The elite and the educated, the classical latin speakers, called Vulgar Latin sermo vulgaris, sermo vulgi, and sermo plebeius, but what did plebeians and the other non elite Ancient Romans call Vulgar Latin, their native language?

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    Very much related: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/466/…
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 19:13
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    Wouldn't they just call it Latin or use the same terms as the elite until they needed to specify the regional speech standard they were using to account for serious divergences in dialect? Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 20:16
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    Just came across an article in which you might be interested: latinitium.com/what-is-vulgar-latin
    – Vtex
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


This question assumes that "vulgar Latin" and "classical Latin" are two completely different languages. This, however, is untrue. As you said yourself, the classical authors called "vulgar Latin" sermo vulgaris, sermo vulgi, and sermo plebeius. Vulgus and vultaris do not mean unrefined, tasteless, and offensive as they do in English. These words, like plebeius, simply mean "of the common people." While the upper-class Romans generally thought little of the lower classes and thus did not use these words as terms of endearment, the phrases are just referring to the "[linguistical] style of the common people," not to some separate language.

Once can even find vestiges of this meaning in English. There is a meaning of "vulgar" that means "of the people." This is older and not commonly used, but it exists.

Similarly in English and other modern languages, there are different registrars of speech, dialects, etc. e.x. SAE (Standard American English), BrE (British English), AAE (African American English). Every different dialect of English follows different grammatical rules and conventions, and different vocabularies. Latin once was spoken as any modern language is and, therefore, different people spoke it differently.

So, to answer your question, the common people would have called their language Latin.

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    Clear and to the point. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 23:47
  • What Latin dialect did the Poor Ancient Roman people speak?
    – Ana Maria
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 1:59
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    @AnaMaria I do not think that there is much linguistical evidence related to the poorest Romans and slaves, but I think you might get a better and more complete answer if you ask this as a new question.
    – Vtex
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 10:52
  • Your original answer was on point, but your feb 25 edit contradicts your original answer and is erroneous, so I'd rather you removed it. Vulgar Latin does not refer to any language variety, and was not used by anyone. It's exactly like saying that Vulgar English is a dialect used all over the English speaking world by the middle class, and Military English a version of it. It's a corrupt, outdated term whose current use boils down to "any deviation from the perceived Classical norm". The notion that a language norm in the modern sense existed in the classical times is also highly suspect. Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 13:10
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    @Unbrutal_Russian I do not agree that my edit contradicts my original answer as my original answer notes that "Vulgar Latin" and "Classical Latin" are different registers of speech, something that my edit elaborates on. My note on the sermo castrensis does not say that there was a different dialect in the military, but rather that the soldiers used a different register of speech when talking to other members of the military than they would outside of the military. But I do agree that it is an outdated term used to describe things not found in the classical authors. I will remove the edit.
    – Vtex
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 14:16

It is in fact rather late that the vulgar language was considered as another language than Latin. According to Michel Zink (*), it is for example necessary to wait until about the ninth century for a canon of the Council of Tours that invites the priests to preach in linguam rusticam gallicam aut theosticam (813), some years before the famous Oaths of Stasbourg (842). It became necessary to preach or to take oaths in those languages rather than Latin in order to people to understand it (which mattered!).

So for the time of which you speak, they simply spoke Latin (it is only the register which is vulgar as Vtex has very well explained).

(*) Le Moyen Âge : littérature française. Michel Zink. 1990. Presses universitaires de Nancy.

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