I have studied Latin, but in none of the courses I have taken has there been discussion about any progress in understanding Latin. I do believe — and hope — that classically oriented scholarly activities have produced new insights in the last century, but I am not aware of any such developments.

What is the biggest single step we have taken or the most important new insight we have gained in understanding the classical Latin language after the year 1900? This is a matter of opinion to some extent, but I would like to know what Latinists have achieved and why those achievements are considered important. There are books and scientific articles about Latin, but it is very difficult and time consuming for a non-expert to locate important new ideas and figure out if there is a consensus behind them. I am looking for something that is supported by a broad consensus or is even considered a fact, not hotly contested theories.

Although I probably would enjoy a summary of all developments, I believe this question is more focused when I ask for the single most important development. This question type is somewhat experimental; let me know if you have comments about its broadness and suitability.

  • 1
    I assume you are purposely restricting this to the "classical Latin language"? I'm sure a lot could be said about progress in understanding pre-Latin influences. Also, when you say "understanding," are you referring to the literal meaning of a text or other things, e.g. cultural context?
    – brianpck
    Mar 25, 2017 at 15:44
  • @brianpck Any kind of understanding. I restricted to classical Latin on purpose, but I can't give other restrictions since I don't know where progress has focused. (I might ask more questions like this with different focus later if this one works out.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 25, 2017 at 16:22

1 Answer 1


It is always difficult to make this kind of charts. I think that the best thing that has been done on Latin over the last decades was to start studying it from a more linguistic point of view. By linguistic approach I mean, among other things, the following:

  • Studying Latin within its linguistic environment, i.e. that of the Old Italic languages (Faliscan, Umbrian, Oscan etc.): textual data are richer than before, and we have a better idea of the dialectal zones within the Italic linguistic area. For example, the authenticity of the Fibula Praenestina has been recently proven.
  • Studying non-classical periods of Latin; thus, we understand better some historical details of Archaic Latin (such as that of Ennius, one example); we have studied the Vulgar Latin of the Pompeian graffiti, a good source of information about the evolutive processes that were happening on the edge of the Romance era (see here).
  • Making sense of what ancient Roman grammarians were saying about their own language. Thus, some obscurities have been nicely explained; see, for example, this brilliant explanation of the meaning of Nigidius' term casus interrogandi. The linguistic analysis of the Appendix Probi is another famous example in this respect.

A disclaimer: I am a linguist, not a philologist, so most probably I am missing many important discoveries made in Latin philology proper.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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