Romance languages

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See also: Linguistic Relationships among Romance Languages (table)Linguistic Relationships among Romance Languages
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black niger negro negro noir nero negru
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Romance languages,

group of languages belonging to the Italic subfamily of the Indo-EuropeanIndo-European,
family of languages having more speakers than any other language family. It is estimated that approximately half the world's population speaks an Indo-European tongue as a first language.
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 family of languages (see Italic languagesItalic languages,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages that may be divided into two groups. The first group consists of the ancient Italic languages and dialects that were once spoken in Italy.
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). 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 languageLatin language,
member of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Latin was first encountered in ancient times as the language of Latium, the region of central Italy in which Rome is located (see Italic languages).
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 and the table entitled Linguistic Relationships among Romance LanguagesLinguistic Relationships among Romance Languages
English Latin Portuguese Spanish French Italian Romanian
black niger negro negro noir nero negru
do facere fazer hacer faire fare face
green viridis verde verde vert verde verde
..... Click the link for more information.
). 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Romance Languages


a group of related languages belonging to the Indo-European family and deriving from Latin. The Romance languages are spoken by more than 400 million people and are state languages in more than 50 countries.

The Romance languages are difficult to classify because of the diverse and gradual transitions between them. The following subgroups are usually distinguished: Ibero-Romance (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician), Gallo-Romance (French, Provençal), Italo-Romance (Italian, Sardinian), Rhaeto-Romance, Balkan-Romance (Rumanian, Moldavian, Aromanian, Megleno-Rumanian, Istro-Rumanian), and the Dalmatian language, which became extinct in the 19th century.

The common character of the Romance languages is traceable primarily to the common origin of the languages from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the regions conquered by Rome. This common character is manifested in the numerous words and grammatical forms traceable to Vulgar Latin. In the course of their development, the Romance languages were also heavily influenced by literary Latin, from which they borrowed words, derivational patterns, and syntactic models. This influence created a secondary Romance linguistic community and introduced changes in pronunciation patterns and the lexical system. Two strata were formed in the vocabulary: phonetically divergent words deriving from Vulgar Latin (French fait, Spanish hecho, Rumanian fapt— from Latin factum) and phonetically similar words borrowed from literary Latin (French facteur, Spanish factor, Rumanian factor— from Latin factor). The modern Romance languages have two genders for substantives and adjectives, no declensions (except in the Balkan-Romance group), articles, special adverbal pronouns, compound verb forms with past participles, futures and conditionals formed from the infinitive, and frequent prepositional constructions.

There were several stages in the development of the Romance languages. The first stage, extending from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D., was the period of Romanization, in which local languages were replaced by Vulgar Latin. The divergences of the future Romance dialects were determined in part by the different times at which various regions were conquered by the Romans: Italy fell in the third century B.C.; Spain, in the third century B.C.; Gaul, in the first century B.C.; Rhaetia, in the first century A.D.; and Dacia, in the second century A.D. Other determining factors were the social conditions and pace of Romanization, dialect differences of Latin itself, the extent of communications between the provinces and Rome, administrative partitioning of the empire, and the substratum influence of the languages of the local population (Iberians, Gauls, Rhaetians, Dacians).

In the second stage, extending from the fifth to ninth centuries A.D., the Romance languages first came into being, at a time when the Roman Empire was disintegrating and the barbarian states were forming. Romance speech was influenced by the superstratum languages of the conquerors, who included Germanic tribes (Visigoths in Spain, Franks and Burgundians in Gaul, Lombards in Italy), Arabs in Spain, and Slavs in the Balkans. The limits of Romance language distribution in Europe were established by the tenth century, when Romance languages came to be recognized as languages separate from Latin and from each other.

The third stage, extending from the tenth to 16th centuries, witnessed the development of literature in the Romance languages and the expansion of the social functions of the languages. The first texts in French date to the ninth century; those in Italian, Spanish, Sardinian, and Provençal, to the tenth century; those in Rhaeto-Romance, Catalan, and Portuguese, to the 12th century; and those in Rumanian, to the 16th century. Literary languages developed that were not differentiated by dialect. French and other Romance languages underwent significant changes in structure.

In the fourth stage, extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, the Romance languages became national languages, were standardized, and were further enriched. The development of the languages was uneven. French and Spanish became national languages in the 16th and 17th centuries and subsequently functioned also as international languages. Italian and Rumanian became national languages only in the 19th century. Provençal and, to a lesser extent, Galician lost their earlier social functions. The 20th century has seen a further development of the Romance literary languages. In a number of countries, movements are under way to strengthen and expand the social functions of certain Romance languages; this is the case with Catalan in Spain, Provençal in France, and French in Canada.

In the 16th century, colonial expansion brought the Romance languages beyond the bounds of Europe. The modern Romance language area encompasses Central and South America and parts of North America, Africa, and other continents. Local variants of the Romance languages have emerged and include Canadian French, Brazilian Portuguese, and Latin-American Spanish. Creole languages based on French and Portuguese have also developed.


Sergievskii, M. V. Vvedenie ν romanskoe iazykoznanie. Moscow, 1952.
Romanskie iazyki. Moscow, 1965.
See also references under romance philology.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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