A short history of the Latin Language
Latin was the language of Rome, the Romans, and the Roman Empire.
The Romans traced their origins to a group of Trojans, led by Aeneas, who left the Aegean after the Fall of Troy (ca. 1,000 BC), and eventually settled in the region of Italy known as Latium. Two of the descendents of Aeneas, Romulus and Remus, are regarded as the Founders of Rome. Romulus killed his brother Remus in an argument, and named the city after himself, ca. 750 BC.
Rome was first ruled by kings, but after the despotic tyrant Tarquin II (ca. 534-510 BC) was driven out and killed, the Romans decided to form a Republic, under the control of a select group of Patrician families.
Initially, Rome controlled only the land near the city. There were many other tribes and settlements in the Italian peninsula, and wars and raiding were common. Over the next few centuries Rome gained control of the Italian states by means of military and political power.
The Roman alphabet as we know it today is derived from the alphabet which the Etruscans used. The Etruscans lived in northern Italy, in the region now called Tuscany, and spoke a language which died out during the time of the Roman Republic - we can read the letters of the language today, but no-one can speak or understand Etruscan at the present.
The Etruscans had learned the alphabet from Greek settlers in Italy, and had adapted it to their language. Some of the Greek letters were dropped because they represented sounds which were not common in Etruscan or Latin.
The Greeks had learned the alphabet from the Phoenicians, who were traders and sailors from the region now know as Lebanon. They were a Semitic people, related to the Hebrews. The Semitic origin of our Alphabet is shown by the names for the letters.
In English, Latin, or Greek, the names of the letters do not mean anything. The names in Hebrew reflect the original pictographs which were adapted and used to represent sounds, e.g. Alef (an ox), Beit (house, tent), Gamal (camel).
Go here for a History of the Greek Language.
As the Roman Empire declined, and individual regions of Europe became autonomous, the pronunciation of the language changed, and the language itself changed, producing the European "Romance" languages which exist today. These include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Rumanian, and Romansch (spoken in some regions of Switzerland).
During the Middle Ages the Church and the Universities used Latin to communicate across national boundaries, but the pronunciation had changed from the Classical.
The English language, although heavily influenced by Latin and French (after the Norman conquest of 1066), had its origin in Anglo-Saxon, a member of the Germanic group of Indo-European languages. This is why English often has several ways of saying almost the same thing, eg. "brotherly" and "fraternal" - one word derived from Anglo-Saxon roots, one from Latin roots.
A consequence of the Norman conquest is that modern English often has pairs of words for an animal and the meat from the animal. The word for the animal itself comes from Anglo-Saxon, because the conquered Saxon peasants had the job of caring for the animals, but did not get to eat them. The word for the meat from the animal comes from Norman-French, because it was the Norman overlords who had the meat to eat.
Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved
Department of Religion
ENMU Station 19
Portales, NM 88130
Last Updated: January 8, 2010