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L is for … Latin

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Theme: Languages of the World

Latin

Latin (lingua latina) is a member of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family. Italic speakers were not native to Italy. They migrated to the Italian Peninsula in the 2nd millennium BC. Before their arrival, Italy was populated by Etruscans, a non-Indo-European-speaking people, in the north, and by Greeks in the south. Latin developed in west-central Italy in an area along the River Tiber known as Latium, which became the birthplace of the Roman civilisation. As Rome extended its political power over the Italian Peninsula, Latin become dominant over the other Italic languages.

The expansion of the Roman Empire also spread Latin throughout the territories occupied by the Romans who spoke Vulgar Latin, a colloquial variety of the language spoken by Roman citizens. Vulgar Latin was a language of wider communication but it was not a standardised written language like Classical Latin, a standardised form of the language used for all written communication. Vulgar Latin varied across the territories occupied by the Romans, depending on a variety of factors, including the influence of local languages. As the Roman Empire disintegrated and communication with Rome declined, regional forms of Vulgar Latin diverged more and more from the classical norms in structure, vocabulary, and pronunciation. They became less and less mutually intelligible, and by the 9th century developed into separate Romance languages, as we know them today.

As Vulgar Latin continued to evolve, Classical Latin continued mostly unchanged in somewhat standardised form throughout the Middle Ages as the written language of religion and scholarship. As such, it has had a profound effect on all Western European languages.

Fascinating facts about Latin

Latin is the language of the Vatican.

Plants and animals are usually named in writing related to zoology and botany, by giving a Latin name alongside the name in a modern language. The Latin name is the one that has a precise, agreed definition in taxonomy. Many other words used in science and medicine were created from Latin words, or are Latin words.

Latin was the most important language in most of Europe in the Middle Ages. It was taught in many European schools, and all universities used Latin as the teaching language. Latin began to lose its importance in the Reformation, but it was still often used by authors of scientific books and encyclopedias. Until about 1900 many universities accepted dissertations written in Latin.

It has almost the same inflection structure as Ancient Greek, but uses a different alphabet.

Latin used to be written on plates of wax. These had little space, so words were run together (there was no space between words). Sometimes papyrus was used, but this was expensive. Punctuation and lowercase letters are modern inventions.

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