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Latin belongs to the Italic group of the Indo-European family of languages. Latin, the language of ancient Rome, is the ancestor of the modern Romance languages. Beginning as a local dialect of a small village on the Tiber River, it spread in the course of history over a large portion of the globe.
In the Middle Ages Latin served as the international medium of communication, as well as the language of science, philosophy, and theology. Until comparatively recent times a knowledge of Latin was an essential prerequisite to any liberal education; only in this century has the study of Latin declined and emphasis shifted to the modern living languages. Latin was brought to the Italian peninsula by a wave of immigrants from the north about 1000 B.C. Over the centuries the city of Rome rose to a position of prominence and the Latin of Rome became the literary standard of the newly-emerging Roman Empire. Alongside classical Latin a spoken vernacular developed, which was carried by the Roman army throughout the empire, and which completely displaced the pre-Roman tongues of Italy, Gaul, and Spain, readily accepted by the barbarians who partitioned the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D.
Further divisions led to the eventual emergence of the modern Romance languages, namely Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. The Latin, or Roman, alphabet was created in the 7th century B.C. It was based on the Etruscan alphabet, which in turn was derived from the Greek. Under certain aspects, Latin lacks the variety and flexibility of Greek, perhaps reflecting the practical nature of the Roman people, who were more concerned with government and empire than with speculative thought and poetic imagery. Yet in the hands of the great masters of the classical period it was the vehicle for a body of literature and poetry that can bear comparison with any in the world. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally used Latin as its official and liturgical language. The Vatican Latin Foundation was established in 1976.
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