Category Archives: Language

Old Latin: The Foundation of an Empire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Language is the foundation in which any culture or society is built. Western European languages owe their shared alphabet to the Romans.

We previously explored how the language of Latin became such a driving force as we uncovered The Language of an Empire: How Latin Changed the World. There are also some videos about communication within the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) in the categories tab Language on the left.

But there was still more to share, so that is why today we uncover the foundation of what would become a conquering language as we explore Old Latin!

Expansion of the Roman Republic in which very little Latin is likely to have been spoken beyond the green area, and other languages were spoken even within it (2nd Century BC).

Also known as Early Latin or Archaic Latin, this Latin language refers to the period before the age of Classical Latin (before 75 BC). In New and Contemporary Latin, it is called Prisca Latinitas (Ancient Latin) rather than Vetus Latina (Old Latin), as Vetus Latina is used to refer to a set of Biblical texts.

The use of “old”, “early” and “archaic” has been standard in publications of Old Latin writings since at least the 18th Century. The definition is not illogical, but the terms refer to writings with word forms and spelling conventions not generally found in works written under the Roman Empire.

The Praeneste Fibula

The earliest known specimen of the Latin language is from the Praeneste Fibula (Brooch of Palestrina). An analysis performed in 2011 declared it to be genuine “beyond any reasonable doubt” and dating from the Orientalizing period, in the early half of the 7th Century BC.

Etruscan Alphabet

Old Latin surviving in inscriptions is written in various forms of the Etruscan alphabet as it evolved into the Latin alphabet. The writing conventions varied by time and place until classical conventions prevailed.

The works of authors in manuscript form were copied over into the scripts current in those later times. The original writing does not survive.

Some differences between Old and Classical Latin were of spelling only. Pronunciation, however, was thought to be essentially as in classical Latin: Single for double consonants: Marcelus for Marcellus; Double vowels for long vowels: aara for āra; q for c before u: pequnia for pecunia; gs/ks/xs for x (e.g. regs for rex, saxsum for saxum); c for g: Caius for Gaius.

Latin Alphabet

These differences did not necessarily run concurrently with each other and were not universal. That is, c was used for both c and g.

The concept of Prisca Latinitas is as old as the concept of Classical Latin, both dating to at least as early as the late Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic). In that time period Cicero, along with others, noted that the language he used every day (probably the upper-class city Latin) included lexical items and phrases that were heirlooms from a previous time, which he called verborum vetustas prisca (the old age/time of language).

Page from the Codex Bobbiensis showing Old Latin.

During the classical period, Prisca LatinitasPrisca Latina and other idioms using the adjective always meant these remnants of a previous language. In the Roman philology, this was always taken to be much older in fact than it really was.

An example would be the phrase Viri Prisci (Old-time Men) which was used to describe the population of Latium before the Founding of Rome.

In the Late Latin period, when Classical Latin was behind them, the Latin- and Greek-speaking grammarians were faced with multiple phases, or styles, within the language. Isidore of Seville reports a classification scheme that had come into existence in or before his time: Latinas autem linguas quatuor esse quidam dixerunt (The Four Latins).

Relief depicting the Salii (National Museum of Rome – Palazzo Altemps).

The Four Latins were Prisca, Latina, Romana, and Mixta. Prisca, to which Isidore dated the Carmen Saliare, was spoken when Janus and Saturn ruled Latium.

Latina, in which period Isidore placed the laws of the Twelve Tables, dated from the time of King Latinus. Romana was basically equal to Classical Latin.

Mixta (mixed) Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin, which is known today as Late Latin. The scheme persisted with little change for some thousand years after Isidore.

In 1874, John Wordsworth used this definition:

By Early Latin I understand Latin of the whole period of the Republic, which is separated very strikingly, both in tone and in outward form, from that of the Empire.

Although the differences are striking and can be easily identified by Latin readers, they are not such as to cause a language barrier. Latin speakers of the Empire had no reported trouble understanding Old Latin, except for the few texts that must date from the time of the Kings, mainly songs.

