Romance languages

The Romance languages are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin between the third and eighth centuries. They are a subgroup of the Italic languages in the Indo-European language family. The five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian. Of those, Italian is the closest to Latin.
The more than 900 million native speakers of Romance languages are found worldwide, mainly in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Africa, as well as elsewhere. The major Romance languages also have many non-native speakers, and are in widespread use as lingua francas. This is especially true of French, which is in widespread use throughout Central and West Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Djibouti, Lebanon, and North Africa.
Because it is difficult to assign rigid categories to phenomena such as languages which exist on a continuum, estimates of the number of modern Romance languages vary. For example, Dalby lists 23, based on the criterion of mutual intelligibility. The following includes those and additional current, living languages, and one extinct language, Dalmatian:
The term comes from the Vulgar Latin adverb romanice, "in Roman", derived from Romanicus: for instance, in the expression romanice loqui, "to speak in Roman", contrasted with latine loqui, "to speak in Latin", and with barbarice loqui, "to speak in Barbarian". From this adverb the noun romance originated, which applied initially to anything written romanice, or "in the Roman vernacular".


Lexical and grammatical similarities among the Romance languages, and between Latin and each of them, are apparent from the following examples having the same meaning in various Romance lects:
English: She always closes the window before she dines / before dining.
Romance-based creoles and pidgins
Some of the divergence comes from semantic change: where the same root words have developed different meanings. For example, the Portuguese word fresta is descended from Latin fenestra "window", but now means "skylight" and "slit". Cognates may exist but have become rare, such as finiestra in Spanish, or dropped out of use entirely. The Spanish and Portuguese terms defenestrar meaning "to throw through a window" and fenestrado meaning "replete with windows" also have the same root, but are later borrowings from Latin.
Likewise, Portuguese also has the word cear, a cognate of Italian cenare and Spanish cenar, but uses it in the sense of "to have a late supper" in most varieties, while the preferred word for "to dine" is jantar because of semantic changes in the 19th century. Galician has both fiestra and the less frequently used ventá and xanela.
As an alternative to lei, Italian has the pronoun ella, a cognate of the other words for "she", but it is hardly ever used in speaking.
Spanish, Asturian, and Leonese ventana and Mirandese and Sardinian bentana come from Latin ventus "wind", and Portuguese janela, Galician xanela, Mirandese jinela from Latin *ianuella "small opening", a derivative of ianua "door".
Sardinian balcone comes from Old Italian and is similar to other Romance languages such as French balcon, Portuguese balcão, Romanian balcon, Spanish balcón, Catalan balcó and Corsican balconi.

Classification and related languages

The classification of the Romance languages is inherently difficult, because most of the linguistic area is a dialect continuum, and in some cases political biases can come into play. Along with Latin and a few extinct languages of ancient Italy, they make up the Italic branch of the Indo-European family.

Proposed divisions

There are various schemes used to subdivide the Romance languages. Three of the most common schemes are as follows:
The main subfamilies that have been proposed by Ethnologue within the various classification schemes for Romance languages are:
This three-way division is made primarily based on the outcome of Vulgar Latin vowels:
Classical LatinProto-RomanceSardinianEastern RomanceItalo-Western
short A
long A
short E
long E
short I
long I
short O
long O
short U
long U

Italo-Western is in turn split along the so-called La Spezia–Rimini Line in northern Italy, which divides the central and southern Italian languages from the so-called Western Romance languages to the north and west. The primary characteristics dividing the two are:
The reality is somewhat more complex. All of the "southeast" characteristics apply to all languages southeast of the line, and all of the "northwest" characteristics apply to all languages in France and Spain. However, the Gallo-Italic languages are somewhere in between. All of these languages do have the "northwest" characteristics of lenition and loss of gemination. However:
On top of this, the ancient Mozarabic language in southern Spain, at the far end of the "northwest" group, had the "southeast" characteristics of lack of lenition and palatalization of /k/ to. Certain languages around the Pyrenees also lack lenition, and northern French dialects such as Norman and Picard have palatalization of /k/ to .
The usual solution to these issues is to create various nested subgroups. Western Romance is split into the Gallo-Iberian languages, in which lenition happens and which include nearly all the Western Romance languages, and the Pyrenean-Mozarabic group, which includes the remaining languages without lenition. Gallo-Iberian is split in turn into the Iberian languages, and the larger Gallo-Romance languages.
Probably a more accurate description, however, would be to say that there was a focal point of innovation located in central France, from which a series of innovations spread out as areal changes. The La Spezia–Rimini Line represents the farthest point to the southeast that these innovations reached, corresponding to the northern chain of the Apennine Mountains, which cuts straight across northern Italy and forms a major geographic barrier to further language spread.
This would explain why some of the "northwest" features end at differing points in northern Italy, and why some of the languages in geographically remote parts of Spain are lacking some of these features. It also explains why the languages in France seem to have innovated earlier and more extensively than other Western Romance languages.
Many of the "southeast" features also apply to the Eastern Romance languages, despite the geographic discontinuity. Examples are lack of lenition, maintenance of intertonic vowels, use of vowel-changing plurals, and palatalization of /k/ to. This has led some researchers to postulate a basic two-way East-West division, with the "Eastern" languages including Romanian and central and southern Italian, although this view is troubled by the contrast of numerous Romanian phonological developments with those found in Italy below the La Spezia-Rimini line. Among these features, in Romanian geminates reduced historically to single units — which may be an independent development or perhaps due to Slavic influence — and /kt/ developed into /pt/, whereas in central and southern Italy geminates are preserved and /kt/ underwent assimilation to /tt/.
Despite being the first Romance language to evolve from Vulgar Latin, Sardinian does not fit at all into this sort of division. It is clear that Sardinian became linguistically independent from the remainder of the Romance languages at an extremely early date, possibly already by the first century BC. Sardinian contains a large number of archaic features, including total lack of palatalization of /k/ and /g/ and a large amount of vocabulary preserved nowhere else, including some items already archaic by the time of Classical Latin. Sardinian has plurals in /s/ but post-vocalic lenition of voiceless consonants is normally limited to the status of an allophonic rule, and there are a few innovations unseen elsewhere, such as a change of /au/ to /a/. Use of su < ipsum as an article is a retained archaic feature that also exists in the Catalan of the Balearic Islands and that used to be more widespread in Occitano-Romance, and is known as , while Sardinian shares develarisation of earlier /kw/ and /gw/ with Romanian: Sard. abba, Rum. apă 'water'; Sard. limba, Rom. limbă 'language'.

