|Region||Originally in the Italian Peninsula, and the zone of influence of the Roman Empire. Today, it is official in Vatican City, although Italian is the working language there.|
|Era||7th century BC – 18th century AD|
Latin (lingua Latīna
Latin is a highly inflected language, with three distinct genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), six or seven noun cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, and vocative), five declensions, four verb conjugations, six tenses (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect), three persons, three moods, two voices (passive and active), two or three aspects, and two numbers (singular and plural). The Latin alphabet is directly derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets.
By the late
Latin has also
A number of phases of the language have been recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, and syntax. There are no hard and fast rules of classification; different scholars emphasize different features. As a result, the list has variants, as well as alternative names.
In addition to the historical phases,
The earliest known form of Latin is Old Latin, which was spoken from the Roman Kingdom to the later part of the Roman Republic period. It is attested both in inscriptions and in some of the earliest extant Latin literary works, such as the comedies of Plautus and Terence. The Latin alphabet was devised from the Etruscan alphabet. The writing later changed from what was initially either a right-to-left or a boustrophedon script to what ultimately became a strictly left-to-right script.
During the late republic and into the first years of the empire, a new
Philological analysis of Archaic Latin works, such as those of Plautus, which contain fragments of everyday speech, indicates that a spoken language, Vulgar Latin (termed sermo vulgi, "the speech of the masses", by Cicero), existed concurrently with literate Classical Latin. The informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by classical authors and those found as graffiti. As it was free to develop on its own, there is no reason to suppose that the speech was uniform either diachronically or geographically. On the contrary, Romanised European populations developed their own dialects of the language, which eventually led to the differentiation of Romance languages.
The Romance languages descend from Vulgar Latin and were originally the popular and informal dialects spoken by various layers of the Latin-speaking population. These dialects were distinct from the classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which Romans generally wrote.
Currently, the five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian. Despite dialectal variation, which is found in any widespread language, the languages of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy have retained a remarkable unity in phonological forms and developments, bolstered by the stabilising influence of their common Christian (Roman Catholic) culture. It was not until the Muslim conquest of Spain in 711, cutting off communications between the major Romance regions, that the languages began to diverge seriously. The Vulgar Latin dialect that would later become Romanian diverged somewhat more from the other varieties, as it was largely separated from the unifying influences in the western part of the Empire.
One key marker of whether a given Romance feature was found in Vulgar Latin is to compare it with its parallel in Classical Latin. If it was not preferred in Classical Latin, then it most likely came from the undocumented contemporaneous Vulgar Latin. For example, the Romance for "horse" (Italian cavallo, French cheval, Spanish caballo, Portuguese cavalo and Romanian cal) came from Latin caballus. However, Classical Latin used equus. Therefore, caballus was most likely the spoken form.
Vulgar Latin began to diverge into distinct languages by the 9th century at the latest, when the earliest extant Romance writings begin to appear. They were, throughout the period, confined to everyday speech, as Medieval Latin was used for writing.
Medieval Latin is the written Latin in use during that portion of the postclassical period when no corresponding Latin vernacular existed. The spoken language had developed into the various incipient Romance languages; however, in the educated and official world, Latin continued without its natural spoken base. Moreover, this Latin spread into lands that had never spoken Latin, such as the Germanic and Slavic nations. It became useful for international communication between the member states of the Holy Roman Empire and its allies.
Without the institutions of the Roman Empire that had supported its uniformity, medieval Latin lost its linguistic cohesion: for example, in classical Latin sum and eram are used as auxiliary verbs in the perfect and pluperfect passive, which are compound tenses. Medieval Latin might use fui and fueram instead. Furthermore, the meanings of many words have been changed and new vocabularies have been introduced from the vernacular. Identifiable individual styles of classically incorrect Latin prevail.
During the Early Modern Age, Latin still was the most important language of culture in Europe. Therefore, until the end of the 17th century, the majority of books and almost all diplomatic documents were written in Latin.
