Thoughts on language #socs

I was basically told that I was taking Latin when I went to high school, and I had no input into the decision. Mom was convinced that it would help me with English, as though that hadn’t been what I had been speaking all my life, anyway. I wanted nothing to do with Latin, frankly, but I managed to get through three years of it in high school and still had to take a quarter of it when I got to college. After that, I was done.

I also took two years of Greek when in high school, the second year as an independent study kind of thing. My teacher, Miss Keoughan, was very knowledgable in both Latin and Greek (she was the department chair, after all), and after having her all three years we got to be pretty good friends. It was easy to sidetrack her, and more often than not our independent study sessions were more like visits.

Still, I’m pretty fascinated by other languages. In Chicago, we had a station that usually broadcast in Spanish, but on Sunday nights they’d have shows in other foreign languages, including Greek, Czech, Polish and Lithuanian, and I would watch them and see if I could pick up any words. I couldn’t, but they were still pretty fun to watch. A couple of years ago, I toyed with the idea of teaching myself Russian, which I quickly abandoned when I saw what I was up against. I did learn the Cyrillic alphabet, though, which comes in handy when I see something on Twitter or Instagram written in it. Not that I know what it says, but it helps with names.

Spanish was pretty easy to learn, at least enough that I could tell members of my crew at Newly Weds Foods what to set up for a run of a product. Of course, as I think I mentioned, I had a guy who couldn’t Spanish, either, even though he was Mexican. I think he spoke an Aztec dialect or something. The other guys could talk to him, but me? No luck. Maybe he didn’t want to talk to me.

Of course, there are other languages that I’ve learned specifically for use on computers: FORTRAN, ALGOL, COBOL, System/370 Assembler, Perl, Ruby, PHP, SQL, and a smattering of C, C++, and Python. Now that I’m retired, they don’t do me much good…


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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

11 thoughts on “Thoughts on language #socs”

  1. As a food product developer, my wife Pat used to purchase ingredients from Newly Weds Foods. Since my mom was a French teacher, there was no question about what foreign language I would learn. And since Dad was a law professor, my grammar had to be correct in both French and English. I learned a few Latin terms that appeared in contracts and other legal agreements, too.

    But really, sometimes only the language I got punished for using will do.

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    1. Newly Weds really expanded after I left and the guy who owned it died. The son had a lot of great ideas but the old man didn’t want to do any of them. They were the first company to make panko bread crumbs in this country; one of the senior managers was from Japan and pushed for it.

      Mom was a great one for reading my papers and telling me how to rewrite them. Once, I got a D on a paper she told me to rewrite, and I asked the teacher to look at my original. He thought that one was better and gave me a B. After that I never told her I had a paper due…

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  2. I hear plenty of Spanish where I am considering that much of my wife’s family speaks only Spanish and the city where I live is about 90%+ Hispanic. I rarely try to speak the language myself, but I usually know what people speaking it are saying around me.

    I think rudimentary Latin and Greek should be part of a school curriculum since so many of our words are rooted in those languages. However learning to speak and read those languages should be left to those who feel compelled to go further in the study.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Nearly everyone who uses the Cyrillic alphabet uses the cursive form, and the first thing you have to get used to is looking at a letter and not assuming it’s the same as the Roman one. Small D, for example, looks like a g, and small T looks like m. Very odd…

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  3. I took Latin throughout high school and it is one difficult language when you have to learn all 6 endings to every past, present, past perfect, future perfect etc… for every noun, adjective, verb etc…. I did enjoy it though. I also can get by on German but am in no means fluent. French is a big fail…I suck at French. I wouldn’t ever attempt Russian, Chinese or any other style similar to that.

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  4. Hi John – I admire anyone who has mastered English, let alone Latin, or French or for that matter Greek … I was hopeless at school – but I suspect it stemmed from a troublesome period at the age I was trying to understand English Grammar, learning Latin and being taught French … yet something must have stuck … I seem to know my way round – though back then … no ways! I’ve still no idea re grammar – mostly I can accomplish writing it … wish I did know more. Visiting Prague in the early 1970s and again in Greece at much the same age – I was lost as far as their written language was concerned … I learnt not to get lost!! Cheers Hilary

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  5. I really loved my four years of honors/AP Latin in high school and my studies of the classics. Looking back, I think that love is a fundamental connection to my Dad and fuels memories that I cherish. Beyond that, to be honest, I wish I had taken Spanish. My frequent work travel to Panama left me not equipped (although after 4 years of quarterly travel there, my Spanish is a tiny bit better.) Amazingly, after 20 years of being around Polish (via marriage) I understand almost everything despite no ability to speak.

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    1. That’s a good thing, Pat, and I hope you never lose that. While your dad was around when I was taking Latin, I never hit on him for help with it, and I think I should have.

      You probably don’t remember this, because you were a baby, but I remember telling you “Don’t forget, PJ, when you go to high school, tell Mom ‘NO LATIN!'”

      Before Mary went to school, her mother and grandmother would speak Lithuanian, and she could understand it (as well as a toddler can), but not speak it.

      Spanish is actually fairly easy to learn, because it’s based in Latin, though the different dialects are what throw you. Puerto Ricans have different ways of expressing themselves than Mexicans do, and you can say that about just about any country in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Eventually you pick up enough that you can ask where the bathroom is, and sometimes that’s enough…

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