Victoria Ko: Connecting the Dots Through a Dead Language

OHS senior Victoria Ko began studying Latin as a middle school student.

Ko Family

OHS senior Victoria Ko began studying Latin as a middle school student.

Compel. Dispel. Propel. Pulse. What do these seemingly unrelated words have in common? All of these words stem from the Latin third conjugation verb pellō, pellere, pepulī, pulsum, meaning to strike, push, or drive out. Everyone is well aware that taking a foreign language is a monumental feat, but studying a dead language is almost unheard of—why would you learn a language no longer spoken by anyone on the planet? Latin’s complicated sentence structures and intricate grammar rules are all reasons why many people opt for other ‘easier’ languages such as Spanish or French. Though it has gained the moniker of a ‘dead’ language because of its absence of native speakers (except for those in the Vatican City and many universities’ Classics Departments), Latin lives through the hearts and minds of the dedicated students who relentlessly study it.

Victoria Ko, a senior at OHS, is one of these students. Ever since she began studying Latin as an OHS middle schooler, Victoria has been inspired to increase awareness about Latin at OHS. Victoria remarks that one of the reasons she decided to enroll in Latin was because “as a choral singer, [she] often sing[s] in Latin [she] thought it would be interesting to understand more deeply the text of [her] songs.” During a 2019 OHS sponsored trip to Italy, Victoria recalls that she had “read written works [in Latin] about the eruption of Vesuvius in Latin 3, and found [her]self at the top of Mount Vesuvius!” Victoria says that studying Latin has opened her eyes to “all that the Roman legacy has to offer” even though it has been more than 1,500 years since Ancient Rome succumbed to military losses against ‘barbarian’ Germanic tribes.

Motivated by the community of Latin-loving students at OHS, Victoria dedicated half of her Junior year and the rest of her Senior year to sharing her knowledge of this ancient language as the co-consul of OHS’s very own Latin Club. Latin Club is a homeroom-based club that focuses on all things relating to Ancient Roman Culture and Latin. As one of the co-leaders of the Latin club, Victoria creates engaging events, including informative presentations, exciting games, and heartfelt poetry recitations, bringing a new level of awareness to the Ancient Mediterranean and the Latin language. “Future plans for [Latin] club,” says Victoria, “include discussing cultural aspects of Latin and Classics, as well as playing more Latin games!”

Brainstorming entertaining activities while juggling a full course load plus college applications is no simple feat, however, Victoria manages it effortlessly. Many Latin Club members, including Khensa Musaddequr Rahman (a current Latin 2 student), describe Victoria’s “bright presence” and “dedicat[tion] to the [Latin] club” as an inspiration to all who are a part of this community and to those who are ready to try something new.

Latin doesn’t seem like a dead language…because it[s] legacy lives through everyday institutions.”

— Victoria Ko

Mattia Worster, another current Latin 2 student, shares that “[he] think[s] it is a good idea to study Latin, not only because it contains so much history, but also because it is a good place to delve into studies of etymology and more.” As part of the Italic-Romance language branch of the Indo-European section of the language family tree, Latin is the ancestor of the widely-spoken Romance Languages and other regional dialects such as Ligurian (Gallo-Italic language spoken in the Italian Province of Liguria), Lombard (a Romance language spoken in the Lombardy region of northern Italy and southern Switzerland), and Galician (a western Ibero-Romance language spoken in the northwestern Spaniard community of Galicia). “A good way to bring awareness to [Latin] is to, of course, teach it, but [to] also investigate its effects on the rest of the world,” says Mattia.

Though many people think Latin is solely studied and analyzed by the papacy on papyrus scrolls in dusty libraries, Victoria asserts that “Latin doesn’t seem like a dead language to [her] because it[s] legacy lives through everyday institutions.” Mottos such as “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One; the motto of the United States of America), “In Deo Speramus” (In God We Hope; the motto of Brown University), or “Excelsior!” (Ever Upward!; the motto of the State of New York) are everywhere, reminding us of Latin’s influence in the United States. Latin has even wormed its way into common phrases and sayings, like etc., a.m. (ante meridiem), p.m. (post meridiem), and many more!

During 110 AD, the peak of the Ancient Roman Empire, about 40-60% of the estimated 60 million people who lived within the boundaries of the massive empire spoke this beautiful language. With boundaries that stretched latitudinally from Portugal to the Red Sea and longitudinally from Scotland to the Egypt/Sudan border, there is no doubt that Ancient Rome would leave its mark on the world one way or another. Victoria mentions that “[Ancient] Roman government has inspired much of modern law” and that their architectural ingenuity has inspired many United States executive buildings and memorials. The one belief that many people who study and teach Latin share is that the first step to bringing more awareness to Latin is to learn it and understand its intricacies and hidden details. For Victoria, learning Latin is not just about learning another language, but as Charlemagne once said, it “is to possess a second soul”—an Ancient Roman soul.