Based on my limited understanding, I'm just wondering what had to have happened to make the area of the largest Latin speaking civilization (ancient Rome) no longer be later attributed to being 'Latin' as much as Spanish (and other) cultures (excluding whatever the Vatican counts as).

On that note, is the Roman Catholic HQ considered its own state and culture? Does that compare to something like Washington D.C., for example?

  • 1
    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s) Also better to ask distinct questions in separate questions.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 12:36
  • Maybe, but the Vatican seemed like a particular anomalous exception to note in the larger question, at the time.
    – hamstar
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 13:12
  • 3
    Perhaps I don't understand the larger question - I don't see how the Vatican City relates at all. I suspect that documenting prior research and definitions would help to resolve the misunderstanding. What does state have to do with culture; there are multicultural states and multi-state cultures. Some have argued that a state with a single culture is a nation, but that's outside. Neither have to do with academic or political cultural labels. To me, the question is unclear.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 15:05
  • 2
    @MCW The Pope in the Vatican is patriarch of Latin Rite Catholics; Eastern Rite Catholics have their own patriarchs. Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 9:54
  • 1
    Could you please clarify what you mean by "as much as" when you say that Italians aren't considered Latin "as much as" Spanish-speaking people? Of course there are more Spanish-speaking people in the world than Italian-speaking people, so in a very trivial sense, "Latin" refers to Spanish-speaking people more often than to Italian-speaking people; but in my experience in Europe when we talk about "Latin" or "Roman" countries or peoples, we include all of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Romania, half of Belgium and even a part of Switzerland. Not to mention Andorra and Monaco.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 14:37

3 Answers 3


This is a simple case of meaning that was lost in translation.

Latin America translates as "América Latina" in both Portuguese and Spanish. It's the region of the American continent where Romance (another word meaning 'Latin' in a linguistic context, BTW) languages are spoken, or that were colonized by Romance-speaking countries – Spain, Portugal, and France if you wish.

Americans picked the term "Latino" (masculine form) directly from Spanish, to mean mostly the Spanish-speaking peoples of the Americas which were closest to them, and by extension, the Portuguese- and (sometimes) the French-speaking ones. But not the Italians or Romanians, who did not have American colonies.

Thus the confusion of not including 'Italians' in 'Latin' is an English or American issue: taking 'Latino' without 'America' lost some meaning.

In Portuguese, if somebody asks "Are the Italian people Latin?" ("O povo italiano é latino?") the answer would be obviously yes. But they are not part of 'Latin America', of course.

The Vatican has half a square kilometer and a few thousand people, mostly Italians. It is much smaller than D.C., way too small to have any particular culture.

Let's address the comments:

Byzantines (a modern term; they'd call themselves 'Roman') weren't Latinized (actually the opposite: during the 1st century, elite Romans spoke Greek often, Christian mass was in Greek, etc.), so those Greek-speaking peoples are not Latin or Romance. With the exception of Romanians.

Yep, it is an impression, but it's clear to me that in South America "Latino" never had the same meaning as it has in American English. I remember my first time in the USA, people called me (Brazilian) "Latino" or (worse yet) "Hispanic", and I could not understand what exactly they meant. There is the expression "Latin American" in English anyway: more precise, the same as we use, with no Spanish loanwords needed.

About France: Quebec isn't "Latin America" in the historical/geographic/development sense, obviously. But French Guiana, Haiti, etc, may be, depending on the subject. Wikipedia draws French Guiana and Haiti in Latin America, but not Quebec.

