All of the Romance languages are descended from Latin (see Latin language and the table entitled Linguistic Relationships among Romance Languages). They are called Romance languages because their parent tongue, Latin, was the language of the Romans. However, the variety of Latin that was their common ancestor was not classical Latin but the spoken or popular language of everyday usage, which is believed to have differed greatly from classical Latin by the time of the Roman Empire. This vernacular, known as Vulgar Latin, was spread by soldiers and colonists throughout the Roman Empire. It superseded the native tongues of certain conquered European peoples, although it was also influenced by their local speech practices and by the linguistic characteristics of colonists and later of invaders. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire there was a degree of regional isolation. Germanic invasions from the north had a further disrupting effect, and Vulgar Latin was thus differentiated into local dialects, which in time evolved into the individual Romance tongues.
Because of their common source, the Romance languages have many similar features, both in grammar and vocabulary. The differences between them tend to be phonetical rather than structural or lexical. Even when the Romance languages differ grammatically from Latin, such changes frequently show a shared parallel development from the parent tongue. For example, although Latin had three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), the individual Romance tongues have only two (masculine and feminine). Moreover, all Romance languages except Romanian have discarded the Latin scheme of six different cases for the noun, retaining only one case. As a result, the grammatical relationships of words are clarified chiefly by prepositions and word order instead of by inflections, as in Latin. On the other hand, verbs in the Romance languages have preserved a highly developed conjugational system, inherited from Latin, in which the inflections make clear person and number, tense and mood. See articles on individual languages mentioned.
See W. D. Edcock, The Romance Languages (1960); C. M. Carlton, Studies in Romance Lexicology (1965); I. Iordan and J. Orr, An Introduction to Romance Linguistics, Its Schools and Scholars (2d ed. 1970).
Romance languages have their roots in Vulgar Latin, the popular sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers and merchants of the Empire, as distinguished from the Classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. Between 350 BC and 150 AD, the expansion of the Empire, together with its administrative and educational policies, made Latin the dominant native language in continental Western Europe. Latin also exerted a strong influence in southeastern Britain, the Roman province of Africa, and the Balkans north of the Jireček Line.
During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and collapse in the 5th century, dialects of Latin began to diverge within each local area at an accelerated rate, and eventually evolved into languages of their own right. The overseas empires established by France, Portugal and Spain from the 15th century onward spread their languages to the other continents, to such an extent that about 70% of all Romance speakers today live outside Europe.
Despite influences from pre-Roman languages and from later invasions, the phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax of all Romance languages are predominantly evolutions of Vulgar Latin. In particular, with only one or two exceptions, Romance languages have lost the declension system of Classical Latin and, as a result, have SVO sentence structure and make extensive use of prepositions.
The word romance with the modern sense of romance novel or love affair has the same origin. In the medieval literature of Western Europe, serious writing was usually in Latin, while popular tales, often focusing on love, were composed in the vernacular and came to be called "romances".
|Latin||Illa claudit semper fenestram ante quam cenat.|
|Aragonese||Ella tranca/zarra siempre la finestra antis de zenar.|
|Asturian||Ella pieslla siempre la ventana/feniestra primero de cenar.|
|Bergamasque (Eastern Lombard)||(Lé) la sèra sèmper sö la finèstra prima de senà.|
|Catalan||Ella tanca sempre la finestra abans de sopar.|
|French||Elle ferme toujours la fenêtre avant de dîner/souper.|
|Galician||Ela pecha sempre a fiestra/xanela antes de cear.|
|Italian||(Lei) chiude sempre la finestra prima di cenare.|
|Leonese||Eilla pecha siempres la ventana primeiru de cenare.|
|Milanese (Western Lombard)||(Lee) la sara semper su la finestra primma de disnà.|
|Mirandese||Eilha cerra siempre la bentana/jinela atrás de jantar.|
|Neapolitan||Chella sempre chiud' 'a fenesta prima 'e mangià.|
|Occitan||Ela barra sempre la fenèstra abans de sopar.|
|Piedmontese||Chila a sara sèmper la fnestra dnans da fé sin-a.|
|Portuguese||Ela fecha sempre a janela antes do jantar.|
|Romanesco||(Quella) chiude sempre 'a finestra prima de magnà|
|Romanian||Ea închide totdeauna fereastra înainte de cina.|
|Romansh||Ella clauda/serra adina la fanestra avant ch'ella tschainia.|
|Corsican||Ella chjudi sempre u purtellu primma di cenà.|
|Sardinian||Issa serrat semper sa bentana antes de chenare.|
|Sicilian||Idda chjùi sempri a finestra avànti ca pistìa.|
|Spanish||Ella siempre cierra la ventana antes de cenar.|
|Venetian||Ła sera sempre ła finestra prima de senar.|
|Walloon||Ele sere todi li finiesse divant di soper.|
|Translation||She always closes the window before dining.|
As an alternative to lei (originally the accusative form), Italian has the pronoun ella, a cognate of the other words for "she", but it has become disused in most dialects.
