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Dialects of Latin

s a living language, Latin underwent a continuous evolution and was open to influences from other languages. This was particularly true for the spoken language of the uneducated, which already in ancient times incorporated terms derived from Greek, Celtic and later from Germanic languages. It is this sermo vulgaris which spread throughout the heavily Romanized parts of Western Europe, such as Gaul, though it appears to have co-existed with other languages, especially Celtic. Celtic seems to have disappeared from Northern Gaul by the fifth century and was later re-introduced by refugees who fled to the Continent from the invasion of the British Isles by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. In the less thoroughly Romanized North-eastern regions of the Empire, and in the territories beyond Roman frontiers, Germanic languages were spoken. These included Frisian and Saxon, along with the West Germanic languages and dialects spoken by various nations.

The Gothic Language

In the period of the migrations, the languages of the invading nations introduced a stronger element of linguistic diversity into the territory of the late Roman Empire. Especially widespread was the Gothic language of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Gothic bishop Wulfilas (or Ulfila, c. 311 - 382) was responsible for preparing a translation of the Bible into Gothic, which remained current among Arian Christians, considered as heretics by the Roman Church but active for several centuries, especially in Visigothic Spain. As a spoken language, Gothic disappeared between the seventh and ninth centuries, but Wulfila's Bible translation remains as the first major document of Germanic literature.

Dialects in Gaul

In Gaul, the Latin sermo vulgaris incorporated elements from several other languages and came to be known as the Roman or Romanic language. It was so thoroughly established that the invading Germanic nations generally adopted it as their own language. Its general acceptance is reflected in the fact that beginning in the sixth century the homilies of Church councils held in France were translated into it. By the eighth century Charlemagne prescribed that sermons should be delivered in the popular tongue, while other parts of the liturgy remained in Latin. Nevertheless, even in Gaul the language spoken in different regions never became homogeneous. Distinct dialects co-existed with separate languages, the most important of which was Provençal. Broadly speaking, beginning in the early middle ages, two groups of dialects emerged in the territories roughly divided by the Loire. In the South, the langue d'oc remained more closely linked to Latin, whereas the Northern langue d'oil was more strongly influenced by other languages. The terms used to describe the two groups of dialects derive from the respective words to express "yes" in each.

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Dialects in Western Europe

A similar development took place in the German-speaking parts of Western Europe between approximately 500 and 700 C.E. In the North, a group of dialects emerged which are collectively known as Low German, while the Southern dialects are referred to as High German. As in France, the ascendancy of one group over the other began much later, in the fourteenth century in France and in the sixteenth in Germany.

Evolution of ancient Scripts

Ancient literature and learning, along with Christian texts, were preserved in manuscript (i.e., handwritten) books that initially were produced in much the way books had been made in earlier centuries. The lettering followed the letter forms and the conventions of Roman writing, or of forms of writing directly derived from it. Beginning, however, in the seventh century, more sharply differentiated "national" book hands developed in the various parts of Europe. The so-called insular scripts, used in Ireland and Scotland beginning in the seventh century, differed considerably from the Visigoth hand that was common in Spain, and from the Beneventan hand that was developed in Southern Italy. In Frankish territories, the Merovingian scripts that were used in the seventh and eighth centuries were during Charlemagne's reign replaced by a newly developed hand, in part inspired by reference to Roman writing and known as the Carolingian minuscule. Fine manuscripts were often carefully decorated with illustrations, known as miniatures, or by elaborate ornamental lettering such as that found in the Lindisfarne Gospel, c. 698, and in the Book of Kells, mid-8th century.

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