Why We Love Ancient Languages

Earlier this week, I published a post titled “Why Study a Dead Language?”, which included an excerpt of Josephine Livingstone’s article “Why You Should Learn a Dead Language”.

Apart from a few failed attempts to learn Middle Egyptian, I can’t really say I’ve tried to learn any “dead” languages. So I asked a few of my readers and followers on social media to share their language learning experiences and their reasons for learning Latin, Old English, and other ancient languages.

Classical Maya, one of the many ancient languages modern-day students can learn if to read.
A selection of Maya glyphs. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s a selection of their comments:

“My sole reason for teaching myself Old English was to read Beowulf. It was well worth the effort.” – Rebecca O-G

“Middle Welsh is beautiful. I might not understand every word, even as a native Welsh speaker, but it’s a real window into the psyche.” – Spencer S

“I’ve been learning Middle Egyptian/hieroglyphs for a few years. At the moment, my studies are informal, on my own, and with the help and support of current students of Egyptology and archaeology at Johns Hopkins U. Nevertheless, I plan to pursue a degree in a few years. You’d think I couldn’t use Middle Egyptian for anything other than for scholarship. Oh, but you’ve never visited my public library. I created a t-shirt design for its youth services summer reading program that read “Dig into Reading” in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was the coolest project I’ve achieved, hands down.” – Jenny H

“Studying ancient languages taught me self-discipline and perseverance necessary for any endeavour worth undertaking.” – Andrew R

“I think studying a dead language can be useful. For one thing, any type of learning is good for our brains. It helps us develop as people. You can learn about a cultures – as well as humanity in general – by studying languages. Of course, a currently used language may be more helpful in jobs than learning an obscure one. However, I hope that there will be people who will continue to learn obscure languages, for the day that these die out truly, we lose a part of our history… just like we almost lost Egyptian history. Think of how many things we would not know about if the Rosetta Stone had never been deciphered!” – Jessica G

I think it’s a good idea for children to learn some Latin as a way of understanding English grammar – which doesn’t generally get taught in English lessons here in the UK. Latin is less dead than other dead languages, and I can see why some adults try teaching themselves the language – it offers an insight into Western literature and culture.” – Jasper W

“[Languages are] A way to think & to live, always opening windows on people.” – Nicole G

“Love my ancient Greek. Also can read Latin, hieroglyphs and some others. Much fun. Now teach it and can understand the origins of everything better with Greek and Latin especially. Opens up a whole new comprehension of your own world.” – Jenni I

“Personally, studying a dead language to me is so that I can determine for myself what someone was trying to say and not have to rely on someone else, who may have got it wrong and is teaching the wrong thing. Studying a dead language also makes it a lot easier to understand the culture as well. Even today, written record is important, so when linking artefactual evidence with written evidence, inference becomes easier.”- Siobhan v B

Tibetan mani stones
Tibetan mani stones with the Buddhist inscription “Om mani padme hum”. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like to take your first steps in learning a dead language, why not check out these 10 fantastic free resources for learning Egyptian hieroglyphs or these online resources for learning Maya glyphs?

And if you’d like to learn more about the three languages Lara Croft can become proficient in in her latest video game outing, check out my article The Ancient Dialects of Shadow of the Tomb Raider.


Are you studying any ancient languages? And do you think that studying a dead language is worthwhile? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a writer, part-time translator, and gamer who is passionate about archaeology, language learning, travel, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

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2 Comments on “Why We Love Ancient Languages”

  1. I have to say I agree with Jessica and Siobhan most of all the comments in your post. Learning in general is good to keep your brain healthy and trained. Jessica makes a fair point about losing heritage if we don’t continue to study old/dead languages.

    I agree with Siobhan about being able to make up your own mind instead of having to follow what other people have translated.
    I study Middle Egyptian as part of my course and thoroughly enjoy it. I happen to have a knack for languages in general, but Middle Egyptian is something quite different! It’s so much fun to be able to go to a museum and read part of what’s on display. Quite often the texts are not even explained, let alone translated word for word. I’m not at the point where I can read everything, but I am confident I will get there. Papyri look different as well, when you manage to recognise the signs. Learning a dead language opens up a whole new world which the modern world cannot offer you.

  2. Yes, I am studying Hittite cuneiform and language. This is great experience. Trying to read clay tablets in original language, is very pleasant feeling. It seems, I speak with ancient Hittite people notwithstanding of time barrier 😀