Despite having no native speakers, Latin is still used for a variety of purposes in the contemporary world.
The largest organisation that retains Latin in official and quasi-official contexts is the
Use of Latin for mottos
In the Philippines and in the Western world, many organizations, governments and schools use Latin for their mottos due to its association with formality, tradition, and the roots of Western culture.
Canada's motto A mari usque ad mare ("from sea to sea") and most provincial mottos are also in Latin. The Canadian Victoria Cross is modelled after the British Victoria Cross which has the inscription "For Valour". Because Canada is officially bilingual, the Canadian medal has replaced the English inscription with the Latin Pro Valore.
Spain's motto Plus ultra, meaning "even further", or figuratively "Further!", is also Latin in origin. It is taken from the personal motto of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain (as Charles I), and is a reversal of the original phrase Non terrae plus ultra ("No land further beyond", "No further!"). According to legend, this phrase was inscribed as a warning on the Pillars of Hercules, the rocks on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar and the western end of the known, Mediterranean world. Charles adopted the motto following the discovery of the New World by Columbus, and it also has metaphorical suggestions of taking risks and striving for excellence.
In the United States the unofficial national motto until 1956 was E pluribus unum meaning "Out of many, one". The motto continues to be featured on the Great Seal, it also appears on the flags and seals of both houses of congress and the flags of the states of Michigan, North Dakota, New York, and Wisconsin. The mottos 13 letters symbolically represent the original Thirteen Colonies which revolted from the British Crown. The motto is featured on all presently minted coinage and has been featured in most coinage throughout the nation's history.
Several states of the United States have Latin mottos, such as:
- Arizona's Ditat deus ("God enriches");
- Connecticut's Qui transtulit sustinet ("He who transplanted sustains");
- Ad astra per aspera("Through hardships, to the stars");
- Colorado's Nil sine numine ("Nothing without providence");
- St. Paul's Cathedral;
- Missouri's Salus populi suprema lex esto ("The health of the people should be the highest law");
- New York (state)'s Excelsior ("Ever upward");
- Esse Quam Videri("To be rather than to seem");
- South Carolina's Dum spiro spero ("While [still] breathing, I hope");
- Virginia's Sic semper tyrannis ("Thus always to tyrants"); and
- Montani Semper Liberi("Mountaineers [are] always free").
Many military organizations today have Latin mottos, such as:
- Semper Paratus ("always ready"), the motto of the United States Coast Guard;
- Semper Fidelis ("always faithful"), the motto of the United States Marine Corps;
- Semper supra ("always above"), the motto of the United States Space Force;
- Per ardua ad astra ("Through adversity/struggle to the stars"), the motto of the Royal Air Force (RAF); and
- Vigilamus pro te ("We stand on guard for thee"), the motto of the Canadian Armed Forces.
A law governing body in the Philippines have a Latin motto, such as:
- Justitiae Pax Opus ("Justice, peace, work"), the motto of the Department of Justice (Philippines);
Some colleges and universities have adopted Latin mottos, for example Harvard University's motto is Veritas ("truth"). Veritas was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn, and the mother of Virtue.
Other modern uses
Switzerland has adopted the country's Latin short name Helvetia on coins and stamps, since there is no room to use all of the nation's four official languages. For a similar reason, it adopted the international vehicle and internet code CH, which stands for Confœderatio Helvetica, the country's full Latin name.
Some films of ancient settings, such as
The continued instruction of Latin is often seen as a highly valuable component of a liberal arts education. Latin is taught at many high schools, especially in Europe and the Americas. It is most common in British public schools and grammar schools, the Italian liceo classico and liceo scientifico, the German Humanistisches Gymnasium and the Dutch gymnasium.
- Languages attested from the 7th century BC
- Latin language
- Forms of Latin
- Fusional languages
- Languages of Andorra
- Languages of France
- Languages of Italy
- Languages of Portugal
- Languages of Romania
- Languages of Spain
- Languages of Vatican City
- Languages with own distinct writing systems
- Subject–object–verb languages