Latin: Why's it called that? Why not spoken anymore?

Three GQ’s today:

  1. Why is Latin called “Latin”? Why isn’t it called “Roman”?

  2. Why don’t Italians, or at least Romans, speak Latin anymore? What got them speaking Italian, and when?

  3. While we’re on the subject of languages, it’s said that Jesus spoke Aramaic, right? What’s “Aramaic”? Why didn’t he speak Hebrew? Or are they one and the same?

You might as well ask why people in England do not speak Anglo Saxon or Middle English . All languages change and develope over the years. Modern Italian is a developement and corruption of Latin , the corruption being caused by other languages.This is the same as English which is a mixture of Anglo Saxon, Norse,Norman French and some Latin

In response to 1, the area in which the people now thought of as Romans settled when they were merely a city was called Latium, and the people therein called Latins. “Latin” was a cultural name in an area with other cultures, including Sabines and Etruscans, which were later defeated in the Latins’ conquest of Italy. This site features a history of Italy.

As for 3, The History Of The Aramaic Language probably has all the answers you’re looking for.

Because Rome wasn’t the only Latin city, although it is arguably the most famous.

David Cronin answered this pretty well. I’ll just note that, as with almost all languages, the division is essentially an arbitrary one (indeed, I’ve told people on occasion that I speak Italian, but it’s two thousand years out of date).

Aramaic is (it’s still spoken by a few, although it’s largely been swamped by Arabic) a West Semitic language, originally the language of the Aramaeans, who settled in what is now Syria (you may see it called “Syriac” is older references, although some say that Syriac was the particular dialect of Aramaic spoken in Edessa). For historical reasons, it spread through the Fertile Crescent, swamping Hebrew, Chaldaean, and eventually Babylonian and Assyrian, all of which were also Semitic languages, and thus sort of like Aramaic (as the modern Romance languages all have similarities).

The Jews taken to Babylonia by Nebuchdrezzar likely dropped the use of Hebrew (after all, no one else spoke it) and took up Aramaic. After the return, the returnees were largely the upper classes (as opposed to those left behind, who probably did still speak Hebrew). Note that Jesus is said hsve come from Galilee, the Galil ha goyim, or district of the nations, an area that was at the northern borders of the old kingdom of Israel, which was resettled by Tiglath Pileser III and Sargon II (Assyrian kings) with non-Israelites, and which wasn’t even Jewish until forcibly converted by the Hasmonaean kings.

As a footnote, I’d like to add that Aramaic is similar enough to modern Hebrew to be understood by fluent Hebrew speakers, albeit with some difficulty. It’s a faulty analogy (because we’re talking about diverging paths here), but to me, reading Biblical Hebrew is like reading Shakespeare, while reading Aramaic is like reading Chaucer. Many Jewish prayers are still in Aramaic, as are some holy texts - most notably the Book of Daniel.

BTW, in Biblical Hebrew, Aram Dameshek was the Kingdom of Damascus, while Aram Naharaim (the second word means “two rivers”) is a slightly more modern term for Messopotamia.

While we’re on the subject, why is Yiddish more heavily influenced by Hebrew than Aramaic? (That’s what I’ve read, anyway - I don’t know that for sure.) This has always struck me as a bit odd, since I presume that at the time of the Diaspora the Jews spoke Aramaic, and would have taken their language with them in exile, at least for a time. My WAG would be that the use of Aramaic died out in exile, while Hebrew was retained as a liturgical and scriptural language, so that it was still around when Yiddish evolved from German. But maybe Hebrew and Aramaic are close enough so it’s hard to tell the origin of specific words?

And what is the origin of “modern” Hebrew, as spoken in Isreal? Did Hebrew die out completely everywhere as a “cradle” language, and then have to be revived from scholarly/religious sources? Or did it survive in some pockets as a daily language until the present?

Latin as most people think of it (i.e. classical) was never spoken by the people. The people spoke Vulgar Latin. Vulgar Latin, even if invading tribes had never entered Italy, would still have developed into a modern language. Language descendants aren’t corruptions, they are “natural” developments that always happen( there’s a book that shows all of the common sound changes that happened to Vulgar Latin from the major languages of the Romance world). While Italian has a lot of loanwords from other languages, it still retains a lot of its vocabulary from Latin, and it developed it’s own way, as did the other dialects of Latin all over the Roman Empire. Italian is just a descendant from the Vulgar Latin dialect spoken in Italy, not a “corruption”.

(Corruption in the usual sense of the word)\

Dictionary, another handy tool:
Etymology:Middle English, from Old English, from Latin Latinus, from Latium, ancient country of Italy
Date:before 12th century

Since some people on here appear to know what they’re talking about, I’ll ask some questions I’ve wondered about for years. Isn’t it true that French, Spanish, Italian, and English all descended from Latin? If this is the case, why is English so different in structure from the other three? My primary language is English, but I know some Spanish. When I started learning it I was overwhelmed by the number of tenses and variations, not to mention putting the adjective after the noun. I also noticed that French and Italian made more sense once I knew Spanish. Anyone else notice this?

Not directly, no.

English is mainly descended from German, or more correctly, from Anglo-Saxon. “Anglish” then was added upon by Norse & French (arguably its descent from Latin), becoming the beginnings of English.

In the New World, Indian (Native American) and African words were added to make American English.

And even that’s simplified. English is a linguistic slut. We beg, borrow, steal, appropriate and copy words and phrases from any language that happens to come within 100 yards of us.

We have words from our original ancestor, Anglo-Saxon (most of our commonest words…and, the, loaf, floor, lord, love), from the Norman French who conquered England in 1066, from later French via the English royal claims in France, from Dutch, from German, from Danish via the Viking invaders, from Celtic languages via the aboriginal peoples of Britain, from Latin from the Roman occupation of Britain, from Greek and Latin via scientific usage, from Italian via musical usage, from Persian (pajama, magician), from Hindi via the British occupation of India, from South Africa via British colonization, from Native American languages, from Asia via trade and the whole history of commercial relations with China and Japan, from Polynesian via Hawaii…it goes on, pretty much endlessly.

The basic structure of the language is Germanic. If you took Frisian, which is spoken on a small Danish island chain, and English and set them side-by-side, they’re probably more alike than modern English and Anglo-Saxon. Most of our common words are Anglo-Saxon in origin, and our grammar is more Germanic than Romance, despite generations of academics trying to fit English grammar into Latin molds.

English is what the French look at to fire up their enthusiasm for the Academie Francaise…

As is often the case, it all come down to one insanely brilliant - or perhaps brilliantly insane - man: