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Latin Language - An Overview From a Translation Agency

Probably the most popular of the ancient Indo-European languages, Latin was originally spoken in a region surrounding Rome – Latium. Over a short period of time it managed to grow and become the language of the Roman Republic and afterwards of the Roman Empire. The progressive expansion of the powerful Roman Empire helped Latin spread across Europe and even reach some distant corners of the world.

The fact that Latin was the language of the Catholic Church also contributed to its popularization. Medieval priests, scholars and philosophers spoke and wrote it, thus passing it along to their listeners and to their students. It was only in the fifteenth century that Latin started to lose its dominance in religion and scholarship. The vernacular languages of Europe slowly took its place in literature, law and administration.

Vulgar Latin, the ancestor of the Romance Languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, French, Catalan etc) is rather different from Classical Latin, which was considered the language of literature and it was used extensively by writers such as Ovid, Virgil and Cicero between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD.

Vulgar Latin is considered the “lingua franca” of the western world. Its grammar was the starting point and the basis of the grammar of most European languages. Even more importantly, these languages borrowed Latin words, adapted them and made them part of their vocabulary. For example, more than fifty percent of the commonly used English language (both grammar and vocabulary) is taken more or less directly from Latin. The Latin alphabet is the most common writing system nowadays. It derived from Etruscan and Greek alphabets and some of its earliest samples were found in inscriptions, annals, laws and hymns.

Although it is still used by the Catholic Church, Latin no longer has any native speakers and thus it is rightfully considered a “dead language”. However, Latin is still studied and taught in schools and Latin texts continue to be translated for academic purposes mostly. Ecclesiastical Latin is the official language of Vatican City and, considering the power the Catholic Church still masters, it will probably manage to survive the centuries to come.

Ioana Mihailas is a linguist for Lingo24 translation agency London, a leading provider of Latin translation services.

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