The language of the Roman Empire, spoken and written, was Latin. Like all languages spoken over a wide area for a long time, it varied greatly. Since the arrival of sociolinguistics in the 1960s, it has been accepted that such variation is in no way unnatural or sinister, and the flexibility it implies is often an advantage rather than a problem. But standardization of the Latin language was taken seriously, particularly within the traditions established by Aelius Donatus in the 4th century and Priscian in the 6th, with the result that eventually features of the language that did not accord with the precepts of these authorities were regarded as not just different but wrong. The concept of Vulgar Latin has been defined in a variety of different ways, but József Herman’s definition, as a label for all those features of Latin that we know existed, but which were not recommended by the grammarians, is probably the most useful; its meaning has thus usually been defined in opposition to that of another concept of dubious value, Classical Latin, the Latin of the grammarians (see grammar, grammarians, Latin).
Robert A. Kaster
Varro (according to Petrarch) was “the third great light of Rome”—after Vergil and Cicero—and certainly Rome's greatest scholar. Though the great bulk of his work survives only in fragments, the quotations and paraphrases that those fragments preserve make his influence on subsequent writers evident: much of later Latin literature, from the Aeneid of Vergil down to St. Augustine's City of God, would look very different had they been unable to draw upon his learning. His writings covered nearly every branch of inquiry: history, geography, rhetoric, law, philosophy, music, medicine, architecture, religion, and more.Marcus Terentius Varro, (116–27bce), was born at Reate, in the Sabine territory (see sabini) NE of Rome. After studying at Rome with L. Aelius, the first true scholar of Latin literature and antiquities, and at Athens with the Academic philosopher Antiochus of Ascalon, Varro began a public career that brought him to the praetorship and, ultimately, to service on the Pompeian side (see .
R. A. Kaster
The Romans came to study their own language only late, under the impulse of Hellenistic philosophy; the Greek influence was permanent and is clearly indicated by the calques that constitute much of Latin grammatical terminology (e.g. casus∼πτῶσις, coniugatio∼συζυγία). It was the doctrine of the Stoics—represented by the τέχνη περὶ φωνῆς, as part of the theory of ‘dialectic’—that provided the most important model for Roman handbooks. The surviving examples, which include short ‘school grammars’ and massive treatises, generally have three main sections: (a) introductory definitions of essential concepts (e.g. vox, littera, syllaba); (b) an analysis of the parts of speech; and (c) a survey of ‘flaws’ and ‘virtues’ (vitia et virtutes orationis: probably not part of the Stoic legacy). When fully expanded, section (b) treated each part of speech according to its attributes: nomina (nouns and adjectives) according to qualitas (‘proper’ or ‘appellative’), genus ( = gender), figura (simple or compound, e.