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Or, to put it another way: If the Church hadn't preserved Latin, would it even be considered a different language from Italian as opposed to simply an older form in the development of the Italian language?

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    Linguists usually consider Latin to be a precursor of French, and OHG is a dead language. If there is such a trend, it has to do with the name of the language. Sanskrit and Latin are the exceptional cases, English, Mongolian, Greek etc. is the more general case, that the dead language and the modern language are given the same name. – user6726 Dec 16 '19 at 18:47
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    It helps when there's only one language, or one prominent language at times maybe, deriving from the older language. Latin turned into a whole subfamily, and "Latin" was already a well-established name, aside from the fact that calling it "Old Italian" would make questions like "why not Old French?" obvious, and also these names are already used for earlier phases of those daughter languages (well, for French at least). – LjL Dec 16 '19 at 19:32
  • It isn't. On the dead/alive scale, Old High German is as dead as Latin. And looking at languages from the historical perspective, some form of Latin (vulgar Latin) is the precursor of the modern Romance languages. – jk - Reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 11:51
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Pondering over [question not very related] I happened on still live (painting), inanimate, that in some language translates as "dead" (cp perhaps dead weight). Latin does not change as its grammar fossilized, deemed perfect by some, irregardless of new nouns being added.

The second part of your question has been answered before at what point does a language become its descendent. Spoiler: when (mutual?) interligability is lost; that's necessarily a fuzzy concept.

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