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Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin (in Latin, sermo vulgaris) is a blanket term covering the vernacular dialects of the Latin language spoken mostly in the western provinces of the Roman Empire until those dialects, diverging still further, evolved into the early Romance languages — a distinction usually assigned to about the ninth century.

This spoken Latin differed from the literary language of classical Latin in its pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Some features of Vulgar Latin did not appear until the late Empire. Other features are likely to have been in place in spoken Latin, in at least its basilectal forms, much earlier. Most definitions of "vulgar Latin" mean that it is a spoken language, rather than a written language, because the evidence suggests that spoken Latin broke up into divergent dialects during this period, and because no one phonetically transcribed the daily speech of any Latin speakers during the period in question, students of vulgar Latin must study it through indirect methods.

Our knowledge of Vulgar Latin comes from three chief sources. First, the comparative method can reconstruct the underlying forms from the attested Romance languages, and note where they differ from classical Latin. Second, various prescriptive grammar texts from the late Latin period condemn linguistic errors that Latin users were likely to commit, providing insight into how Latin speakers used their language. Finally, the solecisms and non-Classical usages that occasionally are found in late Latin texts also shed light on the spoken language of the writer.

Vulgar Latin, as in this political graffiti at Pompeii, was the language of the ordinary people of the Roman Empire, distinct from the Classical Latin of literature.
Vulgar Latin, as in this political graffiti at Pompeii, was the language of the ordinary people of the Roman Empire, distinct from the Classical Latin of literature.

What was Vulgar Latin?

The name "vulgar" simply means "common": it derives from the Latin word vulgaris, meaning "common," or "of the people". "Vulgar Latin" to Latinists has a variety of meanings.

  • First, it means the spoken Latin of the Roman Empire. Classical Latin was always a rather artificial literary language; the Latin brought by Roman soldiers to Gaul or Dacia was not necessarily the Latin of Cicero. By this definition, Vulgar Latin was a spoken language, "late" Latin being used for writing (the general style being a bit different from the "classic" standards, usually considered as referred to texts of first century AD).
  • Second, it means the hypothetical ancestor of the Romance languages. This is a language which cannot be directly known apart from a few graffiti inscriptions; it was Latin that had undergone a number of important sound shifts and changes, which can be reconstructed from the changes that are evident in its descendants, the Romance vernaculars.
  • Third, in an even more restrictive sense, the name Vulgar Latin is sometimes given to the hypothetical proto-Romance of the Western Romance languages: the vernaculars found north and west of the La Spezia-Rimini line, France, and the Iberian peninsula; and the poorly attested Romance speech of northwestern Africa. This view considers southeastern Italian, Romanian, and Dalmatian to have developed separately.
  • Fourth, "vulgar Latin" is sometimes used to describe the grammatical innovations found in a number of late Latin texts, such as the fourth century Peregrinatio Aetheriae, a nun's account of a journey to Palestine and Mt. Sinai; or the works of St Gregory of Tours. Written documentation of Vulgar Latin forms is scarce; these works are valuable to philologists largely because they occasionally let in "mistakes" that give some evidence of spoken usage during the period they were written in.

Some literary works in a lower register of language from the Classical Latin period also give a glimpse into the world of Vulgar Latin. The works of Plautus and Terence, being comedies with many characters who were slaves, preserve some early basilectal Latin features, as does the recorded speech of the freedmen in the Cena Trimalchionis by Petronius Arbiter.

Vulgar Latin developed differently in the various provinces of the Roman Empire, thus gradually giving rise to modern French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, etc. Although the official language was Latin, Vulgar Latin was what was popularly spoken until the new localized forms diverged far enough from Latin that a new standard language became a clear necessity. Obviously Vulgar Latin is considered lost when the local dialects start collecting enough local characteristics to form a different language. They evolved into Romance languages when an independent value was recognisable in them (eg. Oïl, Oc, Si).