Spanish/Asturian/Leonese ventana and Mirandese and Sardinian bentana comes from Latim ventum, Spanish viento, "wind" and Portuguese janela, Galician xanela, Mirandese jinela from Latin ianua + ella, "small opening", same root as "January" and "janitor".
Note that some of the lexical divergence above comes from different Romance languages using the same root word with different meanings (semantic change). Portuguese, for example, has the word fresta, which is a cognate of French fenêtre, Italian finestra, Romanian fereastra and so on, but now means "slit" as opposed to "window." The Portuguese terms defenestrar, meaning "to throw through a window" and fenestrada, "replete with windows" also have the same root. Likewise, Portuguese also has the word cear, a cognate of Italian cenare and Spanish cenar, but uses it in the sense of "to have a late supper" in most dialects, while the preferred word for "to dine" is actually jantar (related to archaic Spanish yantar) because of semantic changes in the 19th century. Galician has both fiestra (from medieval fẽestra which is the ultimate origin of standard Portuguese fresta), and the less frequently used ventá and xanela.
Sardinian balcone (alternative for bentana) comes from Old Italian and has a Germanic origin, as well as, English balcony, French balcon, Portuguese balcão, Romanian balcon, Spanish balcón and Corsican balconi (alternative for purtellu).
The Romance language most widely spoken natively today is Spanish, followed by Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and Catalan, all of which are official languages in at least one country. A few other languages have official status on a regional or otherwise limited level, for instance Friulian, Sardinian and Valdôtain in Italy; Romansh in Switzerland; and Galician in Spain. French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Romanian are also official languages of the European Union. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan are the official languages of the Latin Union; and French and Spanish are two of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Outside Europe, French, Spanish and Portuguese are spoken and enjoy official status in various countries that emerged from their respective colonial empires. French is an official language of Canada, Haiti, many countries in Africa, and some in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as France's current overseas possessions. Spanish is an official language of Mexico, much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and of Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, being the most spoken language in South America, and official in six African countries. Although Italy also had some colonial possessions, its language did not remain official after the end of the colonial domination, resulting in Italian being spoken only as a minority or secondary language by immigrant communities in North and South America and Australia or African countries like Libya, Eritrea and Somalia. Romania did not establish a colonial empire, but the language spread outside of Europe through emigration, notably in Western Asia; Romanian has flourished in Israel, where it is spoken by some 5% of the total population as mother tongue, and by many more as a secondary language, considering the large population of Romanian-born Jews who moved to Israel after World War II.
The total native speakers of Romance languages are divided as follows (with their ranking within the languages of the world in brackets):
The remaining Romance languages survive mostly as spoken languages for informal contact. National governments have historically viewed linguistic diversity as an economic, administrative or military liability, as well a potential source of separatist movements; therefore, they have generally fought to eliminate it, by extensively promoting the use of the official language, restricting the use of the "other" languages in the media, characterizing them as mere "dialects", or even persecuting them.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, increased sensitivity to the rights of minorities have allowed some of these languages to start recovering their prestige and lost rights. Yet it is unclear whether these political changes will be enough to reverse the decline of minority Romance languages.
The classification of the Romance languages is inherently difficult, since most of the linguistic area can be considered a dialect continuum, and in some cases political biases can come into play. Nevertheless, according to SIL counts, 47 Romance languages and dialects are spoken in Europe. Along with Latin (which is not included among the Romance languages) and a few extinct languages of ancient Italy, they make up the Italic branch of the Indo-European family.
Note that Dalmatian is now generally grouped under Proto-Italian rather than Eastern Romance.
Latin and the Romance languages have also served as the inspiration and basis of numerous auxiliary and constructed languages, such as Interlingua, its reformed version Modern Latin, Latino sine flexione, Occidental, Lingua Franca Nova, Ido and Esperanto, as well as languages created for artistic purposes only, such as Brithenig, Wenedyk and Talossan.
|French||dire||il dit||il dit||il disait||il dise||dis|
|Milanese||dì||el dis||l'ha dit||el diseva||el diga||dì|
|Piedmontese||dì||a dis||a dìsser2||a disìa||a disa||dis|
|Romansh||dir||el di||(el ha ditg)||el scheva4||ch'el dia||-||Sicilian||diri||dici||dissi||dicìa||dici||dica|
|Walloon||dire||i dit||(il a dit)||i dijheut||(k') i dixhe||di|
|Basic meaning||to say||he says||he has said||he used to say||[that] he may say||say! [you]|
For a more detailed illustration of how the verbs have changed with respect to classical Latin, see Romance verbs.
