Lingua latina, Latinō
|Spoken in:||Vatican City|
|Total Speakers:|| Native: none|
Second Language Fluent: estimated at 5,000
Second Language Literate: estimated 25,000
|Language family:|| Indo-European|
|Writing system:||Latin alphabet|
|Official language of:|| Vatican City|
Used for official purposes, but not spoken in everyday speech
|Regulated by:|| Opus Fundatum Latinitas|
(Roman Catholic Church)
|ISO 639-1:|| |
|ISO 639-2:|| |
|ISO 639-3:|| |
The Latin language is named after the Latin tribe that lived in southern Italy at the time of the founding of the city of Lavinium. According to Roman mythology, the Trojan colonists, lead by Aeneas, formed an alliance with the Italic Latins and adopted their language. Their descendants later founded Rome.
Latin changed little in that period until ca. 200 BC, with the conquest of Greece. That conquest would change the Roman national and imperial character in many ways, mainly because the Romans so admired Greek culture that they adopted many of its features. This included conventions of art and architecture, but also included their language. While Latin remained the official language of Rome, two momentous things happened in relation to language development in the Western world:
- Greek, not Latin, became the language of commerce throughout the various Roman provinces. A Roman was no longer considered educated if he did not know Greek. This was the Koine Greek or Common Greek in which the Evangelists, the Apostles (especially Paul), and other New Testament authors wrote.
- Latin borrowed heavily from Greek. Many Latin words were originally Greek words, that the Romans often adopted while changing little about the words except the letters they were written in.
Eventually, of course, the Roman Republic died, and the Roman Empire began with the Principate--that is to say, the Emperorship--of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Octavianus, the adopted son and heir of Gaius Julius Caesar Dictator. The Roman Empire continued to add provinces under successive Julio-Claudian emperors, and then under the Flavian emperors (beginning in 69 AD with Emperor Vespasian). Roman territory reached its greatest extent under the Emperor Trajan. And as the Roman empire grew, the Latin and Greek languages spread. Eventually the Empire was managed as two separate regions, one primarily European and the other primarily Asian. Latin was the primary language of the western half of the Empire, and Greek the primary language of the Eastern.
The fall of Rome in 454 AD began the slow death of Latin as a spoken language of business. However, the Roman Catholic Church, and also the Church of England, continued to use Latin for their liturgies for centuries thereafter. (James Ussher wrote his Annals of the World in Latin.) The Latin Vulgate became the standard version of the Bible. Also, Latin strongly influenced language development in the provinces of Gaul (now France) and Nearer and Further Spain, and even in the never-conquered country of Lusitania (modern Portugal), in addition to the former province of Italian Gaul (northern Italy) and the Italian Allied States that continued as the Papal States and ultimately as a united Italy.
Until the early modern age, Latin was the scholarly and diplomatic language of Europe.
Today, scientists and Medical doctors worldwide use Latin as the basis for new names and terms: because Latin is a "dead language", it is considered safe to use as a basis for terminology, so that future generations will continue to have a common liguistic foundation; using a "living language", such as English, is prone to use words and terms that may evolve new connotations or drop from common usage over time. A 1916 pharmaceutical Latin textbook gave the additional reason that "The use of Latin also helps to conceal the kind of medicine being taken, and perhaps the nature of the disease being treated, from the patient himself, if this be desirable, and also from other inquisitive persons who may have a more or less legitimate interest in the patient." In the English-speaking world today, prescriptions are written in English, but may contain residual Latin abbreviations; in continental Europe, they are written entirely in Latin, except for directions to the patient.
Lawyers and some other professionals also frequently resort to Latin or Greek to coin a new term or phrase for which an exact equivalent in English either does not exist, would contain too many words, or would not sound sufficiently "erudite."
In addition, seventy percent of all the words in modern English derive from Latin or Greek, and sometimes from Greek through Latin; this percentage is even higher in the "Romantic" languages, such as Italian and Spanish. Latin is still taught in some (not all) high schools in the United States (Greek is not taught at all, though educators once considered it an essential of a well-rounded classical education).
Latin is written in the Roman alphabet in use in English-speaking countries and in Western Europe. However, Latin pronunciation differs from English pronunciation in certain critical ways. For example:
- No such sound as the harsh, grinding sound of an English "J" exists in Latin. In Classical Latin, the letter "J" does not exist; instead, one uses the letter "I" and sounds it like the modern English consonantal "y" in "yarn."
- No such fricative as "V" exists in Latin, either--except in ecclesiastical Latin. But nor did the original Roman alphabet have a letter like "U". Instead, a Roman scribe would write the letter that resembles an English "V" and pronounce it either as a vowel, like the English double vowel "oo" in "moon", or as the modern consonant "W" in "wall."
- The Latin "C" was always pronounced like an English "K."
- The Latin diphthong "AE" was pronounced like the English word "Aye." In contrast, the letter "I", when used as a vowel, was always pronounced like the English double vowel "ee" in "feet."
Hence, the name "Jupiter" would be pronounced "YOO-pea-tehr", "Caesar" would be pronounced "KYE-sar," and "Venus," "WEH-noose."
This influence persists in different forms in all of the Romance languages of French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Each of those language retains some influence of the languages originally spoken in pre-Roman times--except that French has a heavy Greek influence, especially in some of the vowel sounds it uses.
Examples of Modern Words Derived from Latin or Greek
|αγω (I lead)||ago, agere, axi, actum (I do something)||agent, act, action, actor|
|πυρ (fire)||purus (refined, said of a metal)||pure (of one substance)|
|ϕερω (I carry)||fero (I carry)||-fer (something that bears something else)|
|ϕευγω (I run away)||fugo (I run away)||centrifuge, fugitive, fugue|