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Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, extending in the Iberian Peninsula of southwestern Europe to the 7th century. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin. Although there is no scholarly consensus about exactly when Classical Latin should end, nor exactly when Medieval Latin should begin, Late Latin is characterized (with variations and disputes) by an identifiable style.

Being a written language, Late Latin is not identifiable with Vulgar Latin. The latter during those centuries served as proto-Romance, a reconstructed ancestor of the Romance languages. Although Late Latin reflects an upsurge of the use of Vulgar Latin vocabulary and constructs, it remains to a large extent classical in overall features, depending on the author. Some are more literary and classical, some more inclined to the vernacular. Nor is Late Latin identical to Christian or patristic Latin, the theological writings of the early Christian fathers. While Christian writings are considered a subset of Late Latin, pagans wrote much Late Latin, especially in the early part of the period.

Late Latin formed during a time when mercenaries from non-Latin-speaking peoples on the borders of the empire were being subsumed and assimilated in large numbers and the rise of Christianity was introducing a heightened divisiveness in Roman society, creating more of a need for a standard means of communicating between different socioeconomic registers and widely separated regions of the sprawling empire. A new and more universal speech evolved from the main elements: classical Latin, Christian Latin, which featured sermo humilis, "ordinary speech" in which the people were to be addressed, and all the various dialects of Vulgar Latin. The linguist Antoine Meillet said, Sans que l'aspect extérieur de la langue se soit beaucoup modifié, le Latin est devenu au cours de l'epoque impériale une langue nouvelle, "without the exterior appearance of the language being much modified, Latin became in the course of the imperial epoch a new language" and Servant en quelque sorte de lingua franca à un grand empire, le Latin a tendu à se simplifier, à garder surtout ce qu'il avait de banal .... "Serving as some sort of lingua franca to a large empire, Latin tended to become simpler, to keep above all what it had of the ordinary ...."


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