Vernacular language is defined as a local native language that is specific to a particular region. Vernacular is the ‘mother language,’ the dialect and language that the people of that area speak and are accustomed to. For the most part, vernacular languages are often considered to be Romance languages, insofar as literature is concerned. The origin and transfer of vernacular language in many contexts is a complex topic of study, and one that is the subject of this paper.
In the beginning, Latin was not the only Italic language available – many other tongues existed, including Greek Etruscan and Celtic. Latin’s language base was constantly changing, finding new developments between both literary and spoken languages. These divisions tended to fall upon class lines – less educated people relied more on spoken language, and the upper class had a wider range of literary language.
One of the first Italian vernacular works was Francis of Assissi’s Canticle of the Sun – although, while it is considered such, the real Italian language was fully developed long after, being cobbled together from vernacular created by local storytellers and actors in other villages in Italy. None of these stories were written, instead being passed via spoken word from generation to generation – however, there is sufficient evidence to believe that literature was being created by those common villagers (Matthews, 2002).
As the Roman state grew, the Latin language spread to all corners of the Mediterranean, quickly turning into the primary language of the western half of the Roman Empire. Many vernacular languages were replaced by Latin in a number of European countries. One large component to the spread of vernacular languages was the rise of Protestantism; this necessitated the translation of the Bible into many vernacular languages, including Dutch, Spanish, and the like – at the same time, this exposed many to the Latin language from which it originated, bringing this vernacular to the knowledge of others.
Vernacular terms were constantly incorporated from Celtic and Greek into Latin, demonstrating a unique trade of language that was taking place, bringing forth the spread of Latin into the other European countries. Linguistic diversity became rampant, particularly in Gaul, where sermo vulgaris provided a truly cobbled together language from bits of many languages, turning into what is recognized as the Roman language. What’s more, when the Germans invaded Gaul, they incorporated it into their speech as well (University of Calgary, 2011).
The spread of vernacular saw its influence spreading amongst many cultures around the 12th and 13th centuries. The increasing number of societies that incorporated Latin into their own language grew and grew, due to the increasing dominance of the Roman Empire. However, once Rome fell, vernacular languages started to rise up once more, since the central cultural nexus that bound the users of the Latin language together was destroyed. One by one, individuals and cities started to fall into their own vernacular language, from Europe to North Africa. Eventually, the Latin language died out as a regularly used method of communication, most countries having reverted back to their vernacular language (Moyer, 2011).
The Renaissance saw an incredible increase in the usage of written vernaculars – what’s more, this period is the time when most of the first debates about vernacular took place. In the Renaissance, the modern literary language was established, part of which included vernacular. Vernacular was compared to Latin, and composed language was compared to improvised dialect (Moyer, 2011). This created a constant debate between whether or not the written word would destroy vernacular, as it would lead to a greater spread of single languages, invading the native cultures of other countries.
In conclusion, vernacular language started around the time of the Roman Empire, with many different dialects coming together to form what became the true Roman language – Latin. As the Roman Empire grew, Latin spread from country to country until its fall in the 1200s, after which most countries reverted back to their own vernaculars. This led to an interesting blend of Roman cultural traditions remaining from their time as a part of the Empire, while still maintaining their own sense of local tradition through their language.
First Europe Tutorial – Latin and Vernaculars. (2011). University of Calgary. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/firsteuro/lang.html
Matthews, J. (2002). Beginnings of Vernacular. Faculty Mail Server. Retrieved June 18, 2011, from http://faculty.ed.umuc.edu/~jmatthew/naples/vernacular.htm
Moyer, A. (2011). Vernacular Languages and Dialects. Pittsburgh: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research.