Vulgar Latin - Wikipedia
Vulgar Latin
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Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular[1] or Colloquial Latin,[2] refers to non-literary Latin spoken from the Late Roman Republic onwards.[3] Depending on the time period, its literary counterpart was either Classical Latin or Late Latin.
Vulgar Latin
sermo vulgaris
Pronunciation[ˈsɛrmo βʊlˈɡaːrɪs]
Native to
EraCirca 2nd century b.c. to the 6th-9th centuries AD, when it developed into the Romance Languages.
Vulgar Latin
Early form
Old Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Latin-speaking or otherwise heavily Latin-influenced areas in the Late Roman Empire, highlighted in red.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Origin of the term
During the Classical period, Roman authors referred to the informal, everyday variety of their own language as sermo plebeius or sermo vulgaris, meaning 'common speech'.[4]
The modern usage of the term Vulgar Latin dates to the Renaissance, when Italian thinkers began to theorize that their own language originated in a sort of 'corrupted' Latin that they assumed formed an entity distinct from the literary Classical variety, though opinions differed greatly on the nature of this 'vulgar' dialect'.[5]
It is rather the early 19th-century French linguist Raynouard, however, who is regarded as the father of modern Romance Philology. Observing that the Romance languages have many features in common with each other that were not found in Latin, at least not in 'proper' or Classical Latin, he concluded that they must have all had some common ancestor (which he believed most closely resembled Old Occitan) that replaced Latin some time before the year 1000. This he dubbed la langue romane or "the Roman language".[6]
The first 'professional' treatise on Romance was however published by German linguist Lorenz Diefenbach, soon to be followed by Friedrich Diez's seminal Grammar of the Romance Languages, the first work to apply the modern comparative method to Romance.[7] It was Diez who ultimately popularized the usage of the term Vulgar Latin in modern times,[8] though he simply borrowed the term from the works of various Italian Renaissance thinkers.[9]
Direct evidence of non-literary Latin comes from the following sources:[10]
By the end of the first century AD, the Romans had conquered the entire Mediterranean Basin and established hundreds of colonies in the conquered provinces. Over the centuries this—along with other factors that encouraged linguistic and cultural assimilation, such as political unity, frequent travel and commerce, military service, etc.—made Latin the predominant language throughout the western Mediterranean.[11] Latin itself was subject to the same assimilatory tendencies, such that its varieties had probably become more uniform by the time the Empire fell than they had been before it. That is not to say that the language had been static for all those years, but rather that ongoing changes tended to equally affect all regions.[12]
The fall of the Western Roman Empire weakened or removed all of these homogenizing factors, and so the trend shifted to linguistic divergence instead of convergence. An extreme case was the Slavic invasion and settlement of the Balkans, which appears to have isolated local Latin speakers from their counterparts further west; accordingly modern Balkan Romance differs in many ways from other branches of its language family.[13]
Nevertheless it is difficult to tell precisely when and how the pronunciation, for instance, of Latin began to diverge on a regional basis, since the effects of ongoing sound changes were concealed by an orthography that remained largely static across the Latin-speaking world for the first five or six centuries AD.[14] However careful statistical analysis of spelling mistakes reveals a number of regional differences toward the end of this period, for instance in the treatment of mid-vowels or in the timing of the merger of /b/ and /w/ in intervocalic position.[15]
By the tenth century one can no longer speak of a 'Vulgar Latin' since the contemporary Sequence of Saint Eulalia and the so-called Jonah Fragment prove the existence of an archaic form of Old French already distinct not only from Latin but also from distant Romance dialects.
Main article: Lexical changes from Classical Latin to Proto-Romance
Lexical turnover
Over the centuries spoken Latin lost various lexical items and replaced them either with native coinages or borrowings from neighbouring languages such as Gaulish, Germanic, or Greek. The literary language generally retained the older words, however.
A textbook example is the replacement of the suppletive Classical verb ferre, meaning 'to carry', with the regular portare.[16] Similarly the Classical loqui, meaning 'to speak', was replaced by a variety of alternatives such as the native fabulari and narrare or the Greek borrowing parabolare.[17]
Classical Latin particles fared especially poorly, with all of the following vanishing from popular speech: an, at, autem, donec, enim, etiam, haud, igitur, ita, nam, postquam, quidem, quin, quoad, quoque, sed, sive, utrum, and vel.[18]
Semantic drift
Many surviving words experienced a shift in meaning; some notable cases are causa ('subject matter' 'thing'), civitas ('citizenry' 'city'), focus ('hearth' 'fire'), manducare ('chew' 'eat'), mittere ('send' → 'put'), necare ('murder' 'drown'), pacare ('placate' 'pay'), and totus ('whole' 'all, every').[19]
Phonological development
Main article: Phonological changes from Classical Latin to Proto-Romance
Contemporary evidence
The Appendix Probi, composed between the third and fifth centuries, is a list of spelling corrections written in the format "[correct form], not [incorrect form]". The mistakes that it mentions hint at ongoing changes in the late vernacular, such as:[20]
  1. Syncope in unstressed internal syllables:
  2. Development of [j] from front vowels in hiatus:
  3. Loss of /n/ before /s/:
Many of the 'incorrect' forms survive in modern Romance: the form mesa 'table' explains Spanish mesa and Romanian masă; speclum 'looking-glass' explains Italian specchio and Portuguese espelho; oclus explains Aromanian oclju and Neapolitan uocchio; etc.
