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Alternative meanings: See Latin (disambiguation)

Latin (latina)
Spoken Roman Empire
Region Italic peninsula
Total speakers extinct
Dialects -
Official status
Official language Vatican City
Regulated by none
Language codes
ISO 639-1 la
ISO 639-2 lat
Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. It gained great importance as the formal language of the Roman Empire.

All Romance languages descend from Latin, and many words based on Latin are found in other modern languages such as English. Moreover, in the Western world, Latin was a lingua franca, the learned language for scientific and political affairs, for more than a thousand years, being eventually replaced by French in the 18th century and English in the late 19th. It remains the formal language of the Roman Catholic Church to this day, which includes being the official national language of the Vatican. It is also still used, along with Greek, to furnish the names used in the scientific classification of living things. The closest living common language to Latin is Italian.

Table of contents
1 Main features
2 Latin and Romance
3 Latin and English
4 See also
5 External links

Main features

Latin has an extensive flectional system, which mainly operates by appending strings to a fixed stem. Inflection of nouns and adjectives is termed "declension", that of verbs, "conjugation". There are five declensions of nouns, and four conjugations for verbs. The six noun forms (or "cases") are:

  1. nominative (subjects and predicate nominatives),
  2. genitive (relation, often possession),
  3. dative (indirect objects),
  4. accusative (direct objects, some prepositional phrases),
  5. ablative (separation, source, cause, or instrument),
  6. vocative (direct address).

In addition, there exists in some nouns a locative case used to express place (normally expressed by the ablative with a preposition such as IN), but this hold-over from Indo-European is only found in the names of lakes, cities, towns, similar locales, and a few other words.

Latin and Romance

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Latin evolved into the various Romance languages. These were for many centuries only spoken languages, Latin being still used for writing. (E.g. Latin was the official language of Portugal until 1296 when it was replaced by Portuguese.)

Actually the Romance languages are not derived from Classical Latin but rather from the spoken Vulgar Latin. Latin and Romance differ (for example) in that Romance had distinctive stress whereas Latin had distinctive length of vowels. In Italian and Sardo logudorese, there is distinctive length of consonants and stress, in Spanish only distinctive stress, and in French even stress is no longer distinctive.

Another major distinction between Romance and Latin is that Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost their case endings in most words except for some pronouns. Romanian still has five cases (though the ablative is no longer represented).

Latin and English

English grammar is not a direct derivative of Latin grammar. Attempts to make English grammar fit Latin rules — such as the contrived prohibition against the split infinitive — have not worked successfully in regular usage. However, as many as half the words in English come to us through Latin, including many words of Greek origin first adopted by the Romans, not to mention the thousands of French, Spanish, and Italian words of Latin origin that have also enriched English.

During the 16th and on through the 18th century English writers created huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek roots. These words, dubbed "inkpot" words (as if they had spilled from an pot of ink), were rich in flavor and meaning. Many of these words were used once by the author and then forgotten, but some remain. Imbibe, extrapolate, and inebriation are all inkpot terms carved from Latin and Greek words.

See also

About the Latin language

About the Latin literary heritage

Other related topics

External links