What Is Romance language

The Romance languages derived from a “proto-language”, Latin , the Indo – European language of the Italic group that began to be spoken in Lazio , a region in central Italy .

The so-called “vulgar Latin” was the one that laid the foundations to create a great linguistic family, since it was the one spoken in the Roman Empire . It spread, then, as the Roman legions conquered new territories.

Thus they imposed this language to carry out mainly the administrative functions. Vulgar Latin managed to maintain a certain uniformity, but over time this branch varied from region to region.


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  • 1 Origins
    • 1 Medieval Latin and Vernacular Language
    • 2 The situation in the Visigothic period
    • 3 Christian prayer in Old Latin Latin and romance between the 8th and 11th centuries
  • 2 From Latin worship to Latin Vulgar
  • 3 Ratings
    • 1 Ibero- Romance Languages
    • 2 Italian
    • 3 Dalmatic language
    • 4 Gallo- Romance Languages
    • 5 Franco-Provençal Languages
    • 6 Occitan- Roman languages
    • 7 Returning languages
    • 8 Romanian
    • 9 Sardinian
  • 4 Bibliographies
  • 5 Sources


As the end of Roman rule came, Latin was transformed into the Romance languages.

Medieval Latin and Vernacular Language

The use of glossaries has been known since very ancient times; They were intended to facilitate the interpretation of the Latin texts. As written Latin moved away from classical models, the need to use these lexicons was greater. For this reason they proliferated throughout Romania; Particularly numerous were after the dismemberment of the Empire, in the 5th century . They constitute the documentary base of the great “corpus” of medieval Latinity collected by Du Cange in the 17th century .

Surely from the variety and richness of these documentary sources arose the idea of ​​the existence of a medieval Latin, different from classical Latin and above all, opposed to it as a language exclusively intended for writing. So for a time the question philologists asked themselves on this subject was when did Latin cease to be spoken.

For some, the language spoken in the Visigothic era was no longer Latin, but protorromance, since many of the evolutionary processes that would later develop differently would already manifest themselves in it, giving rise to the different Romance languages. Therefore, in the written sources of the Visigothic era an artificial language would be manifested, learned by a few at school, which would not coincide with the spoken language.

Medieval Latin cannot be spoken of in the Iberian Peninsula until after the Muslim invasion, when the political and territorial fragmentation, together with a serious cultural impoverishment, accelerated the evolutionary processes that gave rise to the Ibero-Roman languages.

If we look towards Galorromania, the situation is completely different; the Carolingian Empire had favored, as an added element to its attempt to recover the ancient Roman Empire , a restoration of Latinity, which led to the departure of the language of writing from oral use, which would correspond to the nascent Romance language.

It is evident, then, that between Ibero-Roman and Gallo-Roman there were very different situations: cultural degradation in the first, culmination of a process of restoration of Latinity in the second. Some philologists, such as R. Wright, see this as the reason why medieval Latin should not be spoken of before the Carolingian refonna. For him, this concept is applicable only to Latin born in Carolingian schools, which had to be transferred through the Cluniac reform to the Iberian Peninsula.

Therefore, in the case of Hispania (leaving Catalonia aside due to its special connection with the Franco kingdom ), it was not possible to speak of medieval Latin until after 1080 , the year of the foundation of the monastery of San Juan de la Peña , with the that the Cluniac influence began in Spain , the abandonment of the Mozarabic rite, the establishment of a diocese with bishops of Frank origin, the ultra-Pyrenean political influence, the creation of Frankish colonies in numerous towns, etc.

His thesis is that until the Cluniac reform, in Hispania a common vernacular was used that was transferred to written texts according to an orthography that produced the appearance of a language other than the common one. That is, there was a basic monolingualism that would correspond to both oral and written manifestations, even if these were covered by an appearance of Latinity. Thus, medieval Latin would be only post-Carolingian Latin.

