Athens Parthenon

Last week we discussed minority languages in the UK and their revival. But what happens when languages disappear all together? And do we need to keep learning them or is it better to focus on the land of the living? Our English translator explores the importance of dead languages in the modern world.

So what do we mean by dead languages? Dead languages are languages that are no longer spoken everyday or learned as a native language. Examples include Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Old Norse. There are many dead languages around the world. They provide the key to ancient civilisations and cultures. These languages can only be explored in written form and require years of study because they often have complex grammar structures and alphabets.

If these languages are difficult, no longer spoken by anyone and cannot be used to express any modern concepts, then why are they still being taught in school rooms, universities and higher education institutions around the world? One significant reason is that it is a good basis for understanding other languages. For example, all romance languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are based on Latin. Learning Latin allows you to gain an idea of the structure of languages and grammar in general. Studies show that those who have tackled Latin find it easier to learn other languages. Moreover, ancient writing systems such as Egyptian Hieroglyphics are often used in schools as examples of how to create a code. This is a way of teaching students to think logically which is a useful life skill sought by employers.

Another reason is that the only way to truly access the literature of the dead languages is to learn to read it. Many scholars argue that Homer’s lliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid should not be read in translation but in the original. Although dead languages such as Middle English have clear links with modern English, it is worth reading in the original because not only do you get to witness the way our language has changed but you also get to appreciate the skills of writers like Chaucer. Despite being hundreds of years old, these ancient stories are still relevant today as writer Charlotte Higgins explains in Latin Love Lessons. Dido ‘goes berserk’ when Aeneas leaves her just as a modern woman might when dumped by her boyfriend. This continuity with antiquity is fascinating for any student.

Reading ancient literature is a gateway to understanding history. Many students who study ancient languages develop a keen interest in history at an early age. Moreover, due to official status of Latin in the past, Latin words frequently crop up in medical, scientific and legal terminology and therefore it is a highly useful basis for learning.

In conclusion, the skills and knowledge acquired through learning dead languages are considered highly valuable by employers. Many of our linguists at SMG languages have knowledge of classical languages and are able to apply their skills in order to provide a high quality translation service. For more information on our translations, please visit

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