Gallo-Romance languages

Gallo-Romance can be divided into the following subgroups:
The following groups are also sometimes considered part of Gallo-Romance:
The Gallo-Romance languages are generally considered the most innovative among the Romance languages. Characteristic Gallo-Romance features generally developed earliest and appear in their most extreme manifestation in the Langue d'oïl, gradually spreading out along riverways and transalpine roads.
In some ways, however, the Gallo-Romance languages are conservative. The older stages of many of the languages preserved a two-case system consisting of nominative and oblique, fully marked on nouns, adjectives and determiners, inherited almost directly from the Latin nominative and accusative and preserving a number of different declensional classes and irregular forms. The languages closest to the oïl epicenter preserve the case system the best, while languages at the periphery lose it early.
Notable characteristics of the Gallo-Romance languages are:
Some Romance languages have developed varieties which seem dramatically restructured as to their grammars or to be mixtures with other languages. It is not always clear whether they should be classified as Romance, pidgins, creole languages, or mixed languages. Some other languages, such as Modern English, are sometimes thought of as creoles of semi-Romance ancestry. There are several dozens of creoles of French, Spanish, and Portuguese origin, some of them spoken as national languages in former European colonies.
Creoles of French:
Creoles of Spanish:
Creoles of Portuguese:
Latin and the Romance languages have also served as the inspiration and basis of numerous auxiliary and constructed languages, so-called "Neo-Romance languages".
The concept was first developed in 1903 by Italian mathematician Giuseppe Peano, under the title Latino sine flexione. He wanted to create a naturalistic international language, as opposed to an autonomous constructed language like Esperanto or Volapük which were designed for maximal simplicity of lexicon and derivation of words. Peano used Latin as the base of his language, because at the time of his flourishing it was the de facto international language of scientific communication.
Other languages developed since include Idiom Neutral, Interlingua and Lingua Franca Nova. The most famous and successful of these is Interlingua. Each of these languages has attempted to varying degrees to achieve a pseudo-Latin vocabulary as common as possible to living Romance languages. Some languages have been constructed specifically for communication among speakers of Romance languages, the Pan-Romance languages.
There are also languages created for artistic purposes only, such as Talossan. Because Latin is a very well attested ancient language, some amateur linguists have even constructed Romance languages that mirror real languages that developed from other ancestral languages. These include Brithenig, Breathanach, Wenedyk, Þrjótrunn, and Helvetian.

Modern status

The Romance language most widely spoken natively today is Spanish, followed by Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian, which together cover a vast territory in Europe and beyond, and work as official and national languages in dozens of countries.
French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Romanian are also official languages of the European Union. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan were the official languages of the defunct Latin Union; and French and Spanish are two of the six official languages of the United Nations. Outside Europe, French, Portuguese and Spanish are spoken and enjoy official status in various countries that emerged from the respective colonial empires.
Spanish is an official language in Spain and in nine countries of South America, home to about half that continent's population; in six countries of Central America ; and in Mexico. In the Caribbean, it is official in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. In all these countries, Latin American Spanish is the vernacular language of the majority of the population, giving Spanish the most native speakers of any Romance language. In Africa it is an official language of Equatorial Guinea.
Portuguese, in its original homeland, Portugal, is spoken by virtually the entire population of 10 million.
As the official language of Brazil, it is spoken by more than 200 million people in that country, as well as by neighboring residents of eastern Paraguay and northern Uruguay, accounting for a little more than half the population of South America, thus making Portuguese the most spoken official Romance language in a single country. It is the official language of six African countries, and is spoken as a first language by perhaps 30 million residents of that continent. In Asia, Portuguese is co-official with other languages in East Timor and Macau, while most Portuguese-speakers in Asia—some 400,000—are in Japan due to return immigration of Japanese Brazilians. In North America 1,000,000 people speak Portuguese as their home language.
In Oceania, Portuguese is the second most spoken Romance language, after French, due mainly to the number of speakers in East Timor. Its closest relative, Galician, has official status in the autonomous community of Galicia in Spain, together with Spanish.
Outside Europe, French is spoken natively most in the Canadian province of Quebec, and in parts of New Brunswick and Ontario. Canada is officially bilingual, with French and English being the official languages. In parts of the Caribbean, such as Haiti, French has official status, but most people speak creoles such as Haitian Creole as their native language. French also has official status in much of Africa, but relatively few native speakers. In France's overseas possessions, native use of French is increasing.
Although Italy also had some colonial possessions before World War II, its language did not remain official after the end of the colonial domination. As a result, Italian outside of Italy and Switzerland is now spoken only as a minority language by immigrant communities in North and South America and Australia. In some former Italian colonies in Africa—namely Libya, Eritrea and Somalia—it is spoken by a few educated people in commerce and government.
Romania did not establish a colonial empire, but beyond its native territory in southeastern Europe, the Romanian language is spoken as a minority language by autochthonous populations in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Hungary, and in some parts of the former Greater Romania, as well as in Ukraine and in some villages between the Dniester and Bug rivers. The Aromanian language is spoken today by Aromanians in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Greece. Romanian also spread to other countries on the Mediterranean, and elsewhere such as Israel, where it is the native language of five percent of the population, and is spoken by many more as a secondary language. This is due to the large number of Romanian-born Jews who moved to Israel after World War II. And finally, some 2.6 million people in the former Soviet republic of Moldova speak a variety of Romanian, called variously Moldovan or Romanian by them.
The total native speakers of Romance languages are divided as follows :
Catalan is the official language of Andorra. In Spain, it is co-official with Spanish in Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and the Balearic Islands, and it is recognized, but not official, in La Franja, and in Aragon. In addition, it is spoken by many residents of Alghero, on the island of Sardinia, and it is co-official in that city. Galician, with more than a million native speakers, is official together with Spanish in Galicia, and has legal recognition in neighbouring territories in Castilla y León. A few other languages have official recognition on a regional or otherwise limited level; for instance, Asturian and Aragonese in Spain; Mirandese in Portugal; Friulan, Sardinian and Franco-Provençal in Italy; and Romansh in Switzerland.
The remaining Romance languages survive mostly as spoken languages for informal contact. National governments have historically viewed linguistic diversity as an economic, administrative or military liability, as well as a potential source of separatist movements; therefore, they have generally fought to eliminate it, by extensively promoting the use of the official language, restricting the use of the other languages in the media, recognizing them as mere "dialects", or even persecuting them. As a result, all of these languages are considered endangered to varying degrees according to the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages, ranging from "vulnerable" to "severely endangered". Since the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, increased sensitivity to the rights of minorities has allowed some of these languages to start recovering their prestige and lost rights. Yet it is unclear whether these political changes will be enough to reverse the decline of minority Romance languages.


