The Colosseum / il Colosseo

What are the Romance Languages?

The Romance languages derive from Vulgar Latin. As and after the Latin language spread throughout the Roman Empire, it separated into dialects. Those dialects eventually came to diverge during the Middle Ages into distinct languages that we know today as Portuguese, Spanish, French, Romanian, Italian and so on.

The five national Romance languages mentioned above (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian & Romanian), sometimes dubbed the major languages of the family, don't tell the full story. A clearer picture of the Romance-speaking world also takes into account the many regional languages, from Neapolitan and Sardinian (in Italy) to Aromanian (in the Balkans) to Catalan and Asturian (in Spain).

What is a grammar of the Romance Languages?

Briefly, a grammar gives an account of how a language works. It follows that a Romance grammar will tell you how the Romance languages work. Like other grammars, this one will give linguistic evidence (examples from languages), make observations and attempt to abstract generalizations that apply to Romance as a whole.

What is this comparative grammar of the Romance Languages?

This online grammar of the Romance languages and Vulgar Latin compares and contrasts related languages instead of focusing on a single language. It’s a handbook for learners or enthusiasts of Latin and its modern descendants.

Use the menu of grammar topics on the left to navigate this site. Topics focus on parts of speech (morphology and word classes) and sentence structure (syntax), including Romance nouns, pronouns, verbs, phrases and word order. The tables offer lots of examples. A few extras, including a rough Vulgar Latin & Romance pronunciation guide and a quick tour of Vulgar Latin grammar, help supplement the main text and tables, which are the core of this grammar.

A few notes about the many examples in this grammar guide:

Most of the Latin examples begin with an asterisk (*) because they recall a largely undocumented form of the language called Vulgar Latin, the popular spoken language of the late Roman Empire. A form of Vulgar Latin, not Classical Latin, is the reconstructed parent language of the modern Romance languages: loquor translates I speak in Classical Latin, but some Vulgar Latin speakers used *parabolo instead. A non-Latin example (from the modern Romance languages) begins with an asterisk (*) when it contains negative evidence, demonstrating what a speaker is not likely to say: an English speaker would probably not say *mine language for my language. Although the symbol * is overloaded in this handbook, the line between its two uses is cut clearly.

Common Romance examples with an asterisk neatly showcase commonalities among the Romance languages. They do not represent a specific form of Latin or a precise reconstruction of Proto-Romance. They aim to convey basic insights, and favor illustration over deep analysis. This puts them in tune with other examples and the rest of this grammar more generally.

Vulgar Latin examples are typically followed by modern Romance examples: Vulgar Latin *lingua, Portuguese língua, Catalan llengua, Sardinian limba language.


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