If a diplomat from Germany were to attempt to speak Latin with foreign diplomats, would it be feasible that the other party would understand his Latin? Would Latin be commonly understood by diplomats of various European countries in the 19th century?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it is a hypothetical question. Factual answers to situations in alternative realities cannot be given. Oct 19, 2022 at 9:46
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    This is a good question and should stay open. It's factual - did they speak Latin, or did they not?
    – Ne Mo
    Oct 19, 2022 at 9:58
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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s). suggest that the question be revised to avoid the hypothetical, and explicitly address whether Wikipedia answers the question.
    – MCW
    Oct 19, 2022 at 10:00
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    @L'Hopital - LOL. OTOH, it is the site standard - to document prior research and to show why standard references (Wikipedia, Google) don't suffice to answer.
    – MCW
    Oct 19, 2022 at 12:08
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    FWIW, I think the revised question is far better; I think including some minimal research would IMHO, make this a good candidate for re-open.
    – MCW
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:05

2 Answers 2


Was Latin widely spoken by European diplomats in the late 19th century?

In the few cases where the language used by diplomats is meantioned and not French it is stated that they used a language that they were proficient in.

I found no signs that Latin was used as a 'backup' language.

From your original question Was Latin widely spoken by European diplomats in the late 19th century? - Worldbuilding Stack Exchange

Suppose that Imperial Germany hates to speak French, so they decide to use Latin to communicate when visiting foreign powers or speaking with the diplomats of another states.

So it would if Bismark takes that decision, would the foreign diplomats understand/know Latin, so that they would be able to communicate with the German ones?

Bismarck was fluent in at least 4 languages, based on the only voice recording made in 1889 for a Thomas Edison representative. The spoken text of the 74 seconds recording was made spontaneously by Bismarck in English, Latin, French and German. The french text spoken was the first line of the Marseillaise.

As the Prussian representative in St. Petersburg and Paris one can safely assume he was a fluent french speaker.

There is no hint that Bismarck was antagonistic towards the french language.

It is known that at the 1878 Congress of Berlin, which Bismarck hosted, the language used was french. The exception was the british PM Disraeli who didn't speak it well. This is a sign that each diplomat used the language they were more proficient in (using a translater when required).

This was the only conference that I could find (during the second half of the 19th century), where the topic of which language was used during discussions is meantioned.


Any attempt by one person in replacing french with latin as the Lingua Franca is a highly unrealistic scenario, since it is known that diplomats decided for themselfs which language they used.

It is highly unlikely that Bismarck, known as a very pragmatic person, would have attempted such a replacement since it would have brought no benefit to anyone and probably would not have been adhered by anyone (thus serving no pratical purpose).

Even though your original question is tagged alternate-worlds (For questions about worlds other than Earth that are significantly different), it is a unrealistic scenario (both about the person and how diplomats interact with each other).

How diplomats interact with each other, as far as language usage is concerned, is probably true today as it was then.

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    Also, diplomats may well arrange for a translator even when they are competent in the language being listened to, as it provides additional time for construction of a response: a not insignificant benefit when every verbal nuance will be analyzed to the n'th level. Oct 21, 2022 at 12:14

French was the "Lingua Franca" for diplomats in Europe from mid 16th century to First World War, when English replaced French. French was used by diplomats in Spain, Italy, Germany, etc also in Sweden and Russia.

French replaced Italian. Italian was the main cultural and also diplomatic language in Europe since the 1400'. This is, since the Renaissance.

Latin was an academic language well into the 19th century, but latin was not used primarily by diplomats, altought Latin is occasionally found in diplomatic correspondence.

  • Whilst I don't doubt that this largely true, the question asks specifically about Latin but you make no mention of this language in your answer so I'm struggling to see how this answers the question. Oct 19, 2022 at 10:14
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    In English-speaking countries Latin was considered part of a "classical education", and I'd imagine anyone with pretenses to being well-educated was familiar with it. However, Latin isn't really a spoken language. Or rather, when its spoken, we call it "Italian", "Spanish", or "French".
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:52
  • @T.E.D. There are modern spoken Latin communities, but they don't represent a living tradition. Mostly a bunch of over-enthusiastic serious sams. Latin was used to for new treatises, dissertations, and other serious works in the 19th century and earlier, so I think the question of whether it was spoken, too, is valid, given its widespread use in composition.
    – cmw
    Oct 19, 2022 at 15:37
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    @T.E.D.: That's incorrect. Well into the 19th Century, liberal arts studies at European classical universities were taught exclusively in Latin. That was what the "grammar" in "logic, rhetoric, grammar; arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music" referred; and likewise what the "grammar" in "grammar school" referred. If you were insufficiently fluent in Latin, you were simply ineligible to attend. Ergo, everyone with a B.A. was fluent in conversational Latin. Oct 21, 2022 at 12:04
  • Latin was still used for diplomacy in the 17th century; Milton was Cromwell's Latin Secretary. As regards the spoken word, it wouldn't have helped that we English had our own idiosyncratic way of speaking Latin. Mar 9, 2023 at 13:56

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