There is a lot of Latin grammars out there, but here I am looking for a specific kind: a descriptive modern Latin grammar.

By modern Latin I mean the Latin of our own era. I would like it to be as recent as possible — not in terms of publication date, but in terms of the language described. By descriptive I mean that it describes the actual use of the language, not how it should be used. Many Latinists today strive to follow classical grammar, but they have varying rates of success. Idiosyncrasies are transferred from their native languages and modern life might require things for which the classical language is now well suited.

What I am looking for is a description of the Latin language as the living language of today. It can well be a comparison to classical Latin instead of a description of the modern variant(s) in and of itself. The study or grammar can be restricted to some subset, such as a specific Latin newscast or the language of a specific living Latin community.

Latin is used actively by a number of people in today's world. There are online and offline communities where it is used for communication, there are Latin newscasts, Latin texts are composed for festive occasions, and probably something else that I forget. I call all of this use of living Latin "modern Latin". (Suggestions for better terminology are welcome!) The tradition to use Latin for communication has never — as far as I can tell — stopped after the Roman era, but it has changed form. In terms of active everyday use, most of Latin evolved into Romance languages, but Latin itself has survived through the ages as well. For example, I do occasionally write an email or chat or write a speech in Latin, and my Latin is certainly not exactly like Cicero's.

If the question is somehow senseless or impossible, arguing that would make a good answer. Perhaps today's Latin is not uniform enough for such a description. Perhaps we follow classical Latin so well that there is no discernible difference. Perhaps the matter has not been studied much or the findings have not been written up.

  • 1
    I don't have an answer, but I suspect that it would be difficult to define the population to be described. – Kingshorsey Jun 23 '19 at 23:11
  • @Kingshorsey There are indeed many possible choices. It could be an individual community or a newscast. I'm not sure if there's anything to say fully globally. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 24 '19 at 8:55
  • 1
    @tony That would indeed be possible, but unfortunately not what I'm after. Latin is not mutually intelligible with Romance languages, so it is a separate language. And it is used, albeit far less than its daughters. Today's Latin has been preserved to us by a continuous tradition, although it has been a first language to very few for a long time. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 24 '19 at 9:14
  • 1
    @JoonasIlmavirta Could you explain why you think there exists anything that can be described as "today's Latin" with a continuous tradition? I'd think your question is bewidlering enough to most people to merit its own answer explaining the rationale behind asking it. – Unbrutal_Russian Jun 24 '19 at 9:45
  • 2
    Well, the thing is, the Latin used by people in today's world does not constitute a tradition. For it to be a living tradition, they need to have learned their Latin from other people, who in turn did the same, without interruption. I'm not aware of any community today where this is the case - Latin is learned from textbooks, not people; from Classical or Renaissance, not modern authors, and deviation from the standard in question is not a feature of their variety of Latin, but an artifact of imperfect acquisition. Such a study would be an SLA study of failure in feature acquisition. – Unbrutal_Russian Jun 24 '19 at 11:21

It looks as if you are hoping for a latter-day Quintilian, but the modern works from which he might draw examples hardly form a body which could be thought of as homogeneous to anything near the degree seen in the literature to which Quintilian had access. [That said, the website http://ephemeris.alcuinus.net/ is an engaging source of modern Latin, with many contributors displaying a wide variety of abilities and interests.]

A surprising number of people are prepared not only to attempt Latin, but also to risk adverse criticism by publishing the results. As one of this number, I can say that the critical response is extremely variable and that most of it is no more than (what you could call) anonymous exhibitionism and thus of little value. My own response to the efforts of others in the field is to evaluate them for my own purposes, which is often a useful exercise, but doing so does indicate what a tremendous task it would be to extract from them the 'description of the Latin language as the living language of today' that you are looking for, let alone to compare the product to classical Latin.

The teaching of Latin at all, let alone of prose or verse composition in it, is becoming in the UK ever rarer. In this situation, it isn't very likely that anyone here would attempt a serious study along the lines that you suggest, even if hoping for a PhD at the end of it. Regretfully, I have to conclude that your quest is impossible: would that it were otherwise!


Latin as a living language is found in the documents of the Catholic Church. For example, the Institutio general is de Liturgia Horarum is almost 100 pages long and is a mixture of exposition and detailed prescription. All major Church documents, including all papal encyclicals, exhortations etc are also published in Latin first and translated from there.

The subject matter is admittedly limited - no engineering or chemistry here - but it is not as limited as you think.

It is, however, intentionally functional rather than literary.

Typing in a phone I can’t give you links, but the Vatican web site is a good place to start.

EDIT: There are, or were, resources to help the intending Latinizing bureaucrat, though these are unlikely to amount to a comprehensive grammar as such. Search for Fagher Reginald Foster. He retired as Latin Secretary in 2009 but is, I think, still active.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.