This hypothesis has been tenaciously maintained in the last fifteen years by the British Hispanicist. I will take it into account to assess the role that medieval glossaries played as long as it illuminates some aspects of the history of the Spanish language .

The situation in the Visigothic period

Epic image of Latin scholars

The Latinists, and in a particularly relevant way Díaz and Díaz2, have studied the linguistic situation in the Visigothic era. Faced with the widespread idea that this is a time of great cultural decline, a much more benevolent judgment currently prevails: during the 6th and 7th centuries there was a period of progressive recovery of Latinity, although this process took the form of collection of knowledge rather than creation of new knowledge.

For some, the time of San Isidoro was a true model for Europe , since the learning of reading and writing was encouraged, classical grammatical sources were collected, mainly from Donato, and spread, at least among the social elite and Visigothic culture, the knowledge of the time. What historians and philologists no longer agree on is describing the “real” linguistic situation.

For most, Díaz and Díaz among them, it is necessary to speak of the survival of imperial Latin, although with its own evolutionary features and, surely, with the existence of other evolutionary features that would be the incipient manifestation of subsequent transformation processes. On the contrary, it has been argued that the language used by Saint Isidore, like other later writers such as Julián de Toledo , responds to the common vernacular, transferred to writing in the Latin way.

It would be inappropriate to enter here to analyze the arguments in favor or against one or another opinion. The truth is that the texts of the time, not only the Etymologies, but also the numerous sermons and penitentials that are copied in this period, reflect or not the vernacular or Latin pronunciation (this end is unverifiable because Saint Isidore does not make distinctions in this regard ), reflect a basically Latin syntax, although with certain peculiarities:

  • The case regime and the forms of agreement are maintained.
  • The synthetic forms of the passive voice are still in force.
  • The word order responds to the casual relationship.

If from the 8th century onwards , Mozarabic, a natural linguistic continuation of the Visigothic period, offers a radically different grammatical structure, we can hardly accept that the language of the texts of Saint Isidore was that of the common vernacular. Of course, the Bishop of Seville, and with him the very small intellectual minority of his time, could speak very closely to the written model, but we cannot extend this situation to that of ordinary speakers. That the evolution of TY, CY was underway was evident, as well as the tendency to the loss of the vowel quantity and many other phenomena that could be cited.

It is more difficult to determine to what extent the sociolinguistic (non-territorial) differences, since nothing authorizes to indicate dialectal areas in the strict sense), announce language differences. The inhabitants of Ibero-Roman in the 6th and 7th centuries spoke Latin, of course, but in the sense that the variants that this Latin might contain were the natural evolution of spoken imperial Latin, increasingly differentiated from writing, as that it was subject to rules of grammar and rhetoric. When a speaker intended to learn reading or writing, he had to do it on the traditional Latin technique and, therefore, he wanted to write in Latin.

It seems difficult to accept that even in the Visigothic era there were idiomatic distinctions between Latin and what was to be a vernacular romance, much less an awareness of that differentiation, which does not prevent certain evolutionary phenomena, not only phonetic, but also morphological and syntactic, they were underway, although with different degrees of consolidation in relation to the socio-cultural strata of speakers.

It is no less true, however, that users of written texts often needed help interpreting them. This is the origin of the glossaries that begin and be written throughout Romania. Commentaries and clarifications to the classic texts constitute the origin of the glossistic tradition that was to reach the Middle Ages . Such comments became increasingly necessary, as classical culture became more repetitive and less original.

In principle, then, the glosses were not lexical repertoires, but varied comments to texts that had to be explained. Sometimes they were in the form of dictionaries, but the intention of their editors was not that of a lexicographer, but that of a compiler of knowledge. At the fall of the Empire, glossaries flourished, following the example of the most famous of them, the Glosas de Plácido Gramático.

