Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. It gained wide usage as the formal language of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. An inflectional and synthetic language, Latin relies little on word order, conveying meaning through a system of affixes attached to word stems. The Latin alphabet, derived from the Greek, remains the most widely used alphabet in the world.
Although now widely considered an extinct language with very few fluent speakers and almost no native ones, Latin has had a major influence on many languages that are still thriving, and continues to see wide use in areas such as academia. Six out of every ten English words used in common language are derived, at least indirectly, from Latin, and an even greater proportion of scientific words are derived directly from Latin. All Romance languages are descended from Vulgar Latin, and many words adapted from Latin are found in other modern languages, including English. Moreover, in the Western world, Latin was the lingua franca, the learned language for scientific and political affairs, for more than a thousand years, eventually being replaced by French in the 18th century. Ecclesiastical Latin remains the formal language of the Roman Catholic Church to this day, and thus the official language of the Vatican. The Church used Latin as its primary liturgical language until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Latin is also still used—drawing heavily on Greek roots—to furnish the names used in the scientific classification of living things. The modern study of Latin, along with Greek, is part of the Classics.
Latin is a member of the family of Italic languages, and its alphabet, the Latin alphabet, is based on the Old Italic alphabet, which is in turn derived from the Greek alphabet. Latin was first brought to the Italian peninsula in the 9th or 8th century BC by migrants from the north, who settled in the Latium region, specifically around the River Tiber, where the Roman civilization first developed. Latin was influenced by the Celtic dialects and the non-Indo-European Etruscan language in northern Italy, and by Greek in southern Italy.
Although surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, an artificial and highly stylized and polished literary language from the 1st century BC (most notably by the greatest Roman prose writers and poets like Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Livy, and Caesar, among others), the actual spoken language of the Roman Empire was Vulgar Latin, which significantly differed from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and eventually pronunciation. Also, although Latin remained the main written language of the Roman Empire, Greek came to be the language spoken by the well-educated elite, as most of the literature studied by Romans was written in Greek. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which became the Byzantine Empire, Greek eventually supplanted Latin as both the written and spoken language.
The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and over time Vulgar Latin evolved and dialectized in different locations, gradually shifting into a number of distinct Romance languages beginning around the 9th century. These were for many centuries only spoken languages, Latin still being used for writing. For example, Latin was the official language of Portugal until 1296, when it was replaced by Portuguese. Many of these languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian, flourished, the differences between them growing greater over time.
Classical Latin and the Romance languages differ in a number of ways, and some of these differences have been used in attempts to reconstruct Vulgar Latin. For example, the Romance languages have 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 all Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost their case endings in most words, except for some pronouns. Romanian retains a direct case (nominative/accusative), an indirect case (dative/genitive), and a vocative.
There has also been a major Latin influence in English. Although English is Germanic rather than Romanic in origin—Britannia was a Roman province, but the Roman presence in Britain had effectively disappeared by the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions—English borrows heavily from Latin and Latin-derived words, drawing from ecclesiastical usage and through Romance languages like French. In fact, after the Battle of Hastings, the new King of England, William the Conqueror, spoke French, and French became the accepted language of the court and nobility, drastically changing the pre-invasion English tongue. However, English grammar is independent of Latin grammar, though prescriptive grammarians in English have been heavily influenced by Latin. Attempts to make English grammar follow Latin rules—such as the prohibition against the split infinitive—have not worked successfully in regular usage.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, English writers created huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek roots. These words were dubbed "inkhorn" or "inkpot" words, as if they had spilled from a pot of ink. Many of these words were used once by the author and then forgotten, but some remain. Imbibe, extrapolate, dormant and inebriation are all inkhorn terms carved from Latin words. In fact, the word etymology is derived from the Greek word etymologia, meaning "true sense of the word". It is said that 80% of all scholarly English words are derived from Latin, in a large number of cases by way of French.
Latin is a synthetic inflectional language: affixes (which usually encode more than one grammatical category) are attached to fixed stems to express gender, number, and case in adjectives, nouns, and pronouns, which is called declension; and person, number, tense, voice, mood, and aspect in verbs, which is called conjugation. There are five declensions (declinationes) of nouns. In describing nouns, the nominative and genitive forms are given, as well as the gender.
