Steven Newcomb: The role of Latin in empire and colonization

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute. Photo from Finding the Missing Link

Steven Newcomb explores the role of language in the domination of Native peoples:
Some years ago, I purchased Latin for Americans (B. L. Ullman, Charles Henderson, and Norman E. Henry, New York: the MacMillan Co., 1962) at a used bookstore. It’s a high school textbook that was published at a time when some pre-college students were still being expected to learn Latin. The opening section, “Our Roman Heritage,” tells us that the authors were expecting the students to think of themselves as having a heritage that traces back to Rome and the Roman Empire. “This, then, is the mighty and ancient tradition of which you are a part,” they wrote.

Suppose there was an American Indian student in the Latin class back then. Would it not have been strange to expect the Native student to think of herself as having a heritage that traces back to Rome and the Roman Empire?

The textbook authors also say in “Our Roman Heritage”: “Nothing could be more incorrect than the idea that Latin is dead…On the contrary, in one form or another Latin is very much alive today and in large measure what has given the Romans immortality.” Because Latin lives on in the English language, knowledge of Latin is important for gaining a deeper recognition of the colonizing patterns of English and English words.

The authors further say that 2,500 years ago the political and military power of Rome “dominated most of the rest of the civilized world.” They point out that the Romance languages of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Romania “are living descendants of the Latin spoken by the Romans who conquered and colonized these lands.”

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Role of Latin in Empire and Colonization (Indian Country Today 10/22)

Join the Conversation