Latin was the language spoken by the Ancient Romans around 2,000 years ago.
It developed in the Italian peninsula specifically in Latium, the region of central western Italy, in which the city of Rome was founded and grew to be the capital city of the Roman Empire. The original people living there were the Latins and the word, Latin in fact means the “language of the Latins.”
Latin quickly reached many Mediterranean and some northern European regions as a result of the expansion of the Roman Empire. At the height of the Empire, Latin was the official language spoken in business and trade across the known world much like English is today.
Stages of Early Latin
How and when Latin came to be spoken by the Romans is still unresolved. In the same way that all languages change over time, from its beginnings it went through various historical phases each characterized by differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology, and syntax.
One of the most important phases is known as Classical Latin (spoken during the 1st century BCE and the early years of the 1st century CE) which was characterized by the refined and highly stylized literary language sometimes termed Golden Latin.
However, the language spoken in the streets for everyday business differed in both grammar and vocabulary from that of literature. This more commonplace version is known as Vulgar Latin.
Latin slowly changed with the decline of the Roman Empire as education and wealth became ever scarcer. The next major variant was Medieval Latin which was influenced by various Germanic and proto-Romance languages until expurgated by Renaissance scholars. This was used as the official language of scholarship, and science until well into the 18th century.
Modern Romance languages
When Latin mixed with the indigenous languages of the conquered populations it gave birth to the various modern Romance languages we know today.
These modern Romance languages developed form Vulgar Latin in the 6th to 9th centuries and represent the only survivors of the Italic language family. Romance, incidentally, comes from the word Roman and has nothing to do with love and courtship!
There are more than 800 million native speakers worldwide of Romance languages, mainly in Europe and Latin America and many smaller regions scattered throughout the world, as well as large numbers of non-native speakers.
The 5 most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers are Spanish (410 million), Portuguese (220 million), French (75 million), Italian (60 million), and Romanian (25 million).
Today Latin – often incorrectly referred to as a “dead language” – is still spoken fluently by students, scholars, and members of the Christian clergy and many Church Documents are written in Latin with Popes often delivering their speeches in Latin.
It is also largely used in biological taxonomy. Latin is taught in some primary, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions around the world.
Furthermore, Latin vocabulary is still remarkably useful. Latin words have been absorbed into many languages; today almost 60% of English words come from Latin or derivatives of Latin. In addition, it is still used to create new words in English (as well as other languages). In fact you may well be surprised at how many everyday words have Latin roots: agriculture, animal, amateur, champion, campaign, captive, cave, circus, exterior, reference, glacier, itinerary, janitor, laminate, memorial, Montana (as in the US State), pasture, and the list goes on!
Finally we use in English certain common Latin sayings. Most are formally used in legal situations, but even in everyday English we include:
et cetera (etc)
exempli gratia (eg)
id est (ie)
persona non grata
quid pro quo
Latin is a highly inflected language, which means words change form according to their grammatical function. In Latin there are 3 genders, 7 noun cases, 4 verb conjugations, 6 verb tenses, 3 persons, 3 moods, 2 voices, 2 aspects, and 2 numbers.
Compare this to English which is MUCH simpler!