Consonant development
See also: Romance languages § Consonants
The most significant consonant changes affecting Vulgar Latin were palatalization (except in Sardinia); lenition, including simplification of geminate consonants (in areas north and west of the La Spezia–Rimini Line, e.g. Spanish digo vs. Italian dico 'I say', Spanish boca vs. Italian bocca 'mouth'); and loss of final consonants.
Loss of final consonants
The loss of final consonants was underway by the 1st century AD in some areas. A graffito at Pompeii reads "quisque ama valia", which in Classical Latin would read "quisquis amat valeat" ("may whoever loves be strong/do well").[21] (The change from "valeat" to "valia" is also an early indicator of the development of /j/ (yod), which played such an important part in the development of palatalization.) On the other hand, the loss of final /t/ was not general. Old Spanish and Old French preserved a reflex of final /t/ until 1100 AD or so, Modern French still maintains final /t/ in some liaison environments, and Sardinian retains final /t/ in almost all circumstances.
Lenition of stops
Areas north and west of the La Spezia–Rimini Line lenited intervocalic /p, t, k/ to /b, d, ɡ/. This phenomenon is occasionally attested during the imperial period, but it became frequent by the 7th century. For example, in Merovingian documents, "rotatico" > rodatico ("wheel tax").[22]
Simplification of geminates
Reduction of bisyllabic clusters of identical consonants to a single syllable-initial consonant also typifies Romance north and west of La Spezia-Rimini. The results in Italian and Spanish provide clear illustrations: "siccus" > Italian secco, Spanish seco; "cippus" > Italian ceppo, Spanish cepo; "mittere" > Italian mettere, Spanish meter.
Loss of word-final m
The loss of the final m was a process which seems to have begun by the time of the earliest monuments of the Latin language. The epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, who died around 150 BC, reads "taurasia cisauna samnio cepit", which in Classical Latin would be "taurāsiam, cisaunam, samnium cēpit" ("He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, and Samnium"). This however can be explained in a different way, that the inscription simply fails to note the nasality of the final vowels (just as consul was customarily abbreviated as "cos").
Neutralization of /b/ and /w/
Confusions between b and v show that the Classical semivowel /w/, and intervocalic /b/ partially merged to become a bilabial fricative /β/ (Classical semivowel /w/ became /β/ in Vulgar Latin, while [β] became an allophone of /b/ in intervocalic position). Already by the 1st century AD, a document by one Eunus writes "iobe" for "iovem" and "dibi" for "divi".[23] In most of the Romance varieties, this sound would further develop into /v/, with the notable exception of the betacist varieties of Hispano-Romance and most Sardinian lects: b and v represent the same phoneme /b/ (with allophone [β]) in Modern Spanish, as well as in Galician, northern Portuguese, several varieties of Occitan and the northern dialects of Catalan.
Consonant cluster simplification
In general, many clusters were simplified in Vulgar Latin. For example, /ns/ reduced to /s/, reflecting the fact that syllable-final /n/ was no longer phonetically consonantal. In some inscriptions, "mensis" > mesis ("month"), or "consul" > cosul ("consul").[22] Descendants of "mensis" include Portuguese mês, Spanish and Catalan mes, Old French meis (Modern French mois), Italian mese.[22] In some areas (including much of Italy), the clusters [mn], [kt] ⟨ct⟩, [ks] ⟨x⟩ were assimilated to the second element: [nn], [tt], [ss].[22] Thus, some inscriptions have "omnibus" > onibus ("all [dative plural]"), "indictione" > inditione ("indiction"), "vixit" > bissit ("lived").[22] Also, three-consonant clusters usually lost the middle element. For example, "emptores" > imtores ("buyers").[22]
Not all areas show the same development of these clusters, however. In the East, Italian has [kt] > [tt], as in "octo" > otto ("eight") or "nocte" > notte ("night"); while Romanian has [kt] > [pt] (opt, noapte).[22] By contrast, in the West, the [k] weakened to [j]. In French and Portuguese, this came to form a diphthong with the previous vowel (huit, oito; nuit, noite), while in Spanish, the [i] brought about palatalization of [t], which produced [tʃ] (*oito > ocho, *noite > noche).[24]
Also, many clusters including [j] were simplified. Several of these groups seem to have never been fully stable[clarification needed] (e.g. facunt for "faciunt"). This dropping has resulted in the word "parietem" ("wall") developing as Italian parete, Romanian părete>perete, Portuguese parede, Spanish pared, or French paroi (Old French pareid).[24]
The cluster [kw] ⟨qu⟩ was simplified to [k] in most instances before /i/ and /e/. In 435, one can find the hypercorrective spelling quisquentis for "quiescentis" ("of the person who rests here"). Modern languages have followed this trend, for example Latin "qui" ("who") has become Italian chi and French qui (both /ki/); while "quem" ("whom") became quien (/kjen/) in Spanish and quem (/kẽj/) in Portuguese.[24] However, [kw] has survived in front of [a] in most areas, although not in French; hence Latin "quattuor" yields Spanish cuatro (/kwatro/), Portuguese quatro (/kwatru/), and Italian quattro (/kwattro/), but French quatre (/katʀ/), where the qu- spelling is purely etymological.[24]
In Spanish, most words with consonant clusters in syllable-final position are loanwords from Classical Latin, examples are: transporte [tɾansˈpor.te], transmitir [tɾanz.miˈtir], instalar [ins.taˈlar], constante [konsˈtante], obstante [oβsˈtante], obstruir [oβsˈtɾwir], pe​rs​pectiva​[pers.pekˈti.βa]​, istmo [ˈ]. A syllable-final position cannot be more than one consonant (one of n, r, l, s or z) in most (or all) dialects in colloquial speech, reflecting Vulgar Latin background. Realizations like [trasˈpor.te], [tɾaz.miˈtir], [is.taˈlar], [kosˈtante], [osˈtante], [osˈtɾwir], and [ˈ] are very common, and in many cases, they are considered acceptable even in formal speech.
