Latin the timeless resonance of Latin has been part of the life of the Catholic Church for almost two thousand years. But the language itself is much older than that. History of Latin

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The timeless resonance of Latin has been part of the life of the Catholic Church for almost two thousand years. But the language itself is much older than that.

History of Latin

Latin is a member of the Italic sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages, which spread across Europe and as far as India about 15,000 years ago. Its major linguistic groups included Indic, Iranian, Greek, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavonic. Other branches of Indo-European – such as Armenian – stem from the original parent speech, which is now lost. Of all today’s European languages, only Basque, Hungarian and Finnish are not of Indo-European origin.

The Latin language was brought into the Italian peninsula by the Italic peoples, who migrated from the north about 1200 years before the birth of Christ. At that time, Rome was an insignificant settlement on the banks of the River Tiber in Latium, central Italy. But by 250 BC, Latin had become the dominant tongue in Italy. As the military, political and cultural power of Rome spread, its soldiers and citizens took their Latin language with them. By the time of Christ, Latin was the common tongue of Western Europe. By the second century after Christ, the Romans dominated all of Europe, western Asia and North Africa, and Latin was spoken in almost every part of the known ancient world. Only Greece, southern Italy and the Near East retained Greek as their primary language until the Arab conquest of 700 AD. Greek survived as the official language of the Byzantine Empire until the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, but in the rest of the empire, Latin prevailed.

Like most languages, Latin was both written and spoken. The colloquial speech of cultured Romans was characterised by a freedom of syntax, by numerous interjections and by the regular use of Greek words. The language of the uneducated classes, known as Vulgar Latin, fostered the Romance languages, spoken today in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Romania.

Latin literature began with the early plays of Roman Comedy in rustic style, dating from about 240BC. The golden age of written Latin, from 70 BC until about AD 14, is famous for the prose works of Julius Caesar, Livy and Cicero, as well as for the poetry of Catullus, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace and Ovid. During the late Latin period, from the second to the sixth century, many Church Fathers wrote down their teachings in Latin. By this time, the Roman Empire was weakening in the face of barbarian assaults, and the Latin language was being affected by foreign forms and idioms.

However, even when the Roman Empire eventually fell, Latin survived and remained an important means of written and spoken communication for another thousand years. As the centuries passed, Latin continued as the international means of communication for educated men and women. Latin remained the official language of the Catholic Church and, at the end of the Middle Ages, interest started to grow in classical Latin as a means of artistic and literary expression. This period (from about 1200 to 1400 AD) was known as the Renaissance, the rebirth of the ancient world and at the same time a transition to the modern world.

New Latin (also called modern Latin) came into existence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Almost all books of scientific, philosophical and religious importance were written in Latin at this time, and Latin remained the common language for European diplomats. Even during the 18th and 19th centuries, Latin remained the language of classical scholarship. The writers Pope, TS Eliot and Milton are examples of authors who were influenced by Latin literature or even wrote in Latin. Although the use of Latin is much more limited in the 21st century, there’s even a radio station in Finland which broadcasts news in Latin, and a CD has been released of Elvis songs in Latin.

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