As Esperanto is largely based on Latin and Romance languages, it may be appropriate to touch on these briefly.

That the Roman Empire covered large parts of Europe until the 5th century has played a large part in European language development. A contributing factor has been that Latin was the most important school subject for nearly two thousand years. Educated Europeans used both spoken and written Latin for more than a millennium after the fall of the Roman Empire.

They were wiser in the 17th Century

Latin ceased to be a mother tongue about 1000 years ago but continued to be used in European society until the 18th century. Latin has been an international language for longer than both English and French together. In the 17th century, for instance, it was obvious that international connections were carried out in one language, a language that did not bestow an unfair advantage on either participant. Besides, Latin is the international working language of the Catholic Church.

No-one who knows anything about the cultural and linguistic development of the western world can deny the overwhelming importance of Latin.

In the 6th century most of the old Roman Empire was populated by Christians and a forceful mission to convert the people of the north and east of Europe began in the 7th century. The Roman church had Latin as its language and it held on to this on all occasions and in all countries. The missionaries and priests had to speak Latin as all masses were held in that language and the Bible and other religious texts were written in Latin. As most literate people were involved in the church, Latin thus became the dominant written language throughout Europe. All countries also had a few people in important positions who spoke Latin, which meant that Latin also became the language of international connections and communications. Latin retained this position for a millennium, which explains the enormous influence it has had on European culture. The first universities were founded in the 12th and 13th centuries. From the beginning, all the teaching was held in Latin, a practice that continued for hundreds of years. Latin has thoroughly infiltrated all the modern languages, not least French and English. Even after the Protestant Reformation, Latin continued to be the dominant language in the seats of higher education in Protestant Europe. In the Catholic parts of Europe, the ecclesiastical authorities ran the educational systems until the French Revolution and in some countries for even longer. Thanks to Latin, the European countries could keep and develop their cultural links, which has also been of great importance to the economic well-being of Europe.

600 000 000 People

The Romance languages evolved from spoken Latin. At the same time, literary, classical Latin survived as the language of the Church, the intellectuals and later the State. The Romance languages include amongst others French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. Today Roman languages are spoken by 600 millions.

All contemporary European languages (including Slavic languages such as Polish and Czech) contain lots of words that stem from Latin and Greek (via Latin). One might think that most of these come from long ago, when Latin was used more, but actually the reverse is true. The past century has seen more such words added than ever, and the pace of growth seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. New words are always needed and the European languages often create these by using Latin or even Greek stems.

William the Conqueror

English has a large proportion of words of Latin or French origin. This is in part because England was occupied in 1066 by William the Conqueror and his French speaking Normans. They used Latin or French exclusively as their written language. French became the language of the rich and powerful in England for several centuries, whilst English itself changed substantially through the influx of French words as well words taken directly from the Latin of the intellectuals. In an average-sized English dictionary (100 000 words) about 60% of the entries are words of Latin origin. The borrowing of Latin words into English has continued to our day.

All sciences have a core of Latin terms and when new scientific words are made, they are generally based on Latin words or Greek, rather than from the vernacular language of the scientists. Some examples of such words are: digital, television, buss, industry and diet.

Many promote Latin as the common language of the EU. I think this would a good idea, had it not been for the difficulties inherent in Latin grammar. I will quote from professor Tore Janson’s interesting book on Latin, “… each verb has a large number of different forms that are primarily different in terms of their endings. The reason behind why there are so many verb forms is that the verb in a clause has to communicate so much. To begin with, the verb-form always shows which person the subject is. There are thus different forms for I, you, he/she/it, we, they etc… On the other hand it is not necessary to put in an extra word for I, you, etc. In Latin “I show the way” is “viam monstro” and “they show the way” is “viam monstrant”… Further, the verb has to give the time of the action… So, there are six time-forms for each Latin verb. For each of these there are of course six subject forms… Together every verb has one hundred and twenty different forms that denote person and place… a Latin verb can exist in up to three hundred different forms.”

Esperanto is an offspring of Latin that is very easy to learn.

© Hans Malv, 2004