Romance languages, Latinisms

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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.


During the Middle Ages, scores of words were borrowed directly from Classical Latin (so-called latinisms), either in their original form (learned loans) or in a somewhat nativized form (semi-learned loans). These introduced many doublets, e.g. Latin fragilis > French fragile "fragile" (learned) vs. frêle "frail" (inherited); Latin fabrica "craft, manufacture" > French fabrique "factory" (learned) vs. forge "forge" (inherited), Spanish fábrica "factory" (learned) vs. fragua "forge" (inherited); Latin ferrum > Spanish fierro (learned) vs. hierro (inherited) both mean "iron"; Latin lēgālis "legal" > French légal "legal" (learned) vs. loyal "loyal" (inherited), Spanish legal "legal" (learned) vs. leal "loyal" (inherited); advōcātus "advocate" > French avocat "barrister (attorney)" (learned) vs. avoué "solicitor (attorney)" (inherited); Latin polīre "to polish" > Portuguese polir "to polish" (learned) vs. puir "to wear thin" (inherited). Sometimes triplets arise: Latin articulus "joint" > Portuguese artículo "joint, knuckle" (learned), artigo "article" (semi-learned), artelho "ankle" (inherited; archaic and dialectal). In many cases, the learned word simply displaced the original popular word, e.g. Spanish crudo "crude" (Old Spanish cruo); French légume "vegetable" (Old French leüm); Portuguese flor "flower" (Old Portuguese chor). The learned loan always looks more like the original than the inherited word does, since regular sound change has been bypassed; likewise, it usually has a meaning closer to the original.

Borrowing from Classical Latin has produced a large number of suffix doublets. Examples from Spanish (learned form first): -ción vs. -zon; -cia vs. -za; -ificar vs. -iguar; -izar vs. -ear; -mento vs. -miento; -tud (< nominative -tūdō) vs. -dumbre (< accusative -tūdine); -ículo vs. -ejo; etc. Similar examples can be found in all the other Romance languages.

This borrowing also introduced large numbers of classical prefixes in their original form (dis-, ex-, post-, trans-) and reinforced many others (re-, popular Spanish/Portuguese des- < dis-, popular French dé- < dis-, popular Italian s- < ex-). Many Greek prefixes and suffixes (hellenisms) also found their way into the lexicon: tele-, poli-/poly-, meta-, pseudo-, -scope/scopo, -logie/logia/logía, etc.

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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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