Latin language, member of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Latin was first encountered in ancient times as the language of Latium, the region of central Italy in which Rome is located (see Italic languages). Roman conquests later spread Latin throughout Italy and the vast Roman Empire. Numerous documents, such as Latin inscriptions and literary works, furnish much information about the language, as do the comments of ancient scholars and various related dialects and languages. After the ancient Romans began to develop a literature (in the 3d cent. b.c.), a gap emerged between literary, or classical, Latin and Vulgar Latin, which was the popular (spoken) form of the language. This division had become considerable by the beginning of the Roman Empire. It is especially from Vulgar Latin, carried by the soldiers and colonists of Rome throughout the Roman Empire, that the modern Romance languages are descended.
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