The Carmen Saliare

Thus, the laws of the Twelve Tables from the early Republic were comprehensible. The Carmen Saliare, probably written under Numa Pompilius, was not entirely clear and still remains as such.

An opinion concerning Old Latin, of a Roman man of letters in the middle Republic, survives. The historian, Polybius, read “the first treaty between Rome and Carthage”, which he says “dates from the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius Pulvillus, the original Consuls after the expulsion of the kings.”

Knowledge of the early Consuls is somewhat obscure, but Polybius also states that the treaty was formulated 28 years after Xerxes I crossed into Greece. This occurred about the time of the Decemviri, in 452 BC, when the constitution of the Roman Republic was being defined.

Polybius says of the language of the treaty “the ancient Roman language differs so much from the modern that it can only be partially made out, and that after much application by the most intelligent men”.

Classical Latin inscription displaying apices from the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum.

There is no sharp distinction between Old Latin, as it was spoken for most of the Republic, and Classical Latin, but the earlier grades into the later. The end of the Republic was too late a termination for compilers after Wordsworth.

Charles Edwin Bennett said the following about the distinction:

Early Latin is necessarily a somewhat vague term … Bell, De locativi in prisca Latinitate vi et usu, Breslau, 1889, sets the later limit at 75 BC. A definite date is really impossible, since archaic Latin does not terminate abruptly, but continues even down to imperial times.

Bennett’s own date of 100 BC did not prevail but rather Bell’s 75 BC became the standard as expressed in the 4-volume Loeb Classical Library and other major compendia. Over the 377 years from 452 to 75 BC, Old Latin evolved from being partially comprehensible by classicists with study to being easily read by scholars.

The Forum Inscription, one of the oldest known Latin inscriptions, is written boustrophedon, albeit irregularly.

Old Latin authored works began in the 3rd Century BC. These are complete or nearly complete works under their own name surviving as manuscripts copied from other manuscripts in whatever script was current at the time.

Numerous inscriptions placed by various methods (painting, engraving, embossing) on their original media survive just as they were except for the ravages of time (of course). Some of these were copied from other inscriptions.

No inscription can be earlier than the introduction of the Greek alphabet into Italy but none survive from that early date. The imprecision of archaeological dating makes it impossible to assign a year to any single inscription, but the earliest survivals are probably from the 6th Century BC.

Some texts, however, that survive as fragments in the works of classical authors, had to have been composed earlier than the Republic, in the time of the Rēgnum Rōmānum (Roman Kingdom). The following are Notable Old Latin fragments with estimated dates:

The Carmen Saliare (chant put forward in classical times as having been sung by the Salian brotherhood formed by Numa Pompilius, approximate date 700 BC)

The Praeneste Fibula (date from opening half of the 7th Century BC)

The Forum Inscription (illustration, right c. 550 BC under the monarchy)

The Duenos Inscription (c. 500 BC)

The Garigliano Bowl (c. 500 BC)

The Lapis Satricanus (early 5th Century BC)

The preserved fragments of the laws of the Twelve Tables (449 BC, but attested much later)

The Scipionum Elogia

Epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (c. 280 BC)

Epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio (consul 259 BC)

Epitaph of Publius Cornelius Scipio P.f. P.n. Africanus (died about 170 BC)

The Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus (186 BC)

The Carmen Arvale

Altar to the Unknown Divinity (92 BC)

The authors are as follows:

Lucius Livius Andronicus (c. 280/260 BC — c. 200 BC), translator, founder of Roman drama

Gnaeus Naevius (c. 264 — 201 BC), dramatist, epic poet

Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 — 184 BC), dramatist, composer of comedies

Quintus Ennius (239 — c. 169 BC), poet

Marcus Pacuvius (c. 220 — 130 BC), tragic dramatist, poet

Statius Caecilius (220 — 168/166 BC), comic dramatist

Publius Terentius Afer (195/185 — 159 BC), comic dramatist

Quintus Fabius Pictor (3rd Century BC), historian

Lucius Cincius Alimentus (3rd C entury BC), military historian

Marcius Porcius Cato (234 — 149 BC), generalist, topical writer

Gaius Acilius (2nd Century BC), historian

Lucius Accius (170 — c. 86 BC), tragic dramatist, philologist

Gaius Lucilius (c. 160s — 103/102 BC), satirist

Quintus Lutatius Catulus (2nd Century BC), public officer, epigrammatist

Aulus Furius Antias 2nd Century BC), poet

Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus (130 BC — 87 BC), public officer, tragic dramatist

