Romance languages

The Romance languages, also called Romanic languages or New Latin Languages, are a subset of the Italic languages, specifically the descendants of the Latin dialects spoken by the common people in what is known as Latin Europe (Italian/Portuguese/Spanish Europa latina, French Europe latine) and Romania as Vulgar Latin later evolved in different areas after the break-up of the Roman Empire.

The differences from the Romance languages in relation to Latin are, essentially, analytical: articles and preposition instead of declension (except for the personal pronouns that preserve some of the Latin declension), use of auxiliary verbs for the composite verbs, etc.

The daughter languages of Latin differ for several reasons: historical isolation, influence of prior languages in territories of Latin Europe that fell under Roman rule, invasions, and contact with other cultures.



The term "Romance" comes from the Romance word romance or romanz, from Latin romanice, the adverbial form of romanicus, in expressions like parabolare romanice ("to speak in Roman").

The modern Romance languages differ from Classical Latin in a number of fundamental respects:

  • No declensions (except Romanian)
  • Only two grammatical genders, rather than the three of Classical Latin (except Romanian and Italian to a small extent, and except several gender-neutral pronouns in Spanish, Italian, Catalan etc.)
  • Introduction of grammatical articles, based on Latin demonstratives
  • Latin future tense scrapped, and new future and conditional tenses introduced, based on infinitive + present or imperfect tense of habere (to have), fused to form new inflections.
  • Latin synthetic perfect tenses replaced by new compound forms with be or have + past participle (except Portuguese and French, where the Latin plusquamperfect tense has been retained and Romanian, which has 2 perfect tenses - one synthetic and one compound - that have the same meaning and also has a synthetic plusquamperfect tense in the indicative mood that is formed using the suffix "-se", derived from the suffix used in Latin to form the subjunctive plusquamperfect, "-isse").


The most spoken Romance language is Spanish, followed by Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian.

Generally, the Romance languages have simplified the complex morphology and grammar of Latin. Italian and Sardinian retain more original features than the rest.

The Romance variants form a dialect continuum, and nearby languages usually have some mutual intelligibility. Portuguese, French, and Romanian are perhaps the most innovative of the languages, each in different ways. Sardinian is the most isolated and conservative variant. Languedocian Occitan is considered by some the most "average" western Romance language.

In the history of the Romance languages, the first split was between Sardinian and the rest. Then of the rest, the next split was between Romanian in the east, and the others in the west. The third major split was between Italian and the Gallo-Iberian group. This latter then split into a Gallo-Romance group, which became the Oïl languages (including French), Occitan, Francoprovençal and Rumansh, and an Iberian Romance group which became Spanish and Portuguese. Catalan is considered by many specialists as a transition language between the Gallic group and the Iberian group, since it shares characteristics from both groups (just for an example, among many others: 'fear' is 'medo' in Portuguese, 'miedo' in Spanish, but 'por' in Catalan — compare with 'peur' in French).

There is much dialect diversity, and there is no clear differentiation between a 'language' and a 'dialect'. Some varieties are privileged in that they are the main language of media and education in their countries (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and, recently, Catalan). Others are used as the language of instruction in schools and have some official status, such as Sardinian and Romansh. Many have suffered long periods of official neglect, such as Occitan (or Provençal), the Oïl languages other than French, and Venetian. Some of these possess several competing standards. And some minor variants which might have developed into distinct languages have been reduced to residual areas and restricted usage, like Astur-leonese, Aragonese or Mirandese.

Typical characteristics

Characteristics typical of Romance languages include:

  • General:
    • Romance languages are "verb-framed" rather than "satellite-framed". This means that phrases indicating motion will tend to encode the motion's direction within the verb (e.g. "enter", "insert"), rather than in an external particle (e.g. "go in", "put in"). This is a feature of word formation.
    • Romance languages frequently have two copula verbs (see Romance copula), from the Latin infinitives ESSE and STARE: one for essence and the other for status.
    • Romance languages conjugate verbs in first, second, and third person forms, both singular and plural. The third person forms may also be inflected for gender, but the first- and second-person forms are not (compare with Hebrew, which inflects all three persons for gender and number.)
    • Politeness forms include some form of the T-V distinction in all Romance languages.
    • Romance languages have 2 or 3 genders for all nouns, but usually do not inflect nouns for case, though their parent Latin did.
    • Romance languages include a default stress on the second-last syllable, and have euphony rules that avoid glottal stops, and multiple stop consonants in a row. (The second-last syllable becomes the last in languages like French that habitually drop the final Latin vowel.) The combination of these rules gives spoken Romance languages their characteristic high speed and flow. Compare Polish second-to-last stress.
  • Written form only:
    • The letters "W" and "K" are rarely used (except in names or borrowings, for example Kappa, or w in standard Walloon orthography). In Portuguese, "K", "W" and "Y" are only used for foreign names, while "x" is directed to names in Arabic, due to their non-Latin origin.
    • The letters "C" and "G" are usually "soft" postalveolar consonants before a front vowel, but "hard" velar consonants by default, or before a back vowel.
    • In most Romance languages, proper adjectives (including nationalities, such as American and British), names of days of the week and months of the year are not capitalized. For example, nationalities are capitalized in French only when used as nouns.

