From world language to analytical instrument

For a long time, Latin was considered the language of the powerful and learned. Not only was it the administrative language of Ancient Rome, but it also spread across the entire Mediterranean region all the way to Northern and Eastern Europe during the Roman Empire.

Today, people still encounter Latin at grammar schools or in the field of humanities. But it is only ever used for reading and writing. Nobody speaks Latin as their native language anymore. Prof Dr Reinhold Glei from the Institute of Latin Philology studies how Latin has evolved over centuries and in which contexts it emerged after it ceased to be a world language.

Latin originated in the metropolis of Rome in the Latium region. During the Roman Empire, the language had its golden age between 753 BC and 476 AD. However, as early as 400 AD, Romans started to lose their control over some regions, and their empire began to shrink. In terms of spoken language, local dialects gradually replaced classical Latin. Still, most texts were written in Latin until the Early Modern Period.

“Latin remained the language used by the educated elite in the Western world, and everyone who wanted to be part of the education systems had to study it,” says Glei. It wasn’t until the 16th century that vernacular languages became more widespread in the field of education. However, Latin did not disappear wholly in the following centuries, and it stood its ground next to vernacular languages. But why was Latin still in use?

Read more: Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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