Lucius Pomponius Bononiensis (2nd Century BC), comic dramatist, satirist

Lucius Cassius Hemina (2nd Century BC), historian

Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi (2nd Century BC), historian

Manius Manilius (2nd Century BC), public officer, jurist

Lucius Coelius Antipater (2nd Century BC), jurist, historian

Publius Sempronius Asellio (158 BC — after 91 BC), military officer, historian

Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus (2nd Century BC), jurist

Lucius Afranius (2nd & 1st Centuries BC), comic dramatist

Titus Albucius (2nd & 1st Centuries BC), orator

Publius Rutilius Rufus (158 BC — after 78 BC), jurist

Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus (154 — 74 BC), philologist

Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius (2nd & 1st Centuries BC), historian

Valerius Antias (2nd & 1st Centuries BC), historian

Lucius Cornelius Sisenna (121 — 67 BC), soldier, historian

Quintus Cornificius (2nd & 1st Centuries BC), rhetorician

Hopefully we haven’t twisted your tongue today. We hope your experience was enjoyable and that we shall see your return soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Allen, Frederic de Forest. Remnants of Early Latin. Ginn, 1897.

Bennett, Charles Edwin. A Latin Grammar: With Appendix for Teachers and Advanced Students. Allyn and Bacon, 1895.

Bennett, Charles Edwin. Syntax of Early Latin. Allyn and Bacon, 1910.

Buck, Carl Darling. Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin. University of Chicago, 1933.

Gildersleeve, Basil Lanneau; Lodge, Gonzalez. Gildersleeve’s Latin grammar (3rd ed.). University Publishing Company, 1900.

Gippert, Jost. “Old Latin Inscriptions” (in German and English). Titus Didactica, 1994.

Lindsay, Wallace Martin. The Latin language: an historical account of Latin sounds, stems and flexions. Clarendon Press, 1894.

Palmer, Leonard Robert. The Latin Language. University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Roby, Henry John. A grammar of the Latin language from Plautus to Suetonius, Volume I (2nd ed.). MacMillan and Co, 1872.

Wordsworth, John. Fragments and specimens of early Latin (with Introduction and Notes). Clarendon Press, 1874.

The Language of an Empire: How Latin Changed the World

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since you are seeing this post and able to thus far read it, we shall assume that you have mastered some modern language skill set. Language is the foundation in which any culture or society is built.

Try to imagine living in a society that lacks language in any form: written, verbal, or sign. It is basically impossible to communicate in any sort of way. Western European languages owe their shared alphabet to the Romans.

Today we are going to journey back and see how this shared alphabet and language of Latin helped same the modern world!

Apices from the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum
Dedication stone from the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum.

Originally spoken in Latium, Latin is a language that has been passed down through various forms. The Romans developed a script for representing the Latin language in order to create a distinctive writing system that drew heavily on the model of Etruscan and Greek alphabets.

The Roman (Latin) alphabet was employed in a wide range of situations, from literary and documentary purposes to graffiti. At the height of the Roman Empire its influence was felt in almost every aspect of life from technology to government.

The Roman Empire during its greatest extent in 117 AD, during the time of Emperor Trajan.

Nations under the rule of Rome often were less developed and therefore adopted Latin phraseology in some specialized areas, such as science, technology, medicine, and law. For example, the Linnaean system of plant and animal classification was heavily influenced by Historia Naturalis, an encyclopedia of people, places, plants, animals, and things published by Pliny the Elder.

Medicine in Ancient Rome has been recorded in the works of such physicians as Galen. It has established that today’s medical terminology is primarily derived from Latin and Greek words, the Greek being filtered through the Latin.

Roman engineering had the same effect on scientific terminology as a whole. Roman law principles have survived partly in a long list of Latin legal terms.

Roman Republic during the 2nd Century BC, Latin was not likely spoken outside of the green areas.

The earliest known form of Latin is Vetus Latina was spoken from the Roman Kingdom to the middle of the Republic. This has been attested both in inscriptions and in some of the earliest extant Latin literary works, such as the comedies of Plautus and Terence.

During this period, the Latin alphabet was devised from the Etruscan alphabet. The writing style later changed from an initial right-to-left (boustrophedon) to left-to-right script which is still in use today.

Philological analysis of Vetus Latina works indicates that a spoken language (sermo vulgi) existed at the same time as the literate Latinitas. This informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by Classical authors, as well as those found as graffiti.

Roman Graffiti
Ancient Roman graffiti

As sermo vulgaris was free to develop on its own, there is no reason to suppose that the speech was uniform over time or location. Romanized European populations developed their own dialects of the language.

Despite dialect variation the languages of Hispania (Spain & Portugal), Gallia (France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, Northern Italy), and Italia (Italy) there remained a remarkable unity in form and development. This was also assisted by the stabilizing influence of their common Roman Catholic culture.

Fall of the Western Roman Empire with the sack of Rome.

It was not until the Moorish Conquest of Spain in 711 AD cut off communications between the major Romance regions that the languages began to diverge seriously. The Decline of the Roman Empire meant the rise in numerous successor states.

In areas that had formed part of the Roman Empire, the use of the Roman alphabet continued, as did the use of the Latin language. A great example is how the Germanic people adopted Latin as a language more suitable to legal and other more formal forms of expression.

This situation brought about Latinitas Serior. This language was more in line with the everyday speech due to a decline in education. Because of a desire to spread the word to the masses many Christian writings of the time were done in Late Latin.

It is interesting to note that areas outside the boundaries of the Empire did not really appear to use of the Roman alphabet until after the Empire’s collapse. So in areas like Britannia, the Roman alphabet was introduced, or reintroduced, by Christian missionaries over the course of the first millennium AD.

The Roman alphabet that was introduced into early Anglo-Saxon England, along with Christianity, appears to have included both majuscule (upper/capital) and minuscule (lower) letter cases. These had been used for different purposes in Roman writing, with majuscules appearing in inscriptions and minuscules in handwriting.

Latin Alphabet
Latin Alphabet

In the early Middle Ages, we begin to see the combination of minuscule and majuscule forms within handwritten documents, with majuscules being used to signal textual features such as the start of sections. This is the starting point for the use of majuscules to signal the beginnings of sentences that is the norm in Western European languages today.

Latina Mediaevalis is the written Latin used when no corresponding Latin vernacular existed. Without the institutions of the Roman Empire that had supported its uniformity, Medieval Latin lost its linguistic cohesion.

The spoken language had developed into the various developing Romance languages. This Latin spread into lands that had never spoken Latin, such as the Germanic and Slavic nations. It became useful for international communication between the member states of the Sacrum Romanum Imperium and its allies.

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man
Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

The Renaissance briefly reinforced the position of Latin as a spoken language, through its adoption by the Renaissance Humanists. Often led by members of the clergy, they strove to preserve what they could of this dwindling language and attempted to restore Latin to what it had been.

They corrected Medieval Latin out of existence no later than the 15th Century and replaced it with more formally correct versions. Scholars of the rising universities assisted in attempting to discover what the classical language had been in various works of literature.

Battle of Hastings, part of the Norman conquest of England.

Over the succeeding centuries of the Middle Ages, much borrowing from Latin occurred directly through ecclesiastical usage in the 6th Century, or indirectly after the Norman Conquest of England through the Anglo-Norman language. From the 16th to the 18th Centuries, English writers created inkhorn terms from Latin and Greek words.

Many of the most common polysyllabic English words are of Latin origin, through the medium of Old French.

During the Early Modern Age, Latin still was the most important language of culture in Europe. Until the end of the 17th Century the majority of books and almost all diplomatic documents were written in Latin.

A number of historical phases of the language have been recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology and syntax. Different scholars emphasize different features and as a result, the list has variants and alternative names.

Roman Catholic Church - Vatican
Vatican City (Rome), home of the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition to the historical phases, Ecclesiastical Latin refers to the styles used by the writers of the Roman Catholic Church from Late Antiquity onward. Many international auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin.

Interlingua is sometimes considered a simplified, modern version of the language, with a sizable number of followers also. Latino sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is Latin with its inflections and other grammatical changes stripped away.

The works of several hundred ancient authors who wrote in Latin have survived in whole or in part, as the subject matter of the field of Classics. Their works were published in manuscript form before the invention of printing and now exist in carefully annotated printed editions such as the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press, or the Oxford Classical Texts.

Cattus PetasatusLatin translations of modern literature such as The Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Paddington Bear, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Winnie-the-Pooh are intended to garner popular interest in the language. Additional resources include phrasebooks for everyday phrases and concepts in Latin, such as Meissner’s Latin Phrasebook.

The largest organization that retains Latin in official and quasi-official contexts is the

Tridentine Mass
Tridentine Mass

Catholic Church. Latin remains the language of the Roman Rite and the Tridentine Mass, while the Mass of Paul VI is usually celebrated in the local language and/or parts are in Latin.

Latin is the official language of the Sancta Sedes and its public journal, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and also the working language of the Roman Rota. The Vatican City is also home to the world’s only ATM that gives instructions in Latin.

Confoederatio Helvetica Coins
Confoederatio Helvetica Coins

Confoederatio Helvetica is the full Latin name of Switzerland. The nation adopts the Latin short name Helvetia on coins and stamps, since there is no room to use all of the nation’s 4 official languages. For a similar reason Switzerland adopted the international vehicle and internet code CH.

Semper Fidelis
Semper Fidelis – Motto of the Unites States Marine Corps

Many organizations in America today have Latin mottos, such as Semper paratus, (United States Coast Guard) and Semper fidelis (United States Marine Corps). Several of the states also have Latin mottos: Alabama – Audemus jura nostra defendere; Connecticut – Qui transtulit sustinet; District of Columbia – Justitia Omnibus; North Carolina – Esse quam videri; Mississippi – Virtute et armis; and Virginia – Sic semper tyrannis.

Virtute et Armis
Virtute et Armis – State Seal of Mississippi

There are many websites and forums maintained in Latin by enthusiasts such as Vicipaedia Latina which has more than 100,000 articles written in Latin, along with Google Translate adding Latin to the list of languages. Latin was a language that began in the central of the Mediterranean and ending up spreading throughout an empire.

It was the foundation for the language in which this article was written. We are glad that Latin originally started in our favorite place, and that it is making a comeback into modern society.

We will do our best to help make Latin popular once again. We hope you enjoyed today’s linguistic journey and look forward to having you join us again.

While we help spread the word, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Allen, William Sidney (2004). Vox Latina – a Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22049-1.

Baldi, Philip (2002). The foundations of Latin. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Buck, Carl Darling (1904). A grammar of Oscan and Umbrian, with a collection of inscriptions and a glossary. Boston: Ginn & Company.

Clark, Victor Selden (1900). Studies in the Latin of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Lancaster: The New Era Printing Company.

Herman, József; Wright, Roger (Translator) (2000). Vulgar Latin. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02000-8.

O’Sullivan, Deirdre (2015). England In The Time Of King Richard III. University of Leicester. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/england-of-richard-third-3/steps/24390/progress

Last Spartans: The Survival of Laconic Greek

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are reading this, then we have a language in common. A common thread and solid foundation amongst long lasting empires is language.

Whether it was our favorite empire (the Romans) to the more recent empire (the British), there was a dominant language spoken by all citizens. We all know that the Imperium Rōmānum was the perfect pairing of Latin with a healthy foundation of Greek.

It’s time to head back to the Battle of Thermopylae when the 300 was a real thing. Today we journey back to Sparta to discover a fight over the Greek language!

