Contemporary Latin

Contemporary Latin

Contemporary Latin is the form of the Latin language used from the end of the 19th century through to the present. Various kinds of contemporary Latin can be distinguished. On the one hand there is its symbolic survival in areas like taxonomy and others as the result of the widespread presence of the language in the New Latin era. This is normally found in the form of mere words or phrases used in the general context of other languages. On the other hand there is the use of Latin as a language in its own right as fully fledged means of expression. Living or Spoken Latin, being the most specific development of Latin in the contemporary context, is the primary subject of this article.

A contemporary Latin inscription at Salamanca University commemorating the visit of the then-Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko of Japan in, as the inscription states (MCMLXXXV), 1985.


Token Latin

As a relic of the great importance of New Latin as the formerly dominant international lingua franca down to the 19th century in a great number of fields, Latin is still present in words or phrases used in many languages around the world.


The official use of Latin in previous eras has survived at a symbolic level in many mottos that are still being used and even coined in Latin to this day. Old mottoes like E pluribus unum found in 1776 on the Seal of the United States, along with Annuit cœptis and Novus ordo seclorum, and adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782, are still in use. Similarly current pound sterling coins are minted with the Latin inscription ELIZABETH·II·D·G·REG·F·D (Dei Gratia Regina, Fidei Defensor, i.e. Queen by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith). The official motto of the European Union, adopted as recently as 2000, is the Latin In varietate concordia. Similarly to the multi-lingual European Union, the motto on the Canadian Victoria Cross is in Latin due to Canada's bilingual status.

Fixed phrases

Some common phrases that are still in use in many languages have remained fixed in Latin, like the well known dramatis personæ or habeas corpus.


In fields as varied as mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine, pharmacy, biology, and veterinary medicine, Latin still provides internationally accepted names of concepts, forces, objects and organisms in the natural world.

The most famous form of this is the biological system of binomial nomenclature and classification of living organisms devised by Carolus Linnæus, although the rules of the ICZN allow the construction of names which may deviate considerably from historical norms.[1]

Another continuation is the use of Latin names for the constellations and celestial objects (used in the Bayer designations of stars), as well as planets and satellites, whose surface features have been given Latin selenographic toponyms since the 17th century.

Symbols for many of the chemical elements of the periodic table known in ancient times are based on their Latin names, like Au for aurum (gold) or Fe for ferrum (iron).

Vernacular vocabulary

Latin has also contributed a vocabulary for specialized fields such as anatomy and law which has become part of the normal, non-technical vocabulary of various European languages. Latin continues to be used to form international scientific vocabulary and classical compounds.

Ecclesiastical Latin

The Catholic Church has continued to use Latin, as in preceding centuries. Two main areas can be distinguished. One is its use for the official version of all documents issued by the Vatican City, which has remained intact to the present. Although documents are first drafted in various vernaculars (mostly Italian, now also German), the official version is written in Latin by the specific Latin letters office. The other is its use for the liturgy, which has been diminished after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, but seems to have recently seen some resurgence sponsored in part by Pope Benedict XVI.

Academic Latin

Latin has also survived to some extent in the context of classical scholarship. Some classical periodicals, like Oxford Classical Texts series, and it is also nearly always used for the apparatus criticus of Ancient Greek and Latin texts.

The University Orator at the University of Cambridge makes a speech in Latin marking the achievements of each of the honorands at the annual Honorary Degree Congregations, as does the Public Orator at the Encaenia ceremony at the University of Oxford. Harvard and Princeton also have Latin Salutatory commencement addresses every year.[3]

The Charles University in Prague[4] and many other universities around the world conduct the awarding of their doctoral degrees in Latin.

In addition to the above, Brown, Sewanee and Bard College also hold in Latin a portion of their graduation ceremonies.

The famous hymn Gaudeamus igitur is acknowledged as the anthem of academia and is sung at university opening or graduation ceremonies throughout Europe.

Living Latin

Living Latin (latin vivant in French or Latinitas viva in Latin itself), also known as Spoken Latin, is an effort to revive Latin as a spoken language and as the vehicle for contemporary communication and publication. Involvement in this Latin revival can be a mere hobby or extend to more serious projects for restoring its former role as an international auxiliary language.


As soon as the decline of Latin at the end of the New Latin era started to be perceived, there were attempts to counteract this process and revitalise the use of Latin for international communication.