The third century AD is presumed to be the age in which, apart from declensions, much vocabulary was changing (i.e., equuscaballus, etc.). Recently, some studies (which still perhaps need more scientific development) have suggested that pronunciations too started to diverge, supposedly with already a similarity to modern local pronunciations, with the most spectacular (alleged) effect in the area of Naples. However, these changes were obviously not uniform in the Empire's territory, so the greatest differences were perhaps to be found among different forms of Vulgar Latin in different areas (also due to the acquisition of newer "local" roots), even if it should be noted that most of theory is based on reconstruction a posteriori rather than, evidently, on texts (poor people could use poor supports, of which poor remains could last for a direct knowledge in our age).

For several centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Vulgar Latin continued to coexist with written Late Latin: for when people who spoke one of the Romance vernaculars set out to write using proper grammar and spelling, what they put down was language that at least paid lip service to the norms of classical Latin. However, at the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in the vernacular language in order to be comprehensible — either the rustica lingua romanica, Vulgar Latin now recognisably distinct from the frozen Church Latin; or German. This could be a documented moment of the evolution. Within the space of a lifetime after the Council of Tours, in 842, the Oaths of Strasbourg, recording an agreement between two of Charlemagne's heirs, were written down in a Romance language that was obviously not Latin:

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di en avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa. . .
(For the love of God and for the Christian people, and our common salvation, from this day onwards, provided that God gives me the knowledge and the power, I shall defend my brother Charles with my help in everything. . .)

Late Latin, still based in Rome, presumedly reflected these acquisitions, recording what was changing in a nearer area — fairly identifiable with Italy. Formal Latin was then "frozen" by the codifications of Roman law on one side (Justinian) and of the Church on the other side, finally unified by the medieval copyists and since then forever separated from already independent Romance vulgar idioms. The written language continued to exist as mediaeval Latin. The Romance vernaculars were recognised as separate languages, and began to develop local norms and orthographies of their own. "Vulgar Latin" ceases to be a useful name for either language.

Vulgar Latin is then a collective name for a group of derived dialects with local — not necessarily common — characteristics, that don't make a "language", at least in a classical sense. It could perhaps be described as a sort of "magmatic" undefined matter that slowly locally crystallized into the several early forms of each Romance language, that consequently find their ultimate proper ancestry in formal Latin. Vulgar Latin was therefore an intermediate point of the evolution, not a source.



Letter Cl. pronun. Vul. pronun.
Short A /a/ /a/
Long A /a:/ /a/
Short E /e/ /ɛ/
Long E /e:/ /e/
Short I /i/ /ɪ/
Long I /i:/ /i/
Short O /o/ /ɔ/
Long O /o:/ /o/
Short U /u/ /ʊ/
Long U /u:/ /u/
Short Y /y/ /ɪ/
Long Y /y:/ /i/
AE /ai/ /ɛ/
OE /oi/ /e/
AU /au/ /o/
(see International Phonetic Alphabet for an explanation of the symbols used);

One profound change that affected every Romance language reordered the vowel system of classical Latin. Latin had ten distinct vowels: long and short versions of A, E, I, O, U, and three (or four) diphthongs, AE, OE, AU, and according to some, UI. Apart from Sardinian, what happened to Vulgar Latin can be summarized as in the table to the right.

There was no doubt an intermediate stage with new pronunciations but old vowel lengths.

Both the diphthongs AE and OE also fell in with /e/. AU was initially retained, and turned from /aw/ to /o/ after the original O fell victim to further changes.

Thus, the ten-vowel system of Classical Latin (not counting diphthongs and the Greek Y), which relied on phonemic vowel length was newly modelled into a system in which vowel length distinctions were suppressed and alterations of vowel quality became phonemic. Because of this change, the stress on accented syllables became much more pronounced in Vulgar Latin than in Classical Latin. This tended to cause unaccented syllables to become less distinct, while working further changes on the sounds of the accented syllables.