Romance languages are the continuation of Vulgar Latin, the popular and colloquial sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers, and merchants of the Roman Empire, as distinguished from the classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. Between 350 BC and 150 AD, the expansion of the Empire, together with its administrative and educational policies, made Latin the dominant native language in continental Western Europe. Latin also exerted a strong influence in southeastern Britain, the Roman province of Africa, western Germany, Pannonia and the whole Balkans.
During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and the collapse of Western half in the fifth and sixth centuries, the spoken varieties of Latin became more isolated from each other, with the western dialects coming under heavy Germanic influence and the eastern dialects coming under Slavic influence. The dialects diverged from classical Latin at an accelerated rate and eventually evolved into a continuum of recognizably different typologies. The colonial empires established by Portugal, Spain, and France from the fifteenth century onward spread their languages to the other continents to such an extent that about two-thirds of all Romance language speakers today live outside Europe.
Despite other influences, the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of all Romance languages consist mainly of evolved forms of Vulgar Latin. However, some notable differences occur between today's Romance languages and their Roman ancestor. With only one or two exceptions, Romance languages have lost the declension system of Latin and, as a result, have SVO sentence structure and make extensive use of prepositions.

Vulgar Latin

Documentary evidence is limited about Vulgar Latin for the purposes of comprehensive research, and the literature is often hard to interpret or generalize. Many of its speakers were soldiers, slaves, displaced peoples, and forced resettlers, more likely to be natives of conquered lands than natives of Rome. In Western Europe, Latin gradually replaced Celtic and other Italic languages, which were related to it by a shared Indo-European origin. Commonalities in syntax and vocabulary facilitated the adoption of Latin.
Vulgar Latin is believed to have already had most of the features shared by all Romance languages, which distinguish them from Classical Latin, such as the almost complete loss of the Latin grammatical case system and its replacement by prepositions; the loss of the neuter grammatical gender and comparative inflections; replacement of some verb paradigms by innovations ; the use of articles; and the initial stages of the palatalization of the plosives /k/, /g/, and /t/.
To some scholars, this suggests the form of Vulgar Latin that evolved into the Romance languages was around during the time of the Roman Empire, and was spoken alongside the written Classical Latin which was reserved for official and formal occasions. Other scholars argue that the distinctions are more rightly viewed as indicative of sociolinguistic and register differences normally found within any language. Both were mutually intelligible as one and the same language, which was true until very approximately the second half of the 7th century. However, within two hundred years Latin became a dead language since "the Romanized people of Europe could no longer understand texts that were read aloud or recited to them," i.e. Latin had ceased to be a first language and became a foreign language that had to be learned, if the label Latin is constrained to refer to a state of the language frozen in past time and restricted to linguistic features for the most part typical of higher registers.
With the rise of the Roman Empire, Vulgar Latin spread first throughout Italy and then through southern, western, central, and southeast Europe, and northern Africa along parts of western Asia.

Fall of the Western Roman Empire

During the political decline of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, there were large-scale migrations into the empire, and the Latin-speaking world was fragmented into several independent states. Central Europe and the Balkans were occupied by Germanic and Slavic tribes, as well as by Huns. These incursions isolated the Vlachs from the rest of Romance-speaking Europe.
British and African Romance—the forms of Vulgar Latin used in Britain and the Roman province of Africa, where it had been spoken by much of the urban population—disappeared in the Middle Ages. But the Germanic tribes that had penetrated Roman Italy, Gaul, and Hispania eventually adopted Latin/Romance and the remnants of the culture of ancient Rome alongside existing inhabitants of those regions, and so Latin remained the dominant language there. In part due to regional dialects of the Latin language and local environments, several languages evolved from it.

Fall of the Eastern Roman empire

Meanwhile, large-scale migrations into the Eastern Roman Empire started with the Goths and continued with Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs, Pechenegs, Hungarians and Cumans. The invasions of Slavs were the most thoroughgoing, and they partially reduced the Romanic element in the Balkans.
The invasion of the Turks and conquest of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of the empire. The Slavs named the Romance-speaking population Vlachs, while the latter called themselves "Rumân" or "Român", from the Latin "Romanus" The Daco-Roman dialect became fully distinct from the three dialects spoken South of the Danube—Macedo-Romanian, Istro-Romanian, and Megleno-Romanian—during the ninth and tenth centuries, when the Romanians emerged as a people.

Early Romance

Over the course of the fourth to eighth centuries, local changes in phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon accumulated to the point that the speech of any locale was noticeably different from another. In principle, differences between any two lects increased the more they were separated geographically, reducing easy mutual intelligibility between speakers of distant communities. Clear evidence of some levels of change is found in the Reichenau Glosses, an eighth-century compilation of about 1,200 words from the fourth-century Vulgate of Jerome that had changed in phonological form or were no longer normally used, along with their eighth-century equivalents in proto-Franco-Provençal. The following are some examples with reflexes in several modern Romance languages for comparison:
EnglishClassical / 4th cent.
8th cent.
oncesemeluna viceuna fêsune foisuna vezuma vez

n iedena vota
/ enfantsmutonscriature
to blowflaresuflaresoflarsoufflersuflarsoffiaresoplarsoprar suflasulai / sularebufarsuflésciuscià
to singcanerecantareçhantarchanterchantarcantarecantarcantar cântacantarcantai / cantarecantarciantécantà
the best optimimelioreslos mèljörsles meilleursi migliori /
in the mouthin orein buccaen la bocana bocaa la bocain sa bucadins la bocate la bocia'n bocca /'mmok.kə
winterhiemshibernushìvernhiverinvierninvernoinviernoinvernoiarnăhivernierru / iberruivèrninviernvierno