The vocabularies of Romance languages have undergone considerable change since their birth, by various phonological processes that were characteristic of each language. Those changes applied more or less systematically to all words, but were often conditioned by the sound context, morphological structure, or regularizing tendencies.
Most languages have lost sounds from the original Latin words. French, in particular, elision progressed more than in any other of the languages (although its conservative etymological spelling does not always make this apparent). In general, all final vowels were dropped, and sometimes also the preceding consonant: thus Latin lupus and luna became Italian lupo and luna but French loup [lu] and lune [lyn]. (See also Use of the circumflex in French.) Catalan, Occitan, many Northern Italian dialects, and Romanian (Daco-Romanian) lost the final vowels in most masculine nouns and adjectives, but retained them in the feminine. Other languages, including Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Galician and Romanian have retained those vowels.
Some languages have lost the final vowel -e from verbal infinitives, e.g. dīcere → Portuguese dizer (to say). Other common cases of apocope are the verbal endings, e.g. Latin amāt → Italian ama (he loves), amābam → amavo (I loved), amābat → amava (he loved), amābatis → amavate (you loved), etc.
Sounds were often lost in the middle of words, too; e.g. Latin Luna → Galician and Portuguese Lua (Moon), crēdere → Spanish creer (to believe).
On the other hand, some languages have added epenthetic vowels to words in certain contexts. Characteristic of the Iberian Romance languages is the insertion of a prosthetic e at the start of Latin words that began with s + consonant, such as sperō → espero (I hope). French originally did the same, but later dropped the s: spatula → arch. espaule → épaule (shoulder). In the case of Italian, a special article, lo for the definite and uno for the indefinite, is used for masculine words that begin with s + consonant words (sbaglio, "mistake" → lo sbaglio, "the mistake"), as well as all masculine words beginning with z (i.e. clusters /ts/ or /dz/) zaino, "backpack" → lo zaino, "the backpack".
A characteristic feature of the writing systems of almost all Romance languages is that the Latin letters c and g — which originally always represented the "hard" consonants /k/ and /g/ respectively — now represent "soft" consonants when they come before e, i, or y. This is due to a general palatalization of /k/ and /ɡ/ that occurred in the transition to Vulgar Latin. Since the written form of all the affected words was tied to the classical language, the shift was accommodated by a change in the pronunciation rules. The soft sounds of c and g vary from language to language. The consonant t, which was also palatalized, changes pronunciation in French (and English) orthography, but in the other Romance languages the spelling was altered to match the new sound. An exception is Sardinian, whose plosives remained hard before e and i in many words.
The distinctions of vowel length present in Classical Latin were lost in most Romance languages (an exception is Friulian), and partly replaced with qualitative contrasts such as monophthong versus diphthong (Italian, Spanish; French to a lesser extent), or close vowel versus open vowel (as in Portuguese, Galician, Occitan and Catalan).
For most languages in this family, consonant length is no longer phonemically distinctive or present. However some languages of Italy (Italian, Sardinian and Sicilian) do have long consonants like /bb/, /kk/, /dd/, etc., where the doubling indicates a short hold before the consonant is released, in many cases with distinctive lexical value: e.g. note /ˈnɔ.te/ (notes) vs. notte /ˈnɔt.te/ (night), cade /ˈka.de/ (s/he, it falls) vs. cadde /ˈkad.de/ (s/he, it fell). They may even occur at the beginning of words in Romanesco, Neapolitan and Sicilian, and are occasionally indicated in writing, e.g. Sicilian cchiù (more), and ccà (here). In general, the consonants /b/, /ts/, and /dz/ are long at the start of a word, while the archiphoneme |R| is realised as a trill /r/ in the same position.
The double consonants of Piedmontese exist only after stressed /ə/, written ë, and are not etymological: vëdde (Latin videre, to see), sëcca (Latin sicca, dry, feminine of sech). In standard Catalan and Occitan, there exists a geminate sound /lː/ written ŀl (Catalan) or ll (Occitan), but it is usually pronounced as a simple sound in colloquial (and even some formal) speech in both languages.
