Romance languages, Latin diphthongs

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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 Latin diphthongs ae and oe, pronounced and in earlier Latin, were early on monophthongized.

ae became by the 1st century at the latest. Although this sound was still distinct from all existing vowels, the neutralization of Latin vowel length eventually caused its merger with < short e: e.g. caelum "sky" > French ciel, Spanish/Italian cielo, Portuguese céu , with the same vowel as in mele "honey" > French/Spanish miel, Italian miele, Portuguese mel . Some words show an early merger of ae with , as in praeda "booty" > Gallo-Romance > Old French preie (vs. expected **priée) > French proie "prey"; or faenum "hay" > fēnum [] > Spanish heno, French foin.

oe generally merged with : poenam "punishment" > Romance * > Spanish/Italian pena, French peine; foedus "ugly" > Romance * > Spanish feo, Portuguese feio. There are relatively few such outcomes, since oe was rare in Classical Latin (most original instances had become Classical ū, as in Old Latin oinos "one" > Classical ūnusPalmer (1954).).

au merged with ō [] in the popular speech of Rome already by the 1st century . A number of authors remarked on this explicitly, e.g. Cicero's taunt that the populist politician Publius Clodius Pulcher had changed his name from Claudius to ingratiate himself with the masses. This change never penetrated far from Rome, however, and the pronunciation /au/ was maintained for centuries in the vast majority of Latin-speaking areas, although it eventually developed into some variety of o in many languages. For example, Italian and French have as the usual reflex, but this post-dates diphthongization of and the French-specific palatalization > (hence causa > French chose, Italian cosa not *cuosa). Spanish has /o/, but Portuguese spelling maintains , only recently developed to (and still /ou/ in some dialects). Occitan, Romanian, southern Italian languages, and many other minority Romance languages still have /au/. A few common words, however, show an early merger with ō [], evidently reflecting a generalization of the popular Roman pronunciation: e.g. French queue, Italian coda , Occitan co(d)a, Romanian coadă (all meaning "tail") must all derive from cōda rather than Classical cauda. Similarly, Portuguese orelha, Romanian ureche, and Sardinian olícra, orícla "ear" must derive from oricla rather than Classical auris, and the form oricla is in fact reflected in the Appendix Probi (but Occitan aurelha reflects auricla, probably influenced by ausir "to hear").

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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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