The results of short O and E proved to be unstable in the daughter languages, and tended to break up into diphthongs. Classical focus (accusative focum), "hearth," became the general word in proto-Romance for "fire" (replacing ignis), but its short 'O' sound became a diphthong — a different diphthong — in most daughter languages:

As for Portuguese it was mostly preserved: fogo (/'fɔgu/).

Languages differed in the extent of this process. Long /e/ was retained in Portuguese ferro and French fer, "iron," but diphthongized in Spanish hierro, both from Latin ferrum.


Palatalization of Latin /k/, /t/, and often /g/ was almost universal in vulgar Latin; the only Romance dialect it did not affect was some varieties of Sardinian. Thus Latin caelum, pronounced /kaelum/ beginning with /k/, became French ciel, /sjɛl/, and Portuguese céu, /'sɛu/, beginning with /s/. The former semivowels written in Latin as U as in vinum, pronounced /w/, and I as in iocunda, pronounced /j/, came to be pronounced /v/ and /dʒ/, respectively. Between vowels, /b/ and /w/ or /v/ often merged into an intermediate sound /β/.

N.B. In the Latin alphabet, the letters U and V, I and J, were only graphic (and later in some areas, typographic) variations that were not distinguished until the early modern period, and lower-case letters did not exist.

In the Western Romance area, an epenthetic vowel was inserted at the beginning of any word that began with s and another consonant: thus Latin spatha ("sword") becomes Spanish espada, French épée; this process did not affect Eastern Romance, so Italian preserves spada.

Gender was remodelled in the daughter languages by the loss of final consonants. In classical Latin, the endings -US and -UM distinguished masculine from neuter nouns in the second declension; with both -S and -M gone, the neuters merged with the masculines, a process that is complete in Romance. By contrast, some neuter plurals such as gaudia, "joys," were re-analysed as feminine singulars.

Evidence of changes

Evidence of these and other changes can be seen in the late third century Appendix Probi (ext. link), a collection of glosses prescribing correct classical Latin forms for certain vulgar forms. These glosses describe:

  • a process of syncope, the loss of unstressed vowels (MASCVLVS NON MASCLVS);
  • the reduction of formerly syllabic /e/ and /i/ to /j/ (VINEA NON VINIA);
  • the levelling of the distintion between /o/ and /u/ (COLVBER NON COLOBER) and /e/ and /i/ (DIMIDIVS NON DEMEDIVS);
  • regularization of irregular forms (GLIS NON GLIRIS);
  • regularization and emphasis of gendered forms (PAVPER MVLIER NON PAVPERA MVLIER);
  • levelling of the distinction between /b/ and /v/ between vowels (BRAVIVM NON BRABIVM);
  • the substitution of diminutives for unmarked words (AVRIS NON ORICLA, NEPTIS NON NEPTICLA)
  • the loss of syllable final nasals (MENSA NON MESA) or their inappropriate insertion as a form of hypercorrection (FORMOSVS NON FORMVNSVS).

Many of the forms castigated in the Appendix Probi proved to be the productive forms in Romance; oricla is the source of French oreille, "ear", not the classical Latin form.


Classical Only Classical & Romance English
sidus (root sider-) stella star
cruor sanguis blood
pulcher bellus beautiful
ferre (perfective root tul-) portare carry
ludere jocare play
os bucca mouth
brassica caulis cabbage
domus casa house
magnus grandis big
emere comprare buy
equus caballus horse

Certain words from Classical Latin were dropped from the vocabulary. Classical equus, "horse", was consistently replaced by caballus, "nag". Classical aequor, "sea," yielded to mare universally. A very partial listing of words that are exclusively Classical, and those that were productive in Romance, is to be found in the table to the right.

Some of these words, dropped in Romance, were borrowed back as learned words from Latin itself. The vocabulary changes affected even the basic grammatical particles of Latin; there are many that vanish without a trace in Romance, such as an, at, autem, donec, enim, ergo, etiam, haud, igitur, ita, nam, postquam, quidem, quin, quod, quoque, sed, utrum, vel.

