Romance languages

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ROMANCE LANGUAGES [From Medieval Latin romancium/romancia a Latin vernacular language, from Romanicus of Roman origin], sometimes Romanic languages. Languages descended from the LATIN of the Roman Empire, such as FRENCH and SPANISH.

Identifying the languages

The 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 development

With 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 English

The 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.

SOME EVERYDAY WORDS IN ENGLISH AND FOUR ROMANCE LANGUAGES

English

French

Spanish

Italian

Portuguese

art

art

arte

arte

arte

bandage

bandage

venda

fasciatura

venda

bed

lit

cama

letto

cama

date (fruit)

date

dátil

dattero

tâmara

eagle

aigle

águila

aquila

águia

garden

jardin

jardin

giardino

jardim

January

janvier

enero

gennaio

janeiro

February

février

febrero

febbraio

fevereiro

legal

légal

legal

legale

legal

magic

magie

magia

magia

mágico

mountain

montagne

montaña

montagna

montanha

oak

chêne

roble

quercia

carvalho

parcel

paquet

paquete

pacco

pacote

poor

pauvre

pobre

povero

pobre

price

prix

precio

prezzo

preço

question

question

pregunta

domanda

pergunta

round

rond

redondo

rotondo

redondo

solution

solution

solución

soluzione

solução

value

valeur

valor

valore

valor

war

guerre

guerra

guerra

guerra


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Romance languages Indo-European languages that evolved from Latin. They include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, Provençal, and Romansh (a language spoken in parts of Switzerland).