Vowel development
See also: Romance languages § Vowels
In general, the ten-vowel system of Classical Latin, which relied on phonemic vowel length, was newly modelled into one in which vowel length distinctions lost phonemic importance, and qualitative distinctions of height became more prominent.
System in Classical Latin
Classical Latin had 10 different vowel phonemes, grouped into five pairs of short-long, ⟨ă – ā, ĕ – ē, ĭ – ī, ŏ – ō, ŭ – ū⟩. It also had four diphthongs, ⟨ae, oe, au, eu⟩, and the rare diphthongs ⟨ui, ei⟩. Finally, there were also long and short ⟨y⟩, representing /y/, /yː/ in Greek borrowings, which, however, probably came to be pronounced /i/, /iː/ even before Romance vowel changes started.
At least since the 1st century AD, short vowels (except a) differed by quality as well as by length from their long counterparts, the short vowels being lower.[25][26] Thus the vowel inventory is usually reconstructed as /a – aː/, /ɛ – eː/, /ɪ – iː/, /ɔ – oː/, /ʊ – uː/.
General vowel changes in most Vulgar Latin
Spelling1st cent.2nd cent.3rd cent.4th cent.
Many diphthongs had begun their monophthongization very early. It is presumed that by Republican times, "ae" had become /ɛː/ in unstressed syllables, a phenomenon that would spread to stressed positions around the 1st century AD.[27] From the 2nd century AD, there are instances of spellings with ⟨ĕ⟩ instead of ⟨ae⟩.[28] ⟨oe⟩ was always a rare diphthong in Classical Latin (in Old Latin, oinos regularly became "unus" ("one")) and became /eː/ during early Imperial times. Thus, one can find penam for "poenam".[27]
However, ⟨au⟩ lasted much longer. While it was monophthongized to /o/ in areas of north and central Italy (including Rome), it was retained in most Vulgar Latin, and it survives in modern Romanian (for example, aur < "aurum"). There is evidence in French and Spanish that the monophthongization of au occurred independently in those languages.[27]
Loss of distinctive length and near-close mergers
Length confusions seem to have begun in unstressed vowels, but they were soon generalized.[29] In the 3rd century AD, Sacerdos mentions people's tendency to shorten vowels at the end of a word, while some poets (like Commodian) show inconsistencies between long and short vowels in versification.[29] However, the loss of contrastive length caused only the merger of "ă" and "ā" while the rest of pairs remained distinct in quality: /a/, /ɛ – e/, /ɪ – i/, /ɔ – o/, /ʊ – u/.[30]
Also, the near-close vowels /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ became more open in most varieties and merged with /e/ and /o/ respectively.[30] As a result, the reflexes of Latin pira "pear" and vēra "true" rhyme in most Romance languages: Italian and Spanish pera, vera.[clarification needed][citation needed] Similarly, Latin nucem "walnut" and vōcem "voice" become Italian noce, voce, Portuguese noz, voz.[citation needed]
There was likely some regional variation in pronunciation, as the Romanian languages, Sardinian and African Romance evolved differently.[31] In Sardinian, all corresponding short and long vowels simply merged with each other, creating a 5-vowel system: /a, e, i, o, u/. African Romance appears to have evolved similarly.[32][33] In Romanian, the front vowels ĕ, ĭ, ē, ī evolved like the Western languages, but the back vowels ŏ, ŭ, ō, ū evolved as in Sardinian. A few Southern Italian languages, such as southern Corsican, northernmost Calabrian and southern Lucanian, behave like Sardinian with its penta-vowel system or, in case of Vegliote (even if only partially) and western Lucanian,[34] like Romanian.
Phonologization of stress
The placement of stress generally did not change from Classical to Vulgar Latin, and except for reassignment of stress on some verb morphology (e.g. Italian cantavamo 'we were singing', but stress retracted one syllable in Spanish cantábamos) most words continued to be stressed on the same syllable they were before. However, the loss of distinctive length disrupted the correlation between syllable weight and stress placement that existed in Classical Latin. Whereas in Classical Latin the place of the accent was predictable from the structure of the word, it was no longer so in Vulgar Latin. Stress had become a phonological property and could serve to distinguish forms that were otherwise homophones of identical phonological structure, as in Spanish canto 'I sing' vs. cantó 'he or she sang'.
Lengthening of stressed open syllables
After the Classical Latin vowel length distinctions were lost in favor of vowel quality, a new system of allophonic vowel quantity appeared sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries. Around then, stressed vowels in open syllables came to be pronounced long (but still keeping height contrasts), and all the rest became short. For example, long venis /*ˈvɛː.nis/, fori /*fɔː.ri/, cathedra /*ˈkaː.te.dra/; but short vendo /*ˈ, formas /*ˈfor.mas/.[35] (This allophonic length distinction persists to this day in Italian.) However, in some regions of Iberia and Gaul, all stressed vowels came to be pronounced long: for example, porta /*ˈpɔːr.ta/, tempus /*ˈtɛːm.pus/.[35] In many descendants, several of the long vowels underwent some form of diphthongization, most extensively in Old French where five of the seven long vowels were affected by breaking.