  • 6
    It would be nice to have some objective backup to this, but that being said this is my exact impression as well, so +1.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 18:03
  • 3
    @hamstar The everyday language of the eastern part of the Roman Empire was always Greek. The official language (official documents, legal proceedings) was Latin until the early 600s during the reign of Heraclius by which time Greek had taken over even government. But most of the officials spoke Greek right along. (From the 2nd century BC onwards, every educated Roman knew Greek as well as Latin.)
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 1:22
  • 6
    Nitpick: Romance does not ‘mean Latin’ in a linguistic context – it means derived/descended from Latin. (Classical) Latin itself is by definition not Romance. The Romance languages are also sometimes called the ‘Latin languages’, but that’s an imprecise use rarely found in linguistics. You could say that Romance roughly means Latin sometimes in non-linguistic contexts, but not usually in linguistic contexts. Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 2:04
  • 1
    History, geography, language, culture, and self-identity all interact to complicate this. Hispanic originally simply meant what Iberian means today—and sometimes even still does, such as in official US documents from the 80s. Ibero-American is probably better for what most people mean, but leaves unanswered whether to include Iberia itself or the Spanish-speaking parts of the US like Puerto Rico and Miami.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 17:07
  • 1
    For more background about all this in greater depth, please see the longer articles from Pew Research and National Geographic, as well as these two ELU questions: 1, 2.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 17:12

Why are Spanish cultures labeled as 'Latin' today, but Italian and eastern Europe cultures aren't?

  1. All Spanish cultures are labeled as latin, but not "latino". The difference in these two words migh be the source of your question. "Latino", see MW definition, is a term restricted to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking Americas. The same applies to Italian and to eastern Europe languages like Romanian.

  2. Spanish culture in Spain is not "latino", but it is of Latin origin, as well as Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Romanian... languages and cultures (see all languages in the picture) that emerged after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Romance Languages Tree

On that note, is the Roman Catholic HQ considered its own state and culture? Does that compare to something like Washington D.C., for example?

  1. Italian culture in Italy is also considered "latin" but not "latino". The Vatican City has no culture in particular but Italian. I see no comparizon with DC. The Vatican is not similar to a capital district. It is a "city-state".
  • 4
    One could thrown in Ladino here, which is Judeo-Spanish language and culture, although the quit Spain and Portugal some time ago.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 12:36
  • I don't think this answer is correct. Maybe some people distinguish "Latin" and "Latino" in the way you suggest, but in common use, "Latin" means "Latino" (except of course when referring to the Latin language itself). Hence en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_music, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_dance, google.com/search?q=%22Latin+cuisine%22, etc.
    – ruakh
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 6:26
  • Your observation may be correct in common American English use, specially if the education level received is low. You will not find the same interchangeability in high-end and (very) identity-aware, politicized universities like Oxford or Cambridge.
    – James
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 15:45

The term "Latin America" arose because there was an attitude that the United States and Canada are distinct from the rest of the Americas. The term, like most terms, doesn't fully capture the exact distinction that was intended if taken literally; Quebec is, literally speaking, as "Latin" as Mexico is, and there are many countries such as Belize, Guyana, and Suriname that aren't literally speaking "Latin", but cluster with the Latin America countries on many attributes, and which many people aren't aware aren't technically "Latin America". You even have people not thinking of Spaniards as being "Hispanic".

There are many contexts outside of "Latin America" where "Latin" isn't constrained to Spanish and Portuguese. For instance, the term "Latin Church" is used to distinguish the Western Catholic Church from the Eastern Catholic churches.

There are many different terms used to refer to things related to the Latin language and/or the Roman Empire, such as "Latinate", "Roman", "Romance", "Romantic", etc., so the fact that this particular form has a limited use isn't so surprising.

  • 1
    To explain further, let me add: Spaniards, and Portuguese and Catalans are "Hispanic" in the historic European sense of this word. They are clearly not "Hispanic" in the US Census Bureau sense of this word. To complicate matters further, Portuguese, and Catalans (who nowadays have Spanish or French nationality) don't even speak Spanish, though they live in the Iberian Peninsula.
    – James
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 10:23
  • French might be the less latin of all latin languages, specially because pronunciation being heavely influenced by Gaulish, and later Frankish and other Germanic languages.
    – James
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 15:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.