This is the story of a Greek town that supposedly still preserves the Spartan tongue. Why don’t modern Spartans speak like the rest of Greece? Why do they dig into their connection to Ancient Sparta? Will their Tsakonian language survive?

Ancient Greece was home to a variety of dialects. Athens and Sparta both put up a major fight.

Long story short, the dialect of 1 of those city-states won out. Guess which? Athens, of course.

Attic Greek combined with a hefty dose of Ionic to form the Koiné (Common) Greek, the ancestor of basically all modern Greek dialects. At least all but perhaps one.

Travel to a small town in the south of Greece, where a headmaster leads his students up the hillsides to record the words of their elders. These aging villagers speak Tsakonian (Τσακώνικα), a special remnant that may soon crumble into another Greek artifact.

Looking at pieces of the grammar and pronunciation of the language, it shows what sets it apart from Modern Greek. Search for any ancient holdouts it preserves.

Consider its connection to the Doric dialect of Ancient Sparta. Finally, ponder its place in modern Greece and how much longer it will be with us.

Why should we even care? The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure. We look forward to having you join us again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Modding the Latin Alphabet: The Odd History of G, J, U, W, Y

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Language is a very important of any culture, and it was no different for the Romans. Although not everyone spoke Latin, those people coming in contact with Rome were able to communicate based on the common foundation of Latin (or even Greek).

The past 2 weeks we have shared a language series that we’ve found both fun and informative. Here are the previous webisodes in case you missed them: What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know and CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters.

Today we continue the series as we share Modding the Latin Alphabet: The Odd History of G, J, U, W, Y!

Not every letter in your alphabet comes straight from ancient Rome. Some letters were crafted by clever old-school modders. This is their history.

Learn how G comes from tailed C, J is an I with a tail, and the stories of U, V, W and Y intertwine. Meet soldiers, plebes, scribes and kings as the alphabet finds its way from the Romans to you.

Thanks for stopping by today. We hope that you enjoyed the video as much as we did.

You can admit that you had fun here. Learning and sharing history makes everyone better.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

On our quest to share the knowledge and culture of the Roman Empire, we have once again brought up the subject of language. Although we no longer speak Latin, many languages in use today owe their origins and foundation to the language of Rome.

Last week we shared with you a presentation called What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know. This was fun and very informative (I know we here at RAE enjoyed it).

Today we share another episode in this informative series as we bring to you CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters!

The ancient alphabet was a single scratchy list of letters. So where did BIG UPPERCASE and little lowercase forms of our alphabet come from?

Take a look at the history of our strange writing system and wonder…

Who came first? Was it those rambunctious CAPITALIZERS or the fancy but timid minusculizers?

Who made scripts join forces to form one superalphabet? Roman soldiers? Medieval scribes? Are camels to blame for CamelCase?

Why does something about these letters remind me of Arabic, even though Arabic doesn’t capitalize its letters?

Word of the day: bicameral. Sorry, BiCaMeRaL. You’ll see.

Thanks for joining us today on another visual language study. We hope you enjoyed learning why we write they way we do.

Please join us again soon as we continue to share this language series. We also have plenty of other adventures in store, so be sure to check those out as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Back on 16 March 2015, we explored the language of the Roman Empire, Latin, in The Language of an Empire. We found out that Latin was originally spoken in Latium, Italy, made its way through the the Roman Republic, and subsequently throughout the Empire.

Today we will take look (and listen) at this entertaining video presentation What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know!

According to the information shared on YouTube, this is what the author had to share:

“Take a trip with me back to Catholic school, then back even further to old Rome. We’ll see what Latin pronunciation did – and did NOT – sound like in the mouths of the Romans. Thanks to ancient authors and modern Romance languages, we’ll even glimpse a range of evidence for the speech of Caesar and pauper alike!”

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure as much as we did (we found this video quite entertaining). There’s more to share on the language of the Empire, and its development, in weeks to come.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Language of an Empire

Language is the foundation in which any culture or society is built. Try to imagine living in a society that lacks language in any form: written, verbal, or sign. It is basically impossible to communicate in any sort of way. Western European languages owe their shared alphabet to the Romans. Today on Rome Across Europe we are going to take a look at this shared alphabet and the language of Latin.

Originally spoken in Latium, Latin is a language that has been passed down through various forms. The Romans developed a script for representing the Latin language in order to create a distinctive writing system that drew heavily on the model of Etruscan and Greek alphabets. The Roman alphabet was employed in a wide range of situations, from literary and documentary purposes to graffiti.

Apices from the shrine of the Augustales at Herculaneum

At the height of the Roman Empire its influence was felt in almost every aspect of life from technology to government. Nations under the rule of Rome often were less developed and therefore adopted Latin phraseology in some specialized areas, such as science, technology, medicine, and law. For example, the Linnaean system of plant and animal classification was heavily influenced by Historia Naturalis, an encyclopedia of people, places, plants, animals, and things published by Pliny the Elder.

Roman medicine, recorded in the works of such physicians as Galen, established that today’s medical terminology would be primarily derived from Latin and Greek words, the Greek being filtered through the Latin. Roman engineering had the same effect on scientific terminology as a whole. Latin law principles have survived partly in a long list of legal Latin terms.

The earliest known form of Latin is vetus Latina, which was spoken from the Roman Kingdom to the middle Republican period, and is attested both in inscriptions and in some of the earliest extant Latin literary works, such as the comedies of Plautus and Terence. During this period, the Latin alphabet was devised from the Etruscan alphabet. The writing style later changed from an initial right-to-left, or boustrophedon, to left-to-right script which is still in use today.

Philological analysis of vetus Latina works indicates that a spoken language, sermo vulgi, existed at the same time as the literate Latinitas. This informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by Classical authors, as well as those found as graffiti.

Roman Graffiti

As sermo vulgaris was free to develop on its own, there is no reason to suppose that the speech was uniform over time or location. Romanized European populations developed their own dialects of the language.

Despite dialect variation the languages of Spain, France, Portugal and Italy retained a remarkable unity in form and development. This was also assisted by the stabilizing influence of their common Roman Catholic culture. It was not until the Moorish Conquest of Spain in 711 AD cut off communications between the major Romance regions that the languages began to diverge seriously.

The Decline of the Roman Empire meant the rise in numerous successor states. In areas that had formed part of the Roman Empire, the use of the Roman alphabet continued, as did the use of the Latin language. A great example is how the Germanic people adopted Latin as a language more suitable to legal and other more formal forms of expression.

This situation brought about Latinitas serior. This language was more in line with the everyday speech due to a decline in education. Because of a desire to spread the word to the masses many Christian writings of the time were done in Late Latin.

It is interesting to note that areas outside the boundaries of the Empire did not really appear to use of the Roman alphabet until after the Empire’s collapse. So in areas like Britain, the Roman alphabet was introduced, or reintroduced, by Christian missionaries over the course of the first millennium AD.

The Roman Alphabet that was introduced into early Anglo-Saxon England, along with Christianity, appears to have included both majuscule (upper/capital) and minuscule (lower) letter cases. These had been used for different purposes in Roman writing, with majuscules appearing in inscriptions and minuscules in handwriting.

Latin Alphabet

In the early Middle Ages, we begin to see the combination of minuscule and majuscule forms within handwritten documents, with majuscules being used to signal textual features such as the start of sections. This is the starting point for the use of majuscules to signal the beginnings of sentences that is the norm in Western European languages today.

Latina Mediaevalis is the written Latin used when no corresponding Latin vernacular existed. Without the institutions of the Roman Empire that had supported its uniformity, Medieval Latin lost its linguistic cohesion.

The spoken language had developed into the various developing Romance languages. This Latin spread into lands that had never spoken Latin, such as the Germanic and Slavic nations. It became useful for international communication between the member states of the Sacrum Romanum Imperium and its allies.

The Renaissance briefly reinforced the position of Latin as a spokenLeonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man language, through its adoption by the Renaissance Humanists. Often led by members of the clergy, they strove to preserve what they could of this dwindling language and attempted to restore Latin to what it had been.