Romance articles
It is difficult to place the point in which the definite article, absent in Latin but present in all Romance languages, arose, largely because the highly colloquial speech in which it arose was seldom written down until the daughter languages had strongly diverged; most surviving texts in early Romance show the articles fully developed.
Definite articles evolved from demonstrative pronouns or adjectives (an analogous development is found in many Indo-European languages, including Greek, Celtic and Germanic); compare the fate of the Latin demonstrative adjective ille, illa, illud "that", in the Romance languages, becoming French le and la (Old French li, lo, la), Catalan and Spanish el, la and lo, Occitan lo and la, Portuguese o and a (elision of -l- is a common feature of Portuguese), and Italian il, lo and la. Sardinian went its own way here also, forming its article from ipse, ipsa "this" (su, sa); some Catalan and Occitan dialects have articles from the same source. While most of the Romance languages put the article before the noun, Romanian has its own way, by putting the article after the noun, e.g. lupul ("the wolf" – from *lupum illum) and omul ("the man" – *homo illum),[31] possibly a result of being within the Balkan sprachbund.
This demonstrative is used in a number of contexts in some early texts in ways that suggest that the Latin demonstrative was losing its force. The Vetus Latina Bible contains a passage Est tamen ille daemon sodalis peccati ("The devil is a companion of sin"), in a context that suggests that the word meant little more than an article. The need to translate sacred texts that were originally in Koine Greek, which had a definite article, may have given Christian Latin an incentive to choose a substitute. Aetheria uses ipse similarly: per mediam vallem ipsam ("through the middle of the valley"), suggesting that it too was weakening in force.[21]
Another indication of the weakening of the demonstratives can be inferred from the fact that at this time, legal and similar texts begin to swarm with praedictus, supradictus, and so forth (all meaning, essentially, "aforesaid"), which seem to mean little more than "this" or "that". Gregory of Tours writes, Erat autem... beatissimus Anianus in supradicta civitate episcopus ("Blessed Anianus was bishop in that city.") The original Latin demonstrative adjectives were no longer felt to be strong or specific enough.[21]
In less formal speech, reconstructed forms suggest that the inherited Latin demonstratives were made more forceful by being compounded with ecce (originally an interjection: "behold!"), which also spawned Italian ecco through eccum, a contracted form of ecce eum. This is the origin of Old French cil (*ecce ille), cist (*ecce iste) and ici (*ecce hic); Italian questo (*eccum istum), quello (*eccum illum) and (now mainly Tuscan) codesto (*eccum tibi istum), as well as qui (*eccu hic), qua (*eccum hac); Spanish and Occitan aquel and Portuguese aquele (*eccum ille); Spanish acá and Portuguese (*eccum hac); Spanish aquí and Portuguese aqui (*eccum hic); Portuguese acolá (*eccum illac) and aquém (*eccum inde); Romanian acest (*ecce iste) and acela (*ecce ille), and many other forms.
On the other hand, even in the Oaths of Strasbourg, no demonstrative appears even in places where one would clearly be called for in all the later languages (pro christian poblo – "for the Christian people"). Using the demonstratives as articles may have still been considered overly informal for a royal oath in the 9th century. Considerable variation exists in all of the Romance vernaculars as to their actual use: in Romanian, the articles are suffixed to the noun (or an adjective preceding it), as in other languages of the Balkan sprachbund and the North Germanic languages.
The numeral unus, una (one) supplies the indefinite article in all cases (again, this is a common semantic development across Europe). This is anticipated in Classical Latin; Cicero writes cum uno gladiatore nequissimo ("with a most immoral gladiator"). This suggests that unus was beginning to supplant quidam in the meaning of "a certain" or "some" by the 1st century BC.[dubious discuss]
Loss of neuter gender
1st and 2nd adjectival declension paradigm in Classical Latin:
e.g. altus ("tall")
Excludes vocative.
The genders
The three grammatical genders of Classical Latin were replaced by a two-gender system in most Romance languages.
The neuter gender of classical Latin was in most cases identical with the masculine both syntactically and morphologically. The confusion had already started in Pompeian graffiti, e.g. cadaver mortuus for cadaver mortuum ("dead body"), and hoc locum for hunc locum ("this place"). The morphological confusion shows primarily in the adoption of the nominative ending -us ( after -r) in the o-declension.
In Petronius's work, one can find balneus for balneum ("bath"), fatus for fatum ("fate"), caelus for caelum ("heaven"), amphitheater for amphitheatrum ("amphitheatre"), vinus for vinum ("wine"), and conversely, thesaurum for thesaurus ("treasure"). Most of these forms occur in the speech of one man: Trimalchion, an uneducated Greek (i.e. foreign) freedman.
