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Historical Foundations

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Historical Foundations
Laketa Byrd
American InterContinental University

Latin was once the official language used in religion, education, law, business and government until the sixteenth century. Although Latin’s were able to adapt to the native language of other regions, the Latin language became less used and less recognizable to people and many vernacular languages were already beginning to form and spread. Because the vernacular language was easier for anyone to be able to read and write, it became the native language in the later part of the middle ages. Before this time, most texts and literature was written by either the French or Latin and only by those that were superior in literacy and education, professional and rich as they were the main ones using and able to read and write in Latin. When average everyday people started learning how to read and write, they created their own language as a way of communicating with each other, the vernacular language. This language was later used in in everyday life. In this report, I’ll discuss the origin of the vernacular language, how it became widespread and the impact this language had on society, religion and the Latin language.

Historical Foundations

Latin was once the only language of the Roman Catholic Church and was one of many common languages being used to worship God and was mainly used among the rich and those that were educated and highly literate to help people from diverse linguistic backgrounds to be able to communicate with one another, especially since very few people were able to speak this language (MUSE, 2010). Latin was a language that wasn’t easy to learn, read or write and many people had trouble with it. Or course it wasn’t a language that was for everyone, only the elite. The Latin language had such a huge impact on medieval times and it owed much of its dominance to the rise of the Roman Empire and its decline to the fall of the Roman Empire and the widespread of the vernacular language. As the geographic territory of Rome grew so did Latin as a common language, but mainly to those with certain educational and professional backgrounds. As the vernacular language grew in popularity, so did the decline in the use of the Latin language, which was once the only language used in literature and texts. Latin, like many other languages, was comprised of more than one form and was both spoken and written. When the Roman Empire fell apart, Latin was no longer the reigning language of the people of Europe and North Africa and the people that were living the farthest from Rome were the first to undergo such ethnic and cultural changes due to this decline. According to The Applied History Research Group article “The End of Europe’s Middle Ages” (1997), political stability was achieved from the success of the feudal aristocracy or wars, which in turn helped to create an increase in the demand for education and literacy that led intellectual revivals and further hastened the decline of the Latin language.

Because of the rise of the vernacular language, there was not only an enormous amount of decrease of the Latin language due to the vernacular language, but also by the increase in nationalism which resulted from the consolidation of monarchies in the Middle Ages (Farzaneh, 2010). Nationalism due to the consolidation of monarchies was a feeling of strong pride, unity and patriotism shown towards and for their country (Farzaneh, 2010). As early as the late twelfth century, Latin had remained the language of politics while government and various forms of legal documentation were being written in vernacular form throughout England and France (The Rise of the Vernacular Language in the late Middle Ages, 1997). Individuals with professional, educational literacy and certain social statuses were the ones that most often determined the final form of language to be used. During the fourteenth century, vernacular language in literacy forms became a well-established language that was eventually widespread throughout much of Europe. Many poets, including the travelling troubadours, were now using vernacular language in their poetry, songs and tales. However, spelling still had no standardization. The shift from Latin language to vernacular language presented an important shift in the interest of courtly love literature and gave people a greater freedom of expression, as can be seen in the poems of troubadours and trobairitz courtly love (Sayre, 2012). The development of the vernacular language literary was a great and major accomplishment and a major step towards developing a standardized form of the language. It was comprehensible to and for all people from all different type of dialects and educational backgrounds (Tillotson, 2005).

England, Germany, France and Italy were among the major countries that adopted the vernacular language. The French were said to have been among the first to spread their works of literary in vernacular form (Sayre, 2012). Women were also involved in the rise of the vernacular language and they commissioned that literature to be written and translated into vernacular language so that history can be preserved in a way that everyone will be able to read and understand. Those factors forced a widespread of vernacular language became many people still did not speak, read, write or understand the Latin language. Another factor that contributed to the widespread of vernacular languages was the moveable printing press, which was developed by Johann Gutenburg in the fifteenth century, to accelerate changes that were already underway. The printing press made this much easier and faster to produce these works of literacy and spread the language (Chappell, 2011). The extension of literacy among the reliance of the government and businesses created a demand for a less-costly method of reproducing the written word in vernacular language (Kreis, 2004).

The impact of the printing press allowed average everyday people to be able to publish and read literature in vernacular form. Since religion was very important throughout the Middle Ages, the Bible was now being published into the vernacular language and there became such an immense amount of changes in society and in religion because of this new language. Due to this change, all people were then able to read the Bible, not just priests, and led to the idea that the religion should be more personal. Because not all monastics were trained to read and write, there became a decline in literacy similar to that experienced throughout the general population. The use of vernacular language made it very easy to convert people to Christianity because they could now read, write and understand it. In fact there were several factors that contributed to the rise of the vernacular language - the desire to spread Christianity and the desire for women to take part in cultural debates and the desire to advance technologically. At one time, religious books and literature were only written in Latin. By the use of religious practices and teachings, priests represented what they thought was the only true path to God and the way to salvation. This representation was later challenged by a Christian Lutheran by the name of Martin Luther. During the sixteenth century, Luther challenged the practice of such priests through the use of Bibles and by using a type of language that was becoming very popular called the vernacular language (Jones, 1997). Luther believed that the central message of Christianity was that sinners became reconciled to God by grace and through Faith because of the work of Jesus Christ and not by the teachings, practices and structures of the Roman Catholic Church or the priests.

Usage of the vernacular language made it much easier to convert people to Christianity and was eventually used in placed of the Latin language. Technological advances also helped spread the vernacular language and led to an increase in the rates of literacy, which were very essential since this language was going to be used in place of the Latin language. Because of the many differences in regions, cultures and countries, standardization of the vernacular language was necessary in order to increase communication and a stronger national identity, which to me was the greatest impact that the vernacular or any language ever had on society and religion. The vernacular language went from being used in songs and literature to being used in all aspects of life throughout many regions, cultures and countries. As people began to read and speak the same language, they began to come together as a group. This allowed them to enjoy intellectual conversations and a common ground.


AIU Online. (2010). HUMA215: Unit 1. Early Civilization [Multimedia presentation]. Retrieved from AIU Online Virtual Campus. Topics in Cultural Studies: HUMA215-1203A-21 website.

Chappell, P. (2011). Gutenberg’s Press Revisited: Invention and Renaissance in the Modern World. Sydney, AU. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Farzaneh, A. (2010). The Rise of Nationalism During the Renaissance. Retrieved from

Jones, B. (1997). The Rise of Vernacular Languages and Nation States and the Decline of the Roman Catholic Church. Retrieved from

Kreis, S. (2004). The Printing Press. Retrieved from

Sayre, H. (2012). Discovering the humanities (2nd ed.) [Online version]. Retrieved from AIU Online Virtual Campus. Topics in Cultural Studies: HUMA215-1203A-21 website.

The Rise of the Vernacular Language in the late Middle Ages. (1997). Retrieved from

Tillotson, D. (2005). Vernacular Languages (2). Retrieved from

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