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lingua latina
Spoken in: Vatican City 
Region: Italian peninsula and Europe
Language extinction: Late Latin developed into various Romance languages by the 9th century
Language family: Indo-European
Official status
Official language in: Vatican City (used for some official purposes)
Regulated by: no official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1: la
ISO 639-2: lat
ISO 639-3: lat

Template:Infobox Language/IPA notice

Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. It gained wide usage as the formal language of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. An inflectional and synthetic language, Latin relies little on word order, conveying meaning through a system of affixes attached to word stems. The Latin alphabet, derived from the Greek, remains the most widely used alphabet in the world.

Although now widely considered an extinct language with very few fluent speakers, Latin has had a major influence on many languages that are still thriving, and continues to see wide use in areas such as academia. All Romance languages are descended from Vulgar Latin, and many words adapted from Latin are found in other modern languages, such as English. Moreover, in the Western world, Latin was the lingua franca, the learned language for scientific and political affairs, for more than a thousand years, eventually being 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, and thus the official language of the Vatican. The Church used Latin as its primary liturgical language until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Latin is also still used—drawing heavily on Greek roots—to furnish the names used in the scientific classification of living things. The modern study of Latin, along with Greek, is known as Classics.


Main article: History of the Latin Language
Duenos inscription

The Duenos inscription, from the 6th century BC, is the second-earliest known Latin text.

Latin is a member of the family of Italic languages, and its alphabet, the Latin alphabet, is based on the Old Italic alphabet, which is in turn derived from the Greek alphabet. 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 and the non-Indo-European Etruscan language in northern Italy, and by Greek in southern Italy.

Although surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, an artificial and 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, Greek eventually supplanted Latin as both the written and spoken language.


The language of Rome has had a profound impact on later cultures, as demonstrated by this Latin Bible from AD 1407.

The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and over time Vulgar Latin evolved and dialectized in different locations, gradually shifting into a number of distinct Romance languages beginning around the 9th century. These were for many centuries only spoken languages, Latin still being used for writing. For example, Latin was the official language of Portugal until 1296, when it was replaced by Portuguese. Many of these languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian, flourished, the differences between them growing greater over time.

Classical Latin and the Romance languages differ in a number of ways, and some of these differences have been used in attempts to reconstruct Vulgar Latin. For example, the Romance languages have 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 all Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost their case endings in most words, except for some pronouns. Romanian retains a direct case (nominative/accusative), an indirect case (dative/genitive), and a vocative.

There has also been a major Latin influence in English. Although English is Germanic rather than Romanic in origin—Britannia was a Roman province, but the Roman presence in Britain had effectively disappeared by the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions—English borrows heavily from Latin and Latin-derived words, drawing from ecclesiastical usage and from Romance languages like French. In fact, after the Battle of Hastings, the new King of England, William the Conqueror, spoke French, and French became the accepted language of the court and nobility, drastically changing the pre-invasion English language (Old English). However, English grammar is independent of Latin grammar, though prescriptive grammarians in English have been heavily 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.

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, English writers created huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek roots. These words were dubbed "inkhorn" or "inkpot" words, as if they had spilled from a pot of ink. Many of these words were used once by the author and then forgotten, but some remain. Imbibe, extrapolate, dormant and inebriation are all inkhorn terms carved from Latin words. In fact, the word etymology is derived from the Greek word etymologia, meaning "true sense of the word". It is said that 80% of all scholarly English words are derived from Latin, in a large number of cases by way of French.


Main article: Latin grammar

Latin is a synthetic inflectional language: affixes (which usually encode more than one grammatical category) 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 (declinationes) of nouns and four conjugations of verbs.

There are seven noun cases:

  1. Nominative (used as the subject of the verb or the predicate nominative),
  2. Genitive (used to indicate relation or possession, often represented by the English of or the addition of 's to a noun),
  3. Dative (used of the indirect object of the verb, often represented by the English to or for. Common verbs used with this case include giving, showing, helping, trusting, and telling.)
  4. Accusative (used of the direct object of the verb, or object of the preposition in some cases),
  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),
  7. Locative case (used for certain words such as "house", "ground", and "countryside". The locative case also applies to city names such as "Rome", "Venice" or "Naples".)

Latin itself, being a very old language, is far closer to Proto-Indo-European than are most modern Western European languages; it has, in fact, about the same relationship with PIE as modern Italian or French has to Latin.