In modern Romance languages, the nominative s-ending has been largely abandoned, and all substantives of the o-declension have an ending derived from -um: -u, -o, or . E.g., masculine murum ("wall"), and neuter caelum ("sky") have evolved to: Italian muro, cielo; Portuguese muro, céu; Spanish muro, cielo, Catalan mur, cel; Romanian mur, cieru>cer; French mur, ciel. However, Old French still had -s in the nominative and in the accusative in both words: murs, ciels [nominative] – mur, ciel [oblique]. [a]
For some neuter nouns of the third declension, the oblique stem was productive; for others, the nominative/accusative form, (the two were identical in Classical Latin). Evidence suggests that the neuter gender was under pressure well back into the imperial period. French (le) lait, Catalan (la) llet, Occitan (lo) lach, Spanish (la)leche, Portuguese (o) leite, Italian language (il)latte, Leonese (el) lleche and Romanian lapte(le) ("milk"), all derive from the non-standard but attested Latin nominative/accusative neuter lacte or accusative masculine lactem. In Spanish the word became feminine, while in French, Portuguese and Italian it became masculine (in Romanian it remained neuter, lapte/lăpturi). Other neuter forms, however, were preserved in Romance; Catalan and French nom, Leonese, Portuguese and Italian nome, Romanian nume ("name") all preserve the Latin nominative/accusative nomen, rather than the oblique stem form *nominem (which nevertheless produced Spanish nombre).[31]
Typical Italian endings
NounsAdjectives and determiners
Most neuter nouns had plural forms ending in -A or -IA; some of these were reanalysed as feminine singulars, such as gaudium ("joy"), plural gaudia; the plural form lies at the root of the French feminine singular (la) joie, as well as of Catalan and Occitan (la) joia (Italian la gioia is a borrowing from French); the same for lignum ("wood stick"), plural ligna, that originated the Catalan feminine singular noun (la) llenya, and Spanish (la) leña. Some Romance languages still have a special form derived from the ancient neuter plural which is treated grammatically as feminine: e.g., BRACCHIUM : BRACCHIA "arm(s)" → Italian (il) braccio : (le) braccia, Romanian braț(ul) : brațe(le). Cf. also Merovingian Latin ipsa animalia aliquas mortas fuerant.
Alternations in Italian heteroclitic nouns such as l'uovo fresco ("the fresh egg") / le uova fresche ("the fresh eggs") are usually analysed as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, with an irregular plural in -a. However, it is also consistent with their historical development to say that uovo is simply a regular neuter noun (ovum, plural ova) and that the characteristic ending for words agreeing with these nouns is -o in the singular and -e in the plural. The same alternation in gender exists in certain Romanian nouns, but is considered regular as it is more common than in Italian. Thus, a relict neuter gender can arguably be said to persist in Italian and Romanian.
In Portuguese, traces of the neuter plural can be found in collective formations and words meant to inform a bigger size or sturdiness. Thus, one can use ovo/ovos ("egg/eggs") and ova/ovas ("roe", "a collection of eggs"), bordo/bordos ("section(s) of an edge") and borda/bordas ("edge/edges"), saco/sacos ("bag/bags") and saca/sacas ("sack/sacks"), manto/mantos ("cloak/cloaks") and manta/mantas ("blanket/blankets"). Other times, it resulted in words whose gender may be changed more or less arbitrarily, like fruto/fruta ("fruit"), caldo/calda (broth"), etc.
These formations were especially common when they could be used to avoid irregular forms. In Latin, the names of trees were usually feminine, but many were declined in the second declension paradigm, which was dominated by masculine or neuter nouns. Latin pirus ("pear tree"), a feminine noun with a masculine-looking ending, became masculine in Italian (il) pero and Romanian păr(ul); in French and Spanish it was replaced by the masculine derivations (le) poirier, (el) peral; and in Portuguese and Catalan by the feminine derivations (a) pereira, (la) perera.
As usual, irregularities persisted longest in frequently used forms. From the fourth declension noun manus ("hand"), another feminine noun with the ending -us, Italian and Spanish derived (la) mano, Romanian mânu>mâna pl (reg.)mâini/mâini, Catalan (la), and Portuguese (a) mão, which preserve the feminine gender along with the masculine appearance.
Except for the Italian and Romanian heteroclitic nouns, other major Romance languages have no trace of neuter nouns, but still have neuter pronouns. French celui-ci / celle-ci / ceci ("this"), Spanish éste / ésta / esto ("this"), Italian: gli / le / ci ("to him" /"to her" / "to it"), Catalan: ho, açò, això, allò ("it" / this / this-that / that over there); Portuguese: todo / toda / tudo ("all of him" / "all of her" / "all of it").
In Spanish, a three-way contrast is also made with the definite articles el, la, and lo. The last is used with nouns denoting abstract categories: lo bueno, literally "that which is good", from bueno: good.
^ In a few isolated masculine nouns, the s has been either preserved or reinstated in the modern languages, for example FILIUS ("son") > French fils, DEUS ("god") > Spanish dios and Portuguese deus, and particularly in proper names: Spanish Carlos, Marcos, in the conservative orthography of French Jacques, Charles, Jules, etc.[36]
Loss of oblique cases
The Vulgar Latin vowel shifts caused the merger of several case endings in the nominal and adjectival declensions.[37] Some of the causes include: the loss of final m, the merger of ă with ā, and the merger of ŭ with ō (see tables).[37] Thus, by the 5th century, the number of case contrasts had been drastically reduced.[37]
Evolution of a 1st declension noun:
caepa/cēpa ("onion") (feminine singular)
(c. 1st century)
(c. 5th cent.)
nominativecaepa, cēpa*cépaceapă
accusativecaepam, cēpam
ablativecaepā, cēpā
dativecaepae, cēpae*cépecepe
Evolution of a 2nd declension noun:
mūrus ("wall") (masculine singular)
(c. 1st cent.)
(c. 5th cent.)
