I’m currently debating which language to study next. I’m currently focusing on Greek, and I’ve studied French for years. Both will be necessary before I (God willing) do doctoral work, but I’m currently leaning toward Latin.
The crux is this: I’m on a waiting list at school for a free Rosetta Stone license. I get to pick any one I want to use for 2 months, and they have both Latin and German options. I’m leaning toward Latin for several reasons. First, I think I want to do research on the early Church, and not just the New Testament. Thus, Latin is obviously important when dealing with the Western Church. Second, I don’t think Latin will be too terribly difficult. Vocabulary-wise, I expect to know quite a bit from French. Grammar wise, I expect a lot of similarities with Greek (though I could be totally off base here…). Third, Latin just seems more interesting ;-).
Of course, German has its plus. You open yourself up to a load of secondary literature, but I’m wanting to read the primary literature first!
7 thoughts on “Latin versus German: la langue la plus utile?”
I would lean toward German just because I have to learn it for PhD work. So, as you mentioned, the world of secondary literature is then wide open. Latin would certainly be of some profit, though it would be a time-management issue for me. If you can swing it, go for it!
Jason: Thanks for the advice! I’ve still got another two years, so I should be able to get to both before graduation. Hopefully Rosetta Stone will be useful.
Oh, and I forgot another benefit of Latin: GRE vocabulary practice. One of my religion profs pointed out that after studying classics, the GRE verbal portion was a breeze, since all of the hard words are of either Latin or Greek origin.
Have you started with German yet?
Latin, Latin, Latin! If you’re goal is to study primary texts then Latin is much more important. Sure, Germans write a lot of secondary literature, but who cares what they say when you can go to the sources?!!
Nick: Have you done any Latin? If so, how have you found it compared to Greek?
Nah, no Latin for me, although I’m able to muddle through Latin phrases for the most part. I couldn’t read anything significant though.
If you were only doing NT, I’d say German, but I’m gonna vote for Latin as well. There are just not that many Germans that do patristics as there are for NT. I’d say the weight shifts towards French (from German) for patristics, so less secondary stuff to read anyway.
The other thing, the basics of German are easier to pick up than Latin. The nouns are similar between Latin and Greek, but I think the verb system is much more complex in Latin. At the same time, German has regular and irregular verbs (like English), but on the whole it’s not as difficult. Some of the phrasing in German is awkward, e.g., preposed participle phrases, but every language has stuff that will trip you up.
And to pragmatics, you’ll find more online translators to help you with your German than you will with Latin.
Alex: I studied German for a semester several years ago, but haven’t done much more than that. I’ve done readings here and there, but not enough to remember/maintain the grammar. Guess I’d better get busy with that!