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Encyclopedia > Latin (language)
For other uses, see Latin (disambiguation).

Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. It gained great importance as the formal language of the Roman Empire.

All Romance languages are descended from Latin, and many words based on Latin are found in other modern languages such as English. It is said that 80% of scholarly English words are derived from Latin. Moreover, in the Western world, Latin was a lingua franca, the learned language for scientific and political affairs, for more than a thousand years, being eventually replaced by French in the 18th century and English in the late 19th. Ecclesiastical Latin remains the formal language of the Roman Catholic Church to this day, which makes it the official national language of the Vatican. The Church used Latin as its primary liturgical language until the 1960s. It is also still used (drawing heavily on Greek roots) to furnish the names used in the scientific classification of living things.

Latin (lingua Latina)
Spoken in: Vatican City
Region: Italic peninsula
Total speakers: none native
Ranking: not ranked
Genetic classification: Indo-European
Official status
Official language of: Vatican City
Regulated by: none
Language codes
ISO 639-1 la
ISO 639-2 lat

Main features

Latin is a synthetic or inflectional language: affixes are attached to fixed stems to express gender, number, and case in adjectives, nouns, and pronouns, which is called declension; and person, number, tense, voice, mood, and aspect in verbs, which is called conjugation. There are five declensions of nouns and four conjugations of verbs.

The six noun cases are:

  1. nominative (used of the subject of the verb),
  2. genitive (used to indicate relation or possession, often represented by the English of),
  3. dative (used of the indirect object of the verb, often represented by the English to or for),
  4. accusative (used of the direct object of the verb),
  5. ablative (separation, source, cause, or instrument, often represented by the English by, with, from),
  6. vocative (used of the person or thing being addressed).

In addition, some nouns have a locative case used to express place (normally expressed by the ablative with a preposition such as in), but this survival from Indo-European is found only in the names of lakes, cities, towns, similar places, and a few other words, including those for house, ground, and countryside.

Latin and Romance

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Latin evolved into the various Romance languages. These were for many centuries only spoken languages, Latin being still used for writing. (For example, Latin was the official language of Portugal until 1296 when it was replaced by Portuguese.)

The Romance languages evolved from Vulgar Latin, the spoken language of common usage, which in turn evolved from an older speech which also produced the formal classical standard. Latin and Romance differ (for example) in that Romance had distinctive stress, whereas Latin had distinctive length of vowels. In Italian and Sardo logudorese, there is distinctive length of consonants and stress, in Spanish only distinctive stress, and in French even stress is no longer distinctive.

Another major distinction between Romance and Latin is that Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost their case endings in most words except for some pronouns. Romanian still has five cases (though the ablative case is no longer represented).

Latin and English

See Latin influence in English for a fuller exposition.

English grammar is independent of Latin grammar, though prescriptive grammarians in English have been influenced by Latin. Attempts to make English grammar follow Latin rules — such as the prohibition against the split infinitive — have not worked successfully in regular usage. However, as many as half the words in English were derived from Latin, including many words of Greek origin first adopted by the Romans, not to mention the thousands of French, Spanish, and Italian words of Latin origin that have also enriched English.

During the 16th and on through the 18th century English writers created huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek roots. These words, dubbed "inkpot" words (as if they had spilled from a pot of ink), were rich in flavor and meaning. Many of these words were used once by the author and then forgotten, but some remain. Imbibe, extrapolate, and inebriation are all inkpot terms carved from Latin and Greek words.

Latin was once taught in most English schools. However, after the introduction of the Modern Language GCSE, it was gradually replaced by other languages, although it is now being taught by more schools along with other classical languages.

Latin education

Nowadays, Latin courses offered in high schools and universities are primarily geared toward the teaching of translation of Latin texts into modern languages, rather than teaching it as a tool of communication. As such, the skill of reading is heavily emphasized, whereas speaking and listening skills are barely touched upon. Nevertheless, there is a growing Living Latin movement, whose supporters believe that Latin can, or should, be taught in the same way that modern, "living" languages are taught; i.e., as a means of both spoken and written communication. Institutions offering Living Latin instruction include the Vatican and the University of Kentucky.

See also

About the Latin language

About the Latin literary heritage

Other related topics

Ages of Latin
—75 BC 75 BC – 1st c. 2nd c. – 8th c. 9th c. – 15th c. 15th c. - 17th c. 17th c. – present
Old Latin Golden Age Latin Silver Age Latin
(Classical Latin)
Late Latin Medieval Latin Humanist Latin New Latin

External links

Wikipedia articles written in this language are located at the
  • Ethnologue report for Latin (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=LTN)
  • Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum (http://forumromanum.org/literature/index.html), a comprehensive webography of Latin texts and their translations
  • The Perseus Project (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/) has many useful pages for the study of classical languages and literatures, including an interactive Latin dictionary (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/resolveform?lang=Latin).
  • words by William whitaker (http://lysy2.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/words.exe) - a dictionary program online capable of looking up various word forms.
  • Retiarius.Org (http://retiarius.org/) includes a Latin text search engine.
  • Latin-English dictionary and Latin grammar from U of Notre Dame (http://www.nd.edu/~archives/latgramm.htm)
  • Latin resources (http://nefer-seba.net/latin/) Latin texts and collection of dictionaries.
  • Free online courses in Latin
  • The Latin Library (http://thelatinlibrary.com/) contains many Latin etexts
  • Textkit (http://textkit.com/) has Latin textbooks and etexts.
  • Latin–English Dictionary (http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Latin-english/): from Webster's Rosetta Edition.
  • Language reference (http://www.language-reference.com/) Cross-foreign-language lexicon powered by its own search engine. All cross combinations between Latin and French, German, Italian, Spanish.
  • Rhetor by Gabriel Harvey (http://comp.uark.edu/~mreynold/rhetor.html) - originally published in 1577 and never again reprinted.

  Results from FactBites:
Learn the Latin language and Teach Latin language vocabulary with Hungry Frog Latin Language software programs for ... (1833 words)
Hear the Latin language spoken aloud as you learn the Latin language vocabulary words and Latin phrases in the Latin dictionary and the Latin lessons you prepare or which the game automatically creates for you.
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Teaching the Latin language is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse for those who prefer a hands-off method of teaching Latin.
Latin language, alphabet and pronunciation (777 words)
Latin was the language of the area known as Latium (modern Lazio), and Rome was one of the towns of Latium.
Latin was used throughout the empire as the language of law, administration and increasingly as the language of everyday life.
Modern Latin was used by the Roman Catholic Church until the mid 20th century and is still used to some extent, particularly in the Vatican City, where it is one of the official languages.
  More results at FactBites »



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