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LATINI (Latin) / Latinos (Spanish, Portuguese) / Latins (French) / Latini (Italian, Romanian) / Llatins (Catalan)

The Latins are the cultural nation of speakers of the ancient dialect of Latin (LATINA) or any of its descendants. Through conquest, settlement, and assimilation, the Latins became one of the main cultural groups in Europe and the New World, and their culture is one of the major influences on other cultures throughout the world.

The original Latins occupied a small area, known as Latium (LATIVM, modern Lazio), in the center of the western side of the Italian peninsula, around and to the south and east of the city of Rome (ROMA), which was to become their chief city and state. In historiography, the term ‘Latins’ is sometimes used for all the Latin speakers except the Romans, since the other Latins had organized themselves into a loose alliance, the Latin League, which came later to resist Roman control and expansion. Other notable cities (and city-states) of the ancient Latins were ALBA LONGA (the most important city after Rome, and founder of the League), Tibur (TIBVR, modern Tivoli), PRAENESTE (modern Palestrina), ARDEA, Lavinium (LAVINIVM), Lanuvium (LANVVIVM, modern Lanuvio), LABICI, Tusculum (TVSCVLVM), and ARICIA (modern Ariccia).

Latin was a member of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family; the other known ancient members of the branch, also spoken in Italy and all now extinct, were Faliscan (Latin’s closest relative), Oscan (spoken by the Samnites, among others), Umbrian (including Sabine), and South Picene. With the expansion of the Roman empire (including the republican empire), Latin and its various vernacular descendants gradually replaced the other dialects in the Italian peninsula and then much of western Europe. The Roman empire came to control the entire Mediterranean as well as adjacent parts of Europe and the Near East, but the empire was divided culturally between a west in which Latin was the lingua franca, and an east in which Greek was the lingua franca. The conversion of local populations into native speakers of vernacular Latin (so-called Vulgar Latin) took place primarily in western Europe, then. (The actual Greek cultural or Hellenistic region was the territory of the empire of Alexander of Macedon; areas north of this territory were not Hellenized, and in some of these, vernacular Latin became the lasting cultural influence — hence modern România.)

The descendants of Latin are collectively known as the Romance dialects. Most of the Romance dialects exist in a single dialect continuum across western Europe, with the main standardized dialects being Portuguese-Galician (Português-Galego), Spanish (Español / Castellano), Catalan (Català), Occitan, French (Français), Northern Italian (Gall-Italich) and standard Italian (Italiano). In Iberia, the continuum is only operational in the north; dialects from three distinct points in that continuum were spread south with the Reconquista, the reconquest of Iberia from the Moors, so that Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan (as spread by the expanding states of Portugal, Castille (Castilla), and Aragon (Aragó / Aragón), respectively) are spoken in distinct bands along the southern portion of the peninsula. Disconnected from the continuum are the spatially-isolated Romanian (Româna / Româneşte), spoken throughout cultural România (which includes Moldova), the related Aromanian or Vlach (Armãneashti), spoken in an archipelago of regions in the western Balkans, and the insular Sardinian (Sardu). The continuum is not operational at all, of course, for those dialects that have been transplanted outside of Europe, namely the three main imperial Romance dialects, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, as well as the Spanish dialect of the Sephardic Jews, Ladino (לדינו « Ladīnoŭ »).

Latinate vocabulary has been heavily borrowed into European dialects, owing to Latin’s status as lingua franca in the western Roman empire and its continued use in medieval Europe for religious and scholarly purposes. Even Romance dialects borrow from classical Latin, so that modern Romance dialects (and English, with its large French component) contain numerous vocabulary doublets, with an evolved term typically used for everyday concepts existing alongside a cognate reincorporated from classical Latin, typically used for technical, educated, or religious concepts. (Latin itself borrowed from Greek, meaning that a large proportion of Greek vocabulary in European dialects is in a latinized form, e.g., Greek ΚΥΚΛΟΣ « kuklos » “circle” → Latin CYCLVS → ‘cycle’; Greek ΧΑΡΑΚΤΗΡ « k‛araktēr » → Latin CHARACTER.)

The ancient Roman religion was a combination of inherited Indo-European beliefs and those borrowed from and influenced by the Greeks and Etruscans. It was a polytheistic paganism, with a familiar pantheon headed by Jupiter (IVPPITER), and including Juno (IVNO), MINERVA, APOLLO, CERES, DIANA, MARS, Mercury (MERCVRIVS), Vulcan (VVLCANVS), Neptune (NEPTVNVS), Venus (VENVS), VESTA, and Saturn (SATVRNVS). The Romans were given to the syncretistic adoption of the gods of peoples they conquered or otherwise absorbed, and practiced a cult of the state as well.

Christianity was adopted throughout the Roman empire in various ways; while the east developed a tradition of autonomous regional churches headed by independent patriarchs (the bishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, with Constantinople merely being first among equals (PRIMVS INTER PARES)), the west produced a centralized Christian church under the bishop of Rome, eventually known as the “pope” (ultimately from Greek ΠΑΠ(Π)ΑΣ « pap(p)as », “father”). All of the Latin nations in western Europe are traditionally Roman Catholic, and otherwise follow the cultural traditions of the Western Christian sphere, and spread this tradition with their empires. România is traditionally Eastern Orthodox.