Distinguishing features

Formation of plurals

Some Romance languages form plurals by adding /s/ (derived from the plural of the Latin accusative case), while others form the plural by changing the final vowel (by influence of the Latin nominative ending /i/). See La Spezia-Rimini Line for more information.

  • Plural in /s/: Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French.
  • Vowel change: Italian, Romanian.

Omission of final Latin vowels

Some Romance languages have lost the final unstressed vowels from the Latin roots. For example: Latin lupus, luna become Italian lupo, luna but French loup /lu/), lune (/lyn/).

  • Final vowels retained: Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Romanian (Southern dialects and old Romanian).
  • Final vowels retained in feminine gender only: Catalan, Occitan, Romanian (Daco-Romanian).
  • Final vowels dropped: French.

Romance languages dropping the final vowel have one less syllable: the usual "penultimate syllable" accent is on the last syllable in these languages.

Words for "more"

Some Romance languages use a version of Latin plus, others a version of magis.

  • Plus-derived: French plus /ply/, Italian più /pju/.
  • Magis-derived: Portuguese (mais), Spanish (más), Catalan (més), Occitan, Romanian (mai)

The number 16

In some languages the word for the number 16 is irregular after the fashion of English "sixteen", as are all the Romance numerals from 11 to 15. In other Romance languages, 16 is literally "ten and six", like the numbers from 17 to 19.

  • "Sixteen": Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Romanian.
  • "Ten and six": Portuguese, Spanish.

To have and to hold

The verbs derived from Latin habere and tenere are used differently for the concepts of "to hold", "to have", "to have" (auxiliary for complex tenses), and existence statements ("there is").

For instance, in French, je tiens, j'ai, j'ai fait, il y a: these are respectively derived from tenere, habere, habere and habere. If we use T for tenere and H for habere, in these four meanings, we can encode the difference as follows:

  • TTTH: Portuguese/Galician.
  • TTHH: Spanish, Catalan.
  • THHH: Occitan, French.

There is also essere in Italian and este in Romanian, used for "to be":

  • THHE: Romanian, Italian

To have or to be

Some languages use their equivalent of "have" as an auxiliary verb to form the perfect forms (e. g. French passé composé) of all verbs; others use "be" for some verbs and "have" for others.

  • "Have" only: Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian.
  • "Have" and "be": Occitan, French, Italian.

In the latter, the verbs which use "be" as an auxiliary are unaccusative verbs, that is, intransitive verbs that show motion not directly initiated by the subject or changes of state, such as "fall", "come", "become". All other verbs (intransitive unergative verbs and all transitive verbs) use "have". For example, in French, J'ai vu "I have seen" vs. Je suis tombé "I am fallen" ("I have fallen").

Pidgins and creoles

The global spread of colonial Romance languages has given rise to numerous creoles and pidgins. Some of the lesser-spoken languages have also had influences on varieties spoken far from their traditional regions.

Constructed languages

Latin and the Romance languages also give rise to numerous constructed languages, both International Auxiliary Languages (well-known examples of which are Esperanto, Interlingua, Latino sine flexione, and Lingua Franca Nova) and languages created for artistic purposes only (such as Brithenig and Wenedyk).


Here is a more detailed listing of languages and dialects (roughly ordered from west to east):

Ethnologue classification

The classification below is largely based on the analysis provided at The ISO-639-2 code roa is applied by the ISO for any Romance language that does not have its own code. The Ethnologue classification (produced by the SIL International) is at one extreme of linguists, who divide into 'splitters' and 'lumpers'. Ethnologue produce a very detailed classification, which is more precise than many other linguists would accept, but it is valuable as a description of varieties.