In 1815 Miguel Olmo wrote a little booklet proposing Latin as the common language for Europe with the title Otia Villaudricensia ad octo magnos principes qui Vindobonæ anno MDCCCXV pacem orbis sanxerunt, de lingua Latina et civitate Latina fundanda liber singularis (Villaudric leisure to the eight great princes who signed world peace at Vienna in 1815, a book about the Latin language and the foundation of a Latin city).[5]

In the late nineteenth century, Latin periodicals advocating the revived use of Latin as an international language started to appear. Between 1889 and 1895 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs published in Italy his Alaudæ.[6] This publication was followed by the Vox Urbis: de litteris et bonis artibus commentarius,[7] published by the architect and engineer Aristide Leonori from 1898, twice a month, until 1913, one year before the outbreak of World War I.

The early 20th century, marked by warfare and by drastic social and technological changes, saw few advances in the use of Latin outside of academia. Following the beginnings of the re-integration of postwar Europe, however, Latin revivalism gained some strength.

One of its main promoters was the former dean of the University of Nancy (France), Prof. Jean Capelle, who in 1952 published a cornerstone article called "Latin or Babel"[8] where he proposed Latin as an international spoken language.

Capelle was called "the soul of the movement" when in 1956 the first International Conference for Living Latin (Congrès international pour le Latin vivant) took place in Avignon,[9] marking the beginning of a new era for the active use of Latin. About 200 participants from 22 different countries took part in that foundational conference.


The essentials of the classical pronunciation had been defined since the early 19th century (e.g. in K.L. Schneider's Elementarlehre der Lateinischen Sprache, 1819), but in many countries there was strong resistance to adopting it in instruction. In English-speaking countries, where the traditional academic pronunciation diverged most markedly from the restored classical model, the struggle between the two pronunciations lasted for the entire 19th century. The transition between Latin pronunciations was sudden and drastic (the "new pronunciation" was adopted throughout the schools in England in 1907).[10]

Although the older pronunciation, as found in the nomenclature and terminology of various professions, continued to be used for several decades, and, in some spheres, prevails to the present day, contemporary Latin as used by the living Latin community is largely characterized by the general adoption of the classical pronunciation of Latin as restored by specialists in Latin historical phonology.[11]

A similar shift occurred in German-speaking areas; the traditional pronunciation is discussed in Deutsche Aussprache des Lateinischen (German), while the reconstructed classical pronunciation, which took hold circa 1900, is discussed at Schulaussprache des Lateinischen.


Many users of contemporary Latin promote its use as a spoken language, a movement that dubs itself "Living Latin". Two main aims can be distinguished in this movement.

For Latin instruction

Among the proponents of spoken Latin, some promote the active use of the language to make learning Latin both more enjoyable and more efficient, in this respect drawing upon the methodologies of instructors of modern languages.

In the United Kingdom, the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching (ARLT, still existing as the Association foR Latin Teaching), was founded in 1913 by the distinguished Classical scholar W. H. D. Rouse. It arose from Summer Schools which Rouse organised in order to train Latin teachers in the direct method of language teaching, which entailed using the language in everyday situations rather than merely learning grammar and syntax by rote. The Classical Association also encourages this approach. The Cambridge University Press has now published a series of school textbooks based on the adventures of a mouse called Minimus designed to help children of primary school age to learn the language, as well as its well known Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) to teach the language to secondary school students, all of which include extensive use of dialogue and an approach to language teaching mirroring that now used for most modern languages, which have brought many of the principles espoused by Rouse and the ARLT into the mainstream of Latin teaching.

Outside of Great Britain, one of the most accomplished handbooks used worldwide that fully adopts the direct method for Latin is the well known Lingua Latina per se illustrata by the Dane Hans Henning Ørberg published first in 1955 and improved in 1990. It is composed fully in Latin, and requires no other language of instruction, whereby it is used to teach pupils whatever their mother tongue.

For contemporary communication

Others support the revival of Latin as a language of international communication, in the academic, perhaps even scientific and diplomatic, spheres (as it was in Europe and European colonies through Middle Ages until the mid-18th century), or as an international auxiliary language to be used by anyone. However, as a language native to no people, this movement has not received support from any government, national or supranational.