In all of the above examples, the words appearing in the fourth century Vulgate are the same words as would have been used in Classical Latin of c. 50 BC. It is likely that some of these words had already disappeared from casual speech by the time of the Glosses; but if so, they may well have been still widely understood, as there is no recorded evidence that the common people of the time had difficulty understanding the language.
By the 8th century, the situation was very different. During the late 8th century, Charlemagne, holding that "Latin of his age was by classical standards intolerably corrupt", successfully imposed Classical Latin as an artificial written vernacular for Western Europe. Unfortunately, this meant that parishioners could no longer understand the sermons of their priests, forcing the Council of Tours in 813 to issue an edict that priests needed to translate their speeches into the rustica romana lingua, an explicit acknowledgement of the reality of the Romance languages as separate languages from Latin.
By this time, and possibly as early as the 6th century according to Price, the Romance lects had split apart enough to be able to speak of separate Gallo-Romance, Ibero-Romance, Italo-Romance and Eastern Romance languages. Some researchers have postulated that the major divergences in the spoken dialects began or accelerated considerably in the 5th century, as the formerly widespread and efficient communication networks of the Western Roman Empire rapidly broke down, leading to the total disappearance of the Western Roman Empire by the end of the century. The critical period between the 5th–10th centuries AD is poorly documented because little or no writing from the chaotic "Dark Ages" of the 5th–8th centuries has survived, and writing after that time was in consciously classicized Medieval Latin, with vernacular writing only beginning in earnest in the 11th or 12th centuries. An exception such as the Oaths of Strasbourg is evidence that by the ninth century effective communication with a non-learnèd audience was carried out in evolved Romance.
A language that was closely related to medieval Romanian was spoken during the Dark Ages by Vlachs in the Balkans, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Moravia, but gradually these communities lost their maternal language.

Recognition of the vernaculars

Between the 10th and 13th centuries, some local vernaculars developed a written form and began to supplant Latin in many of its roles. In some countries, such as Portugal, this transition was expedited by force of law; whereas in others, such as Italy, many prominent poets and writers used the vernacular of their own accord – some of the most famous in Italy being Giacomo da Lentini and Dante Alighieri. Well before that, the vernacular was also used for practical purposes, such as the testimonies in the Placiti Cassinesi, written 960-963.

Uniformization and standardization

The invention of the printing press brought a tendency towards greater uniformity of standard languages within political boundaries, at the expense of other Romance languages and dialects less favored politically. In France, for instance, the dialect spoken in the region of Paris gradually spread to the entire country, and the Occitan of the south lost ground.

Sound changes


Significant sound changes affected the consonants of the Romance languages.


There was a tendency to eliminate final consonants in Vulgar Latin, either by dropping them or adding a vowel after them.
Many final consonants were rare, occurring only in certain prepositions, conjunctions, demonstratives, and nominative singular noun forms, especially of neuter nouns. Many of these prepositions and conjunctions were replaced by others, while the nouns were regularized into forms based on their oblique stems that avoided the final consonants.
Final -m was dropped in Vulgar Latin. Even in Classical Latin, final -am, -em, -um were often elided in poetic meter, suggesting the m was weakly pronounced, probably marking the nasalisation of the vowel before it. This nasal vowel lost its nasalization in the Romance languages except in monosyllables, where it became e.g. Spanish quien < quem "whom", French rien "anything" < rem "thing"; note especially French and Catalan mon < meum "my " pronounced as one syllable but Spanish mío and Portuguese and Catalan meu < meum pronounced as two.
As a result, only the following final consonants occurred in Vulgar Latin:
Final -t was eventually dropped in many languages, although this often occurred several centuries after the Vulgar Latin period. For example, the reflex of -t was dropped in Old French and Old Spanish only around 1100. In Old French, this occurred only when a vowel still preceded the t. Hence amat "he loves" > Old French aime but venit "he comes" > Old French vient: the was never dropped and survives into Modern French in liaison, e.g. vient-il? "is he coming?" . Old French also kept the third-person plural ending -nt intact.
In Italo-Romance and the Eastern Romance languages, eventually all final consonants were either dropped or protected by an epenthetic vowel, except in clitic forms. Modern Standard Italian still has almost no consonant-final words, although Romanian has resurfaced them through later loss of final and. For example, amās "you love" > ame > Italian ami; amant "they love" > *aman > Ital. amano. On the evidence of "sloppily written" Lombardic language documents, however, the loss of final in Italy did not occur until the 7th or 8th century, after the Vulgar Latin period, and the presence of many former final consonants is betrayed by the syntactic gemination that they trigger. It is also thought that after a long vowel became rather than simply disappearing: nōs > noi "we", seēs > sei "you are", crās > crai "tomorrow". In unstressed syllables, the resulting diphthongs were simplified: canēs > > cani "dogs"; amīcās > > amiche " friends", where nominative amīcae should produce **amice rather than amiche.
Central Western Romance languages eventually regained a large number of final consonants through the general loss of final and, e.g. Catalan llet "milk" < lactem, foc "fire" < focum, peix "fish" < piscem. In French, most of these secondary final consonants were lost before around 1700, but tertiary final consonants later arose through the loss of < -a. Hence masculine frīgidum "cold" > Old French freit > froid, feminine frigidam > Old French freide > froide.


was one of the most important processes affecting consonants in Vulgar Latin. This eventually resulted in a whole series of "" and consonants in most Romance languages, e.g. Italian.
The following historical stages occurred:
StageEnvironmentConsonants affectedResultLanguages affected
1before , , all
2before all remaining, except labial consonants <, <,,, all except Sardinian
3before , , all except Sardinian
4before , , all except Sardinian and Dalmatian
5before, , , north-central Gallo-Romance ; Rhaeto-Romance