The position of the stressed syllable in a word generally varies from word to word in each Romance language. Stress usually remains fixed on its assigned syllable within any language, however, even as the word is inflected. It is usually restricted to one of the last three syllables in the word, although Italian verb forms can violate this (e.g. teléfonano 'they telephone'). The limit may be exceeded also by verbs with attached clitics, provided the clitics are counted as part of the word; e.g. Spanish entregándomelo [en.tre.ˈɣan.do.me.lo] (delivering it to me), Italian mettiamocene [me.ˈtːjaː.mo.ʧe.ne] (let's put some of it in there), or Portuguese dávamo-vo-lo [ˈda.vɐ.mu.vu.lu] (we were giving it to you).
While most of the 22 basic Latin letters have maintained their phonetic value, for some of them it has diverged considerably; and the new letters added since the Middle Ages have been put to different uses in different scripts. Some letters, notably H and Q, have been variously combined in digraphs or trigraphs (see below) to represent phonetic phenomena not recorded in Latin, or to get around previously established spelling conventions.
The spelling rules of most Romance languages are fairly simple, but subject to considerable regional variation. To a first approximation, the phonetic values of the letters can be summarized as follows:
Otherwise, letters that are not combined as digraphs generally have the same sounds as in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), whose design was, in fact, greatly influenced by the Romance spelling systems.
While the digraphs CH, PH, RH and TH were at one time used in many words of Greek origin, most languages have now replaced them with C/QU, F, R and T. Only French has kept these etymological spellings, which now represent /k/ or /ʃ/, /f/, /ʀ/ and /t/, respectively.
Romance languages use various diacritics, especially on vowels, to mark special pronunciations, or to distinguish between homophones, with the exception of Romanian. Romanian language does not use diacritics or accents, but it uses the special characters as distinct letters with distinct sounds, this way there is no need for constructions like sh, because of the usage of the characters ș for the sound [ʃ]. The Romanian distinct letters with their specific pronunciation are: ș: [ʃ], ț: [ts], ă: [ə] and these distinct letters are not diacritics.
The following are the most common use of diacritics in Romance languages.
Less widespread diacritics in the Romance languages are the breve (in Romanian, ă) and the ring (in Wallon and the Bolognese dialect of Emiliano-Romagnolo, å). The French orthography includes the etymological ligatures œ and (more rarely) æ. The circumflex frequently has an etymological value in this language, as well; see Use of the circumflex in French, for further information.
In particular, all Romance languages presently capitalize (use uppercase for the first letter of) the following words: the first word of each complete sentence, most words in names of people, places, and organizations, and most words in titles of books. The Romance languages do not follow the German practice of capitalizing all nouns including common ones. Unlike English, the names of months (except in European Portuguese), days of the weeks, and derivatives of proper nouns are usually not capitalized: thus, in Italian one capitalizes Francia ("France") and Francesco ("Francis"), but not francese ("French") or francescano ("Franciscan"). However, each language has some exceptions to this general rule.
Lombard (literary Milanese)
Piedmontese (West-Piedmont) Apple
[Mattiana] Mala; Pomum (fruit)
Mazá / Pomo
Sagitta; Frankish Fleuka
Fletxa / Sageta
Frecha / Seta
Freccia / Saetta
Leito / Cama
Lett / Branda
Negro / Atro
Livre / Bouquin
Feles; V.L. Cattus/Gattus
Chat (kat, khat, cat)
Sella; Greek'' Kathedra
Cadrega / Carea Cold (adj.)
Vacca / Mucca
Dies (adj. Diurnus)
Dia / Jorn
Giorno / Dì
Déo / Dièl
Dare / Donare
Donner / Bailli
Ire; Ambulare (to walk); V.L. Ambitare
Andar / Ndar
Domus; Casa (hut)
Caxa / Cà
Mi / I Ink
Atramentum; Tincta (dye)
Gius / Bagna Key
Òmo / Òm Moon
Lombard (literary Milanese)
Piedmontese (West-Piedmont) Night
Ludere; Jocare (to joke)
Anné / Bague
Anel / Aneło
Flumen; Rivus (small river)
Rivière / Fleuve
Fiume / Rio
Fium / Ri Sew
Cuse / Cusì Snow
Capio; Prehendere (to seize)
Agafar / Prendre
Tor /Tchor / Ciapàr
Ciapà / Toeu
Ille; V.L. Eccu + Ille
i / le
Jacere; V.L. Lanceare (to throw a weapon); Adtirare
Llençar / Tirar
Lancer / Tirer
Lanzar / Guindar
Lanciare / Tirare
Zioba / Jioba
Pianta / Erbo Two
Dos / Dues
Dous / Dúas
Doi / Doe Urn
Ubi; Unde (where from)
Onde / U
Ioù / Où'est
Ndó / Ndóe
Andoa / Anté White
Albus; Frankish Blank
Branco / Alvo
Chi / Ci
Flavus; Galbinus; Amarus (bitter)
Lombard (literary Milanese)