Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Why did Latin Die Out?

 

Latin inscription, in the Colosseum of Rome, Italy

It is often that we hear a language has gone extinct. Therefore, why would anyone need to hear or learn it? However, the point is that what does it really mean when someone says that a language has become extinct? Since they are not organisms and do not feature a pulse, how can we say that they have actually died? With time some traditions, cultures, and even religions have indeed passed away, so languages are no exception.

This is exactly the case with Latin. There was a time when Latin was one of the most spoken languages. However, over time, it has died. Now, it is rarely spoken and written as well. Furthermore, while some languages have been brought back from the dead, unfortunately, Latin hasn’t. Regardless, there is a rich history behind the Latin language. Let’s dig into it.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was founded in 753 BC and continued to rule the world for around 1,000 years. It all began with the legendary Romulus who was the founder of Rome and ended with Romulus Augustus. Therefore, in simple words it both began and ended with Romulus. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin did not die immediately.

It survived for another 500 years or so before completely vanishing. Researchers have been trying to find the reason behind the fall of the Roman Empire but no one has been able to find solid evidence. Some say, that the Roman population had started to diminish at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It is a well-known fact that languages recognize countries, religions, and cultures.

Therefore, languages undoubtedly have a crucial role to play. Since people who spoke and wrote Latin were drastically disappearing, the structure of the Roman Empire would obviously collapse. It is surprising to think that the Roman Empire was a single empire ruled by a single emperor but later featured many states, the majority of which were ruled by German kings.

With the passage of time, the Barbarians welcomed themselves into the Empire. With this, the environment and structure of Rome started to change. Taxes were no longer paid by the people and military protection was nowhere to be found. Trade was at its lowest and the Romans had left for the countryside.

 

parallel Latin-Greek text

 

As a result, they had almost no contact with the outside world. Slowly but gradually, Rome started to look a lot like its neighboring nations, reckless and destroyed.

Furthermore, in 476 AD Odoacer who was a barbarian statesman threw the Roman Emperor off this throne and made himself Italy’s king. Now, Italy’s every ruler was Germanic, not Roman.

The Germanic tribes did everything from enslaving people to setting homes on fire. Moreover, they forcefully settled in, raised farms and families as well. It needs to be mentioned that there were several types of Germanic tribes including Goths, Franks, Vandals, and Lombards, etc.

At the point, you might be assuming that this was the time when Latin died. However, the truth is that the Germanic languages existed for a very short period before disappearing.

Therefore, not much is known about these languages. The most interesting thing is that Germanic started to speak Latin. Usually, the conquered nation speaks the languages of the conquerors but this case was the opposite. It has stunned historians for centuries. While Germanics built houses and raised their children, they were being surrounded by native Latin speakers. Plus, the invaders were Italy’s minority. Therefore, it could be said that the survival of Germanic languages and cultures was difficult, to begin with.

When did Latin Die?

To put it in simple words, Latin began dying after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. However, it is worth mentioning that the collapse of the Roman Empire featured the fragmentation of the empire. As a result, local dialects developed and the ancient Roman language was transformed into modern Roman languages.

Therefore, it would be better to say that Latin changed rather than dying. To find out exactly when Latin died, you would have to find the last native Latin speakers. This is a complicated process. However, there are two major contributing factors behind the fall of the Latin Language.

First, after the fall of Rome, people moved to the countryside and had no contact with the outside world. Therefore, the language was constrained and confined. The second reason was a big one. Writers of the time were not using the Latin language anymore. The writing was not pursued by many and therefore even schools began to vanish. Today, if a particular language is not used in writing, there is a high probability that people would fail to recognize it after a decade. The same was with Latin. It was not preserved.

Lastly, the development of local dialects contributed towards the change of Latin as well. On one hand, while native Latin speakers were confined to the countryside, on the other, it was being slowly changed. Therefore, it could be said that Latin changed rather than dying. It changed into modern languages such as Portuguese, French, Romanian, and of course Italian.

The Death of Latin

 

Latin-Punic inscription

 

Looking back in history, many languages had experienced total death. However, this was not the case for Latin. Even the death of Latin native speakers could not remove Latin from the face of the earth. Therefore, it earned Latin the title of the most alive dead language. People wish to learn Latin even today. It reminds them of history, particularly the Roman Empire, and how it all began. If they were to understand modern languages, Latin is the best and only way to keep evolution in check.

The Rise of Christianity

As Christianity found itself prevailing in Rome, Latin was being pushed to the side. Since the Bible is the most important pillar of Christianity, putting it into writing was important. Furthermore, there was no other religion compared to Christianity that was so conscious about its religious texts. Therefore, Latin was bound to further deteriorate. Christian churches and successfully preserved their religious items and while Latin was disappearing in many regions, the Bible of Church Jerome was being copied, read, and distributed.

Final Word

Even though the native Latin speakers had passed away, Latin still continued to miraculously survive for nearly 1,500 years. The evolution of Latin into modern languages today somehow reminds people of their origin. If it wasn’t for Latin, French, Portuguese and Italian languages would never exist.

 

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