Note how the environments become progressively less "palatal", and the languages affected become progressively fewer.
The outcomes of palatalization depended on the historical stage, the consonants involved, and the languages involved. The primary division is between the Western Romance languages, with resulting from palatalization of, and the remaining languages, with resulting. It is often suggested that was the original result in all languages, with > a later innovation in the Western Romance languages. Evidence of this is the fact that Italian has both and as outcomes of palatalization in different environments, while Western Romance has only. Even more suggestive is the fact that the Mozarabic language in al-Andalus had as the outcome despite being in the "Western Romance" area and geographically disconnected from the remaining areas; this suggests that Mozarabic was an outlying "relic" area where the change > failed to reach. Note that eventually became /s, z, ʒ/ in most Western Romance languages. Thus Latin caelum, pronounced with an initial, became Italian cielo, Romanian cer, Spanish cielo /, French ciel, Catalan cel, and Portuguese céu.
The outcome of palatalized and is less clear:
This suggests that palatalized > > either or depending on location, while palatalized > ; after this, > in most areas, but Spanish and Gascon were relic areas unaffected by this change.
In French, the outcomes of palatalized by and by were different: centum "hundred" > cent but cantum "song" > chant. French also underwent palatalization of labials before : Vulgar Latin > Old French .
The original outcomes of palatalization must have continued to be phonetically palatalized even after they had developed into //etc. consonants. This is clear from French, where all originally palatalized consonants triggered the development of a following glide in certain circumstances. In some cases this came from a consonant palatalized by an adjoining consonant after the late loss of a separating vowel. For example, mansiōnātam > > > > early Old French maisnieḍe "household". Similarly, mediētātem > > > > early Old French meitieḍ > modern French moitié "half". In both cases, phonetic palatalization must have remained in primitive Old French at least through the time when unstressed intertonic vowels were lost, well after the fragmentation of the Romance languages.
The effect of palatalization is indicated in the writing systems of almost all Romance languages, where the letters have the "hard" pronunciation in most situations, but a "soft" pronunciation before. This has the effect of keeping the modern spelling similar to the original Latin spelling, but complicates the relationship between sound and letter. In particular, the hard sounds must be written differently before , and likewise for the soft sounds when not before these letters. Furthermore, in Spanish, Catalan, Occitan and Brazilian Portuguese, the use of digraphs containing to signal the hard pronunciation before means that a different spelling is also needed to signal the sounds before these vowels. This produces a number of orthographic alternations in verbs whose pronunciation is entirely regular. The following are examples of corresponding first-person plural indicative and subjunctive in a number of regular Portuguese verbs: marcamos, marquemos "we mark"; caçamos, cacemos "we hunt"; chegamos, cheguemos "we arrive"; averiguamos, averigüemos "we verify"; adequamos, adeqüemos "we adapt"; oferecemos, ofereçamos "we offer"; dirigimos, dirijamos "we drive" erguemos, ergamos "we raise"; delinquimos, delincamos "we commit a crime". In the case of Italian, the convention of digraphs and to represent /k/ and /g/ before written results in similar orthographic alternations, such as dimentico 'I forget', dimentichi 'you forget', baco 'worm', bachi 'worms' with or pago 'I pay', paghi 'you pay' and lago 'lake', laghi 'lakes' with . The use in Italian of and to represent /tʃ/ or /dʒ/ before vowels written neatly distinguishes dico 'I say' with /k/ from dici 'you say' with /tʃ/ or ghiro 'dormouse' /g/ and giro 'turn, revolution' /dʒ/, but with orthographic and also representing the sequence of /tʃ/ or /dʒ/ and the actual vowel /i/, and no generally observed convention of indicating stress position, the status of i when followed by another vowel in spelling can be unrecognizable. For example, the written forms offer no indication that in camicia 'shirt' represents a single unstressed syllable /tʃa/ with no /i/ at any level, but that underlying the same spelling in farmacia 'pharmacy' is a bisyllabic sequence consisting of the stressed syllable /tʃi/ and syllabic /a/.


s shifted by lenition in Vulgar Latin in some areas.
The voiced labial consonants and both developed a fricative as an intervocalic allophone. This is clear from the orthography; in medieval times, the spelling of a consonantal is often used for what had been a in Classical Latin, or the two spellings were used interchangeably. In many Romance languages, this fricative later developed into a ; but in others reflexes of and simply merged into a single phoneme.
Several other consonants were "softened" in intervocalic position in Western Romance, but normally not phonemically in the rest of Italy, nor apparently at all in Romanian. The dividing line between the two sets of dialects is called the La Spezia–Rimini Line and is one of the most important isoglosses of the Romance dialects. The changes are as follows:
Single voiceless plosives became voiced: -p-, -t-, -c- > -b-, -d-, -g-. Subsequently, in some languages they were further weakened, either becoming fricatives or approximants, or disappearing entirely. The following example shows progressive weakening of original /t/: e.g. vītam > Italian vita, Portuguese vida , Spanish vida , and French vie. Some scholars once speculated that these sound changes may be due in part to the influence of Continental Celtic languages, but scholarship of the past few decades challenges that hypothesis.
  • The voiced plosives and tended to disappear.
  • The plain sibilant -s- was also voiced to between vowels, although in many languages its spelling has not changed.
  • The double plosives became single: -pp-, -tt-, -cc-, -bb-, -dd-, -gg- > -p-, -t-, -c-, -b-, -d-, -g- in most languages. In French spelling, double consonants are merely etymological, except for -ll- after -i, in most cases.
  • The double sibilant -ss- also became phonetically single, although in many languages its spelling has not changed.
Consonant length is no longer phonemically distinctive in most Romance languages. However some languages of Italy do have long consonants like,, etc., where the doubling indicates either actual length or, in the case of plosives and affricates, a short hold before the consonant is released, in many cases with distinctive lexical value: e.g. note vs. notte , cade vs. cadde , caro vs. carro . They may even occur at the beginning of words in Romanesco, Neapolitan, Sicilian and other southern varieties, and are occasionally indicated in writing, e.g. Sicilian cchiù, and ccà. In general, the consonants,, and are long at the start of a word, while the archiphoneme is realised as a trill in the same position. In much of central and southern Italy, the affricates /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/ weaken synchronically to fricative and between vowels, while their geminate congeners do not, e.g. cacio vs. caccio .
A few languages have regained secondary geminate consonants. The double consonants of Piedmontese exist only after stressed, written ë, and are not etymological: vëdde, sëcca. In standard Catalan and Occitan, there exists a geminate sound written ŀl or ll, but it is usually pronounced as a simple sound in colloquial speech in both languages.

Vowel prosthesis

In Late Latin a prosthetic vowel /i/ was inserted at the beginning of any word that began with and a voiceless consonant :
  • scrībere 'to write' > Sardinian iscribere, Spanish escribir, Portuguese escrever, Catalan escriure, Old French escrire ;
  • spatha "sword" > Sard ispada, Sp/Pg espada, Cat espasa, OFr espeḍe ;
  • spiritus "spirit" > Sard ispìritu, Sp espíritu, Pg espírito, Cat esperit, French esprit;
  • Stephanum "Stephen" > Sard Istèvene, Sp Esteban, Cat Esteve, Pg Estêvão, OFr Estievne ;
  • status "state" > Sard istadu, Sp/Pg estado, Cat estat, OFr estat.
Prosthetic /i/ ~ /e/ in Romance languages may have been influenced by Continental Celtic languages, although the phenomenon exists or existed in some areas where Celtic was never present. While Western Romance words undergo prothesis, cognates in Balkan Romance and southern Italo-Romance do not, e.g. Italian scrivere, spada, spirito, Stefano, and stato. In Italian, syllabification rules were preserved instead by vowel-final articles, thus feminine spada as la spada, but instead of rendering the masculine *il spaghetto, lo spaghetto came to be the norm. Though receding at present, Italian once had a prosthetic if a consonant preceded such clusters, so that 'in Switzerland' was in Svizzera. Some speakers still use the prothetic productively, and it is fossilized in a few set locutions such as in ispecie 'especially' or per iscritto 'in writing'. The association of /i/ ~ /j/ and /s/ also led to the vocalization of word-final -s in Italian, Romanian, certain Occitan dialects, and the Spanish dialect of Chocó in Colombia.

