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How Italians Speak (Almost) Like Their Ancestors


Facadeof the Pantheon, Rome, Italy

It is common knowledge that the Italian culture descended from the Roman Empire. Today, there are still numerous tangible reminders of this legacy – the Pantheon in Rome, the mysterious human figures of Pompeii, and the Roman forum of Verona – just to name a few. Construction projects in many Italian cities are frequently interrupted by the discovery of ancient ruins. It is almost as if modern-day Italy cannot escape its gloried past.

In Italy’s school system, it is mandatory for children and young adults to learn the history, art, philosophy, and language of ancient Rome. These studies may continue through High School with a specialized course of study called Liceo Classico. This curriculum emphasizes the study of Latin and Ancient Greek as a way to understand the classics as they were meant to be read – in their original language.  

But you don’t have to have attended Liceo Classico to observe Italy’s deep connection with its past and the Latin language. Modern Italian derives from Latin and is the result of the evolution of Latin spoken over the centuries. A language that over time transformed as a result of its usage, in conjunction with other social and political changes. The Italian language also continues to change with many foreign words, such as English, added to the mix. However, it continues to be evident that Latin has played a major role in its formation.  

Today, we may think of using Latin phrases in our present-day speech as something reserved for lawyers in a courtroom. However, Latin phraseology is still very much alive and sprinkled into everyday conversation all around the Italian peninsula. When these sayings are pronounced, they are said in Latin, not translated into Italian, and used by people of all walks of life. Below are some common examples that you may hear:

Mens sana in corpore sano – A healthy mind in a healthy body.

Spes ultima dea – Hope is the last to die

Dulcis in fundo – Last but not least

Lupus in fabulaSpeak of the devil

Repetita juvant – Repetition is useful

In primis – First and foremost

Tempus fugit – Time flies

Tabula rasa – Clean slate

De gustibus – To each its own

Verba volant, scripta manent – Spoken words fly away, written words remain

For centuries Latin was the universal language of art and science across Europe. Consequently, it is no surprise that Latin remains a necessary key to unlocking the Italian culture and language today. These Latin phrases encapsulate centuries of history and allow the speaker to reconnect with a civilization thousands of years old.

YouTube: 11 LATIN Words and Expressions Still Used in ITALIAN! (IT)
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