There are six general tenses in Latin (technically they are tense/aspect/mood complexes). The indicative mood can be used with all of them. The subjunctive mood, however, has only present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect tenses. These tenses in the subjunctive mood do not completely correlate in meaning to the tenses in the indicative. The following examples are of the first conjugation verb laudare ("to praise") in the indicative mood and the active voice:

Present system tenses
  1. Present (laudo, "I praise," "I am praising")
  2. Imperfect (laudabam, "I was praising"; laudabat, "he was praising")
  3. Future (laudabo, "I shall praise," "I will praise")
Perfect system tenses
  1. Perfect (laudavi, "I praised," "I have praised")
  2. Pluperfect (laudaveram, "I had praised")
  3. Future perfect (laudavero, "I shall have praised," "I will have praised")

The future perfect tense can also imply a normal future idea (like in "When I will have run...").


Latin dictionary

A multi-volume Latin dictionary in the University Library of Graz.

Although Latin was once the universal academic language in Europe, in recent years it has been supplanted by the study of many other languages; it is a requirement in relatively few places, and in some schools is not even offered. However, in Italy, Latin is still compulsory in secondary schools such as the Liceo Classico and Liceo Scientifico, which are usually attended by people who aim to the highest level of education. In Liceo Classico, ancient Greek is also a compulsory subject. In France, Latin is found in the Lycée Classique, and in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands at the highest level of high schools called Gymnasium. Latin was once taught in many of the schools in Britain with academic leanings—perhaps 25% of the total.[1] However, the requirement for it was gradually abandoned in the professions such as law and medicine, and then, from around the late 1960s, for admission to university. After the introduction of the Modern Language GCSE in the 1980s, it was gradually replaced by other languages, although it is now being taught by more schools along with other classical languages.

The linguistic element of Latin courses offered in high schools or secondary schools, and in universities, is primarily geared toward an ability to translate Latin texts into modern languages, rather than using it in oral communication. As such, the skill of reading is heavily emphasized, whereas speaking and listening skills are barely touched upon. However, there is a growing movement, sometimes known as the Living Latin movement, whose supporters believe that Latin can, or should, be taught in the same way that modern "living" languages are taught, that is, as a means of both spoken and written communication. One of the most interesting aspects of such an approach is that it assists speculative insight into how many of the ancient authors spoke and incorporated sounds of the language stylistically; without understanding how the language is meant to be heard it is very difficult to identify patterns in Latin poetry. Institutions offering Living Latin instruction include the Vatican and the University of Kentucky. In Britain, the Classical Association encourages this approach, and there has been something of a vogue for books describing the adventures of a mouse called Minimus. In the United States, there is a thriving competitive organization for high school Latin students, the National Junior Classical League (the second-largest youth organization in the world after the Boy Scouts), backed up by the Senior Classical League for college students.

Many would-be international auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin, and the moderately successful Interlingua considers itself to be the modernized and simplified version of the language (le latino moderne international e simplificate).

Latin translations of modern literature such as Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Le Petit Prince, Max und Moritz, and The Cat in the Hat have also helped boost interest in the language.

See also[]

  • Latin grammar
    • Ablative absolute
    • Latin declension
    • Latin conjugation
    • Word order in Latin
  • Latin spelling and pronunciation
  • Latin alphabet
    • Latin-1
  • Latin literature
  • List of Latin phrases
  • Greek and Latin roots
  • List of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names
  • List of Latin words with English derivatives
    • Latin verbs with English derivatives
    • Latin nouns with English derivatives
  • List of Latin place names in Europe

  • List of Wikipedia users who speak Latin

Ages of Latin
—75 BC    75 BC – 200    300 – 1300    1300 – 1600    1600 – 1900   1900 – present
Old Latin    Classical Latin    Medieval Latin    Renaissance Latin   New Latin    Recent Latin
See also: History of Latin, Latin literature, Vulgar Latin, Ecclesiastical Latin, Romance languages


  • Bennett, Charles E. Latin Grammar (Allyn and Bacon, Chicago, 1908)
  • N. Vincent: "Latin", in The Romance Languages, M. Harris and N. Vincent, eds., (Oxford Univ. Press. 1990), ISBN 0195208293
  • Waquet, Françoise, Latin, or the Empire of a Sign: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries (Verso, 2003) ISBN 1859844022; translated from the French by John Howe.
  • Wheelock, Frederic. Latin: An Introduction (Collins, 6th ed., 2005) ISBN 0060784237

External links[]

Latin edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikibooks has more about this subject:

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