Stressed vowels

Loss of vowel length, reorientation

One profound change that affected Vulgar Latin was the reorganisation of its vowel system. Classical Latin had five short vowels, ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, ŭ, and five long vowels, ā, ē, ī, ō, ū, each of which was an individual phoneme, and four diphthongs, ae, oe, au and eu. There were also long and short versions of y, representing the rounded vowel in Greek borrowings, which however probably came to be pronounced even before Romance vowel changes started.
There is evidence that in the imperial period all the short vowels except a differed by quality as well as by length from their long counterparts. So, for example ē was pronounced close-mid while ĕ was pronounced open-mid, and ī was pronounced close while ĭ was pronounced near-close.
During the Proto-Romance period, phonemic length distinctions were lost. Vowels came to be automatically pronounced long in stressed, open syllables, and pronounced short everywhere else. This situation is still maintained in modern Italian: cade "he falls" vs. cadde "he fell".
The Proto-Romance loss of phonemic length originally produced a system with nine different quality distinctions in monophthongs, where only original had merged. Soon, however, many of these vowels coalesced:
  • The simplest outcome was in Sardinian, where the former long and short vowels in Latin simply coalesced, e.g. >, > : This produced a simple five-vowel system.
  • In most areas, however, the near-close vowels lowered and merged into the high-mid vowels. As a result, Latin pira "pear" and vēra "true", came to rhyme. Similarly, Latin nucem and vōcem become Italian noce, voce, Portuguese noz, voz, and French noix, voix. This produced a seven-vowel system, still maintained in conservative languages such as Italian and Portuguese, and lightly transformed in Spanish.
  • In the Eastern Romance languages, the front vowels evolved as in the majority of languages, but the back vowels evolved as in Sardinian. This produced an unbalanced six-vowel system:. In modern Romanian, this system has been significantly transformed, with and with new vowels evolving, leading to a balanced seven-vowel system with central as well as front and back vowels:.
  • Sicilian is sometimes described as having its own distinct vowel system. In fact, Sicilian passed through the same developments as the main bulk of Italo-Western languages. Subsequently, however, high-mid vowels were raised in all syllables, stressed and unstressed; i.e.. The result is a five-vowel.
The Proto-Romance allophonic vowel-length system was rephonemicized in the Gallo-Romance languages as a result of the loss of many final vowels. Some northern Italian languages still maintain this secondary phonemic length, but most languages dropped it by either diphthongizing or shortening the new long vowels.
French phonemicized a third vowel length system around AD 1300 as a result of the sound change /VsC/ > /VhC/ > . This vowel length was eventually lost by around AD 1700, but the former long vowels are still marked with a circumflex. A fourth vowel length system, still non-phonemic, has now arisen: All nasal vowels as well as the oral vowels are pronounced long in all stressed closed syllables, and all vowels are pronounced long in syllables closed by the voiced fricatives. This system in turn has been phonemicized in some non-standard dialects, as a result of the loss of final.

Latin diphthongs

The Latin diphthongs ae and oe, pronounced and in earlier Latin, were early on monophthongized.
ae became by the 1st century at the latest. Although this sound was still distinct from all existing vowels, the neutralization of Latin vowel length eventually caused its merger with < short e: e.g. caelum "sky" > French ciel, Spanish/Italian cielo, Portuguese céu, with the same vowel as in mele "honey" > French/Spanish miel, Italian miele, Portuguese mel. Some words show an early merger of ae with, as in praeda "booty" > *prēda > French proie, Italian preda "prey"; or faenum "hay" > *fēnum > Spanish heno, French foin.
oe generally merged with : poenam "punishment" > Romance * > Spanish/Italian pena, French peine; foedus "ugly" > Romance * > Spanish feo, Portuguese feio. There are relatively few such outcomes, since oe was rare in Classical Latin and so oe was mostly limited to Greek loanwords, which were typically learned terms.
au merged with ō in the popular speech of Rome already by the 1st century. A number of authors remarked on this explicitly, e.g. Cicero's taunt that the populist politician Publius Clodius Pulcher had changed his name from Claudius to ingratiate himself with the masses. This change never penetrated far from Rome, however, and the pronunciation /au/ was maintained for centuries in the vast majority of Latin-speaking areas, although it eventually developed into some variety of o in many languages. For example, Italian and French have as the usual reflex, but this post-dates diphthongization of and the French-specific palatalization > . Spanish has, but Portuguese spelling maintains, which has developed to . Occitan, Romanian, southern Italian languages, and many other minority Romance languages still have. A few common words, however, show an early merger with ō, evidently reflecting a generalization of the popular Roman pronunciation: e.g. French queue, Italian coda, Occitan coa, Romanian coadă must all derive from cōda rather than Classical cauda. Similarly, Spanish oreja, Portuguese orelha, French oreille, Romanian ureche, and Sardinian olícra, orícla "ear" must derive from ōricla rather than Classical auris, and the form oricla is in fact reflected in the Appendix Probi.

