The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Romance languages

The Romance languages, also called Romanic languages, are a subfamily of the Italic languages, specifically the descendants of the Vulgar Latin dialects spoken by the common people evolving in different areas after the break-up of the Roman Empire. Latin itself is considered an Italic but not a Romance language.



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:


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

Most Romance speakers have little difficulty understanding each other. Generally, the Romance languages are much more simplified than their notoriously complex ancestor, Latin. Only Romanian and Sardinian have retained some of the complex features of Latin.

Roughly, from west to east, the Romance variants, or dialects, form a dialect continuum. Portuguese, French, and Romanian typify three extreme deviations, though this does not imply that they are totally distinct. Sardinian is the most isolated and conservative variant. Languedocian Occitan could be tagged as the central "Western Romance by default".

Historically, 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 are many local varieties spoken in the Romance-language countries, and there is no clear differentiation between a 'language' and a 'dialect'. Roughly speaking, there are varieties that are considered national or international languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan), and those which are more often considered regional languages such as Occitan (or Provençal), Sardinian, the Oïl languages and Rumansh.

Classification frequently becomes questionable: is Galician, for example, a) a language in its own right; or b) a variety of Portuguese with strong influence of Spanish; or c) a language of which Portuguese is a dialect (as some argue it is)? Naturally, political and cultural and local pride issues play a role in these debates. Moreover, languages that lacked officialdom, a central standard model, or a literary tradition, such as Occitan, Sardinian or Rumansh, may 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, in their written form, include:

  • 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.
  • The letter W is rarely used (except, for example, in Walloon)

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).
  • Final vowels retained in feminine gender only: Catalan, Occitan, Romanian (Dacoromanian).
  • Final vowels dropped: French.

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:

  • TTTT: Portuguese (Brazil).
  • TTTH: Portuguese/Galician.
  • TTHH: Spanish, Catalan.
  • THHH: Occitan, French.

There's 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 who use "be" as an auxiliary are intransitive verbs that show motion or a change of state of the subject, such as "fall", "come", "become". All other verbs use "have".

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 Interlingua and Latino sine flexione) and languages created for artistic purposes only (such as Brithenig and Wenedyk).


Here is a more detailed listing of languages and dialects:

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)
    • Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) - (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)
  • Istro-Romanian - (SIL Code, RUO; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
  • Megleno-Romanian - (SIL Code, RUQ; ISO 639-2 code, roa)
  • Macedo-Romanian - (SIL Code, RUP; ISO 639-2 code, roa) - Includes Aromanian

See also

Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:28:26
Last updated: 05-02-2005 01:18:33