Background and status
Latin falls under the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages, and during the 5th century BCE was the native language to an area called Latium (now Lazio) in central Italy, of which Rome was a prominent town. As the Roman Kingdom spread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Latin became the language used across the empire as the language of the law, government and gradually also of everyday life.
The 15th century in Europe saw Latin being systematically replaced by the written forms of the various dialects in use across Europe. These dialects, most of which were influenced by or derived from Latin, are now known as the modern Romance languages, namely Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Romanian. This was the cause of Latin losing its status as the foremost language of learning and religion.
Due to the fact that nowadays no one claims Latin as a first language, it is considered a dormant language. However, a Latin dialect called Ecclesiastical Latin remains the official language of the Vatican City and the Catholic Church, with many students and Christian clergy speaking Latin fluently.
Two initial forms of Latin were Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin. Classical Latin was used by the upper-class Romans, while Vulgar Latin was the more common spoken variety and the dialect taught to the societies ruled by the Romans. Wishing to communicate freely with the crowds, Vulgar Latin (sermo vulgi, or “the speech of the masses”) became the overriding vernacular. Eventually Vulgar Latin developed into what we now know as Romanian.
Across the world, Latin terminology is still used widely in specialised areas such as science, technology, medicine, and law. Currently, there is an increasing ‘Living Latin’ movement directed at revitalising Latin as a spoken and written form of first language communication.
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