Further developments

An early process that operated in all Romance languages to varying degrees was metaphony, conceptually similar to the umlaut process so characteristic of the Germanic languages. Depending on the language, certain stressed vowels were raised either by a final /i/ or /u/ or by a directly following /j/. Metaphony is most extensive in the Italo-Romance languages, and applies to nearly all languages in Italy; however, it is absent from Tuscan, and hence from standard Italian. In many languages affected by metaphony, a distinction exists between final /u/ and final /o/, and only the former triggers metaphony.
Some examples:
  • In Servigliano in the Marche of Italy, stressed are raised to before final /i/ or /u/: "I put" vs. "you put" ; "modest " vs. "modest "; "this " vs. "this ".
  • Calvallo in Basilicata, southern Italy, is similar, but the low-mid vowels are diphthongized to rather than raised: "he puts" vs. "you put", but "I think" vs. "you think".
  • Metaphony also occurs in most northern Italian dialects, but only by final *i; apparently, final *u was lowered to *o before metaphony could take effect.
  • Some of the Astur-Leonese languages in northern Spain have the same distinction between final /o/ and /u/ as in the Central-Southern Italian languages, with /u/ triggering metaphony. The plural of masculine nouns in these dialects ends in -os, which does not trigger metaphony, unlike in the singular.
  • Sardinian has allophonic raising of mid vowels to before final /i/ or /u/. This has been phonemicized in the Campidanese dialect as a result of the raising of final /e o/ to /i u/.
  • Raising of to occurs sporadically in Portuguese in the masculine singular, e.g. porco "pig" vs. porcos "pig". It is thought that Galician-Portuguese at one point had singular /u/ vs. plural /os/, exactly as in modern Astur-Leonese.
  • In all of the Western Romance languages, final /i/ raised mid-high to, e.g. Portuguese fiz "I did" vs. fez "he did". Old Spanish similarly had fize "I did" vs. fezo "he did", but subsequently generalized stressed /i/, producing modern hice "I did" vs. hizo "he did". The same thing happened prehistorically in Old French, yielding fis "I did", fist "he did".
A number of languages diphthongized some of the free vowels, especially the open-mid vowels :
  • Spanish consistently diphthongized all open-mid vowels except for before certain palatal consonants.
  • Romanian similarly diphthongized to .
  • Italian diphthongized and in open syllables, the most salient exception being /ˈbɛne/ bene 'well', perhaps due to the high frequency of apocopated ben.
  • French similarly diphthongized in open syllables, along with : > > middle OF > modern.
  • French also diphthongized before palatalized consonants, especially /j/. Further development was as follows: ; > /uoj/ > early OF /uj/ > modern /ɥi/.
  • Catalan diphthongized before /j/ from palatalized consonants, just like French, with similar results:,.
These diphthongizations had the effect of reducing or eliminating the distinctions between open-mid and close-mid vowels in many languages. In Spanish and Romanian, all open-mid vowels were diphthongized, and the distinction disappeared entirely. Portuguese is the most conservative in this respect, keeping the seven-vowel system more or less unchanged. Other than before palatalized consonants, Catalan keeps intact, but split in a complex fashion into and then coalesced again in the standard dialect in such a way that most original have reversed their quality to become.
In French and Italian, the distinction between open-mid and close-mid vowels occurred only in closed syllables. Standard Italian more or less maintains this. In French, /e/ and merged by the twelfth century or so, and the distinction between and was eliminated without merging by the sound changes,. Generally this led to a situation where both and occur allophonically, with the close-mid vowels in open syllables and the open-mid vowels in closed syllables. This is still the situation in modern Spanish, for example. In French, however, both and were partly rephonemicized: Both and occur in open syllables as a result of, and both and occur in closed syllables as a result of.
Old French also had numerous falling diphthongs resulting from diphthongization before palatal consonants or from a fronted /j/ originally following palatal consonants in Proto-Romance or later: e.g. pācem /patsʲe/ "peace" > PWR */padzʲe/ > OF paiz /pajts/; *punctum "point" > Gallo-Romance */ponʲto/ > */pojɲto/ > OF point /põjnt/. During the Old French period, preconsonantal /l/ vocalized to /w/, producing many new falling diphthongs: e.g. dulcem "sweet" > PWR */doltsʲe/ > OF dolz /duɫts/ > douz /duts/; fallet "fails, is deficient" > OF falt > faut "is needed"; bellus "beautiful" > OF bels > beaus. By the end of the Middle French period, all falling diphthongs either monophthongized or switched to rising diphthongs: proto-OF > early OF > modern spelling > mod. French.
In both French and Portuguese, nasal vowels eventually developed from sequences of a vowel followed by a nasal consonant. Originally, all vowels in both languages were nasalized before any nasal consonants, and nasal consonants not immediately followed by a vowel were eventually dropped. In French, nasal vowels before remaining nasal consonants were subsequently denasalized, but not before causing the vowels to lower somewhat, e.g. dōnat "he gives" > OF dune > donne, fēminam > femme. Other vowels remained diphthongized, and were dramatically lowered: fīnem "end" > fin ; linguam "tongue" > langue ; ūnum "one" > un.
In Portuguese, /n/ between vowels was dropped, and the resulting hiatus eliminated through vowel contraction of various sorts, often producing diphthongs: manum, *manōs > PWR *manu, ˈmanos "hand" > mão, mãos ; canem, canēs "dog" > PWR *kane, ˈkanes > *can, ˈcanes > cão, cães ; ratiōnem, ratiōnēs "reason" > PWR *raˈdʲzʲone, raˈdʲzʲones > *raˈdzon, raˈdzones > razão, razões , . Sometimes the nasalization was eliminated: lūna "moon" > Galician-Portuguese lũa > lua; vēna "vein" > Galician-Portuguese vẽa > veia. Nasal vowels that remained actually tend to be raised : fīnem "end" > fim ; centum "hundred" > PWR tʲsʲɛnto > cento ; pontem "bridge" > PWR pɔnte > ponte , . In Portugal, vowels before a nasal consonant have become denasalized, but in Brazil they remain heavily nasalized.

Front-rounded vowels

Characteristic of the Gallo-Romance languages and Rhaeto-Romance languages are the front rounded vowels. All of these languages show an unconditional change /u/ > /y/, e.g. lūnam > French lune, Occitan. Many of the languages in Switzerland and Italy show the further change /y/ > /i/. Also very common is some variation of the French development > >, with mid back vowels diphthongizing in some circumstances and then re-monophthongizing into mid-front rounded vowels.

