Neo-Latin also describes the use of the Latin language for any purpose, scientific or literary, during and after the Renaissance. The beginning of the period cannot be precisely identified; however, the spread of secular education, the acceptance of humanistic literary norms, and the wide availability of Latin texts following the invention of printing, mark the transition to a new era of scholarship at the end of the 15th century. The end of the New Latin period is likewise indeterminate, but Latin as a regular vehicle of communicating ideas became rare after the first few decades of the 19th century, and by 1900 it survived primarily in international scientific vocabulary and taxonomy. The term "New Latin" came into widespread use towards the end of the 1890s among linguists and scientists.
New Latin was, at least in its early days, an international language used throughout Catholic and Protestant Europe, as well as in the colonies of the major European powers. This area consisted of most of Europe, including Central Europe and Scandinavia; its southern border was the Mediterranean Sea, with the division more or less corresponding to the modern eastern borders of Finland, the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia.
Russia's acquisition of Kiev in the later 17th century introduced the study of Latin to Russia. Nevertheless, the use of Latin in Orthodox eastern Europe did not reach high levels due to their strong cultural links to the cultural heritage of Ancient Greece and Byzantium, as well as Greek and Old Church Slavonic languages.
Though Latin and New Latin are considered extinct (having no native speakers), large parts of their vocabulary have seeped into English and several Germanic languages. In the case of English, about 60% of its lexicon can trace its origin to Latin, thus many English speakers can recognize New Latin terms with relative ease as cognates are quite common.
New Latin was inaugurated by the triumph of the humanist reform of Latin education, led by such writers as Erasmus, More, and Colet. Medieval Latin had been the practical working language of the Roman Catholic Church, taught throughout Europe to aspiring clerics and refined in the medieval universities. It was a flexible language, full of neologisms and often composed without reference to the grammar or style of classical (usually pre-Christian) authors. The humanist reformers sought both to purify Latin grammar and style, and to make Latin applicable to concerns beyond the ecclesiastical, creating a body of Latin literature outside the bounds of the Church. Attempts at reforming Latin use occurred sporadically throughout the period, becoming most successful in the mid-to-late 19th century.
The Protestant Reformation (1520–1580), though it removed Latin from the liturgies of the churches of Northern Europe, may have advanced the cause of the new secular Latin. The period during and after the Reformation, coinciding with the growth of printed literature, saw the growth of an immense body of New Latin literature, on all kinds of secular as well as religious subjects.