On the other hand, since Vulgar Latin and Latin proper were for much of their history different registers of the same language, rather than different languages, some Romance languages preserve Latin words that usually were lost. For example, Italian ogni ("each/every") preserves Latin omnes. Other languages use cognates of totus (accusative totum) for the same meaning; for examples tutto in Italian, todo in Spanish, and tout in French.

Frequently, Latin words reborrowed from the "higher" register of the language are found side by side. The (lack of) expected phonetic developments is a clue that one word has been borrowed. In Spanish, for example, Vulgar Latin fungus (accusative fungum), "fungus, mushroom," became hongo, with the F > H that was usual in Spanish (cf. filius > Spanish hijo, "son"). But hongo shares its semantic space with fungo, which by its lack of the expected sound shift displays that it has been re-borrowed from the higher register of classical Latin. In Portuguese, the shift to H from F did not happen, but some sounds became nazalized, fungum became fungo /fũgu/; in Northern Portugal, fungum /fũgũ/ can be heard.

Sometimes, a classical Latin word was kept along side a Vulgar Latin word. In Vulgar Latin, classical caput, "head", yielded to testa (originally "pot," a metaphor common throughout Western Europe — cf. English cup with German Kopf) in most forms of western Romance, including Italian. But Italian and French kept the Latin word under the form capo and chef, which retained many metaphorical meanings of "head", including "boss". The Latin word with the original meaning is preserved in Romanian cap, which means the 'head' in the anatomical sense.

Verbs with prefixed prepositions frequently displaced simple forms. The number of words formed by such suffixes as -bilis, -arius, -itare and -icare grew apace. These changes occurred frequently to avoid irregular forms or to regularise genders.

Insight into the vocabulary changes of late Vulgar Latin in France can be seen in the Reichenau glosses [1] , written into the margins of a copy of the Vulgate Bible, which explain fourth-century Vulgate words no longer readily understood in the eighth century, when the glosses were likely written. These glosses are likely of French origin; some vocabulary items are specifically French.

These glosses show vocabulary replacement:

  • FEMVR > coxa (French cuisse, "thigh")
  • ARENA > sabulo (French sable, "sand")
  • CANERE > cantare (French chanter "to sing")

grammatical changes:

  • OPTIMOS > meliores (French meilleurs, "betters")
  • SANIORE > plus sano (French plus sain, "healthier")

Germanic loan words:

  • TVRBAS > fulcos (French foule, "mob")
  • CEMENTARIIS > mationibus (French maçons, "stonemasons")
  • NON PERPERCIT > non sparniavit (French épargner, "to spare")
  • GALEA > helme (French heaume, "helmet")

and words whose meaning has changed:

  • IN ORE > in bucca (French bouche, "mouth")
  • ROSTRVM > beccus (French bec, "beak")
  • ISSET > ambulasset (French allait, "he went")
  • LIBEROS > infantes (French enfants, "children")
  • MILITES > servientes (French serjants, "soldiers")


The loss of the noun case system

Classical Latin
Nominative: rosa
Genitive: rosae
Dative: rosae
Accusative: rosam
Ablative: rosâ
Vulgar Latin
Nominative: rosa
Genitive: rose
Dative: rose
Accusative: rosa
Ablative: rosa

The sound changes that were occurring in Vulgar Latin made the noun case system of Classical Latin harder to sustain, and ultimately spelled doom for the system of Latin declensions. As a result of the untenability of the noun case system after these phonetic changes, vulgar Latin moved from being a synthetic language to an analytic language where word order is a necessary element of syntax. Consider what the loss of final /m/, the loss of phonemic vowel length, and the sound shift from AE /ae/ to E /e/ entailed for a typical first declension noun (see table).

Similar changes occurred throughout the declensional patterns. As a result, with the exception of Old French, which retained for some time a nominative/oblique distinction (called cas-sujet/cas-régime), and Romanian, which preserved elements of the genitive case, the only distinction marked on the noun was of singular versus plural.

