Did Latin evolve into Italian language?

When did ancient Latin language begin, and did it evolve into italian language, if it did, why?

sidebar: how do you say Ceasar’s, “The Die is Cast” in Latin? and what was it in reference to?


“Jacta alea est.”

Sorry. Missed the rest of the question. It was in reference to Caesar’s legions crossing the Rubicon into Rome, precipitating civil war. See here.

The Rubicon river marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul and the Roman Republic. Army commanders were not allowed to bring their forces across the river without Senate approval. Caesar’s action in “crossing the Rubicon” was thus a point of no return: conflict was inevitable. Hence his words iacta alea est * suggesting that there was no turning back now and that fate would take its course.

  • As **silenus’ ** reference notes, some sources claim that Caesar actually quoted a line in Greek from the writer Menander.

And to further illuminate the sidebar: that’s die as in one of a set of dice. Caesar was saying, “I’m rolling the bones on this one, and going to take what chance deals me.”

To address the OP:

The origins of Latin In short, it is an Indo-European language (Aryan, without the unfortunate modern connotations) that was brought to the area around what is now the city of Rome in the 8th or 9th Century BCE by immigrants apparently from central Asia.

And, if you mean, “Is modern Italian derived from Latin?” the answer is yes, of course. Of the Romance (Romanish) languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, etc.) Italian is the one that has remained closest to Vulgar Latin of the late classical period.

That’s an extremely vague and complex question with no concrete answer as formulated. It depends on what you mean. You could take the inception of a language to be the point at which the group of people associated with it separated from whatever parent group they belonged to, thus allowing their language to begin to change in its own ways. You could take the inception of a language to be the point in history at which it becomes recognizable to some degree as the Latin of…well, pick your favorite time period. We might as well ask when human beings began.

Yes, but not just Italian. It also evolved into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and countless other languages that were not lucky enough to be associated with the people in power and so had to be considered substandard dialects of French, Spanish, etc. Think of it as a continuum of Latinate varieties spoken throughout the region of Western Europe. Forget political boundaries. The closer together two communities are, the more similar their varieties of Latin will be. The farther away two communities are, the more dissimilar their varieties of Latin will be. And if you were lucky enough to be living in Rome where the power emerged, then you get to call your language Italian, and scoff at the heathens in the countryside who speak substandard Italian.

Because change is the natural state of language. But don’t get caught up by the fact that what was once called “Latin” is now called “Italian” (or French, or Spanish, whatever.) These labels have more political meaning than linguistic meaning. Old English is just as different from present-day English as Latin is from Italian.

As to why the residents of Rome no longer speak classical Latin but instead speak a language evolved from it: Historical linguistics

All languages change over time. Vowel shifts, grammar simplification, influence from other languages , etc. There are many reasons why language change.

English for instance, as it was spoken 800 years ago, would be totally unintelligible to the modern speaker. On the other hand, native speakers of modern Italian would be able to make out what Julius Caesar was saying if he were transported to the present…and he was speaking slowly enough. :slight_smile:

Cool simulpost, sundog. :slight_smile:

Depends what you call “Latin”. It’s part of the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages; Italic languages were first brought to Italy in the second millenium BC. Rome was founded in the 8th century BC, and that’s probably what you’d call the birth of Latin as a language. It was very similar to other Italic languages spoken throughout the Italian peninsula at the time, though, which meant that as Rome became politically powerful over the entire peninsula, Latin caught on relatively quickly.

Languages always change over time. Latin evolved into all the modern Romance languages - Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, Provençal, et cetera. The split between those languages happened because the Roman Empire collapsed and people began to speak differently from each other; the differentiation of the Romance languages from Latin probably happened in part because there were no longer standards created by Rome and spread by travel among the different provinces of the Empire. But even if the Roman Empire had survived forever, the language spoken by Romans would have changed over time to eventually become very different from Latin.

I’m going to get more technical from here on; I’m just going to give a brief overview of a couple major processes in the development of the Romance languages from Latin.

