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Philological analysis of Archaic Latin works, such as those of Plautus, which contain snippets of everyday speech, indicates that a spoken language, Vulgar Latin (termed sermo vulgi, "the speech of the masses", by Cicero), existed concurrently with literate Classical Latin.The informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by classical authors and those found as graffiti.Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant language, initially in Italy and subsequently throughout the Roman Empire.Vulgar Latin developed into the Romance languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Romanian.The writing later changed from what was initially either a right-to-left or a boustrophedon During the late republic and into the first years of the empire, a new Classical Latin arose, a conscious creation of the orators, poets, historians and other literate men, who wrote the great works of classical literature, which were taught in grammar and rhetoric schools.Today's instructional grammars trace their roots to such schools, which served as a sort of informal language academy dedicated to maintaining and perpetuating educated speech.The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets, and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.
Vulgar Latin was the colloquial form spoken during the same time and attested in inscriptions and the works of comic playwrights like Plautus and Terence.
Today, many students, scholars and members of the Catholic clergy speak Latin fluently as a liturgical language.
Latin is a highly inflected language, with three distinct genders, seven noun cases, four verb conjugations, four verb principal parts, six tenses, three persons, three moods, two voices, two aspects and two numbers.
Despite dialectal variation, which is found in any widespread language, the languages of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy retained a remarkable unity in phonological forms and developments, bolstered by the stabilising influence of their common Christian (Roman Catholic) culture.
It was not until the Moorish conquest of Spain in 711 cut off communications between the major Romance regions that the languages began to diverge seriously.