Latin was the native
language of the Romans, who spread it petty much throughout their empire. After
the collapse of Rome, the language
"died." Actually, Latin didn't really die,
it just turned into Italian, French, Spanish, and several other languages. Or,
more accurately, it turned into dozens of local dialects, which gradually
merged to form those more familiar languages. This dialect formation had been
going on for centuries. Indeed, educated Romans had often bemoaned the increasinly incomprehensible versions of Latin which were
developing in the provinces. The dialects evolved through the absorbtion by the local Latin speakers of words and grammar
from the conquered peoples. Although the barbarians who overran the empire were
mostly unable to impose their own language on the, by then, romanized
locals, they did effect numerous changes in the local form of Latin. As a
result, by Charlemagne 's day (c. 800), the changes
had become so great that in much of Europe the common people could no longer
understand sermons in Church, albeit that they were being delivered in what was
once Vulgar (low class) Latin As a result, the Emperor decreed that henceforth
sermons were to be in the "lingua latina rustica" (the country-people's Latin). In other words,
preach to the people in the language spoken in the area. It is durng this period that the first writings genuinely
identifiable as French, and later Spanish, and still later Italian are to be
found. Of the Romance (literally "the Roman's") languages of Western
Europe, French moved furthest from Latin, Italian the least.
Indeed, it is still possible to write something in Italian which is perfectly
acceptable classical Latin, as the following poem demonstrates.jjjjjjj
Te saluto, alma Dea, Dea generosa,
O gloria nostra, o veneta
In procelloso turbino
Tu regnasti serea; mille membra
in pugna acerba;
Vivo in pace per to. Regna, o beata!
Regna in prosper sorte, in pompa
in perpetua splendore, in aurea sede!
tu placida, tu pia,
Tu benigna, me
salva, ama, conserva!
But while Latin was evolving into the Romance languages, the Church
continued to use it for official purposes, as did also the law and the
universities. Or at least continued to use what they fondly believed was Latin.
In fact, what passed for Latin in the Church, the Law, and the university was a
new form of the language, generally regarded as Medieval Latin. Chock full of germanisms and herbaisms, with
many words having meanings not found in classical times, and with new
grammatical forms (such as a word for the first person singular). Medieval
Latin would probably have made Cicero gag had he had the misfortune to
encounter it, but he was a bit of a snob anyway.