The Romance Languages


The Romance languages are derived from Vulgar Latin (or Romance) language, which was an ancient Italic language of the Indo-European family. By the late 20th c. they are spoken by more than 800 millions persons in 50 countries all over the word (See List of Romance Languages & Dialects with Number of Speakers and Areas of Distribution). The major Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Rumanian. French and Spanish have the status of official languages of the United Nations.

Though their origin and development are clear enough, the classification of the Romance languages is a complicated one because they are connected between themselves by various and gradually unfolding features. The classification, used in this cybergraph, without whatever claim of being absolutely perfect, divide them into five subgroups:

  1. Ibero-Romance
  2. Gallo-Romance
  3. Italo-Romance
  4. Rhaeto-Romance
  5. Balkano-Romance
See an alternative classification by R.A. Hall Jr.

The mutual likeness of the Romance languages is determined mainly by their common origin from Vulgar Latin and is manifested by a lot of vocables and forms descending according to recognizable phonetic laws from it. Moreover, in the course of their history the Romance languages were under the permanent influence of the written Latin. It was a widespread opinion in the Middle Ages that spoken Romance languages were merely corrupted versions of Latin and since then the introduction of words, morphological elements and syntactical patterns from the written Latin into the common speech was considered prestigious. Accepted in such great proportions, these Latinisms changed profoundly the pronunciation trends, as also the vocabulary, establishing in this manner a secondary set of similarities between the Romance languages. As a result there were created two lexical layers:

Subsequently there appeared specific sets of doublets, often with divergent meaning, cf. F. raison reason and ration ration, both from CL. ratio, -onis.

Table of Lexical Similarities between the Modern Romance Languages (in %)


 
 
French
Spanish
Catalan
Portuguese
Rhaeto-
Romansh
Italian
Sardinian
Rumanian
French
75
N/A.
75
78
89
80
75
Spanish
75
85
89
74
82
76
71
Catalan
N/A.
85
N/A.
N/A.
87
N/A.
N/A.
Portuguese
75
89
N/A.
N/A.
N/A.
78
N/A.
Rhaeto-
Romansh
78
74
N/A.
N/A.
82
74
N/A.
Italian
89
82
87
N/A.
82
85
77
Sardinian
80
76
N/A.
78
74
85
74
Rumanian
75
71
N/A.
N/A.
N/A.
77
74

Amongst the specific features of the modern Romance languages are the usage of two genders (masculine and feminine) for the nouns and the adjectives, the lack of cases, the prepositive article, the formation of compound tenses with the help of the past participle etc. The languages of the Balkan region have preserved the neutral gender, though for the inanimate objects only (as in Rumanian), the cases (Rumanian has Nominative-Accusative and Genitive-Dative) and have developed postpositive articles.

    The development of the Romance languages passed through several separate stages:

  1. 3rd c. BC 5th c. AD: Romanization, i.e. substitution of the languages in the territories, subjugated to Rome, by the spoken Latin (Vulgar Latin or Romance). The divergences of the future Romance dialects were predetermined by the time of the conquest [Italy in the mid 3rd c. BC, Spain in the late 3rd c. BC, Gaul (modern France) in the 1st c. BC, Rhaetia (corresponding roughly to modern Switzerland) in the 1st c. AD, Dacia (modern Transylvania in Rumania) in the 2nd c. AD], by the sociolinguistic features of the spoken Latin itself, by the intensity of the contacts with Rome and by the influences of the substrate languages, i.e. the languages of the local pre-Roman populations Iberians, Celts, Rhaetians, Daco-Thracians etc.
  2. 5th 9th c.: Formation of the separate Romance languages in a period of political disithegraation of the Roman empire and the establishing of barbarous kingdoms. The Romance speech was influenced by the languages of foreign invaders (the so called superstrate): Visigoths in Spain, Suebi in Galicia and Portugal, Franks and Burgundians in Gaul, Langobards in Italy, Arabs in Southern Spain and Slavs on the Balkans. By the 10th c. there were set the boundaries of Romania, i.e. the territories in Europe where the Romance prevailed. Simultaneously the linguistic unity was broken and the local Romance tongues were felt separate languages.
  3. 10th 16th c. Development of literature in spoken Romance languages and further amplification of their social functions. The first texts in French appeared in the 9th c., in Italian, Spanish, Sardinian and Provençal in the 10th c., in Rhaeto-Romansh, Catalan and Portuguese - in the 12th c. and in Rumanian in the 16th c. There appeared supra-dialectal standards for usage at national scale. The structure of some languages, as French, underwent significant changes.
  4. 16th 19th c. Creation of national languages. In this period there were established standardized linguistic norms for national usage whose vocabularies were enriched by borrowings from Classical Latin. Standard French and Spanish achieved national status in the course of 16th and 17th c. and were used by then as international languages; Italian and Rumanian became standardized national languages in the 19th c. At the same time Provençal and to some extent Galician have shrunk its usage in favor of French and Spanish respectively. In the 20th c. further literary development was continued and there were applied considerable efforts to strengthen the positions of some languages, such as French in Canada, Provençal in France, Catalan and Galician in Spain.

Since the 16th c., with the colonial expansion of Spain, Portugal and France oversea, the Romance languages spread far outside Europe. The New Romania included Central and South America, Canada, some regions of Africa etc. There appeared local variants, such as Canadian French, Brazilian Portuguese and Latinoamerican Spanish. Some creole languages, based on French, Portuguese and Spanish, have also come into existence.
 



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