Supporting institutions and publications

A substantial group of institutions (particularly in Europe, but also in North and South America) has emerged to support the use of Latin as a spoken language.[12]

The foundational first International Conference for living Latin (Congrès international pour le Latin vivant) that took place in Avignon was followed by at least five others.[13] As a result of those first conferences, the Academia Latinitati Fovendae was then created in Rome. Among its most prominent members are well known classicists from all over the world,[14] like Prof. Michael von Albrecht or Prof. Kurt Smolak. The ALF held its first international conference in Rome in 1966 bringing together about 500 participants. From then on conferences have taken place every four or five years, in Bucharest, Malta, Dakar, Erfurt and Berlin, Madrid and many other places. The official language of the ALF is Latin and all acts and proceedings take place in Latin.

Also in the year 1966 Clément Desessard published a method with tapes within the series sans peine of the French company Assimil. Desessard's work aimed at teaching contemporary Latin for use in an everyday context. Assimil took this out of print at the end of 2007 and published another Latin method which now focuses on the classical idiom only. Desessard's method is still used for living Latin instruction at the Schola Latina Universalis.

In 1986 the Belgian radiologist Gaius Licoppe, who had discovered the contemporary use of Latin and learnt how to speak it thanks to Desessard's method, founded in Brussels the Fundatio Melissa for the promotion of Latin teaching and use for communication.[15]

In Germany, Marius Alexa and Inga Pessarra-Grimm founded in September 1987 the Latinitati Vivæ Provehendæ Associatio (LVPA, or Association for the Promotion of Living Latin).[16]

One of the most extensive attempt to create a Latin immersion academic environment is on the part of the Accademia Vivarium Novum located in Rome, Italy. All classes are taught by faculty fluent in Latin or Ancient Greek, and the internationally diverse community of students residing at the Accademia speaks in Latin or Greek during meals and all other moments outside class. Most students are supported by scholarships from the Mnemosyne foundation and spend one or two years in residence to acquire fluency in Latin.[17]

Living Latin at the Accademia Vivarium Novum in Rome, Italy. Latin and Ancient Greek are spoken in all classes and among students and faculty outside of classes.

The living Latin movement eventually crossed the Atlantic, where it has grown with equal, if not greater, enthusiasm than in Europe. On October 1996 the Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivæ Institutum (SALVI, or North American Institute for Living Latin Studies) was founded in Los Angeles, California, by a group of professors and students of Latin literature concerned about the long-term future of classical studies in the US.[18]

In the University of Kentucky, Prof. Terence Tunberg established the Institute of Latin Studies, which awards Graduate Certificates in Latin Studies addressed at those with a special interest gaining "a thorough command of the Latin language in reading, writing and speaking, along with a wide exposure to the cultural riches of the Latin tradition in its totality".[19]

Most of these groups and institutions organise seminars and conferences where Latin is used as a spoken language, both throughout the year and over the summer, in Europe and in America.[20]

Less academic summer encounters wholly carried out in Latin are the ones known as Septimanæ Latinæ Europææ (European Latin Weeks), celebrated in Germany and attracting people of various ages from all over Europe.[21]

At the present time, several periodicals and social networking web sites are published in Latin. In France, immediately after the conference at Avignon, the publisher Théodore Aubanel launched the magazine Vita Latina, which still exists, associated to the CERCAM (Centre d’Étude et de Recherche sur les Civilisations Antiques de la Méditerranée) of the University Paul Valéry of Montpellier. Until very recently, it was published in Latin in its entirety.[22] In Germany, the magazine Vox Latina was founded in 1956 by Caelestis Eichenseer (1924–2008) at the University of Saarbrücken and is to this day published wholly in Latin four times a year.[23] In Belgium, the magazine Melissa created in 1984 by Gaius Licoppe is still published six times a year completely in Latin.[24]

The Finnish radio station YLE Radio 1 has for many years broadcast a now famous weekly review of world news called Nuntii Latini completely in Latin.[25] The German Radio Bremen also has regular broadcasts in Latin. Other attempts have been less successful.[26]

The government of Finland, during its presidencies of the European Union, issued official newsletters in Latin on top of the official languages of the Union.[27]

