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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It's a dead language, fiendish to master and irrelevant to the modern age, say its detractors.
Classical enthusiasts point out that 80 percent of the English language can be traced back to Latin but have had only limited success in persuading British schools to offer the joys of the dative, the vocative and the ablative absolute.
But now a new champion has emerged in the form of London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Johnson is calling for more schools to teach Latin after a survey showed that only two to four percent of state primary schools offer the language compared to 40 percent of independent schools.
The survey, carried out by enthusiasts' group Friends of the Classics, found that the main reasons for not teaching Latin are the difficulty in recruiting trained staff and the lack of space on the timetable, with 33 percent forced to offer it as an after school lesson.
"It is absurd that the progenitor of many modern European languages is not recognized on the national curriculum," Johnson said. "We cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all."
The survey, which interviewed 1,100 state and independent schools across Britain, said 72 percent of independent schools teach "classical civilization" compared to just 38 percent of state schools.
One of them, Barking Abbey state secondary school in London, introduced the study of Latin a few years ago and says it is now a very popular subject.
Anthony Maloney, the Head of Classics and Ancient Studies, said: "Making Latin relevant to our current young generation is key to its longevity and success."
"We currently have 50 students across all years studying Latin and I believe it has a place in every school."
Reporting by Valle Aviles Pinedo; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato