How Did Latin Become A Dead Language?


In early AD, the Roman Catholic Church dramatically
gained power and influence over the Ancient Rome. With Latin as the Church’s preferred language,
it too became the language of the Empire,which at its height was estimated to cover roughly
a quarter of the earth’s population..To put that into perspective, today English is
known to some degree by the same fraction – about a quarter of the world. So, imagine that roughly 2,000 years from
now, NOBODY knows English, and studying it is a rare speciality. Today, Latin might not be “extinct”, which
would mean it has no living speakers, but it is certainly “dead”, as it has fallen
out of use as a method of communication. So, what happened to Latin? Well, it didn’t so much die, as it changed
– into Romanian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French, which we conveniently know as
the Romance languages. Romance, for “Rome”. There are a number of other languages that
developed out of Latin, but those five are the most commonly spoken. Within all of those languages are Latin roots,
tenses, grammar, and other intricacies. And that’s not surprising, since all the
countries where Romance languages are popular also made up the Western Roman Empire. It was only around the fall of the empire
that Latin died and these new languages were born. So why did that happen? Well, mainly, because Latin is incredibly
complex.  It is unique from other languages in that
it is “highly inflected”, meaning that nearly every word is potentially modified
based on tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood. As a result, the meaning is always clear,
although difficult to parse. It’s one of the reasons we continue to use
it for highly technical fields where clarification is of the utmost importance, like classifying
species or in medical terminology. When the Roman Empire collapsed, each distinct
ethnic region appropriated their own version of what was called Vulgar Latin. Vulgar here means “common”. While standard Latin was incredibly useful
for description, simple communication did not have to rely on complex grammar. As we know from different dialects in English,
like African American Vernacular English and Chicano English, grammar, word choice, and
even sentence structure end up naturally diverging from the quote-unquote “correct” version. So a Latin word like the “number three”,
“tres”, translates into tre in Italian, tres in Spanish, and trois in French, all
similar but culturally distinct. Nonetheless, due to the overwhelming prevalence
of Latin in early Western literature, medicine, and science, Latin as a language of antiquity
never quite went extinct, and today a huge number of technical fields maintain its usage. Even English still uses a huge number of Latinate
roots, despite modern English developing out of Old English, and before that, Proto-German. According to some estimates, more than 60%
of English is made up of Greek or Latin roots, mostly Latin, as a result of English being
heavily influenced by French. In the end, although Latin is dead, it lives
on in languages spoken by roughly a billion people around the world.

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