Language family: Indo-European
Language Group: Italic
Geographical use: originally in Latium, afterwards in the whole Roman empire from 600 BC to 600 AD
Information: Extinct language. Latin is
still the official language of the Roman Catholic church.
Contrary to general belief, Latin did not originate in Italy. Italic peoples introduced the language from the north into the peninsula. Latin is related to Sanskrit, Greek and to the Germanic and Celtic languages. In Italy Latin was the dialect spoken in the Rome region.
The history of Latin can be split into 4 periods: the Early Period, the Golden Period, the Silver Period and the Late Latin Period. The Early Period runs from 240 BC to 70 BC and comprises the works of Ennius, Plautus, ... The Golden Period (70 BC to 14 AD) is known for the works of Caesar, Cicero, Vergilius, Horatius, etc. In this period Latin was most rich and most flexible. In the Silver Period (14-130) Latin becomes more refined and very brief epigrams are used (works of Seneca and Tacitus). In the Late Latin Period (2nd century to 636) Latin borrowed many foreign forms and expressions of the invading barbarian neighbour tribes.
In the Roman World cultivated Romans (Plautus, Cicero, Horatius, ...) wrote their works in the spoken language of their time. That spoken language is featured by a loose syntax, frequent use of interjections and the borrowing of Greek words. This spoken language (also called sermo cotidianus) cannot be confused with the language of the uncultivated class (the so-called sermo plebeius), where syntax is more fixed, new words are easily introduced and word order is kept simple. This sermo plebeius is also called Vulgar Latin. The later Romance language are derived of this everyday language.
In the Middle Ages Latin was the written language of Western Europe. The Latin of this period is called Medieval Latin or Low Latin. Also for the common population Latin remained a living language and it underwent a great many changes. Syntax was simplified further and new words were introduced. Still, Latin changed less in this period than e.g. English or French.
In the 15th and 16th centuries New Latin came about (also called Modern Latin). The Renaissance writers developed a new and brilliant Latin literature. Almost all scientific, religeous and philosophical books of that time were written in Latin (Desiderius Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton). Latin was also the language of diplomacy.
As an international language Latin lasted until the end of the 17th century. But in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries classical education was still given in Cicero's language. Nowadays the catholic church still uses Latin in its official documents.
It is uncertain how Latin should be pronounced. In every country Latin is pronounced as if it were the local language. Yet, there is a Roman Method for which the Latin pronunciation of Cicero's time has been reproduced. This method is used in various universities. The only exception for this pronunciation method is the pronunciation of proper names. They are still pronounced in different ways.