One of the ways in which the modern Romance languages differ from Latin stems from the type of stress used. Classical Latin most likely had a “pitch accent”, which meant that the accented syllable of a word was spoken with a higher pitch. But the Romance languages all use a different type of accent, called “stress accent”, in which the accented syllable is spoken at a higher pitch, and is louder and longer than other syllables. That led to some of the major changes in the Romance languages - for example, the disappearance of syllables next to the one carrying stress. They were sort of “swallowed up”, so a Latin word like periculum (danger) became peligro in Spanish; the stress was on the second syllable of the Latin word and the third eventually disappeared completely (the L and R were switched around as well; this was a fairly common development.) The change in stress patterns had very widespread consequences - lots of other words lost entire syllables. It also affected vowels - Latin had five vowels, each of which could appear as short or long. The Romance languages tended to lose vowel length distinctions completely, and the ten different vowels of Latin were reorganized as seven vowels in most Romance languages. This was probably due in part to the change in stress patterns, which meant that the distinction between long and short couldn’t be maintained because syllable stress required certain vowels to be long and others to be short regardless of what they had once been in Latin.

Another big change was due to the reorganization of the sound system - some sounds were lost or became identical to one another in certain contexts. The last syllables of words were particularly affected by this change - many final consonants were lost (like the M in periculum). The loss of these final consonants meant that Latin’s case system disappeared. Cases in Latin were noun endings that indicated the noun’s role in a sentence - the subject of a sentence, or the direct object, or the object of a preposition (and so forth.) You could have sentences like Puer puellam vidit (“The boy saw the girl”) and Puerum puella vidit (“The girl saw the boy”) where the difference between those two sentences is entirely due to the endings on the nouns. When final consonants started disappearing, and the vowel system was reorganized, these case endings tended to become identical to one another, which meant that Latin’s case system didn’t work anymore.

There’s tons of other stuff that changed, but I hope this is at least an overview that explains some of the most important processes that caused Latin to be so different from its daughter languages.

Not true. 800 years ago puts you at 1206 AD, which is well after the point where French started to influence Enlgish (1066) making it essentially a creole* language. The main difference between the evolution of Latin/Italian and English is that English was creolized* while Italian was not. And even before that time, English would not be “totally unintelligible” to the modern speaker, although it would be largely unintelligible.

*Creoles are languages derived from pidgins. Middle English probably didn’t go thru a true French/English pidgin phase, so I’m using the term “creole” somewhat losely here.

Sounds more to me that that it’s die as in die-cast, the manufacturing process. The form has been molded, nothing to be done about it now.

Fortunately, however, he didn’t say it in English, so we don’t need to guess about which English meaning he meant. The Latin is unambiguous: alea meant “die” as in a game of dice, and jacta (participle of jacio, jacere) meant “cast” as in thrown.

In what ways? I’d like to see references for this, because the theory is that languages further from the “motherland” usually retain the most archaic and conservative features. What ways are Italian “closest” to the Vulgar Latin of the late Classical period? This reminds me of when people say x language is the oldest language.

Hispano-Romance retains features which date to the third and second centuries BC which were lost in the Latin of Rome and other languages close to the center of the empire. In fact, Spanish is often noted for being particularly archaic, conservative, and outside of the “norm”. The following expressions are found in pre-classical writing but had fallen out of use in places like central Italy by the first century BC:

  • Sp. “cansar” - “to tire”, from “campsare” = “to bend, to round a headland”, an early borrowing from Greek which isn’t found in literature after the 2nd century BC.
  • Sp. “cueva” - “cave”, from pre-classical “cova” - “hollow”.
  • Sp. “cuyo” - “whose”, from “cuius”, obsolete by the 1st century BC.
  • Sp. “demás” - “besides”, from “demagis”, not found in writing after the 2nd century BC.
  • Sp. “hablar” - “to speak, talk”, from pre-classical “Fabulari” " to converse

