Latin Explained

For other uses see Latin (disambiguation).

Latin
Nativename:Latin: Lingua Latina
Pronunciation:/laˈtiːna/
States:western Mediterranean
Familycolor:Indo-European
Fam2:Italic
Fam3:Latino-Faliscan
Nation: Vatican City
Agency:Opus Fundatum Latinitas
(Roman Catholic Church)
Iso1:la
Iso2:lat
Iso3:lat

Latin (lingua Latīna,) is an Italic language, historically spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. Through the Roman conquest, Latin spread throughout the Mediterranean and a large part of Europe. Languages such as Italian, French, Romanian, Spanish, and Portuguese are descended from Latin, while many others, including English, have inherited and acquired much of their vocabulary from Latin. It was the international language of science and scholarship in central and western Europe until the 17th century. There are two varieties of Latin: Classical Latin, the literary dialect used in poetry and prose, and Vulgar Latin, the form of the language spoken by ordinary people. Vulgar Latin was preserved as a spoken language in much of Europe after the decline of the Roman Empire, and by the 9th century diverged into the various Romance languages.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Latin survived as the lingua franca of educated classes in the West, and this survival was reinforced by the adoption of Latin by the Catholic Church. In this milieu, it survived as a mother tongue at least into the second millennium A.D. and is referred to as Medieval Latin. The Renaissance had the paradoxical effect of briefly reinforcing the position of Latin as a spoken language, through its adoption by the Renaissance Humanists. After the 16th century, the popularity of Medieval Latin began to decline.

Latin lives on in the form of Ecclesiastical Latin used for edicts and papal bulls issued by the Catholic Church. Much Latin vocabulary is used in science, academia, and law. Classical Latin, the literary language of the late Republic and early Empire, is still taught in many primary, grammar, and secondary 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 and French alphabets, is the most widely used alphabet in the world. Although Latin is no longer spoken in everyday speech it is by no means an endangered language or an extinct language. It is quickly becoming an increasingly popular subject for school pupils. The number of students that have the opportunity to learn Latin as part of their curriculum has increased steadily over the past ten years.

History

See main article: History of Latin. Latin is a member of the Italic languages. In the 9th or 8th century BC, the Italic languages were brought to the Italian peninsula by migrating tribes, and the dialect spoken in Latium around the River Tiber, where Roman civilization would develop, evolved into Latin.

Although surviving Roman literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, the actual spoken language of the Western Roman Empire among ordinary people was what is known as Vulgar Latin, which differed from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Although Latin long remained the legal and governmental language of the Roman Empire, Greek was the secondary language of the well-educated elite, as much of the literature and philosophy studied by upper class Romans was written in Greek. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which would become the Byzantine Empire after the final split of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395, Greek eventually supplanted Latin as the legal and governmental language; and it had long been the lingua franca of Eastern citizens of all classes.

Orthography

See main article: Latin alphabet. 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 some Slavic (such as Polish) languages, among others.

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). So, a sentence originally written as:

LVGETEOVENERESCVPIDINESQVE

would be rendered in a modern edition as

Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesqueor with macrons

Lūgēte, Ō Venerēs Cupīdinēsque

and translated as

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids

The Roman cursive script is commonly found on the many wax tablets excavated at sites such as forts, an especially extensive set having been discovered at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in Britain. Curiously enough, most of the Vindolanda tablets show spaces between words, though spaces were avoided in monumental inscriptions from that era.

Legacy

The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and, eventually, Vulgar Latin began to diverge into various dialects. Vulgar Latin gradually evolved into a number of distinct Romance languages by the 9th century. These were, for many centuries, only oral languages, Latin still being used for writing.

For example, Latin was still the official language of Portugal until 1296 when Portuguese replaced it. Many of these "daughter" languages, including Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh and Romanian flourished, the differences between them growing greater and more formal over time.

Out of the Romance languages, Italian is the most conservative descendant of Latin in terms of vocabulary[1], and Sardinian is the most conservative in terms of phonology.[2]

Some of the differences between Classical Latin and the Romance languages have been used in attempts to reconstruct Vulgar Latin. For example, the Romance languages have distinctive stress on certain syllables, whereas Latin had this feature in addition to distinctive length of vowels. In Italian and Sardo logudorese, there is distinctive length of consonants as well as stress; in Spanish and Portuguese, only distinctive stress; while in French length (for most speakers) and stress are no longer distinctive. Another major distinction between Romance and Latin is that all Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost grammatical case[3] .

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.

Latin mottos are adopted by many organizations.

Pronunciation

See main article: Latin spelling and pronunciation.

Grammar

See main article: Latin grammar. 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.

Nouns

See main article: Latin declension. There are six main Latin noun cases. These play a major part in determining a noun's syntactic role in the sentence, so word order is not as important in Latin as it is in some other languages, such as English. Because of noun cases, words can often be moved around in a sentence without significantly altering its meaning, though the emphasis will have been altered. The cases, with their most important uses, are these:

