The Romance Languages

You may sometimes hear of the ‘Romance Languages’. Rather than being connected to love and affection, this collection of languages actually refers to their connection to Rome. As the Ancient Romans travelled and colonised Europe, their language (Latin) spurred new dialects in different locations, resulting in a set of new modern languages.

The beginning: Vulgar Latin

It may have a less-than-desirable meaning in modern English, but ‘Vulgar’ is an adjectival form of ‘the crowd’ in Latin. Simply put, Vulgar Latin means ‘the people’s language’ or ‘the common language’. When the Romans travelled across Europe, their militaries took Vulgar Latin with them. As the soldiers interacted with other languages throughout the continent, Vulgar Latin combined with local languages and resulted in the birth of the Romance Languages, which are diversified across the globe.

Five main Romance Languages

The exact number of Romance Languages in existence is disputed (some studies suggest 24, others hint at 40 plus), but five stand out above the rest as the most widely spoken: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian. Some regional or subnational Romance languages have contested status, such as Catalan (of which there are 9 million speakers). There are over one billion native speakers of Romance Languages worldwide.

The Romance Languages

Similarities between Romance Languages

Due to their linked heritage, the Romance Languages contain many similar features – particularly in terms of structure, vocabulary and grammar. They also consist of two grammatical genders (masculine and feminine) – although this is an evolutionary departure from their parental Latin, which had three (masculine, feminine and neuter). Due to these similarities, learning one Romance language can make it easier to learn another due to degrees of intelligibility – e.g. Spanish and Italian. Take a look at the table below to see how certain phrases overlap across the languages:

EnglishFrenchSpanishPortugueseItalian
Englishanglaisinglésinglêsinglese
Sleep welldormez bienque duermas biendurma bemdormi bene
Good daybonjourbuen díabom diabuongiorno
Goodbyeau revoiradiósadeusarrivederci
Have a safe journeybon voyagebuen viajeboa viagembuon viaggio

The differences between European and Latin American Spanish

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French Idioms