Spanish is also conservative in that it maintains words used also in Classical Latin which Italian and French usually dropped in favor of others:

Sand - CL: Arena, Sp. arena, It. sabbia, Fr. sable
Blind - CL: caecu, Sp. ciego, N.It. orbo, Fr. Aveugle
Tormorrow - CL: cras, O.Sp. cras, It. crai*, domani, Fr. demain
Boil - CL: fervere, Sp. hervir, It. bollire, Fr. bouillir
Shoulder - CL: umeru, Sp. ombro, It. Spalla, Fr. épaule
Table - CL: mensa, Sp. mesa, It. tàvola, Fr. table

*crai is a case where an Italic romance language has retained an archaic feature.
There are of course exceptions both ways, and I’m sure Italian has archaic features which Spanish does not. Spanish is also innovative in other areas as well. I’ve actually read that Sardinian preserves the most words which originate from Classical Latin.

Most of this information comes from Ralph Penny’s “A History of the Spanish Language”.

It’s very touchy to say which of the Romance languages remained closest to Vulgar Latin, as indeed they all evolved from Vulgar Latin, by definition (as has been pointed out). I’ve seen Sardinian referred to as the most conservative of the Romance languages, but I’m not sure what evidence there is for this.

Certainly Italian sounds, in a gross way, like Latin in a way French or Spanish do not; but the reason for this is simply that French and Spanish took their noun endings from the objective case (filium, filios; filiam, filias; in Spanish, hijo, hijos; hija, hijas) whereas Italian took them from the more complex, but more familiar to the casual student of Latin, nominative case: filius, filii; filia, filiae (in Italian, figlio, figli; figlia, figlie.)

The correction that “alea iacta est” can only mean “the die is cast” in the sense of “the cube is thrown” is apposite; I’ll reinforce it by pointing out that “alea” is the root of “aleatory,” relating to random numbers, such as those generated by dice.

Ah. Good point. IT’s been a while since Mr O’Malley’s Latin class, or I would have picked up on that sooner.

Just wanted to add that standard Italian is:


pronounced “GRAH-tsi-ay”. May also be heard as “GRAH-tsi” in some areas/dialects

Where in Italy is “crai” used? I’ve never heard of it in Standard Italian, and the /kr/ cluster at the beginning of the word seems unlikely for an Italian word. Crai is the modern word for “tomorrow” in Sardinian, but Sardinian is not Italian.

Well, closer or farther from Latin is almost meaningless as you know. But Sardinian is a Romance language but not one of the Romance languages, if you will. Sardinia was quite isolated, and many of the innovations that are universal among the other Romance languages simply didn’t hit Sardinia, which seems to have followed something of its own path after the fall of the Roman Empire (though of course heavily influenced by Catalan, Spanish, and Italian at different points in history.) It evolved from the Latin of the second century AD, while the other Romance languages evolved from the Romance spoken around the time of the Empire’s collapse.

Sardinian has quite a bit of vocabulary common in Latin but lost in the other Romance languages - la domu (from Latin domus) for “house”, or mannu (from Latin magnus) for “big”. There’s tons of those examples where the normal Latin word disappeared from the Romance languages but survived in Sardinian. Also, there was no palatalization of /k/ and /g/ - that is, all of the soft C and soft G in other Romance languages remained hard in Sardinian. So there are some features, at least, that strongly resemble Latin.

In regard to comments on my earlier posts: Very probably true, I’m sure.

As the OP seemed new to the subject, I was attempting to simplify and generalize (with links to further details) in order to give a general understanding…and generalizations are, of course, subject to correction and modification when one goes into detail.

For details and citations, I’ll refer this thread to my resident linguist, Mrs. S, who specializes in both Italian and Latin. I’m sure she could bore us all to death with details. :slight_smile:

Until she makes her presence known, probably this evening…carry on. :slight_smile:

there’s a separate Sardinian language? who knew! verily, I learn each time I log onto the SDMB.