The pope’s decision to retire has brought on a flurry of buzz and speculation. The announcement of his decision to terminate his seven-year run arrived to the ears of the world this February; however, this was only after it was translated from the language in which he delivered it—Latin.
Latin is dead. Okay, maybe not totally dead. I know that Masses are sometimes conducted in Latin, but that’s still related to the pope. Latin’s cool if you are studying other Romance languages. Science-y people also love Latin, like in naming organisms. Other Homo sapiens that continue to clutch onto Latin: Classical Studies majors. But I’m pretty sure that program is now on moratorium at MSU so that’s kind of awkward.
Why Latin? Pope Benedict was an especially ardent Latin lover and made this dead language live. Although it seems silly to use a language nobody speaks, it’s also refreshing to know that it breathes in some capacity. Given that Latin is seldom used in contexts that aren’t pope-certified, this language has a strong association with Catholic culture.
Language use serves as a monument to culture. Slang, for instance, can represent your generation’s values. My mother would ask me if I was ‘going’ with anyone. Yeah, mom, to the beach with Laura. To my friends, I was ‘going out’ with, well, no one. But Laura was going out with Adam who was going to the beach with us. I mean, YOLO, right?
In addition to generational signifiers, language can also indicate regional values. Northern Californians will tell you their garlic fries are hella dope; but in Southern California, you’ll get hella nasty looks from the locals when using the word ‘hella’. If you go more SoCal, you can encounter a heavy Hispanic population that integrates a significant amount of Spanish into their regular conversation. Speaking Spanish in San Diego, Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown, or Arabic in Dearborn helps to preserve heritage for those who have moved to live in these areas from other cultures.
Culture is perpetuated through language, and although the pope is resigning and his successor may not endorse Latin as strongly as he did, the language still serves as a tribute to Catholicism simply through its existence.
Side note: I’d just like to bring up the word ‘papacy’. Pope. Pap. What.