Old French
(c. 11th cent.)
There also seems to be a marked tendency to confuse different forms even when they had not become homophonous (like the generally more distinct plurals), which indicates that nominal declension was shaped not only by phonetic mergers, but also by structural factors.[37] As a result of the untenability of the noun case system after these phonetic changes, Vulgar Latin shifted from a markedly synthetic language to a more analytic one.
The genitive case died out around the 3rd century AD, according to Meyer-Lübke, and began to be replaced by "de" + noun (which originally meant "about/concerning", weakened to "of") as early as the 2nd century BC.[citation needed] Exceptions of remaining genitive forms are some pronouns, certain fossilized expressions and some proper names. For example, French jeudi ("Thursday") < Old French juesdi < Vulgar Latin "jovis diēs"; Spanish es menester ("it is necessary") < "est ministeri"; and Italian terremoto ("earthquake") < "terrae motu" as well as names like Paoli, Pieri.[38]
The dative case lasted longer than the genitive, even though Plautus, in the 2nd century BC, already shows some instances of substitution by the construction "ad" + accusative. For example, "ad carnuficem dabo".[38][39]
The accusative case developed as a prepositional case, displacing many instances of the ablative.[38] Towards the end of the imperial period, the accusative came to be used more and more as a general oblique case.[40]
Despite increasing case mergers, nominative and accusative forms seem to have remained distinct for much longer, since they are rarely confused in inscriptions.[40] Even though Gaulish texts from the 7th century rarely confuse both forms, it is believed that both cases began to merge in Africa by the end of the empire, and a bit later in parts of Italy and Iberia.[40] Nowadays, Romanian maintains a two-case system, while Old French and Old Occitan had a two-case subject-oblique system.
This Old French system was based largely on whether or not the Latin case ending contained an "s" or not, with the "s" being retained but all vowels in the ending being lost (as with veisin below). But since this meant that it was easy to confuse the singular nominative with the plural oblique, and the plural nominative with the singular oblique, this case system ultimately collapsed as well, and Middle French adopted one case (usually the oblique) for all purposes, leaving the Romanian the only one to survive to the present day.
Evolution of a masculine noun
in Old French: veisin ("neighbor").
(definite article in parentheses).
Classical Latin
(1st cent.)
Old French
(11th cent.)
singularnominative"vīcīnus"(li) veisins
accusative"vīcīnum"(le) veisin
pluralnominative"vīcīnī"(li) veisin
accusative"vīcīnōs"(les) veisins
Wider use of prepositions
Loss of a productive noun case system meant that the syntactic purposes it formerly served now had to be performed by prepositions and other paraphrases. These particles increased in number, and many new ones were formed by compounding old ones. The descendant Romance languages are full of grammatical particles such as Spanish donde, "where", from Latin de + unde, or French dès, "since", from de + ex, while the equivalent Spanish and Portuguese desde is de + ex + de. Spanish después and Portuguese depois, "after", represent de + ex + post.
Some of these new compounds appear in literary texts during the late empire; French dehors, Spanish de fuera and Portuguese de fora ("outside") all represent de + foris (Romanian afarăad + foris), and we find Jerome writing stulti, nonne qui fecit, quod de foris est, etiam id, quod de intus est fecit? (Luke 11.40: "ye fools, did not he, that made which is without, make that which is within also?"). In some cases, compounds were created by combining a large number of particles, such as the Romanian adineauri ("just recently") from ad + de + in + illa + hora.[41]
Classical Latin:
Marcus patrī librum dat. "Marcus is giving [his] father [a/the] book."
Vulgar Latin:
*Marcos da libru a patre. "Marcus is giving [a/the] book to [his] father."
Just as in the disappearing dative case, colloquial Latin sometimes replaced the disappearing genitive case with the preposition de followed by the ablative, then eventually the accusative (oblique).
Classical Latin:
Marcus mihi librum patris dat. "Marcus is giving me [his] father's book.
Vulgar Latin:
*Marcos mi da libru de patre. "Marcus is giving me [the] book of [his] father."
Unlike in the nominal and adjectival inflections, pronouns kept great part of the case distinctions. However, many changes happened. For example, the /ɡ/ of ego was lost by the end of the empire, and eo appears in manuscripts from the 6th century.[which?][42]
Reconstructed pronominal system of Vulgar Latin[42]
1st person2nd person3rd person
Dative*mi*nọ́be(s)*ti, *tẹ́be*vọ́be(s)*si, *sẹ́be
Classical Latin had a number of different suffixes that made adverbs from adjectives: cārus, "dear", formed cārē, "dearly"; ācriter, "fiercely", from ācer; crēbrō, "often", from crēber. All of these derivational suffixes were lost in Vulgar Latin, where adverbs were invariably formed by a feminine ablative form modifying mente, which was originally the ablative of mēns, and so meant "with a ... mind". So vēlōx ("quick") instead of vēlōciter ("quickly") gave veloci mente (originally "with a quick mind", "quick-mindedly") This explains the widespread rule for forming adverbs in many Romance languages: add the suffix -ment(e) to the feminine form of the adjective. The development illustrates a textbook case of grammaticalization in which an autonomous form, the noun meaning 'mind', while still in free lexical use in e.g. Italian venire in mente 'come to mind', becomes a productive suffix for forming adverbs in Romance such as Italian chiaramente, Spanish claramente 'clearly', with both its source and its meaning opaque in that usage other than as adverb formant.