This distinction was marked in two ways in the Romance languages. North and west of the La Spezia-Rimini line, which runs through northern Italy, the singular was usually distinguished from the plural by means of final -s, which was present in the old accusative plurals in masculine and feminine nouns of all declensions. South and east of the La Spezia-Rimini Line, the distinction was marked by changes of final vowels, as in contemporary standard Italian and Romanian. This preserves and generalizes distinctions that were marked on the nominative plurals of the first and second declensions.

The Romance articles

It is difficult to place the point in which the definite article, absent in Latin but present in some form in all of the Romance languages, arose; largely because the highly colloquial speech it arose in seldom was written until the daughter languages had strongly diverged; most surviving texts in early Romance show the articles fully developed.

Definite articles formerly were demonstrative pronouns or adjective; compare the fate of the Latin demonstrative adjective ille, illa, (illud), in the Romance languages, becoming French le and la, Spanish el and la, and Italian il and la. The Portuguese articles o and a are ultimately from the same source. Sardinian went its own way here also, forming its article from ipsu(m), ipsa (su, sa). While most of the Romance languages put the article before the noun, Romanian has its own way, by putting the article after the noun, eg. lupul ("the wolf") and omul ("the man" — from lupus ille and homo ille).

This pronoun is used in a number of contexts in some early texts in ways that suggest that the Latin demonstrative was losing its force. The Vetus Latina Bible contains a passage Est tamen ille dæmon sodalis peccati, ("The devil is a companion of sin"), in a context that suggests that the word meant little more than an article. The need to translate sacred texts that were originally in Greek, which has a definite article, may have given Christian Latin an incentive to choose a substitute. Aetheria uses ipse similarly: per mediam vallem ipsam ("through the middle of the valley"), suggesting that it too was weakening in force.

Another indication of the weakening of the demonstratives can be inferred from the fact that at this time, legal and similar texts begin to swarm with prædictus, supradictus, and so forth (all meaning, essentially, "aforesaid"), which seem to mean little more than "this" or "that." Gregory of Tours writes, Erat autem. . . beatissimus Anianus in supradicta ciuitate episcopus ("Blessed Anianus was bishop in that city.") The original Latin demonstrative adjectives were felt no longer to be specific enough. In less formal speech, reconstructed forms suggest that the inherited Latin demonstratives were made more forceful by being compounded with ecce (originally an interjection: "look!"), the origin of Old French cil, Portuguese aquele (*eccu ille) and of cest, Port. aquela (*eccu illa), Port. aquilo (*eccu illud), Port. , (*eccu hac), aqui (*eccu hic), Port. acolá (*eccu illac), Port. aquém (*eccu inde).

On the other hand, even in the Oaths of Strasbourg, no demonstrative appears even in places where one would clearly be called for in all the later languages. (Pro Deo amur — "for the love of God.") Using the demonstratives as articles may have still been too slangy for a royal oath in the ninth century. Considerable variation exists in all of the Romance vernaculars as to their actual use: in Romanian, the articles can be suffixed to the noun, as in the North Germanic languages.

unus, una supplies the indefinite article everywhere. This is anticipated in Classical Latin; Cicero writes cum uno gladiatore nequissimo ("with a quite immoral gladiator"). This suggests that unus was beginning to supplant quidam in the meaning of "a certain" or "some" by the first century BC.

Gender: loss of the neuter

Grammatical gender was also reordered by sound changes. The neuter gender of classical Latin disappeared, leading to the observed pattern in most Romance languages, where all nouns are either masculine or feminine. (Though see below.) This change is attested fairly early; in Petronius Arbiter, we find balneus for balneum ("bath") and fatus for fatum ("fate"); a graffito at Pompeii yields cadaver mortuus (for cadaver mortuum, "dead body").