At the same time, a type of works emerged, with a greater lexicographical character, consisting of repertoires of synonyms and “word differences”. Among the first, the famous Synonima ciceronis or Synonima colligere stand out. The Etymologiae de San Isidoro contain two books dedicated to distinguishing words of close meaning or form, which acquire an encyclopedic rather than a lexicographical character. On the other hand, Liber X of the Etymology, De vocabulis, does constitute a true lexicographical repertoire. The truth is that when we get to the 8th century , the period – let us not forget – when the general linguistic fragmentation of Romania occurs, there is a true consolidated glossistic tradition throughout Europe .

The Liber Glossarum, which circulated widely throughout much of Europe, perhaps of Visigothic Hispanic origin, is the most important body of glosses in the early Middle Ages. These glosses, along with many others, constituted the sources from which the particular glosses that were to appear later were nurtured, and among them the Hispanic glosses of the IX and X centuries .

These glossaries did not “translate” into romance; they were glosses from Latin to Latin, or, if you will, from Latin of written texts to common Latin. Their need became more evident as the linguistic dissociation between writing and orality consolidated, a process that occurs for Hispania between the 8th and 11th centuries . It is not surprising, therefore, that it is precisely in the nine hundredth when the Glossary contained in the RAH codex 46 appears, which I will refer to later, and that when speaking of its editors, it is “the first encyclopedic dictionary of the Iberian Peninsula” .

The interpretation that has been made of the process of elaborating the glossaries has been based on the idea that some were copies of one or the other, in such a way that the different glossaries would constitute a chain in which it would be easy to appreciate the way in which they had fully or partially adapted. This would be facilitated by the fact that glossaries frequently resulted in vocabularies or lexicons that resulted from the compilation of glosses by a specific author or work.

Teaching manuals and grammars also served as a source for preparing them. That is why it is easy to find grammatical rather than lexicographical indications in the glossaries. It should not be ruled out, however, the hypothesis that some glossary was not the result of the collection of previous materials, but rather the original work of an author who acts for occasional needs. Later, I will examine whether or not this hypothesis is applicable to Emilianense glosses. The truth is that, as Díaz and Díaz explained, the glossaries were complex works, in which linguistic information (lexical and grammatical) was mixed with cultural information.

Iberorromania’s cultural and linguistic situation was radically different from that of Carolingian France. The distance that existed between San Isidoro de Sevilla , restorer of Visigothic Latinity, and Alcuino, recuperator of imperial Latin, was abysmal. This is due, among many other factors, to an essential one: Alcuin is the intellectual interpreter of Charlemagne’s attempt at imperial restoration.

This attempt needed linguistic restoration because no other culture was conceived than the one expressed in Latin. But it should not be forgotten that Alcuin died in 805 ne and as early as 842 they were the Serments de Strasbourg, who forced the use of romance in a solemn act of great political and legal significance. Now, to deduce from this difference that medieval Latin did not exist in Hispania until after 1080 there is a long way that is not sufficiently justified.

Christian prayer in ancient Latin

Latin and romance between the 8th and 11th centuries

If a relatively uniform linguistic situation is to be assumed for the Visigothic era, but already crossed by important sociolinguistic variations, the lowest stratum of which would constitute the so-called protorromance, from 711 the situation changed completely. Territorial fragmentation and cultural decline ruin the already weakened relationship between orality and writing.

The consequences are described by Menéndez Pidal in his Origins of Spanish. On the one hand, the incipient evolutionary tendencies present already at the end of the Visigothic era accelerate and generalize: the Mozarabic is his direct heir. On the other, each one of the territorial nuclei that had resisted the Muslim invasion, develop those same tendencies and generate new ones that will give rise to the linguistic division of Ibero-Romania, with the peculiarities, well known, of Catalonia, subject to French influence. since Carolingian times, and from Galicia, which did not suffer the onslaught of the Muslim conquest.

Written creation was never interrupted. The Visigothic and Mozarabic Cenobians jealously preserved ancient Visigothic manuscripts, mainly homiletical collections and sermonaries, and with them the tradition of desks. La Rioja is a privileged region in this sense. Well-known is the existence of small monasteries in the upper Rioja and in the so-called “Riojilla burgalesa”, where some of the manuscripts that remain in San Millán come from.

