Romance Language

General Overview
Area of Distribution and Number of Speakers

Romance language (Lingua Romana) was one of the two major colloquial languages in the Roman empire (the other one was the late koinê Greek). It was used mainly in the western provinces of the empire (Italy, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Northern Africa, Sardinia, Corsica), but also in the northern parts of the Balkan peninsula (Dacia, Moesia, Illyria, Northern Macedonia). The population of the Roman empire (Romania) in the I-II century A.D. is estimated to be about 50 millions or 1/6 of the world's total (the Chinese empire of these times also had some 50 millions inhabitants). It is probable to suppose that two third of the Roman citizens were native Romance speakers or used Romance as a secondary language in their public affairs.

Origin and History

The Roman writers and grammarians of the 1st century B.C. created a higly developed literary language, the Classical Latin. It was the standard form taught in the schools for the next two millennia and all documents of government, law courts and the Christian church were written in it, as virtually all works of prose. In its status of official language its further development was practically frozen, while the spoken idiom continued its phonological evolution which brought about profound changes in syntax. The divergence between the written and the spoken forms was greatly facilitated by the lack of any kind of mass media in the period, as by the absence of universal education and the influences of the indigenous tongues in the provinces of the Roman empire; by 600 A.D. the two forms of the language became so differentiated that the uneducated people coul not understand the written one anymore. And while the written language preserved the original name of Latin, the spoken idiom was referred to in various as Vulgar Latin (thus stressing on its slang bias; note however that this term is often used in a narrower sense to designate the western dialects of the language), Lingua Romana Rustica (i.e. "countryside Romance", thus stressing the provincial character of the language), or simply Lingua Romana (implying the fact that it was the language of the Roman citizens, and since 212 the Roman citizenship was universal).

The term Romance ['romants] is derived from the Latin expression romanice (loqui) (to speak) in the Roman fashion. As in the course of time Classical Latin became practically incomprehensible to common people, the term Romance became synonimous for plain and understandable language: thus in modern Spanish romancear means to translate into Spanish, and in modern Italian romanizzare means to translate into Italian, while in French the term roman is used to denote an invented prose narrative of non-scientific character (i.e. novel) as this kind of literary works were usually written in vernaculars.

Evolutional Patterns

It is traditionally stated that the Romance linguistic areal was split into two parts, Eastern and Western (often referred to as Vulgar Latin), according to two criteria:

1) The passage or non of the Latin intervocal consonants p, t, c  to b, d, g (the frontier of this phenomenon goes on the line La Spezia-Rimini through Northern Italy):

The western proto-dialects change the intervocal p, t, c  to b, d, g, while the eastern ones preserve them.

2) The formation of plural of the nouns and adjectives with -s (western proto-dialects) or with -i/-e (eastern proto-dialects):

As it may be seen on the map, the areals of these two criteria do not overlap exactly, but only approximatively. If one considers grammar and vocabulary, the classification will be even more confused (for instance French and Italian have practically identical grammars, though Italian and Rumanian are phonetically much closer etc.). The modern Romance languages of Italy are classified either as Eastern-Romance (with Rumanian, extinct Dalmatian etc.), or Western-Romance, and sometimes as transitional between the two groups.

According to R.A. Hall Jr.'s Introductory Linguistics (originally published by Chilton Books) the evolution of the Romance languages developped on the following pattern (Italian had a common development with the western branch):

An alternative classification would seem like that (Italian is considered an Eastern-Romance language):


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