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Of all Latin derived languages, I presume Italian is the closest to Latin. This is just an assumption which I presume is correct. For this reason, I've always wondered whether an average educated Italian can read and understand a text in Latin. I speak a Latin-derived language and when I see a text in Latin and its translation, I don't find it difficult to recognize which words in Latin correspond to those in Portuguese. Of course in this case the translation makes things easier. Then again, Portuguese isn't as similar to Latin as Italian is.

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    According to Wikipedia, of the Romance languages, Sardinian is considered the closest to Latin. – Charo Nov 9 '16 at 15:16
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    @Centaurus This has been already discussed on this site, but Italian "dialects" are not, in fact, dialects in a linguistic sense (that is, they are not regional variants of Italian). In fact many of them have even independent literatures. See here for more details. – Denis Nardin Nov 10 '16 at 19:01
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    @Centaurus While they are similar languages, they are not mutually intelligible any more than Spanish and Italian are (and I don't think there are an especially huge number of different languages in Italy: Germany and the Balkans are in a similar situation, when you feel like being awed take a look at the linguistic situation in the Caucasus). I can't understand Sicilian and a Sicilian couldn't understand me speaking Venetian (I tried once with a friend of mine). Of course the nearer the regions geographically, the closer the language and the higher the mutual intelligibility. – Denis Nardin Nov 10 '16 at 20:39
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    @Centaurus I might have overstated a little, but I personally find southern Italian "dialects" very hard to understand. There's a difference between speaking very slowly trying to make the other person understand (which is what I normally did with tourists trying to speak Italian) and normal conversation. That said if you want to continue this conversation we should go in chat. – Denis Nardin Nov 10 '16 at 20:56
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    @Centaurus, for another example of an “Italian dialect” that is actually a Romance language mostly non mutually intelligible with standard Italian, as far from it as French or more, have a look at Friulian, spoken in the north-eastern region Friuli, see some examples, follow some links. – DaG Nov 11 '16 at 8:39
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Interesting question. I'll go out on a limb and say that the answer is no.

Of course it is difficulty to find a definitive, evidence-based answer, but I'll give two reasons, the first more subjective and the second more objective.

1) I and several people I know attended Liceo classico, the secondary school with a slant toward humanities, where Latin and Ancient Greek are taught for five years. Even so, we need a dictionary and perhaps a grammar, should we fully understand a text more complex than, say, a tombstone or a plaque.

2) There are many editions of classical Latin authors with parallel texts (the original Latin and an Italian translation), several just in translation and almost none just in Latin (the latter are just specialised editions for scholars). So, apparently, even educated people who want to read Cicero, Virgil or Plautus in the original need a translation in Italian.

Thus, someone who never had any formal teaching in Latin will pick some word here and there but will probably stumble over the first sentence where the object precedes the subject (the former is in the accusative case and the latter in the nominative, but our reader ignores this).

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  • I agree. I think it is somehow easier for an Italian speaker to pick up some Latin, but it's still a different language and needs to be studied. – Denis Nardin Nov 9 '16 at 14:40
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No, it is very hard for native Italians speakers to understand a Latin text if they haven't study the language. They may be familiar with some Latin proverbs, but not the language. The reason is that:

  • modern Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian, etc.) do not descend directly from Latin, but through proto-Romance or vulgar Latin --- the language spoken in the many territories of the late Roman empire. This means that all Romance languages are more closely related to each other than to Latin and that it hardly makes sense to say that for example Spanish is closer to Latin than Italian or vice versa.

From: Quora

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Unlike what Quora says (or say?), I believe Italian is indeed closer to Latin than are most other modern Romance languages.

One reason is that, by the time the Western Empire fell, the proportion of native speakers of Latin in Italy was most probably much larger than in France or Spain. Another reason is that there was more social continuity of Roman culture in Italy, as Mediaeval Rome never ceased to be one of Europe's most important cities with its social structure, culture, (Papal) bureaucracy, and written culture.

Even so, reading Latin is fairly difficult for Italians, because 1500 years of linguistic changes lie between Italian and Vulgar Latin, the variant spoken by the common people from which Italian partly developed. It should also be noted that Vulgar Latin was not quite like most of the literary Latin that we read today in Cicero and Tacitus: literary Latin it is more complicated and/or formal, with long sentences and sophisticated constructions and vocabulary. Not even Cicero himself spoke exactly as he wrote.

Consider Old English: how difficult is it for a modern speaker of English to read e.g. Bede (672/673 – 735; originally written in Latin, but translated into Old English in the 9th century, possibly by King Alfred the Great)? Judge for yourself:

In ðeosse abbudissan mynstre wæs sum broðor syndriglice mid godcundre gife gemæred ond geweorðad, forþon he gewunade gerisenlice leoð wyrcan, þa ðe to æfestnisse ond to arfæstnisse belumpon , swa ðætte swa hwæt swa he of godcundum stafum þurh boceras geleornode, þæt he æfter medmiclum fæce in scopgereorde mid þa mæstan swetnisse ond inbryrdnisse geglængde ond in Engliscgereorde wel geworht forþ brohte.

Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, book IV chapter xxiv.

Of course modern English suffered a great influx of Romance vocabulary from 1066 onwards, so this comparison is probably not fair; that is, Latin should be somewhat easier for an Italian. Perhaps the comparison with Dutch and German is better: the two languages resemble each other quite a bit, and yet one is quite difficult to read for speakers of the other, if they have never learned it. I do feel that Dutch and German are somewhat more closely related than Italian and Latin, though.

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    Interesting answer, but the comparison with OE is not terribly fair. English had a very different history with respect to Italian, and in particular it received after the phase you mention a heavy injection of French, due to the Norman invasion, that completely transformed it and made it lose a good part of its Germanic traits, for instance. – DaG Nov 9 '16 at 21:43
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    I am Italian and I can speak French: to me it's clear that italian is much closer to latin. That doesn't mean that an average Italian speaker can read latin texts, often not even short inscruptions, but you can feel the closeness. – Francesco Nov 10 '16 at 6:29
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    @Francesco That is a bit unfair. I think it is well known that French is, in a certain sense, the odd man out of the Romance languages (for example it has a strange phonology). If you compare Latin with, e.g., Spanish or Romanian it is clear that Italian is not really special. – Denis Nardin Nov 11 '16 at 17:34
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    I can speak a bit of Spanish too (not as well as French). Spanish is much closer to italian than French and is closer to latin than French, but it seems to me that the ordering is latin > italian > spanish > french. I can't speak Romanian so I can't appreciate it. But this is only my opinion in a short comment, of course. – Francesco Nov 11 '16 at 17:38
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    @Francesco, keep in mind that you learnt Latin in Italy (I take the liberty of assuming), like me, with an Italian pronunciation, a stress on similarity with Italian and so on. So our impression is not the most adequate tool to “measure” similarity between languages (whatever that might mean: vocabulary? phonology? morphology? syntax? mutual intelligibility? other?). – DaG Nov 11 '16 at 21:07
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I'm Italian. It is almost impossible to understand the true meaning of a Latin phrase if you didn't study Latin. Some words are equals or similars. Anyway you can try to understand the meaning but, in 99% of cases, it will be totally or partially incomplete / wrong.

Consider Latin as every other language. You can find similarities but you need to study it.

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Short answer: no. It's the same as you would read a French text. Same language origin, you'll find some words to be very similar, but you won't be able to understand the full text

German and dutch are two languages with the same origin where the people in both countries are able to have somewhat of a conversation when they speak slowly. I'm from the west side of the Netherlands, furthest away from Germany, funny enough our local Dialect is closer to German than Dutch is...

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