It is known that the clergymen had the obligation to read aloud, with rhythmic recitation or chants, depending on the case, the liturgical texts. This means that it was necessary to learn to read and, where appropriate, also to write. It should be remembered, however, that a large proportion of clergymen only learned to read and that writing was the task of specialized craftsmen and educated clergymen. It is not easy to describe what learning to read consisted of.

In the first stage it seems that it was only a matter of identifying the litterae with the sounds, but which ones: the Latins or the romances? We have to think that, at first, learning to read and write coincided exactly with learning Latin, since there was no tradition of romance writing before the 10th century . The need to transcribe sounds that did not exist in Latin with new graphic signs did not arise until the 10th and 11th centuries .

Menéndez Pidal’s description of orthography at the time of the origins of the language testifies to the existence of a tradition that had been slowly developing. 11th century Castilian, Leonese and Aragonese documents show orthographic differences that seem to correspond to techniques from different schools. It should be noted, however, that the differences between orality and writing cannot be limited to the relationship that exists between spelling and sound, but that it has a much more important character: it concerns grammar (morphology and syntax) and also organization of speech, this is the type of text the editor tries to build.

At the origin of the Romance languages, the transition from orality to writing is linked to the partial appearance of features that were unique to the language spoken in written texts. How did that process take place? The question has been raised in recent years around the following question: were the document writers speaking a single language (the vernacular or Romance) or were they still using Latin, or a certain Latin, as the language of writing? , differentiating it idiomatically from the common language?

The analysis of the Romanesque texts allows us to establish the thesis that the process is homogeneous in all the Romanesque languages, perhaps with the exception of Sardinian. It seems prudent to start from the idea that in the passage from orality to writing there is no continuous linear sequence, but rather it is a process conditioned by various factors, among which surely the most important is the type of text it deals with. to write. The process is, of course, progressive, but not developed with chronological uniformity. The insertion of oral features in writing would have depended, among others, on factors such as the following:

  • From the knowledge of the editor (clergyman, notary, mere copyist, etc.).
  • Of the chosen form of speech.
  • Of the type of text, depending on whether its content was more or less close to the information needs of the document user.
  • From the receiver’s knowledge.

There are text editors (be they merely informative -documents- or liturgical or literary works) who know not only the art of writing, but also the conventional language that tradition has consecrated, that is, Latin, proper only to writing. This is the case with foreign ministers who write chronicles in Latin (Cronica Adefonsi imperatoris, Cronica Roderici, Cronica Silense, Cronica Najerense, etc.); with the author of the Latin Poem of Almeria, from the 12th century, with the authors of rhythmic prose and liturgical hymns, but also with the texts that were used in ecclesiastical ministry, mainly sermons and penitentials. Along with these scholars, who are the authors of glosses, there were undoubtedly others who only knew how to write certain documents following more or less fixed formulas; they were “professionals” at writing only certain types of text.

Not all of them have the same capacity not only regarding their Latin knowledge, but also their knowledge of writing. On another level, there were those who knew how to read or recite aloud, following the method of a letter equal to a sound, without guaranteeing understanding of what was read. In medieval schools learning to read and write did not always correspond to learning Latin, although the latter occurred almost always.

This explains the famous episode of Berceo’s “miracle” about the ignorant clergyman who only knew how to say the mass of Saint Mary , that is, who only knew how to recite the corresponding liturgical text.

It is not, conceived in sociological terms, that there is a linguistic stratification determined by a descending scale of Latinity, that is, that there were users of Latin as the only language in the higher plane of the learned and a series of social levels that would mix romance with Latin, but that written texts reflect the tension existing between a common language -which since the 8th centuryit is romance and a written language, which the school, ecclesial, legal and administrative tradition forced to be or resemble Latin. There are two planes of opposition, crossed transversely: on one side, the tension between orality and writing; on the other, the interweaving of romance in Latin and, in turn, of the latter in romance, which he constantly enriches by means of loans (cultisms and semicultisms).

