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Lingua latina
Rome Colosseum inscription 2.jpg
Latin inscription in the Colosseum
Native to Latium, Roman Monarchy, Roman Republic, Roman Empire, Medieval and Early modern Europe, Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (as lingua franca), Vatican City
Ethnicity Latins
Era Vulgar Latin developed into Romance languages, 6th to 9th centuries; the formal language continued as the scholarly lingua franca of medieval Western Europe and as the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church.
Language family
Writing system Latin alphabet 
Official status
Official language in  Holy See
Regulated by In antiquity, Roman schools of grammar and rhetoric.[1] Today, the Pontifical Academy for Latin.
Language codes
ISO 639-1 la
ISO 639-2 lat
ISO 639-3 lat
Linguasphere 51-AAB-a

Latin is an old language that was spoken by the Romans and others during ancient and medieval times. No one speaks Latin as a first language anymore, which makes it a dead language. However, many people around the world study it in school and in other places because it is considered important to understand the past societies and even how current languages work.

Latin is used today in taxonomy to give technical names to species and groups of species of living things. Some terms used in medicine to name parts of the body (such as bones) and diseases are also written in Latin.

Since Latin was very important to Christianity through many centuries, it is still spoken today during some religious activities such as prayers and cults. For the same reason, it is considered official in Vatican, where the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, lives. [2] People in the Vatican sometimes communicate in Latin (if they have different mother tongues) and sometimes in ceremonies.

Varieties[change | change source]

There were two types of Latin, Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin. Classical Latin was the kind of Latin used by the educated Romans and is the one used by the Roman Catholic Church and studied by many students around the world and Vulgar Latin was the more common spoken variety used by the common non-educated Romans and the variety taught to the peoples conquered by the Romans.

Latin was the most important language in most of Europe in the Middle Ages. It was taught in many European schools, and all universities used Latin as the teaching language. Latin began to lose its importance in the Reformation, but it was still often used by authors of scientific books and encyclopedias. Until about 1900 many universities accepted dissertations written in Latin.

When people from other regions of Europe learned Vulgar Latin during Roman conquests, they did not speak and write it correctly in most cases, and so in the course of time each of these regions developed its own language, that is, a simplified form of Latin. Those languages are called Romance languages and they are still spoken today. The five Romance languages with the largest number of speakers are Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. The Romance languages are very similar to each other, and speakers of one Romance language can understand many words and sentences (in both texts and spoken conversations) from another Romance language. For example, speakers of Portuguese can well understand Spanish. It can be said that the Romance languages are modern dialects of Latin.

Basic structure and grammar[change | change source]

The Latin on this plaque reads: "In the year of 1883 after noon within the second and third hours, the Emperor Francis Joseph, with a company of people, deigned to honor this library with his presence."

Latin has almost the same inflection structure as Ancient Greek. It uses a different alphabet, though.

Latin has seven different noun cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative and locative. The vocative case is almost always the same as the nominative case. The locative takes the from of the dative. Latin nouns are declined, or changed, according to how they are used in the sentence. A noun can be declined five different ways. These ways are called declensions. The declensions are numbered 1 through 5 (1st Declension, 2nd Declension, ...), and each one has unique endings that identify the noun's declension. When a noun is declined, twelve forms are made, two for each of the noun cases (the locative is omitted).

Verbs also have a similar thing done to them; changing a verb is called conjugation. When a verb is conjugated, six forms are made. There are five factors that can change a verb: person, number, tense, voice, and mood. In all, there are 120 possible forms of each Latin verbs.

Writing Latin[change | change source]

Latin used to be written on plates of wax. These had little space, so words were run together (there was no space between words). Sometimes papyrus was used, but this was expensive. Punctuation is an ancient idea, but came to Latin later.[3] Lowercase letters ('small letters') are relatively modern inventions. The Roman alphabet was derived from the Etruscan language.

The following is the introduction to the Metamorphoses by Ovid; it describes the Golden Age.

Old writing Modern writing


Aurea prima sata est aetas, quae vindice nullo,
sponte sua, sine lege fidem rectumque colebat.
Poena metusque aberant nec verba minantia fixo
aere legebantur, nec supplex turba timebat
iudicis ora sui, sed erant sine vindice tuti.
Nondum caesa suis, peregrinum ut viseret orbem,
montibus in liquidas pinus descenderat undas,
nullaque mortales praeter sua litora norant.
Nondum praecipites cingebant oppida fossae,
non tuba directi, non aeris cornua flexi,
non galeae, non ensis erant: sine militis usu
mollia securae peragebant otia gentes.

English translation

"This was the Golden Age that, without coercion, without laws, spontaneously nurtured the good and the true. There was no fear or punishment: there were no threatening words to be read, fixed in bronze, no crowd of suppliants fearing the judge’s face: they lived safely without protection. No pine tree felled in the mountains had yet reached the flowing waves to travel to other lands: human beings only knew their own shores. There were no steep ditches surrounding towns, no straight war-trumpets, no coiled horns, no swords and helmets. Without the use of armies, people passed their lives in gentle peace and security."

References[change | change source]

  1. "Schools". Britannica (1911). 
  2. "AskGeo - Vatican City".[dead link]
  3. The Mesha Stele or Moabite Stone is a stele set up around 840 BC by King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom in modern Jordan). The stele uses full stops.

Other websites[change | change source]