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Did Latin Ever Really Die? What Are The Romance Languages

Jun 2018

Language ,

Are you amazed by modern languages? Have you ever wondered where they came from? Well, we have just the blog for you.

Did Latin Ever Really Die? What Are The Romance Languages 1

It’s (fairly) common knowledge that romance languages like Italian, Spanish, and French are all related but what does that even mean? And how do they relate to Latin?

Language families can be remarkably complicated but we have some simple answers. Read on to learn about Latin’s grisly death and its evolution into the romance languages we know today.

What’s With Latin, Anyway?

Classical Latin

Thousands of years ago, Latin evolved from the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family and became the official language of the growing Roman empire.

Classical Latin was the language standardised for formal writing in 100-200 BC. It was sometimes referred to as the “speech of good families” or “urbane” speech and was typically spoken by the well-educated.

The Roman Empire made it their goal to standardise the Latin language in order to communicate across the entire population and so classic latin was largely replaced by vulgar latin — the most popular spoken language at the time.

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Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin, the term for the Latin that was spoken by the vast majority of the population in everyday interactions, became the language of choice of the 3rd and 4th century Roman Empire.

As the Roman Empire spread so did the use of Vulgar Latin and its influence as the choice language of trade and Christian texts like the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible and other religious texts.

Vulgar Latin was simpler, easier to learn, and more relatable for the readers and speakers of Greek and other eastern languages of the time. It was spoken until about 900 AD. Today, we have a lot of material written in Vulgar Latin, including grammar books and entertaining plays.

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Did Latin really die?

Languages are closely intertwined with the rapidly-changing cultures of those who speak them and it’s hard to say why particular languages became more or less attractive or why words and their pronunciation change over time.

But Latin underwent some major changes, driven by the people in different geographic areas who gradually modified it for their own use. By 900 AD, Vulgar Latin was largely unknown, though it was used here and there in liturgical services and was still studied as literature.

Romance Languages

Over time, Vulgar Latin evolved into early forms of the Romance Languages (also sometimes referred to as the “love languages”) that are spoken today.

These languages were also deeply influenced by the languages spoken by foreign invaders and inhabitants of the different areas where they developed. The modern Romance languages evolved from these early forms to the languages you can hear today. Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French are probably the best-known Romance languages but there are about 35 different Romance Languages recognised by linguists today.

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Romance Languages List

Linguists disagree remarkably on what should be categorised as distinct languages and which categories they should fall into.

There are a lot of grey areas here. For example, many similar dialects are mutually intelligible but are often presented as different languages.

This list includes 35 current, living romance languages. You’ll recognise some but others are more unknown and are only spoken by a small, geographically isolated group of people.

1. Iberian Romance Languages

  • Portuguese
  • Galician
  • Mirandese
  • Asturian
  • Leonese
  • Spanish (Castilian)
  • Aragonese
  • Ladino

2. Occitano Romance Languages

  • Catalan/Valencian
  • Occitan
  • Gascon

3. Gallo Romance Languages

  • French
  • Franco-Provençal (Arpitan)

4. Rhaeto Romance Languages

  • Romansh
  • Ladin
  • Friulian

5. Gallo-Italic Romance Languages

  • Piedmontese
  • Ligurian
  • Lombard
  • Emilian-Romagnol

6. Italo-Dalmatian Romance Languages:

  • Italian
  • Tuscan
  • Corsican
  • Sassarese
  • Sicilian
  • Neapolitan
  • Venetian
  • Istriot

7. Sardinian

8. Eastern Romance Languages

  • Daco-Romanian
  • Istro-Romanian
  • Aromanian
  • Megleno-Romanian

Latin is still taught and studied by some scholars today — and for linguists, it provides fascinating insight into the development of the Romance languages, with their unique patterns and pronunciation changes.

So did Latin really die?

Well, the answer is yes and no. Whilst still being studied and used in very uniques cases, its spread and use is very limited.

What used to be the language of choice for the entire elite of the Roman empire, is now mostly known for its use in niche subjects like medicine and biology.

For help with your modern-day translation and interpretation needs, feel free to contact our experts at GLS today!

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