The Cantar de Mio Cid (Song of my Cid) is the earliest Spanish text
Main article: Romance verbs
See also: Romance languages § Verbal morphology
In general, the verbal system in the Romance languages changed less from Classical Latin than did the nominal system.
The four conjugational classes generally survived. The second and third conjugations already had identical imperfect tense forms in Latin, and also shared a common present participle. Because of the merging of short i with long ē in most of Vulgar Latin, these two conjugations grew even closer together. Several of the most frequently-used forms became indistinguishable, while others became distinguished only by stress placement:
Second conjugation (Classical)-ēre-eō-ēs-et-ēmus-ētis-ent
Second conjugation (Vulgar)*-ẹ́re*-(j)o*-es*-e(t)*-ẹ́mos*-ẹ́tes*-en(t)*-e
Third conjugation (Vulgar)*-ere*-o*-emos*-etes*-on(t)
Third conjugation (Classical)-ere-is-it-imus-itis-unt-e
These two conjugations came to be conflated in many of the Romance languages, often by merging them into a single class while taking endings from each of the original two conjugations. Which endings survived was different for each language, although most tended to favour second conjugation endings over the third conjugation. Spanish, for example, mostly eliminated the third conjugation forms in favour of second conjugation forms.
French and Catalan did the same, but tended to generalise the third conjugation infinitive instead. Catalan in particular almost completely eliminated the second conjugation ending over time, reducing it to a small relic class. In Italian, the two infinitive endings remained separate (but spelled identically), while the conjugations merged in most other respects much as in the other languages. However, the third-conjugation third-person plural present ending survived in favour of the second conjugation version, and was even extended to the fourth conjugation. Romanian also maintained the distinction between the second and third conjugation endings.
In the perfect, many languages generalized the -aui ending most frequently found in the first conjugation. This led to an unusual development; phonetically, the ending was treated as the diphthong /au/ rather than containing a semivowel /awi/, and in other cases the /w/ sound was simply dropped. We know this because it did not participate in the sound shift from /w/ to /β̞/. Thus Latin amaui, amauit ("I loved; he/she loved") in many areas became proto-Romance *amai and *amaut, yielding for example Portuguese amei, amou. This suggests that in the spoken language, these changes in conjugation preceded the loss of /w/.[31]
Another major systemic change was to the future tense, remodelled in Vulgar Latin with auxiliary verbs. A new future was originally formed with the auxiliary verb habere, *amare habeo, literally "to love I have" (cf. English "I have to love", which has shades of a future meaning). This was contracted into a new future suffix in Western Romance forms, which can be seen in the following modern examples of "I will love":
A periphrastic construction of the form 'to have to' (late Latin habere ad) used as future is characteristic of Sardinian:
An innovative conditional (distinct from the subjunctive) also developed in the same way (infinitive + conjugated form of habere). The fact that the future and conditional endings were originally independent words is still evident in literary Portuguese, which in these tenses allows clitic object pronouns to be incorporated between the root of the verb and its ending: "I will love" (eu) amarei, but "I will love you" amar-te-ei, from amar + te ["you"] + (eu) hei = amar + te + [h]ei = amar-te-ei.
In Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, personal pronouns can still be omitted from verb phrases as in Latin, as the endings are still distinct enough to convey that information: venio > Sp vengo ("I come"). In French, however, all the endings are typically homophonous except the first and second person (and occasionally also third person) plural, so the pronouns are always used (je viens) except in the imperative.
Contrary to the millennia-long continuity of much of the active verb system, which has now survived 6000 years of known evolution, the synthetic passive voice was utterly lost in Romance, being replaced with periphrastic verb forms—composed of the verb "to be" plus a passive participle—or impersonal reflexive forms—composed of a verb and a passivizing pronoun.
Apart from the grammatical and phonetic developments there were many cases of verbs merging as complex subtleties in Latin were reduced to simplified verbs in Romance. A classic example of this are the verbs expressing the concept "to go". Consider three particular verbs in Classical Latin expressing concepts of "going": ire, vadere, and *ambitare. In Spanish and Portuguese ire and vadere merged into the verb ir, which derives some conjugated forms from ire and some from vadere. andar was maintained as a separate verb derived from ambitare.
Italian instead merged vadere and ambitare into the verb andare. At the extreme French merged three Latin verbs with, for example, the present tense deriving from vadere and another verb ambulare (or something like it) and the future tense deriving from ire. Similarly the Romance distinction between the Romance verbs for "to be", essere and stare, was lost in French as these merged into the verb être. In Italian, the verb essere inherited both Romance meanings of "being essentially" and "being temporarily of the quality of", while stare specialized into a verb denoting location or dwelling, or state of health.
Main article: Romance copula
The copula (that is, the verb signifying "to be") of Classical Latin was esse. This evolved to *essere in Vulgar Latin by attaching the common infinitive suffix -re to the classical infinitive; this produced Italian essere and French être through Proto-Gallo-Romance *essre and Old French estre as well as Spanish and Portuguese ser (Romanian afi derives from fieri, which means "to become").
In Vulgar Latin a second copula developed utilizing the verb stare, which originally meant (and is cognate with) "to stand", to denote a more temporary meaning. That is, *essere signified the essence, while stare signified the state. Stare evolved to Spanish and Portuguese estar and Old French ester (both through *estare), while Italian and Romanian retained the original form.
