A vernacular language is the native language or the most widely spoken dialect of a region, country or population. The repression or encouragement of vernacular literature often concurred with the suppression or expression of the ethnic and national boundaries. This term is derived from Latin word “vernaculus”; as well as many vernacular languages developed from Latin. The origins and the evolution of the mother tongues can be presented through the following countries: England, France, and Germany.
Latin was commonly used as an alternative of vernacular tongues, especially in literature, till 1701. Primarily, it was spoken in Italy with further spread on all Romance languages. Moreover, many words adapted from Latin are found in other contemporary languages, such as English. English is the vernacular language of the USA, but its first grammars were written in Latin. The reason of it was the reestablishment of literacy in Anglo-Saxon society through the church. Anglo-Saxons began to learn Latin, when they became Christians (Gravelle, 1988).
Nevertheless, an ethnic and cultural revival in the 9th century was caused by the creations in Old English that comprised religious commentaries, histories, and Biblical texts. Though, it was rather a translation from Latin works into English than writing down the cultural English heritage. In fact, The Saga of Beowulf is the only one manuscript of the tale. An attempt to turn an oral tradition into a literary format was also made with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that gave the description of chronological events in Old English. After the Norman Conquest, the use of Old English in religious and literary works came to the end. The royal charters were issued in both Old English and Latin, but English was considered to be the language of the conquered and the lower classes. Thus, England was linguistically separated at that period (Slavitt, 1999).
Troubadours and other travelling entertainers from the Minnesinger of Germany and southern France circulated vernacular songs and poetry in the European courts, but only in the oral form. The romance became the written form of the French vernacular that appeared from the earlier oral folklore. La Chanson de Roland is the oldest manuscript of that time.
In reality, Anglo-Saxon scribes recorded the earliest works written in the German language. The expansion of German vernacular literature took place far ahead than the French romance and epic tales. The well-known Das Nibelungenlied was composed in the German language around 1200.
However, the vernacular had considerably influenced the culture during the 10th – 14th centuries. Authors and poets transmitted early knowledge into the language of the common folk. For instance, the history of the Roman Empire together with many works of Priscian, Aristotle, and Plato were translated from Latin by those conduits of knowledge. Thus, common people could understand the facts and events of that period. The biggest reaction of the vernacular led to the formation of a national identity. People began to think and act as one group while using the same language in literature, music, economics, politics, and religion. The common words permitted them to create an intellectual mutual platform, where the basics of a possible national identity were creating (Orme, 2006).
The usage of vernacular languages in literary forms developed only in the 14th century. As a result, many works of poetry and prose were written in the vernacular. The expansion of a literary tradition was a key stage in the growth of the standardized language form that is understandable to people from numerous dialect areas.
Latin remained the formal language of church literature, containing the works of liturgy and the Bible, during the middle ages. Bible in English was barred, because of its association with the forcible heretical movements. Nonetheless, the appearance of vernacular works witnessed the development of vernacular literacy in the second part of the middle ages. Manuscripts of various types, including legal documents, have been written in the vernacular languages from the 14th century. English has become increasingly used for the legal transactions as the language of all social classes in England. It became the language of chronicles and history, poetry and prose, private letters and charters, practical and medical texts (Slavitt, 1999). Nowadays, English has spread over a large portion of the world and became the second most widely spoken popular language.
Therefore, Latin was practiced as the formal language in politics and government till the 12th century, when the vernacular language started to be more and more popular. All Europe was experiencing a renovation during the Renaissance. A change in language gave rise to the change in culture. Only highly educated people knew Latin at that period, but the ordinary public also felt the need to be well-educated. Societies became interested in intellectual exploration that could be provided through the vernacular language. Thus, many literary works were translated. The development of the technological advances, including the printing press, accelerated the course of the vernacular language spreading. The use of vernaculars was supposed to become the way of conversion for the non-believers, as people could now have their own Bible (Orme, 2006). As a consequence, Christianity became the means of vernacular language expansion.
In conclusion, the development of German, French, and English languages began after the drop of the Roman Empire. The success and future growth of the vernaculars determined the general society’s evolution. During the middle ages, the languages and their dialect differences had changed significantly. That is why the linguistic aids and dictionaries are usually necessary in order to tackle unfamiliarity in the texts of that time.