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Latin and the Romance Languages

The rise of the Latin language is linked to the rise of the Roman Empire. The decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire did not however end its influence.

Roman conquest brought the Latin language to much of present day Europe as well as the farthest reaches of the Empire and its seeds eventually gave birth to the languages spoken in present day regions of France, Italy, Romania, Spain, and Portugal. These languages include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, and Romansh among various other minor languages.

The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and, eventually, Latin dialects emerged based on the location of its speakers. Vulgar Latin gradually evolved into a number of distinct Romance languages by the 9th century CE.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire did not bring about the end of Latin however. This was due in part to the almost simultaneous rise of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church maintained Latin as the language of liturgy and Scripture by extension established it as the lingua franca of educated echelons of society in the West.

Surviving Roman literature consists largely in the form of Classical Latin. The spoken language of the Western Roman Empire was Vulgar Latin, which differs from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Latin remained the legal language of the Roman Empire but the Greek language became the dominant language in the eastern reaches of the Empire particularly with the rise of the Byzantine Empire after the final split of the Roman Empires in 395 C.E. With the survival and at times flourishing of the Byzantine Empire, Greek supplanted Latin as the legal language and its long status as lingua franca of most Eastern citizens was recognized. It remained the de facto language of both education in Europe until the 17th century.

By the 17th century, however a noticeable decline in Latin became clear. Vulgar Latin nevertheless was preserved in various regional dialects.

Latin survives in the Catholic Church which recently authorized the return of the Latin Mass. Latin vocabulary is also present in science and law and continues to be taught in many primary, grammar, and secondary schools.

One area of interest that differentiates Latin and its Romance descendants is that Romance languages with the exception of Romanian, no longer maintain their case endings in most words, except for some pronouns.

According to Barbara Grimes writing in Ethnologue: Languages of the World, out of the Romance languages, Italian is the purest descendant of Latin in terms of vocabulary.

Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler and an enthusiast for foreign languages, history, and foreign cultures. He writes articles on history and languages for http://theLanguageChronicle.com and has used the Pimsleur Method to learn various languages.

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