Romance languages, Letters

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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

The Romance languages are written with the classical Latin alphabet of 23 letters – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, Z – subsequently modified and augmented in various ways. In particular, the single Latin letter V split into V (consonant) and U (vowel), and the letter I split into I and J. The Latin letter K and the new letter W, which came to be widely used in Germanic languages, are seldom used in most Romance languages – mostly for unassimilated foreign names and words. Indeed in Italian prose *kilometro is properly chilometro. Catalan eschews importation of "foreign" letters more than most languages. Thus Wikipedia becomes Viquipèdia in Catalan but remains Wikipedia in Spanish.

While most of the 23 basic Latin letters have maintained their phonetic value, for some of them it has diverged considerably; and the new letters added since the Middle Ages have been put to different uses in different scripts. Some letters, notably H and Q, have been variously combined in digraphs or trigraphs (see below) to represent phonetic phenomena that could not be recorded with the basic Latin alphabet, or to get around previously established spelling conventions. Most languages added auxiliary marks (diacritics) to some letters, for these and other purposes.

The spelling rules of most Romance languages are fairly simple, but subject to considerable regional variation. The letters with most conspicuous phonetic variations, between Romance languages or with respect to Latin, are:

B, V: Merged in Spanish and most dialects of Catalan, where both letters are pronounced as either or (similar to v) depending on position, with no relationship between sound and spelling.
C: Generally a "hard" , but "soft" (fricative or affricate) before e, i, or y.
G: Generally a "hard" , but "soft" (fricative or affricate) before e, i, or y. In some languages, like Spanish, the hard g is pronounced as a fricative after vowels. In Romansch, the soft g is a voiced palatal plosive or a voiced alveolo-palatal affricate .
H: Silent in most languages; used to form various digraphs. But represents in Romanian, Walloon and Gascon Occitan.
J: Represents a fricative in most languages, or the palatal approximant in Romansh and in several of the languages of Italy. Italian does not use this letter in native words. Usually pronounced like the soft g (except in Romansch and the languages of Italy).
Q: As in Latin, its phonetic value is that of a hard c, and in native words it is always followed by a (sometimes silent) u. Romanian does not use this letter in native words.
S: Generally voiceless , but voiced between vowels in most languages. In Spanish, Romanian, Galician and several varieties of Italian, however, it is always pronounced voiceless. At the end of syllables, it may represent special allophonic pronunciations. In Romansh, it also stands for a voiceless or voiced fricative, or , before certain consonants.
W: No Romance language uses this letter in native words, with the exception of Walloon.
X: Its pronunciation is rather variable, both between and within languages. In the Middle Ages, the languages of Iberia used this letter to denote the voiceless postalveolar fricative , which is still the case in Modern Catalan and Portuguese. With the Renaissance the classical pronunciation  – or similar consonant clusters, such as , , or  – were frequently reintroduced in latinisms and hellenisms. In Venetian it represents , and in Ligurian the voiced postalveolar fricative . Italian does not use this letter in native words.
Y: This letter is not used in most languages, with the prominent exceptions of French and Spanish, where it represents before vowels (or various similar fricatives such as the palatal fricative , in Spanish), and the vowel or semivowel elsewhere.
Z: In most languages it represents the sound . However, in Italian it denotes the affricates and (which are two separate phonemes, but rarely contrast; among the few examples of minimal pairs are razza "ray" with , razza "race" with ); in Romansh the voiceless affricate ; and in Galician and Spanish it denotes either the voiceless dental fricative or .

Otherwise, letters that are not combined as digraphs generally have the same sounds as in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), whose design was, in fact, greatly influenced by the Romance spelling systems.

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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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