Identifying the languagesThe number of Romance languages varies according to the criteria used to establish them, such as: (1) Status as a national language, in which case there are five (French, ITALIAN, PORTUGUESE, Romanian, and Spanish/Castilian) or six if Romansch or Rhaeto-Romanic (a language of Switzerland) is included. (2) Possession of a literary tradition, in which case there are nine (the above, plus Catalan, Gallego (in Spain), and Occitan (including Provençal), in France). (3) Geographical or other distinctness, in which case there are 15 (the above, plus Andalusian (Spain), Friulian, Ladin (northern Italy), Sardinian and Sicilian (southern Italy), and Judeo-Spanish, also called Judezmo and Ladino (the Romance equivalent of Yiddish)). Extinct Romance varieties include Dalmatian (Yugoslavia) and Mozarabic (the language of Christians in Moorish Spain). There are also a number of Romance PIDGINS and CREOLES, including Haitian Creole French and Papiamentu, a mixed Portuguese–Spanish creole in the Netherlands Antilles. Romance languages are spoken by nearly 400m people and their creoles by nearly 6m more.
Origins and developmentWith the disintegration of the western Roman Empire (3–5c), forms of Vulgar or Popular Latin developed as the languages of many successor nations. In Italy, the transition was relatively straightforward, post-Latin varieties supplanting their closely related Italic predecessors, but elsewhere the success of the early Romance languages was largely at the expense of Celtic languages especially in Spain and France. Germanic invaders of Italy, Spain, and France did not retain their own languages, and even as late as the 10c, Scandinavian invaders gave up Norse in favour of French when they settled what came to be known as Normandy. No Romance language developed in the Roman provinces of Britain, probably because Popular Latin was not so firmly established there, Celtic continued to be strong, and the language of the Anglo-Saxon settlers was little exposed to Latin influence before or after they left their homes on the north-western European coast. However, the many Latin loanwords in Welsh suggest that a Romance language might have developed in southern Britain if conditions had been more like those of Gaul and Spain.
Romance in EnglishThe Germanic language of Britain developed largely free of Latin and of Romance influence until the 11c, when the Conquest of 1066 took Norman French across the Channel. For at least two centuries thereafter, a Romance language dominated social, political, and cultural life in much of the British Isles and had such an impact on the vocabulary and writing of English that, like Albanian and Maltese, English has been called a semi-Romance language; as Owen Barfield observed, ‘the English language has been facetiously described as “French badly pronounced”’ (History in English Words, 1962, p. 59). Because of the French connection and the associated influence of Neo-Latin, English shares with the romance languages a vast reservoir of lexis, concepts, allusions, and conventions. The accompanying table (which could be greatly expanded) lists 20 everyday English words and their equivalents in French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. It shows not only the similarity (even visual identity) of many items, but also, roughly in proportion to the various vocabularies, certain patterns of dissimilarity. Three English words of non-Romance origin (bed, garden, oak) are included, one of which (garden) is an example of how, on occasion, Germanic words have been adopted into Romance. See BORROWING, EUROPEAN LANGUAGES, LINGUA FRANCA, POLARI, SABIR.
Romance languages, group of languages belonging to the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Italic languages). Also called Romanic, they are spoken by about 670 million people in many parts of the world, but chiefly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Among the more important Romance languages are Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Occitan, Rhaeto-Romanic, Romanian, and Spanish. The spread of some Romance languages to other parts of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, accompanied the colonizing and empire-building of the mother countries of these languages, notably Spain, Portugal, and France.
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).