Romance languages

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This is a page about a meaning of Romance as it is used in the study of languages. For other meanings, see Romance (disambiguation).

Romance is the name of a language family spoken mostly in the countries to the north of the Mediterranean Sea. The Romance languages are those that developed from Latin. the language spoken by the ancient Romans. They are essentially the dialects that arose within the different parts of the central Roman Empire, being a mixture of colloquial Latin, soldiers' slang, the local languages, and the sound systems of those languages. As the Empire lost power, it broke into small enclaves, each of which grew into a separate country with its own language. (Both the political and the linguistic changes took many hundreds of years: Italy, for example, was not a united country again till 1870 CE, and the dialects of the different areas are only dying out now as the usual daily medium of conversation.) The Romance languages are a sub-family of the Italic family to which Latin belongs. No other direct descendant of that group has any real influence on English.

The most widely spoken members of the Romance family are these, which are all the official languages of their countries:

  • French
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian

Less widely spoken members (those are not the majority language in their country) include a large number of recognised dialects, particularly in Italy. French has two dialects of interest to the history of English: Norman French, the variety spoken by the Vikings settled in what is now Normandy who invaded England in 1066, under William the Conqueror, and the sub-dialect, Jèrriais or 'Jersey French', which was spoken in the Channel Island of Jersey. Some other Romance languages are:

  • Catalan - although it is not the official language of Spain, Catalan is an officially recognized language, along with Spanish and Aranese, in the province of Catalonia.
  • Sardinian
  • Romansch (or Romansh) – spoken in the canton of Grisons (or Graubünden) in the southeast of Switzerland. Since 1996 Romansch has been recognised as one of the official languages of Switzerland along with German, French, and Italian.
  • Occitan, or Provençal, spoken in the south of France and neighbouring areas. Its earlier version was called Langue d'oc.
  • Ladino, also called Judezmo or Judaeo-Spanish; a language evolved from Old Spanish, and eclectic in its vocabulary, spoken by Jews in the Iberian peninsula until their expulsion in 1492. It has since been current, albeit in declining numbers, around the Mediterranean. It is written in characters derived from Hebrew.
There was also a language on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea called Dalmatian, whose last recorded speaker died in 1898, and of course other varieties now extinct.