On the Internet

The emergence of the Internet on a global scale in the 1990s provided a great tool for the flourishing of communication in Latin, and in February 1996[28] a Polish latinist from Warsaw (Poland), Konrad M. Kokoszkiewicz, founded what is still today the most populated and successful Latin-only email list on the Internet, the Grex Latine Loquentium. Subsequently the Nuntii Latini of YLE Radio 1 would also create a discussion list called YLE Colloquia Latina.[29] The Circulus Latinus Panormitanus of Palermo (Italy) went a step further creating the first online chat in Latin called the Locutorium.[30]

In February 2003 Konrad M. Kokoszkiewicz published an on-line glossary with his proposals for some computer terms in Latin under the title of Vocabula computatralia.[31] The Internet also allows for the preservation of other contemporary Latin dictionaries that have fallen out of print or have never been printed, like the Latinitas Recens (Speculum).[32]

In June 2004[33] an on-line newspaper Ephemeris was founded once again from Warsaw by Stanisław Tekieli, and is to this day published wholly in Latin about current affairs.[34]

In January 2008 a Schola, (membership 1800) a Latin-only social network service, including a real-time video and/or text chatroom, was founded from London (UK).[35]

A number of Latin web portals, websites and weblogs in Latin have developed, like Lingua Latina Æterna from Russia[36] or Verba et facta from somewhere in the US.[37]

The Internet also provides tools like Latin spell checkers[38] for contemporary Latin writers, or scansion tools[39] for contemporary Latin poets.

Google search engine has Latin as a language option.

The social networking website Facebook has Latin as one of its language options.

There is even a Latin Wikipedia,[40] although discussions are held mostly in English rather than Latin.[citation needed] As of January 2010, more than half of the articles are stubs[41] and their Latin is often tagged for its dubious quality.[42]

In public spaces

The ATM with latin instructions
The signs at Wallsend Metro station are in English and Latin as a tribute to Wallsend's role as one of the outposts of the Roman empire.

Although less so than in previous eras, contemporary Latin has also been used for public notices in public spaces:

The Wallsend Metro station of the Tyne and Wear Metro has signs in Latin.

The Vatican City has an automated teller machine with instructions in Latin.[43]

Original production

Some contemporary works have seen the light originally in Latin, most overwhelmingly poetry,[44] but also prose, as well as music or cinema. They include:


  • 1924. Carminum libri quattuor by Tomás Viñas.[45]
  • 1946. Carmina Latina by A. Pinto de Carvalho.[46]
  • 1954. Vox Humana by Johannes Alexander Gaertner.[47]
  • 1962. Pegasus Tolutarius by Henry C. Snurr aka C. Arrius Nurus.
  • 1966. Suaviloquia by Jan Novák.
  • 1966. Cantus Firmus by Johannes Alexander Gaertner.[47]
  • 1972. Carmina by Traian Lăzărescu.[48]
  • 1991. Periegesis Amatoria by Geneviève Immè.
  • 1992. Harmonica vitrea by Anna Elissa Radke.


  • 1952. Latinarum Litterarum Historia by Antonio d'Elia.[49]
  • 1961. De sacerdotibus sacerdotiisque Alexandri Magni et Lagidarum eponymis by Jozef IJsewijn.[50]
  • 1965. Sententiæ by Alain van Dievoet (pen name: Alanus Divutius).
  • 1966. Mystagogus Lycius, sive de historia linguaque Lyciorum by Wolfgang Jenniges.[51]
  • 2011. Capti, Fabula Menippeo-Hoffmanniana Americana by Stephanus A. Berard.[52][53]


  • 1994. Ista?!?! by Latin hiphop band Ista.



Various texts—usually children's books—have been translated into Latin since the beginning of the living Latin movement in the early fifties for various purposes, including use as a teaching tool or simply to demonstrate the capability of Latin as a means of expression in a popular context. They include:

Dictionaries, glossaries and phrase books for contemporary Latin

  • 1990. Latin for All Occasions, a book by Henry Beard, attempts to find Latin equivalents for contemporary catchphrases.
  • 1992–7. Neues Latein Lexicon / Lexicon recentis Latinitatis by Karl Egger, containing more than 15,000 words for contemporary everyday life.
  • 1998. Imaginum vocabularium Latinum by Sigrid Albert.

