Latin is an Italic language of the Indo-European family and was a major medium of communication in Europe and the Mediterranean during the ascendancy of the Roman Empire. After the Empire had ended, the use of the classical literary language declined, while the everyday variants of the language, known as Vulgar Latin, were undergoing the changes which would eventually transform them into Latin's successor languages: the Romance languages. In the western half of the former Empire, Latin persisted as the language of high culture, religion and scholarship through the Renaissance, and to some extent even into the nineteenth century.
In the Aeneid, Virgil suggests that the reason that the conquering peoples (the Romans) adopted the Latin language (of the Latins) was because of a deal brokered between the goddess Juno and her husband (and brother) Jupiter, on the condition that Aeneas would be able to found the city of Rome if the Latin language was allowed to predominate. But the real reasons why Latin came to dominate are not well understood. When Rome conquered the lands and peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, Latin became the standard language or lingua franca of the civilized world. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin was preserved in monasteries in Western Europe and it remained the language of scholarship and study.
The influence of Latin can be widely detected in modern life. The Romance languages (Galician-Portuguese, Asturian-Leonese, Spanish, Aragonese, Catalan, Occitan, French, Francoprovençal, Romansh, Ladin, Friulian, Northern Italian, Italian, Corsican, Sardinian, Romanian, Mozarabic and Dalmatian) are descended from Latin, and the English language, having borrowed from these, especially from Norman French and Latin itself, similarly has a highly Latinate vocabulary. Knowledge of Latin roots can therefore provide the lay person with clues as to the meanings of terms in the Romance languages. Latin terminology is still used in the sciences, particularly in medicine, as well as in law. Until the middle of the 20th century, when the Second Vatican Council opened the door for the performance of the liturgy in the vernacular, Latin was the sole liturgical language of the Western rite (the vast majority) of the Roman Catholic Church. It is still in some liturgical use, and Vatican official documents are regularly issued in Latin as primary version.
Latin is a highly synthetic language, using many suffixes to indicate concerns such as formality as well as grammatical categories (i.e. number, gender, possession and tense). Adding these endings is called conjugating for verbs and declining for nouns and adjectives.