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Continuing classical Latin
Continuing classical Latin

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1.3 The fate of the Latin language

Spoken Latin, not the written Latin of literary works, was the variety which evolved into the Romance languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and other languages. Whether two different linguistic varieties are deemed to be the same language or not is not wholly a linguistic issue, but relies upon political and cultural factors as well.

Latin vocabulary survives in these languages, although sometimes the sounds have changed quite radically. Latin calidus ‘hot’ becomes Italian caldo but French chaud. Latin frigidus ‘cold’ becomes Italian freddo and French froid. Latin habere ‘to have’ becomes Italian avere and French avoir. Latin pater ‘father’ becomes Italian padre and French père. In spoken Latin the words used were often slightly different from the written forms given. For example, the word for ‘father’ in Italian and French actually derives from the Latin accusative patrem, which became the form used in late spoken Latin. The Romance languages generally show a preference for analytic structures where Latin has synthetic structures. This means that where Latin will lump together a number of different elements into a single word, such as amabo ‘I will love’ which combines the notion of first person, future and ‘love’, there is a tendency in Romance languages to separate these out, as in French je vais aimer ‘I will love’, which uses three words.

The grammar also changed: the Romance languages have lost most of the Latin case endings.

The beginnings of the changes in spoken Latin can be seen in some ancient texts:

Petronius Arbiter (d. 66 CE), Roman Novelist. His Satyricon features representations of the speech of freed slaves.

Example: Chapter 46 dixi quia mustela comedit ‘I said that the weasel ate it’.

Note use of quia for indirect statement (cf. French j’ai dit que), and word for ‘eat’ comedere not edere (cf. Spanish comer ‘to eat’).

Suetonius (c. 70-130 CE), Roman Historian and biographer. His Life of Agustus 76.2 cites Augustus’ use of manducare ‘to eat’ (cf. French manger ‘to eat’).

Audio activity 3

Now listen to the following audio conversations between James Clackson and Geoffrey Horrocks.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Disappearance of Latin
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Disappearance of Latin
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Download this audio clip.Audio player: Changes to Latin
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Changes to Latin
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