Romance languages, Gallo-Romance languages

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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.


The Gallo-Romance languages are generally considered the most innovatory (least conservative) among the Romance languages. Northern France — the medieval area of the langue d'oïl, out of which modern French developed — was the epicenter. Characteristic Gallo-Romance features generally developed earliest and appear in their most extreme manifestation in the langue d'oïl, gradually spreading out from there along riverways and transalpine roads. It is not coincidental that the earliest vernacular Romance writing occurred in Northern France: Generally, the development of vernacular writing in a given area was forced by the almost total inability of Romance speakers to understand the Classical Latin that still served as the vehicle of writing and culture.

Gallo-Romance languages as a whole are usually characterized by the loss of all unstressed final vowels other than (most significantly, final and were lost). However, when the loss of a final vowel would result in an impossible final cluster (e.g. ), a prop vowel appears in place of the lost vowel, usually . Generally, the same changes also occurred in final syllables closed by a consonant.

Furthermore, loss of in a final syllable was early enough in Primitive Old French that the Classical Latin third-singular was often preserved, e.g. venit "he comes" > (Romance vowel changes) > (diphthongization) > (lenition) > (Gallo-Romance final vowel loss) > (final devoicing). Elsewhere, final vowel loss occurred later and/or unprotected was lost earlier (perhaps under Italian influence).

Gallo-Romance can be divided into five subgroups:

  • The Occitano-Romance languages of southern France and eastern Spain, namely Catalan, Occitan and Gascon. The inclusion of Catalan in Gallo-romance is disputed by some linguists who prefer to group it with Iberian Romance: This is because although Old Catalan is close to Old Occitan, it later adjusted its lexicon to some degree to align with Spanish; in general however, modern Catalan, especially grammatically, remains closest to modern Occitan than to either Spanish or Portuguese.

Other than southern Occitano-Romance, the Gallo-Romance languages are quite innovatory, with French and some of the Gallo-Italian languages rivaling each other for the most extreme phonological changes compared with conservative languages. For example, French sain, saint, sein, ceint, ceint meaning "healthy, holy, breast, (he) girds, (was) girded" (Latin sānum, sanctum, sinum, cinget, cinctum) are all pronounced ; similarly cent, sent, sans, sang meaning "hundred, (he) feels, without, blood" (Latin centum, sentit, (ab)sentis, sanguen) are all pronounced .

In some ways, however, the Gallo-Romance languages are conservative. The older stages of many of the languages are famous for preserving a two-case system consisting of nominative and oblique, fully marked on nouns, adjectives and determiners, inherited almost directly from the Latin nominative and accusative cases and preserving a number of different declensional classes and irregular forms.

In the opposite of the normal pattern, the languages closest to the oïl epicenter preserve the case system the best, while languages at the periphery — near to languages that had long before lost the case system except on pronouns — lose it early. For example, the case system is well preserved in Old Occitan up through the thirteenth century or so but is totally lost in Old Catalan at the time, despite being virtually the same language at the time.

The Occitan group is known for an innovatory ending on many subjunctive and preterite verbs, and an unusual development of (Latin intervocalic -d-), which in many varieties merges with (from intervocalic palatalized -c- and -ty-).

The following tables show two examples of the extensive phonological changes that French has undergone. (Compare modern Italian saputo, vita, even more conservative than the reconstructed Western Romance forms.)

Notable characteristics of the Gallo-Romance languages are:

  • Early loss of all final vowels other than — the defining characteristic, as noted above.
  • Early, heavy reduction of unstressed vowels in the interior of a word (another defining characteristic). This, along with final vowel reduction, accounts for the lion's share of the extreme phonemic differences between the Northern and Central Italian dialects, which otherwise share a great deal of vocabulary and syntax.
  • Loss of final vowels phonemicized the long vowels that formerly were automatic concomitants of stressed open syllables. These phonemic long vowels are maintained directly in many Northern Italian dialects. Elsewhere, phonemic length was lost, but in the meantime many of the long vowels diphthongized, resulting in a maintenance of the original distinction. The langue d'oïl branch is again at the forefront of innovation, with no less than five of the seven long vowels diphthongizing (only high vowels were spared).
  • Front rounded vowels are present in all four branches. usually fronts to , and secondary mid front rounded vowels often develop from long and/or .
  • Extreme lenition (i.e. multiple rounds of lenition) occurs in many languages esp. in Langue d'oïl and many Gallo-Italian languages. Examples from French: ˈvītam > vie "life"; *saˈpūtum > su "known"; similarly vu "seen" < *vidūtum, pu "been able" < *potūtum, eu "had" < *habūtum.
  • The Langue d'oïl, Swiss Rhaeto-Romance languages and many of the northern dialects of Occitan have a secondary palatalization of and before , producing different results from the primary Romance palatalization: e.g. centum "hundred" > cent , cantum "song" > chant .
  • Other than the Occitano-Romance languages, most Gallo-Romance languages are subject-obligatory (whereas all the rest of the Romance languages are pro-drop languages). This is a late development triggered by progressive phonetic erosion: Old French was still a null-subject language, and this only changed upon loss of secondarily final consonants in Middle French.

The Gallo-Italian and Italian Rhaeto-Romance languages have a number of features in common with the other Italian languages:

  • Loss of final , which triggers raising of the preceding vowel (more properly, the "debuccalizes" to , which is monophthongized into a higher vowel), e.g. > , > , hence Standard Italian plural cani < canes, subjunctive tu canti < tu cantes, indicative tu cante < tu cantas (now tu canti in Standard Italian, borrowed from the subjunctive); amiche "female friends" < amicas.
  • Use of nominative -i for masculine plurals instead of accusative -os.

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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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