The semantic shift that underlies this evolution is more or less as follows: A speaker of Classical Latin might have said: vir est in foro, meaning "the man is in/at the marketplace". The same sentence in Vulgar Latin could have been *(h)omo stat in foro, "the man stands in/at the marketplace", replacing the est (from esse) with stat (from stare), because "standing" was what was perceived as what the man was actually doing.
The use of stare in this case was still semantically transparent assuming that it meant "to stand", but soon the shift from esse to stare became more widespread. In the Iberian peninsula esse ended up only denoting natural qualities that would not change, while stare was applied to transient qualities and location. In Italian, stare is used mainly for location, transitory state of health (sta male 's/he is ill' but è gracile 's/he is puny') and, as in Spanish, for the eminently transient quality implied in a verb's progressive form, such as sto scrivendo to express 'I am writing'.
The historical development of the stare + gerund progressive in those Romance languages that have it seems to have been a passage from a usage such as sto pensando 'I stand/stay (here) thinking', in which the stare form carries the full semantic load of 'stand, stay' to grammaticalization of the construction as expression of progressive aspect (Similar in concept to the English verbal construction of "I am still thinking"). The process of reanalysis that took place over time bleached the semantics of stare so that when used in combination with the gerund the form became solely a grammatical marker of subject and tense (e.g. sto = subject first person singular, present; stavo = subject first person singular, past), no longer a lexical verb with the semantics of 'stand' (not unlike the auxiliary in compound tenses that once meant 'have, possess', but is now semantically empty: j'ai écrit, ho scritto, he escrito, etc.). Whereas sto scappando would once have been semantically strange at best (?'I stay escaping'), once grammaticalization was achieved, collocation with a verb of inherent mobility was no longer contradictory, and sto scappando could and did become the normal way to express 'I am escaping'. (Although it might be objected that in sentences like Spanish la catedral está en la ciudad, "the cathedral is in the city" this is also unlikely to change, but all locations are expressed through estar in Spanish, as this usage originally conveyed the sense of "the cathedral stands in the city").
Word order typology
Classical Latin in most cases adopted an SOV word order in ordinary prose, although other word orders were allowed, such as in poetry, due to its inflectional nature. However, word order in the modern Romance languages generally adopted a standard SVO word order. Fragments of SOV word order still survive in the placement of clitic object pronouns (e.g. Spanish yo te amo "I love you").
See also
History of specific Romance languages
  1. ^ Alkire & Rosen 2010, p. 28
  2. ^ Posner 1996, p. 98
  3. ^ Herman 2000, p. 7
  4. ^ Elcock (1960), p. 20
  5. ^ Eskhult 2018, § 6
  6. ^ Posner 1996, p. 3
  7. ^ Herman 2000, p. 1
  8. ^ "...der römischen Volkssprache oder Volksmundart." Diez (1882), p. 1.
  9. ^ Diez (1882), p. 63.
  10. ^ Elcock (1960), p. 21
  11. ^ Grandgent 1907, pp. 2-3
  12. ^ Wright 2002, pp. 27-8
  13. ^ Posner, Rebecca; Sala, Marius. "Vulgar Latin". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 20 Jun 2017.
  14. ^ Herman 2000, p. 117.
  15. ^ Adams (2007), pp. 626-9
  16. ^ Alkire & Rosen, p. 287
  17. ^ Herman 2000, p. 2
  18. ^ Harrington et al. 1997, p. 11
  19. ^ Harrington et al. 1997, pp. 7-10
  20. ^ Elcock, pp. 28-34
  21. ^ a b c Harrington et al. (1997).
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Herman 2000, p. 47.
  23. ^ Horrocks, Geoffrey and James Clackson (2007). The Blackwell History of the Latin Language. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4051-6209-8.
  24. ^ a b c d Herman 2000, p. 48.
  25. ^ Allen (2003) states: "There appears to have been no great difference in quality between long and short a, but in the case of the close and mid vowels (i and u, e and o) the long appear to have been appreciably closer than the short." He then goes on to the historical development, quotations from various authors (from around the 2nd century AD), and evidence from older inscriptions in which "e" stands for normally short i, "i" for long e, etc.
  26. ^ Grandgent 1991, p. 11.
  27. ^ a b c Palmer 1988, p. 157.
  28. ^ Grandgent 1991, p. 118.
  29. ^ a b Herman 2000, pp. 28–29.
  30. ^ a b Palmer 1988, p. 156.
  31. ^ a b c d Vincent (1990).
  32. ^ Loporcaro 2015, p. 49.
  33. ^ Adams 2007, p. 262.
  34. ^ Michele Loporcaro, "Phonological Processes", The Cambridge History of the Romance Languages: Structures, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011), 112–4.
  35. ^ a b Grandgent 1991, p. 125.
  36. ^ Menéndez Pidal 1968, p. 208; Survivances du cas sujet.
  37. ^ a b c d e f Herman 2000, p. 52.
  38. ^ a b c Grandgent 1991, p. 82.
  39. ^ Captivi, 1019.
  40. ^ a b c Herman 2000, p. 53.
  41. ^ Romanian Explanatory Dictionary (
  42. ^ a b Grandgent 1991, p. 238.
Works consulted
Transitions to Romance languages
To Romance in general
To French
To Italian
To Spanish
To Portuguese
To Occitan
Paden, William D. (1998). An Introduction to Old Occitan. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
To Sardinian
Blasco Ferrer, Eduardo (1984). Storia linguistica della Sardegna. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
Further reading
External links
Last edited on 11 May 2021, at 00:08
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