Tomorrow today

Mingtian jintian.

Another story from The Independent: Schools import China’s teachers for lessons in ‘language of tomorrow’.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said it should be seen as the key language for future generations to learn – replacing European languages.

Although Chinese is becoming increasingly important, the argument seems to be “China – 1.3 billion people – surging economy – therefore language is important”. At the moment, the language has a practical importance, but because it’s principally limited to one country, it seems to lack that one thing which makes a language important beyond its native seat – an international dimension. I think I’ve said before that after English, the next most useful language on the planet is Spanish; after that, probably French or Portuguese.

Chinese is likely to remain a minority sport in the outside world in spite of what Sir Cyril would like to believe. It’ll gain adherents, but for practical reasons, when you’re in the UK, the European languages are a more immediate concern than one eight hours away across the Earth.


And if not Chinese, how about Latin? (Id quod circumiret, circumveniat – Latin makes a comeback) It’s not the first time that Latin has been undergoing a revival in schools. Well, either that or classics in general.

Mr Mount is also adamant that learning to write in Latin is not simply ars gratia artis (6). He says there is a real quid pro quo (7) in having a Latin qualification on your curriculum vitae (8), because after all that time spent learning to distinguish a nominative from a genitive, “you’ll never get an apostrophe in the wrong place again”.

(Mr Mount is a Torygraph hack who has written some book on Latin. The numbers are for footnotes in the original article.) An interesting statement because unlike the relationship between Latin and English that once pertained, the grammar of the former being the basis for describing the grammar of the latter, things have got a little muddled. The apostrophe may be a marker of the genitive in written English, but such punctuation was never used in Latin. Therefore, quite how knowing mensa from mensae and mensarum or focus from foci and focorum is going to help with an apostrophe in English, I don’t really know.


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