In the language program, we address, from the outset, the philosophical and linguistic elements of language learning. The essential focal point and goal of this program is for students to undertake a study of fluency in the language of a specific culture. We currently teach classical Latin, ancient Greek, Mandarin Chinese, and French.
Language learning provides students with a growing understanding of the culture and, specifically, the people who think and speak in that language: in other words, insight into the “English-speaking mind,” the “Chinese-speaking mind,” or the “Latin-speaking mind.” Language study is rigorous and exacting, extending beyond mere phraseology, verb conjugations, and simple communications.
At Pierrepont, students learn another language so that they may read the best that has been written in that language. The languages that we offer have a rich literary tradition. Both Greek and Latin literature offer students an array of seminal works that form the foundation of much of the important literature of Western culture. Chinese has a literary tradition that reaches back thousands of years, one that is abundant in works that bridge the gap between ancient and modern China. French, likewise, has a long and complex literary history.
The program begins with a year-long course in comparative grammar that is designed to prepare the students for the intensive language courses that follow. In the first semester, we embark on a rigorous survey of English grammar: individual parts of speech and their range of grammatical application, then phrases and clauses and their syntactical function(s) in an English sentence. Having covered that work, we then engage in a study of rudimentary Latin syntax, again covering words, phrases, and clauses with an eye towards examining the similarities and differences in English and Latin thought structure. A successful conclusion of this course allows the students to begin serious and intensive foreign language study without the overcast shadow of “experimentation.” The books that form the curriculum of this course, used for more than a decade at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, were written by the head of the humanities program at Pierrepont.
Latin begins with a two-year study of grammar, syntax and vocabulary. The curricular materials that serve as the underpinning for the Latin courses were also created by the head of the humanities program. By the end of the second year of study, students are introduced to excerpted writings of ancient Roman authors, like Cicero, Catullus, Ovid, Caesar, Sallust, and Martial. The reading of these authors continues into the third year. In the spring of that year, students begin a comprehensive reading of Vergil’s Aeneid that continues throughout the fourth year. Subsequent courses are dedicated to the study of specific genres, such as Lyric and Elegaic Poetry, Latin Philosophical Writings, and Comedy and Satire.
Ancient Greek follows the same arc as Latin. After an intensive three-four semester study of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, students undertake the reading of a range of Greek authors like Herodotus, Xenophon and Plato. The courses that follow are dedicated to specific genres or authors such as Greek Tragedy, Homer, and Plato.
Chinese was chosen, among other reasons, for the visual aspect of its calligraphy. It begins not only with a study of the spoken language, but with an emphasis on the characters that are critical to reading and writing. This emphasis on a balanced fluency continues in each successive year with the set objective of reading both contemporary and classical Chinese literature.