Why you should care
Because learning a “dead” language can help save a “modern” one.
Italy: cradle of Latin, fatherland of Dante, birthplace of literature, home to nerds and freaks who across centuries have memorized by heart entire texts and alchemical formulas.
All that is fast becoming ancient history. These days, teachers across the boot are desperate, their classrooms subject to the reign of the “donkeys” — a common denigratory term used to describe flunkies. Now, there’s some data to back them up:
More than 50 percent of Italian adults don’t know their grammar.
Worse, when it comes to punctuation and placing the right apostrophe (which distinguishes a feminine from a masculine noun), the percentage rises to 75 percent, according to Libreriamo, an Italy-based literary think tank.
For weeks, Libreriamo monitored hundreds of social forums and blogs for grammatical mistakes. It found the most common errors were the basics, and that the most common errors were the basics of the Italian language, says Libreriamo researcher Salvatore Galeone. He blames the internet. “Information technology in general has dumbed down the population.”
But the internet isn’t the only culprit, according to some scholars. They blame the disappearance of Latin instruction: The dead language was a staple of middle school curriculum until the 1970s, when it was replaced by more modern topics. “The start of Italian-language impoverishment coincides with the abandonment of Latin and ancient Greek teaching in middle schools,” argues writer and math scholar Piergiorgio Odifreddi. He advocates for a return to mandatory Latin to improve Italians’ Italian, help them learn other Romance languages and more. Latin “exercises the brain in all fields of human knowledge including science, algebra and geometry,” says Odifreddi. In other words: Those who say Latin and Greek are “dead” and should definitely be buried as a waste of time just might be down in the dirt themselves — digging a grave for modern Italian.
Spelling “Machiavelli” with a double “c” drives professors nuts.
But — and as usual, there is a but — surely one can teach proper language skills using novels that teenagers actually like, instead of wasting time on outdated history textbooks or translating ancient Latin manuscripts about flowers, birds and insects. In the meantime, do keep in mind: Spelling “Machiavelli” with a double “c” drives professors nuts.