Most neuter gender nouns of the second and third declensions were absorbed by the masculine gender, since the accusative endings -UM or -EM was the same for both. Many neuter nouns had plural forms ending in -A or -IA; some of these were reanalysed as feminine singulars, such as gaudium, plural gaudia, joy(s); the plural form lies at the root of French feminine singular la joie and Italian la gioia. Evidence suggests that the neuter gender was under pressure well during the time of the Roman Empire. French le lait, Spanish la leche, Portuguese o leite, and Italian il latte, "milk," all presuppose a Latin accusative *lacte(m), which in fact did not occur in classical Latin in the neuter noun lac. Note also that Spanish assigned it to the feminine gender, while Portuguese, Italian and French made it masculine. Other neuter forms, however, were preserved in Romance; French nom, Spanish nombre, Portuguese nome, and Italian nome all preserve the Latin nominative/accusative nomen, rather than a hypothetical oblique stem *nomine(m).

These formations were especially common when they could be used to avoid irregular forms. In Latin, names of trees were usually feminine gender, but many were declined in the masculine or neuter second declension paradigm. Latin pirus, "pear", a feminine noun with a masculine looking ending, became French poirier and Spanish peral; while Italian retained the inherited form with pero but moved it to the masculine gender. In Portuguese, it became completely feminine as pêra. Fagus, "beech", another feminine noun in masculine dress, yielded to its adjective forms faegus or faega, "made of beechwood," the forms which underlie Italian faggio, and Spanish haya, which now name the tree itself. In Portuguese, figo (masculine) is the fruit of the figueira (feminine).

As usual, irregularities persisted longest in frequently used forms. From the fourth declension manus ("hand"), another feminine noun with a masculine ending, Italian and Spanish derived mano and mão in Portuguese, which preserves its feminine gender even though it remains masculine in appearance.

Typical Italian endings
Nouns Adj. & determiners
sing. plur. sing. plur.
m uomo uomini buono buoni
f donna donne buona buone
n uovo uova buono buone

Neuter nouns can arguably be said to persist in Italian. Forms such as l'uovo fresco (the fresh egg) / le uova fresche (the fresh eggs) are usually explained away by saying that they are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, and that they have an irregular plural in -a. However, it is also consistent with the facts to say that uovo is simply a regular neuter noun (< <ovum, plural ova) and that the characteristic ending for words agreeing with these nouns is o in the singular and e in the plural, as in the table.

Other major Romance languages have no trace of neuter nouns, but all have neuter pronouns. French: celui-ci, celle-ci, ceci; Spanish: éste, ésta, esto (both meaning "this"); Italian: gli, le, ci ("to him", "to her", "to it"); Catalan: el, la, ho ("him", "her", "it"); Portuguese: todo, toda, tudo ("all" m., "all" f., "everything").

Some varieties of Astur-Leonese maintain endings for the three genders such as follows: bonu, bona, bono.

Prepositions multiply

Loss of a productive noun case system meant that the syntax purposes it formerly served now had to be performed by prepositions and other paraphrases. These particles increased in numbers, and many new ones were formed by compounding old ones. The descendant Romance languages are full of grammatical particles such as Spanish donde, "where", from Latin de + unde, or French dès, "since", from de + ex, while the equivalent Spanish and Portuguese desde is de + ex + de. Spanish después and Portuguese depois, "since" represents de + ex + post. Some of these new compounds appear in literary texts during the late empire; French dehors, Spanish de fuera and Portuguese de fora ("outside") all three represent de + foris, and we find St Jerome writing si quis de foris venerit ("if anyone goes outside").


Classical Latin had a number of different suffixes that made adverbs from adjectives: carus, "dear," formed care, "dearly;" acriter, "fiercely," from acer; crebro, "often," from creber. All of these derivational suffixes were lost in Vulgar Latin, where adverbs were invariably formed by a feminine ablative form modifying mente, which was originally the ablative of mentis, and so meant "with a _____ mind". So velox ("quick") instead of velociter ("quickly") gave veloce mente (originally "with a quick mind", "quick-mindedly") This explains the nigh-invariable rule to form regular adverbs in almost all Romance languages: add the suffix -ment(e) to the feminine form of the adjective. This originally separate word becomes a suffix in Romance. This change was well under way as early as the first century B.C., and the construction appears several times in Catullus, most famously in Catullus VIII:

Nunc iam illa non vult; tu, quoque, impotens, noli
Nec quae fugit sectare, nec miser vive,
Sed obstinata mente perfer, obdura.
("Now she doesn't want you anymore; you, too, should not want her, neither chase her as she flees, nor pine in misery: but carry on obstinately [obstinate-mindedly]: get over it!")


