Latin (lingua Latīna, [ˈlɪŋɡʷa laˈtiːna] or Latīnum, [laˈtiːnʊ̃]) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area around present-day Rome (then known as Latium), but through the power of the Roman Republic it became the dominant language in the Italian region and subsequently throughout the Roman Empire. Even after the fall of Western Rome, Latin remained the common language of international communication, science, scholarship and academia in Europe until well into the 18th century, when other regional vernaculars (including its own descendants, the Romance languages) supplanted it in common academic and political usage, and it eventually became a dead language in the modern linguistic definition.
Latin is a highly inflected language, with three distinct genders, six or seven noun cases, five declensions, four verb conjugations, six tenses, three persons, three moods, two voices, two or three aspects, and two numbers. The Latin alphabet is directly derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets.
By the late Roman Republic (75 BC), Old Latin had been standardised into Classical Latin used by educated elites. Vulgar Latin was the colloquial form spoken at that time among lower-class commoners and attested in inscriptions and the works of comic playwrights like Plautus and Terence and author Petronius. Late Latin is the written language from the 3rd century; its various Vulgar Latin dialects developed in the 6th to 9th centuries into the modern Romance languages. Medieval Latin was used during the Middle Ages as a literary language from the 9th century to the Renaissance, which then used Renaissance Latin. Later, New Latin evolved during the early modern era to eventually become various forms of rarely spoken Contemporary Latin, one of which, Ecclesiastical Latin, remains the official language of the Holy See and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church at Vatican City.
Latin has also greatly influenced the English language and historically contributed many words to the English lexicon after the Christianization of Anglo-Saxons and the Norman conquest. In particular, Latin (and Ancient Greek) roots are still used in English descriptions of theology, science disciplines (especially anatomy and taxonomy), medicine, and law.
The linguistic landscape of Central Italy at the beginning of Roman expansion
A number of historical phases of the language have been recognized, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology, and syntax. There are no hard and fast rules of classification; different scholars emphasize different features. As a result, the list has variants, as well as alternative names.
In addition to the historical phases, Ecclesiastical Latin refers to the styles used by the writers of the Roman Catholic Church from Late Antiquity onward, as well as by Protestant scholars.
After the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 and Germanic kingdoms took its place, the Germanic people adopted Latin as a language more suitable for legal and other, more formal uses.