Those who consider Latin to be a "dead language" would have been well served to witness the 750 secondary students who descended on Austin College Saturday as part of the Texas State Junior Classical League’s area competition. Judging by the classics-inspired costumes, the clever-but-only-if-you-speak-Latin T-shirts, and the dozens of classrooms filled with familiar-sounding if undecipherable words, rumors of the language’s death may have been premature.

Those who consider Latin to be a "dead language" would have been well served to witness the 750 secondary students who descended on Austin College Saturday as part of the Texas State Junior Classical League’s area competition. Judging by the classics-inspired costumes, the clever-but-only-if-you-speak-Latin T-shirts, and the dozens of classrooms filled with familiar-sounding if undecipherable words, rumors of the language’s death may have been premature.


So, Austin College Classics Professor Bob Cape, is Latin a dead language?


"(People) shouldn’t say that around here," Cape said with a laugh. "This morning when we had 700-some students starting up, they were all, ‘We’re pumped, we’re ready to do this, Latin is awesome and great.’ So yeah, the people who say that tend not to know what they’re talking about.


"Latin is not the national language of any country anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead language. It continues to influence English, it continues to influence the modern languages."


Ava Chapman, a junior from Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, said the event was a first for her. Clad in a tie-dyed bed sheet in a creative attempt to approximate the Greek goddess Eos, Chapman was waiting to participate in the costume portion of the contest, during which students are judged on creativity and knowledge of their character.


"It’s actually pretty fun, because I’ve already met new people; it’s different," said Chapman of the event. "I like languages in general, and Latin’s like the base of all the languages, so I’m taking it to help me learn like German — or anything, really. And, like, science terms come from Latin words."


Cape explained Chapman’s reasoning is common among the students who participate in the program.


"One thing people say fairly often is, ‘Why take Latin rather than a modern language?’ And what they’re looking for, of course, is a language to speak with someone. But there are more reasons to take a language than that.


"(It helps) having a command but also very much a respect for our own language, for English, and kind of more deeply understanding what language does. … So often we see students writing papers and we say ‘You have a good point, but if you express it this way, your audience is going to understand it better.’ And it takes a long time before they understand what we mean by that (if they don’t have a background in Latin)."


Among the other competitions available to students Saturday were Certamen — a sort of quiz bowl — and dramatic interpretation, in which students recite memorized passages in Latin with dramatic flair. One drama competitor, Dallas Jesuit sophomore Alex Motter, said his experience with the TSJCL had already proved useful in his early high school career.


"You know, 60 percent of English comes from Latin, so the more I learn from Latin, the more I can use it with my other language classes," said Motter. "When you go over to Spanish, you understand more things because of your years in Latin."


Austin College classics major Jade Ross was one of two dozen AC students who volunteered as proctors for the event. A former high school competitor herself, Ross explained that the social aspect is as important as the academics.


"I started in fifth grade, and I actually hated it, because it was so weird to me," said Ross. "But then when I got to middle school, my teacher actually introduced me to this program, the TSJCL. I went to eight conventions like this, and every time you get to see the same people, you get to grow up with the same people taking your same tests, and participating in the same events.


"It’s just fun to see (the Latin students) walking around campus, because it makes it come alive again. It’s like one day when Latin is alive, and it’s exhilarating."