The verb forms were much less affected by the phonetic losses that eroded the noun case systems, and at least in the active system a Spanish verb strongly continues to resemble its Latin ancestor, as do most other Romance languages. One factor that gave the system of verb inflections more staying power was the fact that the strong stress accent of Vulgar Latin, replacing the pitch accent of Classical Latin, frequently moved the stressed syllable among the several possible syllables of the verb upon which it could fall. As such, their phonetic erosion was hindered.

In fact, in some daughter languages such as Old French, the shifting patterns of the stressed syllables led to new grammatical distinctions being drawn. For example, Latin conjugated ámo, amámus, (I love, we love); because a stressed A gave rise to a diphthong in some environments in Old French, that daughter language conjugated the cognate verb j'aime ("I love") but nous amons ("we love") (modern French: nous aimons). Many of these "strong" forms have been analogized into regular verbs in modern French; a few French verbs continue to follow this pattern such as je viens ("I come") but nous venons ("we come").

However, the passive voice was utterly lost in Romance, which entailed its replacement with auxiliary verbs. The verb forms were also altered, though far less thoroughly, by the loss of certain final consonants, a process that was well underway by the first century AD. A graffito at Pompeii reads quisque ama valia, which in Classical Latin quisquis amat valeat ("whoever loves is strong/does well"). In the perfect tense, many languages generalized the -avi ending most frequently found in the first conjugation. This led to an unusual development; phonetically, the ending was treated as the diphthong /au/ rather than containing a semivowel /awi/, and the /w/ sound was in many cases dropped; it did not participate in the sound shift from /w/ to /v/. Thus Latin amavi, amavit ("I loved; he/she loved") in many areas became proto-Romance *amai and *amaut, yielding for example Spanish amé, amó, Portuguese amei, amou. This suggests that in the spoken language, these changes in conjugation preceded the loss of /w/.

The future tense was remodelled in Romance originally with auxillary verbs. This may have been due to phonetic merger of intervocalic /b/ and /v/, which caused future tenses such as amabit to become ambiguous to perfect tenses such as amavit. A new future was formed, originally with the auxiliary verb habere, *amare habeo, literally "I have to love." This was contracted into a new future suffix in Romance forms which can be seen in the following examples of "I will love": French, J'aimerai, from aimer ["to love"] + J'ai ["I have"] = J'aimer+ai = J'aimerai; Portuguese, Eu amarei, from amar ["to love"] + Eu hei ["I have"] = Eu amar+[h]ei = Eu amarei, or; Spanish, Yo amaré, from amar ["to love"] + Yo he ["I have"] = Yo amar+[h]e = Yo amaré.

See also

External link

  • Latin at the End of the Imperial Age by Dag Norberg


  • N. Vincent: "Latin", in The Romance Languages, M. Harris and N. Vincent, eds., (Oxford Univ. Press. 1990), ISBN 0-19-520829-3
  • K. P. Harrington, J. Pucci, and A. G. Elliott, Medieval Latin (2nd ed.), (Univ. Chicago Pres, 1997) ISBN 0-226-31712-9

Ages of Latin
—75 BC 75 BC – 1st c. 2nd c. – 8th c. 9th c. – 15th c. 15th c. - 17th c. 17th c. – present
Old Latin Golden Age Latin Silver Age Latin
(Classical Latin)
Late Latin Medieval Latin Humanist Latin New Latin

Vulgar Latin should not be confused with Pig Latin.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 11:18:38
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55