  1. Nominative: used when the noun is the subject of the sentence or phrase, or when functioning as a predicative of the subject. The thing or person acting (e.g., The boy runs. Puer currit.)
  2. Genitive: used when the noun is the possessor of an object (example: "the horse of the man", or "the man's horse"—in both of these cases, the word man would be in the genitive case when translated into Latin). Also indicates material of which something greater is made (example: "a group of people"; "a number of gifts"—people and gifts would be in the genitive case). Some nouns are genitive with special verbs and adjectives too. (e.g., The cup is full of wine. Poculum plenum vini est. The master of the slave had beaten him. Dominus servi eum verberaverat.)
  3. Dative: used when the noun is the indirect object of the sentence, with special verbs, with certain prepositions, and if used as agent, reference, or even possessor. (e.g., The merchant hands over the stola to the woman. Mercator feminae stolam tradit.)
  4. Accusative: used when the noun is the direct object of the sentence/phrase, with certain prepositions, or as the subject of an infinitive. The thing or person having something done to them. (e.g., The slave woman carries the wine. Ancilla vinum portat.)
  5. Ablative: used when the noun demonstrates separation or movement from a source, cause, agent, or instrument, or when the noun is used as the object of certain prepositions; adverbial.
  6. Vocative: used when the noun is used in a direct address. The vocative form of a noun is the same as the nominative except for second declension nouns ending in -us. The -us becomes an -e or if it ends in -ius (such as filius) then the ending is just -i (fili) (as opposed to the plural nominative (filii). (e.g., "Master!" shouted the slave. "Domine!" servus clamavit.)

There is also a seventh case, called the Locative case, used to indicate a location (corresponding to the English "in" or "at"). This is far less common than the other six cases of Latin nouns and usually applies to cities, small towns, and small islands, along with a few common nouns. In the first and second declension singular, its form coincides with the genitive (Roma becomes Romae, "in Rome"). In the plural, and in the other declensions, it coincides with the dative and ablative (Athenae becomes Athenis, "at Athens").

Latin lacks definite and indefinite articles; thus puer currit can mean either "the boy runs" or "a boy runs".

Verbs

See main article: Latin conjugation. Verbs in Latin are usually identified by four main conjugations, groups of verbs with similarly inflected forms. The first conjugation is typified by active infinitive forms ending in -āre, the second by active infinitives ending in -ēre, the third by infinitives ending in -ere, and the fourth by active infinitives ending in -īre. However, there are exceptions to these rules. Further, there is a subset of the 3rd conjugation, the -iō verbs, which behave somewhat like the 4th conjugation. There are six general tenses in Latin (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect), three grammatical moods (indicative, imperative and subjunctive, in addition to the infinitive, participle, gerund, gerundive and supine), three persons (first, second, and third), two numbers (singular and plural), two voices (active and passive), and a few aspects. Verbs are described by four principal parts:

  1. The first principal part is the first person singular, present tense, indicative mood, active voice form of the verb (or passive voice for verbs lacking an active voice).
  2. The second principal part is the present infinitive active (or passive, as above) form.
  3. The third principal part is the first person singular, perfect indicative active (or passive when there is no active) form.
  4. The fourth principal part is the supine form, or alternatively, the nominative singular, perfect passive participle form of the verb. The fourth principal part can show either one gender of the participle, or all three genders (-us for masculine, -a for feminine, and -um for neuter). It can also be the future participle when the verb cannot be made passive.

Instruction in Latin

See main article: Instruction in Latin.

The linguistic element of Latin courses offered in secondary schools and in universities is primarily geared toward an ability to translate Latin texts into modern languages, rather than using the language for the purpose of oral communication, as many modern concepts, such as those encountered in technology, have no accepted modern linguistic equivalents, and no formal organization for adopting new words. Thus the skills of reading and writing are heavily emphasized, while speaking and listening skills are de-emphasized (usually passively, through omission).

However, there is a growing movement, sometimes known as the Living Latin movement, whose supporters believe that Latin can be taught in the same way that modern "living" languages are taught, i.e., as a means of both spoken and written communication. This approach to learning the language assists speculative insight into how ancient authors spoke and incorporated sounds of the language stylistically; patterns in Latin poetry and literature can be difficult to identify without an understanding of the sounds of words.

Living Latin instruction is provided in the Vatican, and some institutions in the U.S. like the University of Kentucky. In Great Britain, the Classical Association encourages this approach, and Latin language books describing the adventures of a mouse called Minimus have been published. In the United States, the National Junior Classical League (with more than 50,000 members) encourages high school students to pursue the study of Latin, and the National Senior Classical League encourages college students to continue their studies of the language.

Many international auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin. Interlingua, which lays claim to a sizeable following, is sometimes considered a simplified, modern version of the language. Latino sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is a language created from Latin with its inflections dropped.

Latin translations of modern literature such as Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Olivia, Tintin, Asterix, Harry Potter, Le Petit Prince, Max und Moritz, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Cat in the Hat are intended to bolster interest in the language.

Modern use of Latin

See main article: Recent Latin.

Today, Latin terminology 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). The Latin terms are used in isolation, as technical terms.

The largest organization that still uses Latin in official contexts is the Roman Catholic Church (particularly in the Latin Rite). Although the Mass of Paul VI is usually said in the local vernacular language, 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.

In situations when lingual neutrality is preferred, such as in scientific names for organisms, Latin is typically the language of choice.

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 dialogues are used due to 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.

The University Orator at the University of Cambridge makes a speech in Latin marking the achievements of each of the honorands at the annual Honorary Degree Congregations. These degree ceremonies as well as the formal proceedings of other degree ceremonies are conducted in Latin. Harvard also holds a portion of its graduation ceremonies in Latin.

See also

Latin language

Latin culture

Historical periods

Notes

References

External links

Learn Latin

Contemporary usage

Notes and References

  1. Book: Grimes, Barbara F.. Barbara F. Grimes. Consulting Editors: Richard S. Pittman & Joseph E. Grimes. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. thirteenth edition. 1996. October. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Academic Pub. Dallas, Texas. 1-55671-026-7.
  2. http://www.askoxford.com/languages/culturevulture/italy/diedialect/ Foreign Languages: Italian
  3. http://www.lrc.columbia.edu/lrc/?q=node/194 Columbia University Language Resource Center