Romance languages, Early Romance

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Summary

The Romance languages—occasionally called the Latin languages or, less often, the Romanic or Neo-Latin languages—are a group of languages descended from Vulgar Latin. They form a branch of the Italic languages within the Indo-European language family.

Details

Over the course of the 4th-8th centuries AD, Vulgar Latin, by this time highly dialectalized, broke up into discrete languages that were no longer mutually intelligible. Clear evidence of Latin change comes from the Reichenau Glosses, an 8th-century compilation of about 1,200 words from the 4th-century Latin Vulgate Bible (St. Jerome) that were no longer intelligible along with their 8th-century equivalents in proto-Franco-Provençal. The following are some examples with reflexes in several modern, closely related Romance languages for comparison:

In all of the above examples, the words appearing in the fourth century Vulgate are the same words as would have been used in Classical Latin of c. 50 BC. It is likely that some of these words had already disappeared from casual speech; but if so, they must have been still widely understood, as there is no recorded evidence that the common people of the time had difficulty understanding the language.

By the 8th century, the situation was very different. During the late 8th century, Charlemagne, holding that "Latin of his age was by classical standards intolerably corrupt", successfully imposed Classical Latin as an artificial written vernacular for Western Europe. Unfortunately, this meant that parishioners could no longer understand the sermons of their priests, forcing the Council of Tours in 813 to issue an edict that priests needed to translate their speeches into the rustica romana lingua, an explicit acknowledgement of the reality of the Romance languages as separate languages from Latin. By this time, and possibly as early as the 6th century according to Price (1984), the Romance dialects had split apart enough to be able to speak of separate Gallo-Romance, Ibero-Romance, Italo-Romance and Eastern Romance languages. Some researchers have postulated that the major divergences in the spoken dialects began in the 5th century, as the formerly widespread and efficient communication networks of the Western Roman Empire rapidly broke down, leading to the total disappearance of the Western Roman Empire by the end of the century. Unfortunately, the critical period between the 5th-10th centuries AD is poorly documented because little or no writing from the chaotic "Dark Ages" of the 5th-8th centuries has survived, and writing after that time was in consciously classicized Medieval Latin, with vernacular writing only beginning in earnest in the 11th or 12th centuries.

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External Links

  • WikipediaMichael de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, Brill, 2008, 826pp. (part available freely online)Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik (LRL), edd. Holtus / Metzeltin / Schmitt

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