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Classical Latin

Classical Latin
Lingva (Lingua) Latina
Rome Colosseum inscription 2.jpg
Latin inscription in the Colosseum
Pronunciation [laˈtiːnɪtaːs]
Native to Roman Republic, Roman Empire
Region Mare Nostrum region
Era 75 BC to AD 3rd century, when it developed into Late Latin
Early forms
Old Latin
  • Classical Latin
Classical Latin alphabet 
Official status
Official language in
Roman Republic, Roman Empire
Regulated by Schools of grammar and rhetoric
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist list
lat-cla
Glottolog None
Linguasphere 51-AAB-aaa
Europa60AD.svg
The range of Latin, AD 60

Classical Latin is the modern term used to describe the form of the Latin language recognized as standard by writers of the late Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. In some later periods, it was regarded as "good" Latin, with later versions being viewed as debased or corrupt. The word Latin is now taken by default as meaning "Classical Latin", so that, for example, modern Latin textbooks describe classical Latin. Marcus Tullius Cicero and his contemporaries of the late republic, while using lingua Latina and sermo Latinus to mean the Latin language as opposed to the Greek or other languages, and sermo vulgaris or sermo vulgi to refer to the vernacular, regarded the speech they valued most and in which they wrote as Latinitas, "Latinity", with the implication of good. Sometimes it is called sermo familiaris, "speech of the good families", sermo urbanus, "speech of the city" or rarely sermo nobilis, "noble speech", but mainly besides Latinitas it was Latine (adverb), "in good Latin", or Latinius (comparative degree of adjective), "good Latin".

Latinitas was spoken as well as written. Moreover, it was the language taught by the schools. Prescriptive rules therefore applied to it, and where a special subject was concerned, such as poetry or rhetoric, additional rules applied. Now that the spoken Latinitas has become extinct (in favor of various other registers later in date) the rules of the, for the most part, polished (politus) texts may give the appearance of an artificial language, but Latinitas was a form of sermo, or spoken language and as such retains a spontaneity. No authors are noted for the type of rigidity evidenced by stylized art, except possibly the repetitious abbreviations and stock phrases of inscriptions.

Good Latin in philology is "classical" Latin literature. The term refers to the canonicity of works of literature written in Latin in the late Roman Republic and the early to middle Roman Empire: "that is to say, that of belonging to an exclusive group of authors (or works) that were considered to be emblematic of a certain genre." The term classicus (masculine plural classici) was devised by the Romans themselves to translate Greek ἐγκριθέντες (enkrithentes), "select", referring to authors who wrote in Greek that were considered model. Before then, classis, in addition to being a naval fleet, was a social class in one of the diachronic divisions of Roman society according to property ownership by the Roman constitution. The word is a transliteration of Greek κλῆσις (klēsis) "calling", used to rank army draftees by property from first to fifth class.


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