The Latins of the post-Roman world were notable explorers, particularly the northern Italians and the Portuguese, and all five of the Latin-dominated consolidated states of late medieval and modern times — Portugal, Spain (España), France, Italy (Italia), and Belgium (Belgique) — conquered overseas empires in the New World, Africa, or the East Indies. The lands and peoples of the former Latin empires can be roughly divided into two levels of latinization. The higher level of latinization resulted in modern populations who speak a Romance dialect natively, and often practice Catholicism. The lower level of latinization left the imperial Romance dialect as one confined to educated and elite spaces — used by government and in education, especially higher education, in print media and sometimes broadcast media. In the latter case, the Romance dialect might be used as a lingua franca among speakers of different indigenous dialects, but frequently an indigenous dialect serves that purpose instead.

In the New World, and to some extent in Portuguese Africa, these overseas territories were latinized at a high level, so that, for example, Spanish and Portuguese are major native dialects in the New World, and have far more speakers there than in Europe.

In the broadest (and original) conception, Latin America includes the New World native speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, French, French Creole (Kreyòl / Kreyol / Kwéyòl), and Papiamentu, and the territories where they exert cultural and political dominance. Spanish is the most commonly spoken and the most widely distributed (in the region depicted at right), being an official dialect and in many cases the predominant vernacular in México, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, as well as in the Caribbean, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic ((República) Dominicana), and the US territory of Puerto Rico. Spanish is the second-most-common native dialect in the United States, concentrated along the southern border but also spoken in major cities, and is also spoken in border regions in Belize. Aboriginal vernaculars are widely spoken in most of Spanish America (depicted as hatched areas on the map); they share official status in Bolivia (and regionally in other states), while in Paraguay the state has embraced an aboriginal lingua franca, Guaraní (Avañe’ê).

Portuguese in the New World is spoken primarily in Brazil (Brasil), where it is spoken by nearly everyone and the native dialect of the great majority, and also in the bordering northern region of Uruguay. French is widely spoken in Québec (where it is sponsored by the provincial government), and also spoken by populations in proximate areas of Canada and New England, and by certain populations in the French overseas territories of French Guiana (Guyane), Martinique, and Guadeloupe. French Creole is the main vernacular in Haiti (Ayisi), where it is also embraced by the state, and in French Guiana (Lagwiyann), Martinique (Matnik), and Guadeloupe (Gwadloup), but is also the main vernacular in the independent and officially-Anglophone Dominica (Donmnik) and Saint Lucia (Sent Lisi). Papiamentu, a Portuguese (and partially Spanish) creole, is spoken in the Dutch possessions in the Caribbean — Curaçao (Kòrsou), Aruba, and Bonaire (Boneiru).

France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, and Italy all participated in the colonization of Africa. The first two in particular had a lasting impact on the culture of the region. Portuguese is the native dialect of significant populations in Angola (perhaps 40%) and Mozambique (Moçambique, 17%), and most of the population of São Tomé and Príncipe, and Portuguese Creole is the main vernacular of Cape Verde (Kabu Verdi) and the majority native dialect and lingua franca of Guinea-Bissau (Gine-Bisau). Standard French exists primarily as an official dialect and medium of education (especially higher education), owing to both French and Belgian colonization; officially-francophone states in North Africa are Morocco (Maroc), Algeria (Algérie), Tunisia (Tunisie), and Mauritania (Mauritanie), and in Sub-Saharan Africa are Mali, Sénégal, Guinea-Conakry (Guinée), Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Burkina Faso, Togo, (New) Bénin, Niger, Chad (Tchad), Central African Republic (République Centrafrique), Cameroon (Cameroun), Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Comoros (Comores; the island of Mayotte shares Comorian culture and history, but remains French territory). But French Creole is the main vernacular in Seychelles (Sesel), as well as Mauritius (Moris) and the nearby French territory of Reunion (Rényon). Spanish (Western Sahara, Equitorial Guinea) and Italian (southern Somalia and the old Ethiopia, present Ethiopia and Eritrea) have had significantly less lasting influence in Africa.

Latin influence in the rest of the world has mostly survived at a low level, if that. French in the Levant (Syria (Syrie) and Lebanon (Liban)) has mostly been replaced by Modern Standard Arabic. The French colony of Indochina (Indochine) comprised the modern countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (Cambodge), and led to the use of French for education (again, especially higher education) and government, but only in Laos is this phenomenon still much in operation. Portuguese is still used at an elite and governmental level in East Timor (Timor-Leste), but in Macao (Macau), Mandarin now serves in that sphere. Spanish culture in the Philippines (Filipinas) has had a lasting impact, particularly through Catholicism but also in names, but Tagalog and English have largely supplanted Spanish for elite communication and as a lingua franca.

The Portuguese-speaking world, or Lusofonia (left); the French-speaking world, or Francophonie (right).

In American Spanish and Portuguese, ‘latino’ is often used as shorthand for ‘latinoamericano’, and is thus limited to Latins of the New World. It is this usage that apparently inspired the substitution, in US English, of ‘latino’ for ‘Hispanic’, rendering the term narrower still: US residents with ancestry in Spanish America (whether speakers of Spanish or not).

The classical Latin script, which descended from the Semitic script via Greek and Etruscan, was: A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z. The modern Latin script, which evolved from this, is the most widely used writing system in the world, with the incorporation of a number of additional characters and diacritics in various contexts.



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