessness. If you pass by its open door before class begins, you will hear students laughing and joking — in Latin, the language so associated with student life that it gave its name to Paris’s “Latin Quarter,” home of the Sorbonne. When the instructor arrives, he lectures to students solely in Latin, the language of Cicero’s orations and quondam Oxford dons. Student work is submitted daily — exclusively in the language of Horace and Vergil. The impression is of cultural continuity, another example of Princeton’s enduring character. But this obscures the innovative spirit behind the course. LAT 110, offered for the first time in fall 2018, is almost certainly the first course at Princeton ever taught entirely in Latin. And it has happened not because of some madcap eccentric professor, but due to undergraduate demand. Students calling for instruction to be conducted in Latin — and getting it, no less — struck me as something new and unexpected. I thought it was worth a trip to Princeton to investigate.

That’s an incredible thing, that Latin 110 is at Princeton due to undergraduate demand:

Kevin Duraiswamy and Gabriel Parlin from the class of 2019, realized there was another way to learn the language. Duraiswamy had been following the world’s most proficient Latinists, to learn their secrets. Parlin found the keys to language acquisition while studying German and Russian. Working together, they felt they could speed up the language acquisition process for Latin and Greek — reducing the “cost to acquire them,” and thereby perhaps opening them up to a new group of students, even in the age of the dollar-quantifiable return.

There is something about Kevin Duraiswamy that suggests California. He’s tall, fit, and healthy-looking, the way we imagine Californians (he’s from Silicon Valley); he speaks gently and wins people over with a warm smile. But more than anything else, he’s an optimist and innovator. When he found that Latin was hard, he didn’t just think, “Latin is hard.” And he didn’t give up either. He thought, “There has to be a better way.” … Duraiswamy turned to the internet, where he found stories of people who had mastered Latin only after they began to treat it as a language: something to be heard, written, and spoken.