I am writing a book set in the present day with a very old character (thousands of years old). A modern day human asks him:

"Do you speak Latin, like really speak Latin?"

His response would be in old fashioned Latin from when he spoke it natively and would be something like "I used it for many years" or whatever similar phrase would seem appropriate and sound best. If it makes a difference he likes/respects the person he's talking to but might be tempted to show off a bit.

I tried using Google translate but that is notoriously bad for Latin, and my own grasp of the language isn't good enough to verify the results. It suggests that "I used it for many years" translates as "Ego autem per multos annos". Or alternatively "Of course, I spoke it for many years", translates as "Scilicet ego locutus est per multos annos".

So the first part of the question is, what would be the best phrase in Latin for him to use in response? It doesn't need to be this exact phrase but something with a similar meaning.

And the second part is — if he's speaking thousand-year-old Latin, not modern day Latin but probably not old Latin either, would there be anything that an archaeology post-grad with a keen interest in history would notice as unusual about what he says or the accent he uses?

  • 6
    A meta-comment on your question: the framing of your question suggests to me that you should do some further research for your character. "Thousand-year-old" Latin would be medieval Latin, which was primarily used in academic/learned contexts--I'm not sure how much sense it makes to speak of a "native" speaker here. "Modern-day" Latin (i.e. the kind of Latin emulated by the Renaissance) consciously imitated "classical" Latin in opposition to medieval Latin. Is this character supposed to be a Roman or a medieval scholar?
    – brianpck
    May 24, 2020 at 16:59
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    For example, Thomas Aquinas (13th c.) obviously wrote entirely in Latin, and he probably spoke it all day at the University of Paris and elsewhere, but his "native" language wasn't Latin.
    – brianpck
    May 24, 2020 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


Literally, I would say multōs annōs Latīnē locūtus sum, "I used to speak Latin for many years", or saeculīs praeteritīs Latīnē locūtus sum, "I used to speak Latin in ages past".

If he wants to be a bit more ostentatious, though, he could say something like verba linguā Rōmānā multa saeculīs praeteritīs effātus sum, "I used to speak many words in the Roman tongue, in ages past". This uses some poetic constructions (chiasmus, the obscure verb effor) that would be incredibly pretentious in everyday conversation and would take any Latin-speaker a few moments to decipher.

You can also precede either of these with the word immo, which means either "yes indeed" or "on the contrary" depending on context. (Its exact meaning is something like "the answer I'm about to give is emphatic".)

(In a published book, you probably wouldn't include the marks above the vowels; they represent a pronunciation difference that disappeared in later Latin. But if you want to emphasize that this person spoke the Latin of Cicero and Vergil, as opposed to the Latin of the Catholic Church, including the marks might be an amusing inside joke: the pronunciation difference the marks indicate disappeared in the first few centuries CE and was never used in Mediaeval or Church Latin.)

EDIT: I chose to use the perfect tense here based on TKR's corpus search, but after sleeping on it, I do think it was the right choice for semantic reasons too. The perfect can indicate that something is over and done, finished for good, as in Aeneid 2.325-6:

Fuimus Troēs, fuit Īlium et ingens / glōria Teucrōrum…
We used to be Trojans, this used to be Ilium, and the great glory of the Teucri…

And in this case, your Latin-speaker probably isn't actively using his skills any more.

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    I think the perfect would be used here rather than the imperfect, despite the durative semantics, since the latter is basically a narrative background tense. Looking through the first few pages of results from PHI for multos annos I find lots of perfect indicatives but no imperfect indicatives (latin.packhum.org/search?q=multos+annos&first=31).
    – TKR
    May 24, 2020 at 4:04
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    So "Immo saeculīs praeteritīs locūtus sum" would be "yes indeed I used to speak it in ages past"? While "Immo saeculīs praeteritīs loquēbar" would have the same meaning but in the imperfect tense? I think the perfect tense does make sense here as he would not have had any reason to use the language for a very long time so the time he was talking about is over... although I can also see the argument for imperfect considering he does still speak it, even if he has no use for it.
    – Tim B
    May 24, 2020 at 10:59
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    @TimB Pretty much! Both tenses have a lot of different nuances, such as the imperfect meaning "repeatedly" or "habitually", and the perfect meaning "this is now over and done", and based on TKR's corpus search I do think the perfect is better here.
    – Draconis
    May 24, 2020 at 16:08
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    @tony Perfect can be a single action, but it can also be a long-term state that's now definitively ended. "Fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens / gloria Teucrorum": we used to be Trojans, this used to be Ilium and the great glory of the Teucri, but no longer (from Aeneid 2).
    – Draconis
    May 24, 2020 at 16:12
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    @tony There's more to Latin tenses than the textbook definitions. In narrative, the main use of the imperfect is to set the scene for some other, more important ("foreground") event, which isn't the case here. For durative/repeated foreground actions in prose narrative you often get the historical infinitive, but that's not suitable here either; the perfect has no problem fulfilling that function, as Draconis's quote (which is a common type) shows.
    – TKR
    May 24, 2020 at 18:58

If you want a simple classical translation of "I used the language for many years" one would say "Lingva Latina per multos annos utebar." There may be more elegant or poetic ways to put in in literature somewhere, so keep your mind open.

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    Draconis & TKR seem to have discredited the imperfect, here. Why have you chosen the imperfect, even it does make sense?
    – tony
    May 24, 2020 at 7:56
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    Imperfect has a sense of duration. If somebody often did, or kept doing, something over a non-instantaneous duration of time, one would expect a use of the imperfect. But I think the question of emphasis answers the question of perfect or imperfect; if we want to emphasize that the LANGUAGE was spoken, we would use imperfect, but if we want to emphasize the language NO LONGER BEING SPOKEN, we would use the perfect to signify its ending. This is speculation on my part however.
    – Nickimite
    May 24, 2020 at 17:40
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    Interesting and some erudite comments, above. Again, as I said to Draconis, the finality argument (dictating the perfect tense) may be undermined by the fact that the old man could resume his speaking of Latin (dictating the imperfect, possibly).
    – tony
    May 25, 2020 at 11:05
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    @tony Not really, because if he were to resume speaking Latin he'd use the present, not the imperfect.
    – TKR
    May 25, 2020 at 17:28

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