Last Updated on December 31, 2020 by Neil Mackengie
Very few people who study Latin today expect to speak it or even to read it. It is used mostly by scholars. We now consider Latin a “dead language” for this reason. But Latin was once a living language.
After Rome was founded in 753 B.C., the small town began to grow. Within a limited area around the town, Latin was a common language spoken by the people. This language was named after the Latini, one of the tribes living in the Tiber Valley. This early Latin was a combination of the tongues spoken by all the people in the neighborhood of Rome. It was heavy and unwieldy, not a graceful language at all, and very few traces of this early Latin remain.
At this time Latin had no literature. By the year 240 B.C., Rome had conquered Greece, and Creek literature provided an example to the Romans. The common people who could neither read nor write were greatly interested in the theatre, so Latin waiters created plays for their amusement.
By this time Latin had develope1in many ways. There was written Latin with regular rules for spelling, grammar, and there were records of both the common and refined way of speaking. In other words, the foundation was laid for later writers who made Latin a truly beautiful and expressive language.
While the literary language of Latin was developing, the true speech of Rome was’ Vulgar Latin. It was quite different from the written language. Most of the people of Rome could not use the polished written language. It was used mostly by highly educated literary men. The Vulgar Latin of the people was an everyday 1:nguage, easily understood and not always grammatically correct.
When Did People Stop Speaking Latin?
To oversimplify the matter, Latin began to die out in the 6th century shortly after the fall of Rome in 476 A.D.