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Latin (Latīna, pronounced [latiːna]) is an ancient Aryan or Indo-European language that was the language of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

Historical development

1. Earliest Records of its Area. - Latin was the language spoken in Rome and in the plain of Latium in the 6th or 7th century B.C. - the earliest period from which we have any contemporary record of its existence. But it is as yet impossible to determine either, on the one hand, whether the archaic inscription of Praeneste, which is assigned with great probability to that epoch, represents exactly the language then spoken in Rome; or, on the other, over how much larger an area of the Italian peninsula, or even of the lands to the north and west, the same language may at that date have extended. In the 5th century B.C. we find its limits within the peninsula fixed on the north-west and south-west by Etruscan; on the east, south-east, and probably north and north-east, by Safine (Sabine) dialects (of the Marsi, Paeligni, Samnites, Sabini and Picenum, qq.v.); but on the north we have no direct record of Sabine speech, nor of any non-Latinian tongue nearer than Tuder and Asculum or earlier than the 4th century B.C. (see Umbria, Iguvium, Picenum). We know however, both from tradition and from archaeological data, that the Safine tribes were in the 5th century B.C. migrating, or at least sending of swarms of their younger folk, farther and farther southward into the peninsula. Of the languages they were then displacing we have no explicit record save in the case of Etruscan in Campania, but it may be reasonably inferred from the evidence of place-names and tribal names, combined with that of the Faliscan inscriptions, that before the Safine invasion some idiom, not remote from Latin, was spoken by the pre-Etruscan tribes down the length of the west coast.

2. Earliest Roman Inscriptions. - At Rome, at all events, it is clear from the unwavering voice of tradition that Latin was spoken from the beginning of the city. Of the earliest Latin inscriptions found in Rome, which were known in 1909, the oldest, the so-called "Forum inscription", can hardly be referred with confidence to an earlier century than the 5th; the later, the well-known Duenos (= later Latin bonus) inscription, certainly belongs to the 4th. At this date we have probably the period of the narrowest extension of Latin; non-Latin idioms were spoken in Etruria, Umbria, Picenum and in the Marsian and Volscian hills. But almost directly the area begins to expand again, and after the war with Pyrrhus the Roman arms had planted the language of Rome in her military colonies throughout the peninsula. When we come to the 3rd century B.C. the Latin inscriptions begin to be more numerous, and in them (e.g. the oldest epitaphs of the Scipio family) the language is very little removed from what it was in the time of Plautus.

The conquests of the Roman Empire spread the Latin language all around the Mediterranean and the large part of Europe in both its forms: the poet's Classical and the people's Vulgar. After the Roman Empire fell and the Roman Catholic Church rose, Latin became used universally as the sole language of the Church and as the sole universal language of the educated Europeans. In ancient and medieval times it was the main international language (as is now English), especially among the White Europeans; among the coloured Afro-Asian peoples a partly similar role then had the medieval Arabic language.

After living and developing over the course of at least 2,200 years, Classical Latin began its slow decline around the 1600s. By the 1500s, it was hardly modified; by the 1700s, it was less spoken; and in the 2000s, it is hardly remembered except by scholars, and in official public Vatican and Croatia (see down). But Vulgar Latin never died: rather, after the fall of the Roman Empire it split into several regional dialects, which by the 800s had become the ancestors of today's Romance languages. In addition, English derives nearly 60% of its words from Latin: largely indirectly through French, but partly through direct borrowings made especially during the 1600s in England.

More recent uses

In addition to the Romance languages, Latin lives on, much less changed though much less spoken, in the form of the Ecclesiastical Latin spoken in the Roman Catholic Church (lithurgy and papal edicts). Additionally, Latin is a source of vocabulary for science (chiefly in life sciences), academia, and law. Classical Latin, the literary language of the late Republic and early Empire, is still taught in many primary, grammar, and secondary schools throughout the world, often combined with Greek in the study of Classics, but its role has diminished since the early 20th century. And the Latin alphabet remains the most widely used in the world.

Except the minute Vatican, the last European country where public Latin was extensively used during a millenium is the Croatian principality within Austrian Empire; Latin persisted there continually as the main official language from the medieval Croatian Kingdom up to 1848. Their scope of promoting and conserving the classic international Latin was to prevent the imposing of German, Italian or other major new language, and it had an important strategic-cultural role there. So up to mid-19th century, Croatian provincial parliament discussed in Latin, the new regional laws were also printed in Latin, and even the first local newspaper (Ephemerides Zagrebienses) appeared in Latin. Therefore the classic Croatian up to mid-20th century was a hybrid Slavic-Latin language including 1/4 to 1/3 of Latin loanwords and constructions; then in Yugoslavia they are so far partly replaced by new imposed balkanisms and turcisms.

After World War II, with other pan-European movements toward the present European Union, as an attempt towards a more integrated Europe started also the last public renewal of Latin. One of its foundational moments was the first International Conference for living Latin (Congrès international pour le Latin vivant) held at Avignon (France) in 1956. It has also been used as a spoken language from the beginning in numerous summer conferences throughout Europe, and more recently also in America. Some Latin periodicals appeared in Europe since WW2 up today, e.g. Melissa (published from 1984 by Guy Licoppe, in Brussels) and Vox Latina (published from 1965 by Cælestis Eichenseer, at the University of Saarbrücken, Germany), and also some professional periodicals chiefly in botany. European nationalist Norman Lowell advocates the revival of Latin as a common tongue for Europeans within an Imperium Europa: "A common language will bind us all; Latin."[1]

Latin in the 21st Century

Latin is widely used in modern botany persisting to be its unique official language, not only for naming species and superior categories, but also for publishing all original papers on new discoveries. The related authorized texts must be strongly in Latin, or at least with a documented Latin summary officially describing original novelties; otherwise the publishing is not authorized nor recognized, and treated only as an unscientific popular scribbling. There appeared also newer monographs for grammar, syntax and glossary of scientific Latin; the most used and detailed one is by W.T. Stearn: Botanical Latin (London 1973, 566 p.).

During 20th century there appeared some hundreds of botanical articles and books completely written in Latin, and also many thousands ones with added Latin digests. Even in the 21st century, every year the documentation of dozens of new botanical discoveries are published, with at least by an obligatory Latin summary; thus botany persists today as the main public field in which the official use of a modern Latin language is used. In other bio-sciences, Latin is still used chiefly for the official scientific nomenclature of animals, microbes, geological fossils, pharmaceutical drugs, human anatomy and illnesses, etc.

The main international organisations officially promoting the active use of living Latin now are the world botanical associations, and in the main botanical symposia where a spoken Latin is the alternative official language even today. In the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged the use of Latin in the Mass as an alternative to the vernacular; hence, botanical symposia and Roman lithurgy are the main sites of public using a spoken Latin at the beginning of 21st century. There are also some broadcasting stations now speaking permanently or periodically in Latin, e.g. Radio Vatican, the Finnish Nuntii Latini, and Nuntii Latini Italici, etc.

External links


  1. The IDEA!

Part of this article consists of modified text from Metapedia, page and/or Wikipedia, page, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.
Part of this article consists of modified text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911, which is no longer restricted by copyright.