In contemporary times, at least some of the benefits of language study remain self-evident. For instance, most of us recognize the pleasurable good of being able to read a favorite foreign novel in its original language. In addition, most of us recognize the useful good of being able to conduct business affairs or academic research in another language. Potentially less apparent, however, are the goods that language study provides for intellectual formation. In short, language study helps us develop dexterity of thought.  This disposition is marked by a number of intellectual habits, among which four are preeminent. 

First, language study trains the memory. A study of vocabulary and the rules of grammar naturally strengthens our habits of memorization. Second, a study of the structure of language enables us to recognize the structures of reality as a whole. As we begin to understand the grammatical structure of any particular language, we also begin to recognize more easily the structural patterns of being as such, especially the relations between parts and the whole. Third, language study encourages us to rise above the mental limitations of the immediate, the local, and the familiar. While the use of language is a property common to all humans, each individual language is itself marked particularities of expression. Study of a foreign language expands our cultural and linguistic experience; in turn, this helps us avoid various forms of provincialism that are rooted in a preference for one’s own language, culture, and time period. Fourth—and essential for the acquisition of a liberal education—language study helps us more easily understand the principles and mechanics of language itself. Paramount to a liberal education is the ability to think and communicate well, and this ability is primarily achieved through a study of the three arts of the trivium. Though a study of these arts in our native language does much to reveal the mechanics of language as such, the study of another language is a complementary means of explicating the grammatical functions that are common to every spoken language.

In an effort to help members establish these intellectual habits and receive a robust education, the Lyceum Institute offers courses in foreign languages. These courses aim to train members in the four main operations of communication: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Currently, the Lyceum offers only a Latin program, but we intend to offer programs in Greek, German, and French within the coming few years. All levels of Latin study are free to Lyceum members.

In an educational landscape dominated by devotion to STEM, one finds languages relegated to a subservient and even marginalized position: as a common and basic tool for most, and a persistent preoccupation only of aesthetes and dilettantes. To study classics or the trivium is to let one’s mind drift in the clouds of purposeless abstraction; to study a foreign contemporary language to seek gainful occupation in the work of a translator. But this situation undermines the foundations of all disciplines, not only those immediately ordered to linguistic studies, for language is the means whereby our thinking unfolds in its most properly human dimension.

For words, of whatever language, are signs of concepts, and concepts are signs of the intelligibility of the universe in which we live. To study syntax and semantics, rules of inference, and the patterns of influence which our words might affect others (or ourselves), is to study the means by which we human beings express our being as more than merely animals. To engage in such study in not merely one, but multiple languages—classical and contemporary alike—opens to us not only new worlds of literature, philosophy, and history, but deepens our understanding of language and thought alike in ways that a single language cannot provide.

Trivium

The beginning of the liberal arts is grounded in a study of language and reason, which consists in three subjects, or a trivium. These three subjects—grammar, logic, and rhetoric—are the cornerstone of any education, for they teach us the fundamentals of how we use language, through which all teaching is communicated. While some persons, that is, might possess a mathematical aptitude from a very young age, such that elaborate linguistic explanation is found unnecessary for their success in dealing with numbers, that their numerical gifts be rendered fully incorporated into the good of human life nevertheless requires their possession of a well-developed facility with language. Human beings may excel in a variety of pursuits which entail no direct or immediate incorporation of language in those pursuits’ practice, but for those pursuits to become fully human themselves, they must themselves be incorporated by language. [Read more]

Language Studies

The Lyceum Institute offers (or plans to offer) studies in four languages besides English: Latin, Ancient Greek, German, and French. These four languages are of both practical importance and philosophical and theological significance for the Western world. They are not conceived as “foreign”, except in the most literal of senses: for they are not held in opposition to one’s own native language, but rather augmentative of one’s linguistic mastery, complementing our understanding of syntax and vocabulary in every language. [Read more]

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