Mediterranean Languages Series : Romance Languages

Welcome back to another part of the Med Languages series. This time we will take you all the way to the lands of Romance Languages. Without further ado, let’s dive into this magical world!

Where it all began:

Latin was spoken by people who lived within the Roman Empire. The Romans stretched their dominion over much of Europe, Great Britain, Northern Africa, and certain regions of the Middle East throughout that period, and their impact was felt far and wide. As the empire expanded, so did the number of individuals who spoke Latin. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the distant regions that Rome had ruled started establishing their governments and unique regional dialects of the spoken language. 

Most linguists concur that there are currently 47 separate “Romance languages,” descended from Latin. The five most well-known of these languages are Romanian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian.

First, why do we call these languages ​​”romance languages”? The word “romance” comes from the vulgar Latin adjective romanix, meaning “Roman-like”. As the rift between Latin and its linguistic derivatives widened in medieval Europe, these Latin derivatives became known as Linga Romanica, or “Roman”. They were well on their way to becoming their language with its grammar and syntax.

Around 210 BC, Latin-speaking Romans transported their native dialect to the Iberian Peninsula, eventually leading to modern-day Spanish. The language gradually changed to resemble the Spanish we know today after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. Twenty nations around the world have adopted modern Spanish as their official language.

The Spanish language is also known as Castilian in Latin America and increasingly in Spain since the modern Spanish language originated from Castilian. This dialect dates back to the 9th century, when it arose in Cantabria, specifically in Burgos, located in north-central Spain ( old Castile). As Spain was reconquered from the Moors, the Castilian dialect spread southward to central Spain ( New Castile), Madrid and Toledo around the 11th century. Around the 15th century, Castile and Leon merged with Aragon, which led to Spanish becoming the official language in all of Spain.

The regional dialects of Aragon, Navarre, León, Asturias and Santander have gradually been pushed aside and survive today only in remote rural areas. The Galician spoken in northwestern Spain (a language with many similarities to Portuguese), and the Catalan spoken in eastern and northeastern Spain also declined considerably. Still, they began to increase again in the late 20th century. 

The Spanish dialect used in Arab-occupied Spain before the 12th century was called Mozarabic. A remarkably archaic form of Spanish with many borrowings from Arabic, it is known mainly from Mozarabic refrains (called kharjah) added to Arabic and Hebrew poetry.

Outside the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish is spoken in almost all of Central and South America, except in Brazil (where Portuguese is spoken) and in the Canary Islands, parts of Morocco and the Philippines. Latin American Spain has several regional dialects; all come from Castilian but differ in several phonological ways from European Spanish. Latin American Spain is characterized by the /s/ sound, where Castilian has a lisping sound /th/ (for words spelt with z or c before e or i) and Castilian /ly/-, which replaces the sound ( written). Ll) with a sound /y/ or even a /zh/ sound in the English sky or j in the French jour.

In the second and first century BC, the Roman Empire subjugated Gaul, the region that is now France. The locals there at the time conversed in a Celtic tongue known as Gaulish. Once the Romans introduced their language, Latin, to that region, things swiftly altered. The language gradually changed over time following the fall of the Roman Empire: from Old French to Middle French to the French we use today. 

After Mandarin, English, Spanish, and Arabic, French is the fifth most-spoken language in the world, with 300 million speakers. Aside from English, it is the only language spoken on all five continents. It is spoken in 84 nations worldwide, including France, Canada, Belgium, western Switzerland, Monaco, and many others. Furthermore, 29 countries have it as their official language.

How each of us uses French varies, though. Depending on the nation or location, learning French can take place at home or in a classroom. It can also be utilized for a job or administrative tasks, as well as in international dialogues, the media, and cultural activities. French is frequently used in conjunction with other languages and can occasionally only be spoken by a portion of the people of a nation.

The varieties of French spoken in and around Paris and the Loire valley are the ancestors of modern standard French. Although it is the most significant variety of the “northern” group of French dialects, also referred to as the “langues d’oil,” French does not solely exist in this form. 

The “langues d’oc,” sometimes known as Occitanian French, are still spoken by some in the south of France, mainly in rural areas “Provençal, Occitan, and Catalan are a few of them. firmly forbidden and regarded as “patois” by central governments for more than a century “Before the 1970s, when the first substantial measures to save these regional languages were launched, they were rapidly vanishing.

Since then, there has been a significant rise in appreciation of regional languages and cultures in France, as seen by the road signs and street signs that are now occasionally posted in two languages, as well as the sporadic publication of pieces in regional languages in local publications. Regional languages are officially recognized under the French constitution as a component of France’s cultural heritage.

Thanks to the Roman conquest, Latin was spoken over vast areas for centuries. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italian began to take shape simultaneously as other Romance languages ​​emerged across Europe. 

The Italian vernacular, the language that was used mainly by the populace, was first recorded in writing in 960. They are called Placiti Cassinesi and provide evidence that a monastery run by Benedictine monks once controlled some land in Campania close to the city of Capua. 

Numerous works of literature, mainly poems, started to be published in regional Italian around the beginning of the 13th century. Sicilian poets made the most impact and most important contributions in the 13th century, followed by Tuscan poets, the most famous of whom were Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Francesco Petrarch.

These distinctive dialects were spoken throughout the Italian peninsula until the unification of Italy in 1861. At that time, almost 80% of the population could not speak the various local dialects, and only 3% could speak standard Italian. Finally, in the 20th century, with the advent of radio, mass media and the Second World War, not only Italy was unified, but also the language. Italians today generally speak Standard Italian, although some regional dialects still exist.

The three most significant poets of the 1300s—Alighieri, Boccaccio, and Petrarch—wrote in a high, or educated, Tuscan dialect, which might be regarded as the ancestor of contemporary Italian. 

Contrary to popular opinion, dialects are extensively spoken in some Italian regions and are not just used by the older generations. Even if standard Italian is more commonly used among younger generations, many young people can converse in their dialect in casual social settings or at least understand it. 

It’s essential to keep in mind that accents and dialects can vary significantly, even within the exact location.

Italian culture has captivated people of all ages worldwide for almost 40 years. Because of this, there are now many Italian language schools in Italy, as well as various courses offered at universities, language schools, and the Italian Institute of Culture abroad. Appreciation for the country and its culture is the primary factor that motivates many immigrants to embrace Italian.

by Eslem Dridi

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