Friday, January 23, 2015

Language Profile: New Latin and Contemporary Latin

Since last Friday was the anniversary of the foundation of the Roman Empire, we started looking at the Latin language, which arguably experienced its heyday during that time. We first looked at Old Latin, which predated the Roman Empire, before covering Latin as it was used during the Roman Empire.

On Wednesday we discussed Vulgar Latin and Late Latin, which were the spoken and written forms of the language respectively. While Medieval Latin followed Late Latin, we're going to save that for another time because we'd really like to discuss the birth of the Romance languages alongside Medieval Latin at some length. With that in mind, we're concluding our trip through the 2,000-year-old history of the Latin language by looking at both New Latin and Contemporary Latin.

New Latin

It just so happens that New Latin isn't really all that new. Sure, it's a lot newer than Old Latin, but it's considered to have appeared during the Renaissance as writers sought to change the grammar of Medieval Latin, which was frequently used, back so it was more like that of Classical Latin.

The Principia Mathematica by Newton was
written using New Latin.
These reforms were part of an effort to make Medieval Latin, which had been used as the lingua franca of the Catholic Church for a long time, more useful in other fields. The invention of the printing press and the proliferation of printed media are thought to have helped cement New Latin's place as a replacement for Medieval Latin since works written in New Latin were being printed and distributed across Europe at the time.

New Latin took over Medieval Latin's role as the language of science and education and was firmly established during the 16th century. It was at its most popular for around two hundred years from the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 17th century. During this time, New Latin was also taught as a subject in schools across Europe since it was a prerequisite to joining several universities.

New Latin started to fall out of favour across Europe as national languages began to be used in more and more official capacities. French became more important in international diplomacy, resulting in New Latin falling by the wayside. As time went on, fewer works were published in the language and fewer people read or spoke the language. This marked the beginning of the end for Latin, which had somehow managed to survive the fact that its native speakers had technically died out centuries earlier.

Contemporary Latin

So how is Latin still around today? While there aren't really native Latin speakers anymore, it is still one of, if not the, most widely-taught "dead" languages.

Since the decline of New Latin during the 19th century, Contemporary Latin has taken the role of lingua franca for a large number of nomenclatures in the sciences. For example, every species on the planet happens to have an internatinally-recognised name in Latin.

As we mentioned, universities used to require that students know Latin during the time of New Latin. While most of those institutions no longer teach in Latin, they do still retain their longstanding motto in Latin. In fact, the motto of the United States, "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one"), is in Latin.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Even if you never learnt Latin in school, studied science, or went to a university, the Latin language is probably far more important to you than you could possibly imagine. If you happen to be a speaker of one of the many Romance languages, your mother tongue will have evolved from Latin. For English speakers, don't forget that over half of the words in the English language are of French origin, which in turn are almost certainly derived from Latin!

In addition, the Holy See uses Latin as its official language and the language has always played an important part in Catholicism. However, if you can't afford flights to the Vatican or aren't that interested in Catholicism, you can always reach out to one of the many groups that are learning and speaking Latin in order to keep the most popular "dead" language very much alive.

Old Latin | Classical Latin | Vulgar Latin and Late Latin | New Latin and Contemporary Latin