The Southern group

  • Sardinian Four versions recognized; all are included in ISO 639-1 code, sc; ISO 639-2 code, srd)
  • Corsican - (SIL Code, COI; ISO 639-1 code, co; ISO 639-2 code, cos)

The Italo-Western group
The Western sub-group
. .Gallo-Iberian division
. . .Ibero-Romance sub-division
. . . .West Iberian section

  • Asturo-Leonese
    • Asturian - (SIL Code, AUB; ISO 639-2 code, ast)
    • Mirandese - (SIL Code, MWL; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
  • Castilian
    • Spanish - (SIL Code, SPN; ISO 639-1 code, es; ISO 639-2 code, spa)
    • Spanish, Loreto-Ucayali - (SIL Code, SPQ; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Ladino (Judæo-Spanish) - (SIL Code, SPJ; ISO 639-2 code, lad)
    • Extremaduran - (SIL Code, EXT; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Caló - (SIL Code, RMR; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
  • Portuguese-Galician
    • Portuguese - (SIL Code, POR; ISO 639-1 code, pt; ISO 639-2 code, por)
    • Galician - (SIL Code, GLN; ISO 639-1 code, gl; ISO 639-2 code, glg)
    • Fala - (SIL Code, FAX; ISO 639-2 code, roa)

. . . .East Iberian section

. . . .Oc section

  • Occitan (langue d'oc) - Six versions recognized; all are included in ISO 639-1 code, oc; ISO 639-2 code, oci) - all are from France

. . .Gallo-Romance sub-division
. . . .Gallo-Rhaetian section

  • Rhaetian
    • Friulian - (SIL Code, FRL; ISO 639-2 code, fur)
    • Ladin - (SIL Code, LLD; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Romansh - (SIL Code, RHE; ISO 639-1 code, rm; ISO 639-2 code, roh)
  • Langues d'Oïl
    • French (langue d'oïl)
      • Standard French - (SIL Code, FRN; ISO 639-1 code, fr; ISO 639-2(B) code, fre; ISO 639-2(T) code, fra)
      • Cajun French - (SIL Code, FRC; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
      • Picard - (SIL Code, PCD; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
      • Zarphatic - (SIL Code, ZRP; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - extinct
    • Franco-Provençal - (SIL Code, FRA; ISO 639-2 code, roa)

. . . .Gallo-Italian section

    • Emilio-Romagnolo - (SIL Code, EML; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Ligurian - (SIL Code, LIJ; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Lombard - (SIL Code, LMO; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Piemontese - (SIL Code, PMS; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Venetian - (SIL Code, VEC; ISO 639-2 code, roa)

. .Pyrenean-Mozarabic division

  • Pyrenean
    • Aragonese - (SIL Code, AXX; ISO 639-1 code, an;ISO 639-2 code, arg)
  • Mozarabic
    • Mozarabic - (SIL Code, MXI; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - Extinct for common speech

The Italo-Dalmatian sub-group

    • Italian - (SIL Code, ITN; ISO 639-1 code, it; ISO 639-2 code, ita)
    • Napoletano-Calabrese - (SIL Code, NPL; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Sicilian - (SIL Code, SCN; ISO 639-2 code, scn)
    • Judeo-Italian - (SIL Code, ITK; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
    • Dalmatian - (SIL Code, DLM; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - extinct in 19th century.
    • Istriot - (SIL Code, IST; ISO 639-2 code, roa)

The Eastern group

  • Romanian - (SIL Code, RUM; ISO 639-1 code, ro; ISO 639-2(B) code, rum; ISO 639-2(T) code, ron) - Includes Daco-Romanian.
    Also as Moldovan - (ISO 639-1 code, mo; ISO 639-2 code, mol)
  • Macedo Romanian - (SIL Code, RUP; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - known by native speakers as Aromanian
  • Megleno Romanian - (SIL Code, RUQ; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - also known as Meglenitic
  • Istro Romanian - (SIL Code, RUO; ISO 639-2 code, roa)

See also

az:Roman qrupu bg:Романски езици ca:Llengües romàniques de:Romanische Sprachen et:Romaani keeled als:Romanische Sprachen es:Lenguas romances eo:Latinida lingvo fr:Langue romane it:Lingue romanze nl:Italische en Romaanse talen ja:ロマンス語 no:Romanske språk pl:Języki romańskie pt:Línguas românicas ro:Limbile romanice rm:Linguas romanas ru:Ðîìàíñêèå ÿçûêè se:Románalaš gielat simple:Romance languages fi:Romaaniset kielet sv:Romanska språk vi:Nhóm ngôn ngữ Rôman

External Links

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