II. Classics, Latin, and Learning Styles: Logic and Problem Solving

‘I loved Latin, it’s just like coding.”

I was pleased to hear this lovely quotation from a colleague of mine while we were both extolling the virtues of Latin. She had learnt Latin for three years and loved its logical structure. In many ways, it is as much like deciphering a code, as translating a language. The similarity between Latin and Maths has often been pointed out. It is logical, can be rearranged (like an equation) for different emphases, but its logical workings mean its meaning can always be worked out. There is generally very little need to guess. Problem solving is logical. The person seeking to solve the problem looks for clues, examined how they relate to one another, by doing so works out the correct assemblage, and is able then to arrive at the solution. This certainly sounds a little like Sherlock Holmes. But it is certainly true of Latin. No longer spoken it may be, but full of material that can train highly relevant and in demand skills, it certainly can.

I shall illustrate with a short Latin sentence. First, you need to know that amicus = friend, puella = girl, and salutat = he/she greets.

puella salutat = the girl greets

We are not told whom she is greeting, just that she is giving a greeting (okay, it’s not very exciting, bear with me).

amicus salutat = the friend greets

So far so good. We know that in the first sentence, the girl is doing the greeting, and in the second, the friend is doing the greeting.

amicus puellam salutat

Okay, what is different this time round? When deciphering a code, you will be looking for changes of pattern. There is a clear pattern-change here:

An ‘M’ has been added to ‘puella’.

What does this mean? Well, you will also notice that amicus looks the same as in the second sentence. So, we can conclude that the friend is doing the greeting. So, where does puellaM come in? Well, she is not doing the greeting, so the only logical conclusion is that the friend is greeting HER. She is not the DOER, she is the recipient of the action, so:

amicus puellam salutat = the friend greets the girl

Okay, now to another sentence,

puella amicum salutat = ?

What has changed? This time we amicuM, the friend ends in ‘M’ not the girl. Glancing back at ‘amicus puellam salutat’, we remember that there the girl ended in ‘M’ and she was being greeted rather than doing the greeting. If we, therefore, deduce that ‘M’ on the end = recipient of action, we conclude that the friend is now the recipient.

puella amicum salutat = the girl greets the friend

So, by a simple pattern change we can see how the meaning of a sentence can be altered. To finish, have a look at the following:

puellam salutat amicus = ?

Not the most natural Latin word order, but perfectly acceptable. And here is a clue: in Latin word order alters only emphasis, not the essential meaning of who the doer is, or who the recipient is. So, we should not leap in just yet and say that the ‘girl’ is doing the greeting in the above sentence. Let’s review what we have learnt.

amicus meant the friend was the doer, amicuM meant the friend was the recipient.

puella meant the girl wad the doer, puellaM meant she was the recipient.

So, in tis final sentence, although she is first word in the sentence, we see puellaM. So, we know she is being greeted. The friend might be the last word in the sentence, but is amicus, so we know he is the doer. Thus, amicus puellam salutat and puellam salutat amicus in fact both mean, ‘the friend greets the girl’, the only difference is emphasis.

Thus, I hope you can see how logical Latin is:

  • · Find the clues

  • · Follow the clues

  • · Assemble the clues

  • · Find the solution

I ❤ Latin.

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