The first is mostly feminine, except for 'farmer' (agricola - agricolae - masc.), 'sailor' (nauta - ae - masc.), and 'pirate' (pirata - ae - masc.).
The second declension is either masculine or neuter (for example, 'equus - equi - masc.' - horse, 'puer - pueri - masc.' boy, and 'castellum - castelli - neut.' fort). Both the first and second declensions are quite large.
The third declension is by far the largest. Words from the third declension can be either masculine, neuter, or feminine, and to learn Latin, all these genders must be individually learnt. For example, 'flumen - fluminis - neut.' river, 'flos - floris - masc.' flower, and 'pax - pacis - fem.' peace.
The fourth and fifth declensions are very small, with an extremely small number of words compared to the third declension. Most fourth declension words are ('manus - manūs - masc' hand). The fifth declension has only a few words, and most are feminine ('res - rei - fem.' matters, things) and (dies - diei - masc. or fem.' day).
There are seven noun cases:
- Nominative (used as the subject of the verb or the predicate nominative).
- Vocative (used of the person or thing being addressed).
- Accusative (used of the direct object of the verb, or object of the preposition in some cases).
- Genitive (used to indicate relation or possession, often represented by the English of or the addition of 's to a noun).
- Dative (used of the indirect object of the verb, often represented by the English to or for. The common verbs used with this case are giving, showing, helping, trusting, and telling.)
- Ablative (separation, source, cause, agent, or instrument, often represented by the English by, with, from).
- Locative case used for certain words such as "house", "ground", and "countryside". The locative case also applies to city names such as "Rome", "Venice" or " Naples". It is only used for towns, cities, and small islands, and later on, was mainly obselete as a case, as only select words had a locative.
Most verbs in Latin are spread out through four conjugations, with an extra conjugation heavily based on the third and fourth conjugations. The first conjugation is typified by the ending 'are' on the infinitive, and the second by 'ere' on the infinitive and 'eo' in the first person singular form of the present indicative active verb. The third is recognized by 'ere' in the infinitive as well, but just 'o' in the first person singular form in the present indicative active, while the fourth is recognized by 'ire' on the end of the infinitive. As with any language, there are exceptions, though not many. There are six general tenses in Latin (technically they are tense/aspect/mood complexes). The indicative mood can be used with all of them. The subjunctive mood, however, has only present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect tenses. These tenses in the subjunctive mood do not completely correlate in meaning to the tenses in the indicative. The following examples are of the first conjugation verb "laudare" ("to praise") in the indicative mood and the active voice:
- Indicative Mood
- Present system tenses
- Present (laudo, "I praise," "I am praising")
- Imperfect (laudabam, "I was praising"; laudabat, "he was praising")
- Future (laudabo, "I shall praise," "I will praise")
- Perfect system tenses
- Perfect (laudavi, "I praised," "I have praised")
- Pluperfect (laudaveram, "I had praised")
- Future perfect (laudavero, "I shall have praised")
The future perfect tense can also imply a normal future idea (like in "When I will have run...").
- Subjunctive Mood
- Present (laudem, "I may praise," "May I praise")
- Imperfect (lauderem, "I might praise," "Might I praise") - Note that in English, may and might have different meanings, though in spoken English these different meanings are not often recognized or used.
- Perfect (laudaverim, "I may have praised," "May I have praised")
- Pluperfect (laudavissem, "I might have praised," "Might I have praised")
When the subjunctive tenses are used in subordinate clauses in speech, they follow the rule of tenses - imperatives, the present, future, future perfect, and perfect, translated with 'have', take the present or perfect subjunctive, while the preterite tense (perfect without 'have'), and the imperfect past tense take the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive. This rule applies in English as well, but, again, is ignored in spoken English.
Although Latin was once the universal academic language in Europe, in recent years it has been supplanted by the study of many other languages; it is a requirement in relatively few places, and in some schools is not even