Romance languages, Metaphony

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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

An early process that operated in all Romance languages to varying degrees was metaphony (vowel mutation), conceptually similar to the umlaut process so characteristic of the Germanic languages. Depending on the language, certain stressed vowels were raised (or sometimes diphthongized) either by a final /i/ or /u/ or by a directly following /j/. Metaphony is most extensive in the Italo-Romance languages, and applies to nearly all languages in Italy; however, it is absent from Tuscan, and hence from standard Italian. In many languages affected by metaphony, a distinction exists between final /u/ (from most cases of Latin -um) and final /o/ (from Latin , -ud and some cases of -um, esp. masculine "mass" nouns), and only the former triggers metaphony.

Some examples:

  • In Servigliano, in the Marches of Italy, stressed are raised to before final /i/ or /u/: "I put" vs. "you put" (< *metti < *mettes < Latin mittis); "modest (fem.)" vs. "modest (masc.)"; "this (neut.)" (< Latin eccum istud) vs. "this (masc.)" (< Latin eccum istum).
  • Calvallo, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, is similar, but the low-mid vowels are diphthongized to rather than raised: "he puts" vs. "you put", but "I think" vs. "you think".
  • Metaphony also occurs in most northern Italian dialects, but only by (usually lost) final *i; apparently, final *u was lowered to *o (usually lost) before metaphony could take effect.
  • Some of the Astur-Leonese dialects, in northern Spain, have the same distinction between final /o/ and /u/ as in the Central-Southern Italian languages, with /u/ triggering metaphony. The plural of masculine nouns in these dialects ends in -os, which does not trigger metaphony, unlike in the singular (vs. Italian plural -i, which does trigger metaphony).
  • Sardinian has allophonic raising of mid vowels to before final /i/ or /u/. This has been phonemicized in the Campidanese dialect as a result of the raising of final /e o/ to /i u/.
  • Raising of to occurs sporadically in Portuguese in the masculine singular, e.g. porco "pig" vs. porcos "pig". It is thought that Old Portuguese at one point had singular /u/ vs. plural /os/, exactly as in modern Astur-Leonese.
  • In all of the Western Romance languages, final /i/ (primarily occurring in the first-person singular of the preterite) raised mid-high to , e.g. Portuguese fiz "I did" (< *fidzi < *fedzi < Latin fēcī) vs. fez "he did" (< *fedze < Latin fēcit). Old Spanish similarly had fize "I did" vs. fezo "he did" (-o by analogy with amó "he loved"), but subsequently generalized stressed /i/, producing modern hice "I did" vs. hizo "he did". The same thing happened prehistorically in Old French, yielding fis "I did", fist "he did" (< *feist < Latin fēcit).

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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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