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About Latin Language

Latin (lingua lătīna, IPA: /laˈtiːna/) is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. With the Roman conquest, Latin was spread to countries around the Mediterranean, including a large part of Europe. Romance languages such as Aragonese, Corsican, Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Sardinian, Spanish and others, are descended from Latin, while many others, especially European languages, have inherited and acquired much of their vocabulary from it. Latin was the international language of science and scholarship in central and western Europe until the 17th century, when it was gradually replaced with vernacular languages.


The Latin heritage has been delivered in these broad genres:

  • Inscriptions
  • Latin literature
  • Latin words and concepts in modern languages and scientific terminology
  • An extensive tradition of instruction in the Latin language, including grammars and dictionaries

Most inscriptions have been published in an internationally agreed upon, monumental, multi-volume series termed the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL). Authors and publishers vary but the format is approximately the same: volumes detailing inscriptions with a critical apparatus stating the provenance and relevant information. The reading and interpretation of these inscriptions is the subject matter of the field of epigraphy. In addition to the approximately 180,000 known inscriptions the works of several hundred ancient authors who wrote in Latin have survived in whole or in part, in substantial works or in fragments to be analyzed in philology. They are in part the subject matter of the field of classics. Their works were published in manuscript form before the invention of printing and now exist in carefully annotated printed editions, such as the Loeb Classical Library by Harvard University Press.

There has also been a major Latin influence in English. In the medieval period, much of this borrowing occurred through ecclesiastical usage established by Saint Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century, or indirectly after the Norman Conquest, through the Anglo-Norman language. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, English writers cobbled together 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 were so useful that they survived. Imbibe and extrapolate are inkhorn terms created from Latin words. Many of the most common polysyllabic English words are simply adapted Latin forms, in a large number of cases adapted by way of Old French.

Language characteristics

Throughout its entire history the Latin language retained the same major characteristics and is on that account classified as one language. These characteristics are reflected best in the classical Latin period and are introduced in this article rather than in the Classical Latin article.

Over its 2500-3000 year history the language varied considerably in minor ways. In general, a native speaker in one historical period understood the Latin of another only with difficulty or not at all. Persons educated in Latin, however, were able through study to broaden their horizons to two or more periods, an event that always commanded the respect of their peers. Queen Elizabeth I of England and her close relatives, for example, who received the best classical education from tutors hired for the purpose from Oxford University, were respected at home and abroad for their command of Latin and ancient Greek. Elizabeth could, when required, transit easily from French or Spanish into Latin for the convenience of foreign dignitaries.


To write Latin, the Romans used the Latin alphabet, derived from the Old Italic alphabet, which itself was derived from the Greek alphabet. The Latin alphabet flourishes today as the writing system for the Romance, Celtic, Germanic (including English and Scots), Baltic and Finnic, and some Slavic (such as Croatian and Czech) languages, among others as Indonesian, Vietnamese and Niger-Congo languages.

The ancient Romans did not use punctuation; macrons (although they did use apices to distinguish between long and short vowels); the letters j, u or w; lowercase letters (although they did have a cursive script); or interword spacing (though dots were occasionally placed between words that would otherwise be difficult to distinguish).


Latin is a synthetic, fusional language: affixes (often suffixes, which usually encode more than one grammatical category) are attached to fixed stems to express gender, number, and case in adjectives, nouns, and pronouns—a process called declension. Affixes are attached to fixed stems of verbs, as well, to denote person, number, tense, voice, mood, and aspect—a process called conjugation.

Contemporary use

Latin lives in the form of Ecclesiastical Latin used for edicts and papal bulls issued by the Catholic Church, and in the form of a sparse sprinkling of scientific or social articles written in it, as well as in numerous Latin clubs. Latin vocabulary is used in science, academia, and law. Classical Latin is taught in many schools often combined with Greek in the study of Classics, though its role has diminished since the early 20th century. The Latin alphabet, together with its modern variants such as the English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and German alphabets, is the most widely used alphabet in the world. Terminology deriving from Latin words and concepts is widely used, among other fields, in philosophy, medicine, biology, and law, in terms and abbreviations such as subpoena duces tecum, q.i.d. (quater in die: "four times a day"), and inter alia (among other things). These Latin terms are used in isolation, as technical terms. In scientific names for organisms, Latin is typically the language of choice, followed by Greek.

The largest organization that still uses Latin in official and quasi-official contexts is the Roman Catholic Church (particularly in the Latin Rite). The Tridentine Mass uses Latin, although the Mass of Paul VI is usually said in the local vernacular language; however, it can be and often is said in Latin, particularly in the Vatican. Indeed, Latin is still the official standard language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and the Second Vatican Council merely authorized that the liturgical books be translated and optionally used in the vernacular languages. Latin is the official language of the Holy See and the Vatican City-State. The Vatican City is also home to the only ATM where instructions are given in Latin.(although only the front invitation page is in Latin, the details are not).

Some films of relevant ancient settings, such as Sebastiane and The Passion of the Christ, have been made with dialogue in Latin for purposes of realism. Occasionally, Latin dialogue is used because of its association with religion or philosophy, in such film/TV series as the Exorcist and Lost (Jughead). Subtitles are usually employed for the benefit of audiences who do not understand Latin. There are also songs written with Latin lyrics.

Many organizations today have Latin mottos, such as "Semper Paratus" (always ready), the motto of the United States Coast Guard, and "Semper Fidelis" (always faithful), the motto of the United States Marine Corps. Several of the states of the United States also have Latin mottos, such as "Montani Semper Liberi" (Mountaineers are always free), the state motto of West Virginia, and "Esse Quam Videri" (To be rather than to seem), that of North Carolina.

Latin grammar has been taught in most Italian schools since the 18th century: for example, in the Liceo classico and Liceo scientifico, Latin is still one of the primary subjects. Latin is taught in many schools and universities around the world as well.

Occasionally, the media broadcasts in Latin, which is targeted at the enthusiasts audience. Notable examples include Radio Bremen in Germany, YLE radio in Finland and Vatican Radio & Television; all of which broadcast news segments and other material in Latin.

As with many languages which are seen as relatively unused in a day to day context - there are many websites and forums maintained in the language by enthusiasts. Wikipedia has over 10,000 articles written in Latin.


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