They corrected Medieval Latin out of existence no later than the 15th Century and replaced it with more formally correct versions.  Scholars of the rising universities assisted in attempting to discover what the classical language had been in various works of literature.

Over the succeeding centuries of the Middle Ages, much borrowing from Latin occurred directly through ecclesiastical usage in the 6th Century, or indirectly after the Norman Conquest of England through the Anglo-Norman language. From the 16th to the 18th Centuries, English writers created “inkhorn terms” from Latin and Greek words. Many of the most common polysyllabic English words are of Latin origin, through the medium of Old French.

During the Early Modern Age, Latin still was the most important language of culture in Europe. Until the end of the 17th Century the majority of books and almost all diplomatic documents were written in Latin.

A number of historical phases of the language have been recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology and syntax. Different scholars emphasize different features and as a result, the list has variants and alternative names. In addition to the historical phases, Ecclesiastical Latin refers to the styles used by the writers of the Roman Catholic Church from Late Antiquity onward.

Roman Catholic Church - Vatican

Many international auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin. Interlingua is sometimes considered a simplified, modern version of the language, with a sizable number of followers also. Latino sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is Latin with its inflections and other grammatical changes stripped away.

The works of several hundred ancient authors who wrote in Latin have survived in whole or in part, as the subject matter of the field of Classics. Their works were published in manuscript form before the invention of printing and now exist in carefully annotated printed editions such as the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press, or the Oxford Classical Texts.

Cattus PetasatusLatin translations of modern literature such as The Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Paddington Bear, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Winnie-the-Pooh are intended to garner popular interest in the language. Additional resources include phrasebooks for everyday phrases and concepts in Latin, such as Meissner’s Latin Phrasebook.

The largest organization that retains Latin in official and quasi-official contexts is the Catholic Church. Latin remains the languageTridentine Mass of the Roman Rite and the Tridentine Mass, while the Mass of Paul VI is usually celebrated in the local language and/or parts are in Latin.

Latin is the official language of the Sancta Sedes and its public journal, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and also the working language of the Roman Rota. The Vatican City is also home to the world’s only ATM that gives instructions in Latin.

Confoederatio Helvetica is the full Latin name of Switzerland. The nation adopts the Latin short name Helvetia on coins and stamps, since there is no room to use all of the nation’s four official languages. For a similar reason Switzerland adopted the international vehicle and internet code CH.

Confoederatio Helvetica Coins

Many organizations in America today have Latin mottos, such as Semper paratus, the motto of the United States Coast Guard, and Semper fidelis, the motto of the United States Marine Corps. Several of the states also have Latin mottos: Alabama – Audemus jura nostra defendere; Connecticut – Qui transtulit sustinet; District of Columbia – Justitia Omnibus; North Carolina – Esse quam videri; Mississippi – Virtute et armis; and Virginia – Sic semper tyrannis.

Semper FidelisVirtute et Armis

 

 

 

There are many websites and forums maintained in Latin by enthusiasts such as Vicipaedia Latina which has more than 100,000 articles written in Latin, along with Google Translate adding Latin to the list of languages. Latin was a language that began in the central of the Mediterranean and ending up spreading throughout an empire. It was the foundation for the language in which this article was written.

Rome Across Europe is glad that Latin originally started and that it is making a comeback into modern society. We will do our best to help make it once more. While we help spread the word, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Allen, William Sidney (2004). Vox Latina – a Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22049-1.

Baldi, Philip (2002). The foundations of Latin. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Buck, Carl Darling (1904). A grammar of Oscan and Umbrian, with a collection of inscriptions and a glossary. Boston: Ginn & Company.

Clark, Victor Selden (1900). Studies in the Latin of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Lancaster: The New Era Printing Company.

Herman, József; Wright, Roger (Translator) (2000). Vulgar Latin. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02000-8.

O’Sullivan, Deirdre (2015). England In The Time Of King Richard III. University of Leicester. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/england-of-richard-third-3/steps/24390/progress