Is Latin dead?
by: Gn. Dionysius Draco Invictus & Q. Marius Primus
Is Latin still really alive? Or has it been fossilised and kept alive artificially for centuries? Since the 6th, maybe 7th century CE, there are no more people whose mother language (let alone sole language) is Latin. The language evolved into the Romance languages and Church Latin. The old variant, which is being used here, was digged up in the Renaissance as a vernacular language between intellectuals until French assumed this place, and later English did.
The Vatican sometimes publishes lists with new words for Latin, but most of these expressions are very awkward, even if they are actually translations for terms that are partially Latin in origin. There are meetings where Latin is spoken, but we must all admit that former is something for bearded men and language geeks [like me] and latter is an extremely exceptional case.
I think Latin is still alive, in a way. There are lots and lots of Latin words in many Western European languages, words which are similar in many languages and of which I predict that they will be used even more often in the future to ease communication between peoples.
The linguist D. Nettle claimed in one of his articles that Latin only lived on and subsequently fractured in the areas of the Roman Empire where the romanisation had been the most profound. While this is true, I think he forgot that the impact of Latin was also considerable on a large number of neighbouring languages and cultures: not enough to romanise them completely but enough, from Antiquity up until the Renaissance, to alter and modify their literature and expand their lexicon. Also, a language like Rumanian definitely is a Romance language but it didn't originate in an area that had been profoundly romanised.
Latin itself is dead. Even though some may still speak it, even if not all of them are professors who can just as well choose another mutually intelligible language to communicate in, Latin doesn't change anymore (I don't consider mangling up Latin as a form of change since these are usually no systematic deviations but random errors, before anyone dares to use this as an excuse to escape my latinate wrath ). A living language is, essentially, one that gradually changes. De Swaan remarked that no one can salvage a language on his own. Hebrew was successfully revived, but that was due to a cooperation of many people who were immigrating to Israel. For Latin, this will not happen unless all Romans-in-spirit were to unite and live at the same location (or form actual communities).
Not withstanding the fact that the written language of the Roman empire that we learn was even then a partly artificial written ideal that even the educated top brass didn't speak in their normal daily lives. It should also be rememebered that all living languages change over time, and this includes the spoken Latin of the Republic and the Empire (in fact, one thing that marks a language as living is the fact that it does change - as soon as it becomes static and unchanging marks it as a dead language). It would be quite interesting from a lingusitic point of view to see how much the spoken language of the 4th century AD differed from the written language!
On the other hand, Latin is still alive and kicking, only we do not know it by that name. Latin didn't die out just as the language of the Etruscan language did, or Cornish or Manx did in the 20th century in Britain. It changed. As we alluded to above, all living languages change, and this happened to the Latin spoken in the different provinces. Where it survived, it eventually changed over time into what is today known as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, plus a variety of other dialects and languages (e.g. Catalan, all the Italian dialects, Romansch, Langue d'Oc).
So on one hand Latin is dead, but it does live on purely for doing what all languages do over time - by changing!