History of Latin

History of Latin

Latin is a member of the family of Italic languages, and its alphabet, the Latin alphabet, emerged from the Old Italic alphabets, which in turn were derived from the Greek and Phoenician scripts. Latin was first brought to the Italian peninsula in the 9th or 8th century BC by migrants from the north, who settled in the Latium region, specifically around the River Tiber, where the Roman civilization first developed. Latin was influenced by the Celtic dialects in northern Italy and the non-Indo-European Etruscan language in Central Italy, and by Greek in southern Italy.

Although surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, an artificial, highly stylized and polished literary language from the 1st century BC, the actual spoken language of the Roman Empire was Vulgar Latin, which significantly differed from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and eventually pronunciation. Also, although Latin remained the main written language of the Roman Empire, Greek came to be the language spoken by the well-educated elite, as most of the literature studied by Romans was written in Greek. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which became the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Koine of Hellenism remained current and was never replaced by Latin.


The Italic subfamily is a member of the Centum branch of the Indo-European language family. It includes the Romance languages (among others, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian), and a number of extinct languages.

Old Latin (also called Early Latin or Archaic Latin) refers to the period of Latin texts before the age of Classical Latin.

Broadly speaking, in stressed syllables the Indo-European simple vowels — "(*a), *e, *i, *o, *u"; short and long — are usually retained in Latin. The schwa indogermanicum ("*ə") appears in Latin as "a" (cf. IE "*pəter" > L "pater"). Diphthongs are also preserved in Old Latin, but in Classical Latin some tend to become monophthongs (for example "oi" > or "oe", and "ei" > "ē" > "ī"). [cite book|last=Ramat|first=Anna G.|coauthors=Paolo Ramat|year=1998|title=The Indo-European Languages|publisher=Routledge|pages=272–75|isbn=0–415–06449–X]

Other phonological characteristics of older Latin are the case endings "-os" and "-om" (later Latin "-us" and "-um"). In many locations, classical Latin turned intervocalic /s/ into /r/. This had implications for declension: early classical Latin, "honos", "honoris"; Classical "honor", "honoris" ("honor"). Some Old Latin texts preserve /s/ in this position, such as the Carmen Arvale's "lases" for "lares".

From the original eight cases of Proto-Indo-European, Latin inherited six: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, and ablative. The Indo-European locative survived in the declensions of some place names and nouns, such as "Roma" “Rome” (locative "Romae") and "domus" “home” (locative "domī" “at home”). Vestiges of the instrumental case may remain in adverbial forms ending in "-ē". [Ibid., p. 313]

Classical Latin

Classical Latin is the form of the Latin language used by the ancient Romans in what is usually regarded as "classical" Latin literature. Its use spanned the Golden Age of Latin literature—broadly the 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD—possibly extending to the Silver Age—broadly the 1st and 2nd centuries.

What is now called "Classical Latin" was, in fact, a highly stylized and polished written literary language (cf. acrolect) selectively constructed from Old Latin, of which far fewer works remain. Classical Latin is the product of the reconstruction of early Latin in the prototype of Attic Greek. Classical Latin differs from the earliest Latin literature, such as that of Cato the Elder, Plautus, and to some extent Lucretius, in a number of ways. It diverged from Old Latin in that the early "-om" and "-os" endings shifted into "-um" and "-us" ones, and some lexical differences also developed, such as the broadening of the meaning of words (e.g., "forte" meant not only "surprisingly" but also "hard"). Classical Latin was pronounced with a stress accent, unlike Greek's pitch accent. [cite book|last=Allen|first=W. Sidney|year=1989|title=Vox Latina|publisher=Cambridge University Press|pages=83-84|isbn=0–521–22049–1]

The spoken Latin of the common people of the Roman Empire, especially from the 2nd century onward, is generally called Vulgar Latin. Vulgar Latin differed from Classical Latin in its vocabulary and grammar, and as time passed, it came to differ in pronunciation as well.

Golden Age

The golden age of Latin literature, in Latin "Latinitas aurea", is a period consisting roughly of the time from 75 BC to AD 14, covering the end of the Roman Republic and the reign of Augustus Caesar. Many Classicists believe that this period represents the peak of Latin literature, and that its usage of the artificial and heavily stylized literary language known as Classical Latin represents the ideal norm which other writers should follow. Classical Latin continued to be used into the Silver Age of Latin literature, the 1st and 2nd centuries.

ilver Age

In reference to Roman literature, the Silver age covers the first two centuries A.D. directly after the Golden age (which was the first century B.C., and the start of the first century A.D.) Literature from the Silver age has traditionally, perhaps unfairly, been considered inferior to that of the Gold age. Silver Latin itself may be subdivided further into two periods: a period of radical experimentation in the latter half of the first century AD, and a renewed Neoclassicism in the second century AD.

Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, poets like Seneca the Younger, Lucan and Statius pioneered a unique style that has alternately delighted, disgusted and puzzled later critics.

Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin (in Latin, "sermo vulgaris") is a blanket term covering the vernacular dialects of the Latin language spoken mostly in the western provinces of the Roman Empire until those dialects, diverging still further, evolved into the early Romance languages — a distinction usually assigned to about the ninth century.

This spoken Latin differed from the literary language of classical Latin in its pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Some features of Vulgar Latin did not appear until the late Empire. Other features are likely to have been in place in spoken Latin, in at least its basilectal forms, much earlier. Most definitions of "vulgar Latin" mean that it is a spoken language, rather than a written language, because the evidence suggests that spoken Latin broke up into divergent dialects during this period. Because there are few phonetic transcriptions the daily speech of Latin speakers during the period in question (eg. the Appendix Probi, students of vulgar Latin must study it mainly through indirect methods. Our knowledge of Vulgar Latin comes from three chief sources. First, the comparative method can reconstruct the underlying forms from the attested Romance languages, and note where they differ from classical Latin. Second, various prescriptive grammar texts from the late Latin period condemn linguistic errors that Latin users were likely to commit, providing insight into how Latin speakers used their language. Finally, the solecisms and non-Classical usages that occasionally are found in late Latin texts also shed light on the spoken language of the writer. Another source lies in the wax tablets which have been excavated across the empire. The Roman cursive script was used widely on wax tablets such as those found at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall.

Romance languages

The Romance languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, comprise all languages that descended from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. The Romance languages have more than 600 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in the Americas, Europe, and Africa; as well as in many smaller regions scattered through the world.

All Romance languages descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of soldiers, settlers, and slaves of the Roman Empire, which was substantially different from the Classical Latin of the Roman literati. Between 200 BC and 100 AD, the expansion of the Empire, coupled with administrative and educational policies of Rome, made Vulgar Latin the dominant native language over a wide area spanning from the Iberian Peninsula to the Western coast of the Black Sea. During the Empire's decadence and after its collapse and fragmentation in 5th century, Vulgar Latin began to evolve independently within each local area, and eventually diverged into dozens of distinct languages. The oversea empires established by Spain, Portugal and France after the 15th century then spread Romance to the other continents — to such an extent that about 2/3 of all Romance speakers are now outside Europe.

In spite of multiple influences from pre-Roman languages and from later invasions, the phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax of all Romance languages are predominantly derived from Vulgar Latin. As a result, the group shares a number of linguistic features that set it apart from other Indo-European branches. In particular, with only one or two exceptions, Romance languages have lost the declension system of Classical Latin, and as a result have a relatively rigid SVO sentence structure and make extensive use of prepositions.

*"de vulgari eloquentia"

Medieval Latin

Medieval Latin refers to the Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. It is therefore largely synonymous with the term "Ecclesiastical Latin" (sometimes called "Church Latin"), which refers to the Latin language as used in documents of the Roman Catholic Church and in its Latin liturgies.

Renaissance Latin

Renaissance Latin is a name given to the Latin written during the European Renaissance in the 14th-16th centuries, particularly distinguished by the distinctive Latin style developed by the humanist movement.

"Ad fontes" was the general cry of the humanists, and as such their Latin style sought to purge Latin of the medieval Latin vocabulary and stylistic accretions that it had acquired in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. They looked to golden age Latin literature, and especially to Cicero in prose and Virgil in poetry, as the arbiters of Latin style. They abandoned the use of the sequence and other accentual forms of metre, and sought instead to revive the Greek formats that were used in Latin poetry during the Roman period. The humanists condemned the large body of medieval Latin literature as "gothic" — for them, a term of abuse — and believed instead that only ancient Latin from the Roman period was "real Latin".

The humanists also sought to purge written Latin of medieval developments in its orthography. They insisted, for example, that "ae" be written out in full wherever it occurred in classical Latin; medieval scribes often wrote "e" instead of "ae". They were much more zealous than medieval Latin writers that "t" and "c" be distinguished; because the effects of palatalization made them homophones, medieval scribes often wrote, for example, "eciam" for "etiam". Their reforms even affected handwriting; Humanists usually wrote Latin in a script derived from Carolingian minuscule, the ultimate ancestor of most contemporary lower-case typefaces, avoiding the black-letter scripts used in the Middle Ages. Erasmus even proposed that the then-traditional pronunciations of Latin be abolished in favour of his reconstructed version of classical Latin pronunciation.

The humanist plan to remake Latin was largely successful, at least in education. Schools now taught the humanistic spellings, and encouraged the study of the texts selected by the humanists, to the large exclusion of later Latin literature. On the other hand, while humanist Latin was an elegant literary language, it became much harder to write books about law, medicine, science or contemporary politics in Latin while observing all of the Humanists' norms about vocabulary purging and classical usage. Because humanist Latin lacked precise vocabulary to deal with modern issues, their reforms accelerated the process of turning Latin from a workday language to an object of antiquarian study. Their attempts at literary work, especially poetry, often have a strong element of pastiche. Their efforts turned Latin from a classical, but still useful language, into a truly extinct language. Latin vocabulary continued to be used by the creators of New Latin, but extensive discourses on contemporary subjects in Latin gradually ceased to be written during this period.

New Latin

New Latin (or Neo-Latin) is a post-medieval version of Latin, now used primarily in International Scientific Vocabulary cladistics and systematics. The term came into widespread use towards the end of the 1890s among linguists and scientists.

Classicists use the term "Neo-Latin" to describe the use of the Latin language for any purpose, scientific or literary, after the Renaissance (for which purpose they often use the date 1600), although, for example, the editors of the I Tatti Renaissance Library call their Renaissance Latin language texts Neo-Latin as well.

Recent Latin

Recent Latin is the form of Latin used from the early twentieth century down to the present. Unlike all previous varieties of Latin, it is neither recognized officially nor used as a textual vehicle for original literature, philosophy, or science; instead, it is primarily used as a form of entertainment, practiced among a small group of Latin devotees.


External links

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=m2QSAAAAIAAJ&dq=etymological+dictionary+of+the+Latin+language+&pg=PA1&ots=HXVVUTZtvs&sig=DCAtQurlc5fRvU3lGjyeXyxBbt8&prev Latin Etymology] , An Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language


cite book
last = Allen
first = J.H.
coauthors = James B. Greenough
title = New Latin Grammar
publisher = Ginn and Company
date = 1931
location = Boston
id = ISBN 1585100277

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