Latin and the Vernacular Languages
The growth of the Roman state was accompanied by the spread of the Latin language, which came to be widely used throughout the Mediterranean world. In the western half of the Empire Latin eventually became the dominant language.
Originally Latin was only one of several Italic languages, all belonging to the Indo-European linguistic family, and its development was influenced by other tongues, including Celtic languages, Etruscan and Greek. Like other languages, Latin underwent continuous development. In each period of its evolution there were significant differences between the literary written language, distinct from the spoken language of the educated and from that of the less educated populace. In the spoken language, borrowing from other tongues was common at all periods.
Within the Roman state, Latin was the language of public administration. But it also provided a tool for communication between people whose first language was often another tongue. In the Eastern Mediterranean, other languages - especially Aramaic and koine Greek - had earlier fulfilled a similar function. Even after the Roman conquest, both these languages remained in widespread use in the East.
The development of literature and learning in Latin was strongly influenced by the Greek, but for Western Europe the works of the Latin authors had enormous long-range importance. Especially influential were the authors of the so-called Golden Age (from c. 70 BCE to 14 CE), including the prose writers Cicero, Caesar and Livy as well as the poets Virgil, Ovid and Horace, whose works became part of a lasting literary and educational heritage that survived for many centuries. Even following the spread of Christianity, educated persons, including the Western ("Latin") Fathers of the Church, continued to share in this heritage.
Latin became the language of the Western Church, focused on Rome, beginning well before the emergence of Christianity as the dominant religion in the Roman world. Along with the Greek Fathers of the Church, the Latin fathers contributed to the definition of Christian doctrine. The eight most important Fathers of the Church are known as the Doctors of the Church, and four of these wrote in Latin: Saints Ambrose (340? - 397), Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430), Jerome (c. 345 - 419?) and Pope Gregory I (c. 540 - 604). Particularly important in the formation of Western, Latin Christianity was the translation, largely by St. Jerome, of the New and Old Testaments into Latin. Known as the Vulgate, this version of the Scriptures became the authoritative text for the Western Church. Latin also became the liturgical language of the Western Church and until recent times remained the means of exchange and communication within the Church.
As a living language, Latin underwent a continuous evolution and was open to influences from other languages. This was particularly true for the spoken language of the uneducated, which already in ancient times incorporated terms derived from Greek, Celtic and later from Germanic languages. It is this sermo vulgaris which spread throughout the heavily Romanized parts of Western Europe, such as Gaul, though it appears to have co-existed with other languages, especially Celtic. Celtic seems to have disappeared from Northern Gaul by the fifth century and was later re-introduced by refugees who fled to the Continent from the invasion of the British Isles by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. In the less thoroughly Romanized Northeastern regions of the Empire, and in the territories beyond Roman frontiers, Germanic languages were spoken. These included Frisian and Saxon, along with the West Germanic languages and dialects spoken by various nations.
In the period of the migrations, the languages of the invading nations introduced a stronger element of linguistic diversity into the territory of the late Roman Empire. Especially widespread was the Gothic language of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Gothic bishop Wulfilas (or Ulfila, c. 311 - 382) was responsible for preparing a translation of the Bible into Gothic, which remained current among Arian Christians, considered as heretics by the Roman Church but active for several centuries, especially in Visigothic Spain. As a spoken language, Gothic disappeared between the seventh and ninth centuries, but Wulfila's Bible translation remains as the first major document of Germanic literature.
In Gaul, the Latin sermo vulgaris incorporated elements from several other languages and came to be known as the Roman or Romanic language. It was so thoroughly established that the invading Germanic nations generally adopted it as their own language. Its general acceptance is reflected in the fact that beginning in the sixth century the homilies of Church councils held in France were translated into it. By the eighth century Charlemagne prescribed that sermons should be delivered in the popular tongue, while other parts of the liturgy remained in Latin. Nevertheless, even in Gaul the language spoken in different regions never became homogeneous. Distinct dialects co-existed with separate languages, the most important of which was Provençal. Broadly speaking, beginning in the early middle ages, two groups of dialects emerged in the territories roughly divided by the Loire. In the South, the langue d'oc remained more closely linked to Latin, whereas the Northern langue d'oil was more strongly influenced by other languages. The terms used to describe the two groups of dialects derive from the respective words to express "yes" in each.
A similar development took place in the German-speaking parts of Western Europe between approximately 500 and 700 C.E. In the North, a group of dialects emerged which are collectively known as Low German, while the Southern dialects are referred to as High German. As in France, the ascendancy of one group over the other began much later, in the fourteenth century in France and in the sixteenth in Germany.
Ancient literature and learning, along with Christian texts, were preserved in manuscript (i.e., handwritten) books that initially were produced in much the way books had been made in earlier centuries. The lettering followed the letter forms and the conventions of Roman writing, or of forms of writing directly derived from it. Beginning, however, in the seventh century, more sharply differentiated "national" book hands developed in the various parts of Europe. The so-called insular scripts, used in Ireland and Scotland beginning in the seventh century, differed considerably from the Visigothic hand that was common in Spain, and from the Beneventan hand that was developed in Southern Italy. In Frankish territories, the Merovingian scripts that were used in the seventh and eighth centuries were during Charlemagne's reign replaced by a newly developed hand, in part inspired by reference to Roman writing and known as the Carolingian minuscule. Fine manuscripts were often carefully decorated with illustrations, known as miniatures, or by elaborate ornamental lettering such as that found in the Lindisfarne Gospel, c. 698, and in the Book of Kells, mid-8th century.
The effort under Charlemagne and his successors to revitalize the book culture was part of a more widely based cultural revival that is often described as the Carolingian Renaissance. It included the establishment of schools at key locations, including Charlemagne's palace at Aachen, and tried to harness the capacities of the most educated persons available by placing them in positions of responsibility. That such men could be found is in itself a reflection of the vitality of learning, especially among the clergy, and most particularly in monastic circles.
Learning and scholarship continued in an unbroken tradition throughout this period. Much of the literature of pagan antiquity continued to be studied, and there were repeated efforts to produce compendia of all or part of existing knowledge. The most important of these included the works by Martianus Capella, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury , written in approximately 400 CE, and by Cassiodorus (c. 490-585), a retired civil servant and founder of monasteries, who wrote the Institutions of Divine and Human Readings . The most widely used encyclopaedic work for centuries to come was the Etymologies of the Spanish archbishop, Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636). The high level of erudition in English monasteries is reflected in the works of Bede the Venerable (673? - 735), whose many books include a particularly influential Ecclesiastical History of the English People . Alcuin of York (735-804), so impressed Charlemagne through his learning that he was charged with carrying out a number of key educational reforms.
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