See also


  1. ^ "International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Saint Louis Code), Electronic Version". Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  2. ^ Cf. Konrad M. Kokoszkiewicz, "A. Gellius, Noctes Atticæ, 16.2.6: tamquam si te dicas adulterum negent", Mnemosyne 58 (2005) 132-135; "Et futura panda siue de Catulli carmine sexto corrigendo", Hermes 132 (2004) 125-128.
  3. ^ Cf.
  4. ^ Sponse doktorská
  5. ^ IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 112s.
  6. ^ Cf. Wilfried Stroh (ed.), Alaudæ. Eine lateinische Zeitschrift 1889-1895 herausgegeben von Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Nachdruck mit einer Einleitung von Wilfried Stroh, Hamburg, MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 2004.
  7. ^ Cf. Volfgangus Jenniges, "Vox Urbis (1898-1913) quid sibi proposuerit", Melissa, 139 (2007) 8-11.
  8. ^ Published on the 23rd of October 1952 in the French Bulletin de l'Éducation Nationale, an English version of the same was published in The Classical Journal and signed by himself and Thomas H. Quigley (The Classical Journal, Vol. 49, No. 1, October 1953, pp. 37-40)
  9. ^ Cf. Goodwin B. Beach, "The Congress for Living Latin: Another View", The Classical Journal, Vol. 53, No. 3, December 1957, pp. 119-122:
  10. ^ The School world, Macmillan & Co., 1907
  11. ^ E.g. Prof. Edgar H. Sturtevant (The Pronunciation of Greek and Latin, Chicago Ares Publishers Inc. 1940) and Prof. W. Sidney Allen (Vox Latina, A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin, Cambridge University Press 1965), who followed in the tradition of previous pronunciation reformers; cf. Erasmus's De recta Latini Græcique sermonis pronuntiatione dialogus and even Alcuin's De orthographia.
  12. ^ Cf.
  13. ^ The fifth conference took place in Pau, France, from the 1st to the 5th of April 1975.
  14. ^ Cf.
  15. ^ Cf.
  16. ^ Cf.
  17. ^ Cf.
  18. ^ Cf.
  19. ^ Cf.
  20. ^ Cf.
  21. ^ Cf.
  22. ^ Cf.
  23. ^ Cf.
  24. ^ Cf.
  25. ^ Cf.
  26. ^ The Nuntii Latini Italici of the University of Catania were discontinued in 2008, cf.
  27. ^ Cf.
  28. ^ Cf.
  29. ^ Cf.
  30. ^ Cf.
  31. ^ Cf.
  32. ^ Cf. or
  33. ^ Cf. Issue nº1
  34. ^ Cf.
  35. ^ Cf.
  36. ^ Cf.
  37. ^ Cf.
  38. ^ Cf.
  39. ^ Cf. Poeta ex Machina
  40. ^ Vikipaedia. "Pagina prima".
  41. ^ As of January 2010, 19,406 articles were marked as stubs out of a total of 36,148. The chief categories among the stubs are those about people (7,788) and cities (1,669).
  42. ^ As of January 2010, of the pages whose Latin has been assessed, 1949 are marked as having good Latin and 872 as having Latin ranging from dubious to strongly needing correction.
  43. ^
  44. ^ Contemporary Latin Poetry
  45. ^ IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 113.
  46. ^ IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 123.
  47. ^ a b IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 293.
  48. ^ IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 226.
  49. ^ Cf.
  50. ^ IJsewijn, Jozef, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies. Part I. History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 156.
  51. ^ Cf.
  52. ^ Cf.
  53. ^ Cf.
  54. ^ Robinson Crusoe in Latin at
  55. ^ Asterix in Latin.
  56. ^ [1]
  57. ^ Aladdin (1992 Disney film)

Further reading


  • W.H.S.Jones, M.A. Via Nova or The Application of the Direct Method to Latin and Greek, Cambridge University Press 1915.
  • Jozef Ijzewijn, A companion to neo-latin studies, 1977.


  • José Juan del Col, ¿Latín hoy?, published by the Instituto Superior Juan XXII, Bahía Blanca, Argentina, 1998. Downloadable PDF version: ¿Latín hoy?.


  • Guy Licoppe, Pourquoi le latin aujourd'hui ? : (Cur adhuc discenda sit lingua Latina), s.l., 1989
  • Françoise Waquet, Le latin ou l'empire d'un signe, XVIe-XXe siècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 1998.
  • Guy Licoppe, Le latin et le politique : les avatars du latin à travers les âges, Bruxelles, 2003.


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