01-18-10, 08:32 AM #1
The evolution of Latin
Note from the Moderator: I put so much effort into composing this post for another thread, I thought I'd set it up on its own. There's a growing interest in Latin here.
To use the paradigm in Wikipedia for the development of Latin:
- Old, Early or Archaic Latin was the language prior to the Classical period, a date set at 75BCE.
- Classical Latin evolved from Old Latin, with no clear demarcation. It was, in a sense, an artficial language like R.P. (Received Pronunciation or "Oxford/BBC English") devised by scholars, poets, orators and the upper class to deliberately establish a formal, stately, nuanced language for affairs of state, theater, etc. Bearing in mind that literacy was exceedingly rare before the invention of printing, Classical Latin might be regarded as a standardized written language that was only spoken by educated people, a conservative dialect retaining grammatical subtleties and eschewing developments evolving in the speech of the common folk, but nonetheless a rich and flexible living language used among friends, family and colleagues. This is the language that has been passed down to us in writing, so it is what most people think of as the Latin of Caesar's and Virgil's time, even though it is more properly the Latin of Caesar and Virgil.
- Late Latin is the written language of Rome after the Classical Period, from the 4th century CE to the fall of the empire. It is the standardized written form of a spoken language suitable for an Empire full of foreigners. It contains words and grammatical forms from Vulgar Latin, and it levels differences among the burgeoning regional dialects.
- Vulgar Latin is the vernacular spoken language of this period, the language of the common, illiterate people. Up until the 6th or 7th century they could still understand Classical Latin, but their speech was showing the changes that would be passed down into the Romance languages, such as caballus instead of equus for "horse" and parabolare instead of loquere for "speak."
- Medieval Latin is a written language, preserved by the scholars of the post-classical period (starting with the fall of the Empire) who no longer spoke Latin as their native language as French, Italian and the other Romance languages evolved. It borrowed words extensively from Greek, the Germanic languages and other sources. It was a conservative language, holding off the changes that defined Vulgar Latin and the Romance languages, but the downfall of the Empire left no authority in place to standardize it, so writers often injected grammatical and syntactical features from their native languages. It is most easily identified by orthographical changes, such as the U/V and I/J distinctions, replacement of T by C in endings like -tionis to reflect pronunciation, collapse of diphthongs like ecclesia for aecclesia and some switching of single for double letters and vice versa. Medieval Latin survived until about the 13th century. Since most of its writers were Christian monks and scholars, it the basis from which Church Latin was derived.
- Renaissance Latin was a corrected form of Medieval Latin, arising as literacy and secular scholarship were spread by the printing press and the availability of non-religious education. It was the language of scholarship in Europe until democratization and universal literacy supplanted it with formalized written national languages in the 19th and 20th century.
- Now that Latin is not only dead but obsolete except in the Catholic Church and among a shrinking community of scholars, this paradigm is losing its rigor. The term Church Latin is sometimes used for the language spoken in Vatican City and kept on life support by Papal decrees and other church documents. And New Latin is the language used by scholars after the church's influence on the language in secular life declined. Modern Latin is a term used in dictionary etymologies for words coined by scientists and other scholars using the elements of Latin supplemented by Greek roots. It is not really a language, just a goldmine of lexical contributions. But when we see Modern English words like "television," "plutonium" and "antiproton" that contain not a shred of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary or syntax, we can't help feeling like Latin is still alive. I don't mind.
- The Romance languages cannot be ignored in this paradigm, since it can be argued that they are the true "Modern Latin." A set of standardized, official languages is identified with the nations of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Romania, each of which is clearly different from the others and bears little or no intercomprehensibility with them. Yet a closer look reveals a continuum of dialects that echo the speech of the subjects of the far reaches of the Roman Empire. Catalan bridges the gap between Portuguese and Spanish and can be understood with some struggle by both. Occitan (a whole family of dialects including Provençal) does the same for French and Italian. In the ancestral region of Latium where Latin first rose, an assortment of dialects such as Sardinian still exists, many of whose speakers prefer to call them languages. It is arguably no easier for a Venetian to understand Sicilian than it is for a Spaniard to understand Catalan. Yet at the same time all Sicilians speak fluent Italian and all Catalonians speak fluent Spanish.
01-19-10, 05:44 PM #2
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