To account for the way in which romance came to replace Latin as the language of writing, it is necessary to explain how these cross-sectional elements work, which do not correspond exclusively or principally with the spelling-sound equivalence, but with the way of configuring the speeches and, therefore, to organize the texts.

From Latin worship to Latin Vulgar

Vulgar Latin was different from cultured Latin: the latter was used primarily for writing. In fact, it is the language with which those texts that we know today as “classics” were made. Furthermore, it was spoken only by members of the highest social strata; As for its shape and structure, it was rigid and closed to change. For its part, “vulgar Latin” or “commoner speech” had, to put it in some way, a freer development process. It was the language of the people, of the Merchants and of the Soldiers .

The ramification of “vulgar Latin” in the different Romance languages ​​occurred in a continuous process, in which precise dividing lines could not be drawn. Among the Romance languages ​​we can mention Italian, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Sardinian and Spanish.

Italian is the system that has been most faithful to Latin; while the others, due to their place of origin and geographical situation, have been influenced over time by linguistic families such as German, Slavic, Arabic and, in the case of America , various indigenous languages . Linguistically, when listening to how speakers of different Romance languages ​​express themselves, it is obvious — despite the differences — that they come from the same proto-language.


book for learning latin

Romance languages ​​are classified into nine groups, and each can in turn comprise several Dialects :

Ibero-Romance Languages

  • Spanish: also known as Spanish. It is official in much of Spainand Latin America . It has little dialect variety and is shown as a very conservative language, in the sense that it has not had significant changes over time or from region to region.
  • Portuguese: the official language of Portugaland Brazil , it has fewer different dialects and is more conservative than Spanish.
  • Galician: co-official language in Galicia, Spain; comes from medieval Portuguese.
  • Asturian: co-official language of the Principality of Asturias, Spain; It is also used in other regions of that country, such as León .


It has more than two hundred dialects and one of them, Florentine Tuscan, is the base of the official language in Italy .

Dalmatic language

Dead language used in some coastal cities in Dalmatia – today Croatia .

Gallo-Romance Languages

  • French: official language in Franceand co-official in Belgium , Switzerland and Canada . It has a great dialect variety.
  • Walloon: language spoken in Belgium, where it is considered a regional language.
  • Picardo: used in some regions of France and Belgium, where it is also considered a regional language.

Franco-Provençal languages

Set of languages ​​in danger of extinction, used in some regions of Italy, Switzerland and France.

Occitan-Roman languages

  • Catalan: co-official language in the autonomous community of Catalonia and Murcia, also in Spain, where it is not official. In Andorra it is an official language and is also used in some parts of France. It has a great dialect variety.
  • Occitan: Term used to group a set of dialects called “oc”. It was widely used in some regions of Spain and France in the Middle Ages.

Returning languages

  • Romanches: They are made up of five dialects — Sursilvano, Sutsilvano, Surmirano, Puter and Vallader — used mainly in some regions of Switzerland.
  • Interromanche: Frankish Romansh language used in Switzerland to give unity to twenty dialects. It is official in the Grisons Region.
  • Ladinos: dialects considered a regional language in the Italian area of ​​Dolomites.
  • Friulan: dialect spoken in the Italian province of Udine where it is considered a regional language.


Language spoken in the ancient Roman province known as Dacia, which was separated from Romania. Officer from Romania and Moldova, and co-officer in some regions of Serbia and Montenegro . It is a conservative language from which six dialects derive:

  • Istrio-Romanian (endangered).
  • Megledo-Romanian.
  • Macedo-Romanian. Spoken in places like Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece .


It is one of the most conservative Romance languages, which explains its geographical isolation, since it is spoken only in Sardinia. It diversifies into three main dialects:

  • Logudorian (considered classical language)
  • Nuorés.

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