Unstressed vowels

There was more variability in the result of the unstressed vowels. Originally in Proto-Romance, the same nine vowels developed in unstressed as stressed syllables, and in Sardinian, they coalesced into the same five vowels in the same way.
In Italo-Western Romance, however, vowels in unstressed syllables were significantly different from stressed vowels, with yet a third outcome for final unstressed syllables. In non-final unstressed syllables, the seven-vowel system of stressed syllables developed, but then the low-mid vowels merged into the high-mid vowels. This system is still preserved, largely or completely, in all of the conservative Romance languages.
In final unstressed syllables, results were somewhat complex. One of the more difficult issues is the development of final short -u, which appears to have been raised to rather than lowered to, as happened in all other syllables. However, it is possible that in reality, final comes from long * < -um, where original final -m caused vowel lengthening as well as nasalization. Evidence of this comes from Rhaeto-Romance, in particular Sursilvan, which preserves reflexes of both final -us and -um, and where the latter, but not the former, triggers metaphony. This suggests the development -us > >, but -um > >.
The original five-vowel system in final unstressed syllables was preserved as-is in some of the more conservative central Italian languages, but in most languages there was further coalescence:
  • In Tuscan, final /u/ merged into /o/.
  • In the Western Romance languages, final /i/ eventually merged into /e/. Conservative languages like Spanish largely maintain that system, but drop final /e/ after certain single consonants, e.g. /r/, /l/, /n/, /d/, /z/.
  • In the Gallo-Romance languages, final /o/ and /e/ were dropped entirely unless that produced an impossible final cluster, in which case a "prop vowel" /e/ was added. This left only two final vowels: /a/ and prop vowel /e/. Catalan preserves this system.
  • Loss of final stressless vowels in Venetian shows a pattern intermediate between Central Italian and the Gallo-Italic branch, and the environments for vowel deletion vary considerably depending on the dialect. In the table above, final /e/ is uniformly absent in mar, absent in some dialects in part /part/ and set /sɛt/, but retained in mare as a relic of the earlier cluster *dr.
  • In primitive Old French, these two remaining vowels merged into.
Various later changes happened in individual languages, e.g.:
  • In French, most final consonants were dropped, and then final was also dropped. The is still preserved in spelling as a final silent -e, whose main purpose is to signal that the previous consonant is pronounced, e.g. port "port" vs. porte "door". These changes also eliminated the difference between singular and plural in most words: ports "ports", portes "doors". Final consonants reappear in liaison contexts, e.g. nous "we" vs. nous avons "we have", il fait "he does" vs. fait-il ? "does he?".
  • In Portuguese, final unstressed /o/ and /u/ were apparently preserved intact for a while, since final unstressed /u/, but not /o/ or /os/, triggered metaphony. Final-syllable unstressed /o/ was raised in preliterary times to /u/, but always still written. At some point, final-syllable unstressed /e/ was raised to /i/ ; this remains in Brazilian Portuguese, but has developed to in northern and central European Portuguese.
  • In Catalan, final unstressed >. In many dialects, unstressed and merge into as in Portuguese, and unstressed and merge into. However, some dialects preserve the original five-vowel system, most notably standard Valencian.

    Intertonic vowels

The so-called intertonic vowels are word-internal unstressed vowels, i.e. not in the initial, final, or tonic syllable, hence intertonic. Intertonic vowels were the most subject to loss or modification. Already in Vulgar Latin intertonic vowels between a single consonant and a following /r/ or /l/ tended to drop: vétulum "old" > veclum > Dalmatian vieklo, Sicilian vecchiu, Portuguese velho. But many languages ultimately dropped almost all intertonic vowels.
Generally, those languages south and east of the La Spezia–Rimini Line maintained intertonic vowels, while those to the north and west dropped all except /a/. Standard Italian generally maintained intertonic vowels, but typically raised unstressed /e/ > /i/. Examples:
  • septimā́nam "week" > Italian settimana, Romanian săptămână vs. Spanish/Portuguese semana, French semaine, Occitan/Catalan setmana, Piedmontese sman-a
  • quattuórdecim "fourteen" > Italian quattordici, Venetian cuatòrdexe, Lombard/Piedmontese quatòrdes, vs. Spanish catorce, Portuguese/French quatorze
  • metipsissimus > medipsimus /medíssimos/ ~ /medéssimos/ "self" > Italian medésimo vs. Venetian medemo, Lombard medemm, Old Spanish meísmo, meesmo, Galician-Portuguese meesmo, Old French meḍisme
  • bonitā́tem "goodness" > Italian bonità ~ bontà, Romanian bunătate but Spanish bondad, Portuguese bondade, French bonté
  • collocā́re "to position, arrange" > Italian coricare vs. Spanish colgar "to hang", Romanian culca "to lie down", French coucher "to lay sth on its side; put s.o. to bed"
  • commūnicā́re "to take communion" > Romanian cumineca vs. Portuguese comungar, Spanish comulgar, Old French comungier
  • carricā́re "to load " > Portuguese/Catalan carregar vs. Spanish/Occitan cargar "to load", French charger, Lombard cargà/caregà, Venetian carigar/cargar "to load"
  • fábricam "forge" > > Spanish fragua, Portuguese frágua, Occitan/Catalan farga, French forge
  • disjējūnā́re "to break a fast" > *disjūnā́re > Old French disner "to have lunch" > French dîner "to dine"
  • adjūtā́re "to help" > Italian aiutare, Romanian ajuta but French aider, Lombard aidà/aiuttà
Portuguese is more conservative in maintaining some intertonic vowels other than /a/: e.g. *offerḗscere "to offer" > Portuguese oferecer vs. Spanish ofrecer, French offrir. French, on the other hand, drops even intertonic /a/ after the stress: Stéphanum "Stephen" > Spanish Esteban but Old French Estievne > French Étienne. Many cases of /a/ before the stress also ultimately dropped in French: sacraméntum "sacrament" > Old French sairement > French serment "oath".

Writing systems

The Romance languages for the most part have kept the writing system of Latin, adapting it to their evolution.
One exception was Romanian before the nineteenth century, where, after the Roman retreat, literacy was reintroduced through the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet, a Slavic influence. A Cyrillic alphabet was also used for Romanian in the USSR. The non-Christian populations of Spain also used the scripts of their religions to write Romance languages such as Ladino and Mozarabic in aljamiado.


The Romance languages are written with the classical Latin alphabet of 23 letters – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, Z – subsequently modified and augmented in various ways. In particular, the single Latin letter V split into V and U, and the letter I split into I and J. The Latin letter K and the new letter W, which came to be widely used in Germanic languages, are seldom used in most Romance languages – mostly for unassimilated foreign names and words. Indeed, in Italian prose is properly. Catalan eschews importation of "foreign" letters more than most languages. Thus Wikipedia is in Catalan but in Spanish.
While most of the 23 basic Latin letters have maintained their phonetic value, for some of them it has diverged considerably; and the new letters added since the Middle Ages have been put to different uses in different scripts. Some letters, notably H and Q, have been variously combined in digraphs or trigraphs to represent phonetic phenomena that could not be recorded with the basic Latin alphabet, or to get around previously established spelling conventions. Most languages added auxiliary marks to some letters, for these and other purposes.
The spelling rules of most Romance languages are fairly simple, and consistent within any language. Since the spelling systems are based on phonemic structures rather than phonetics, however, the actual pronunciation of what is represented in standard orthography can be subject to considerable regional variation, as well as to allophonic differentiation by position in the word or utterance. Among the letters representing the most conspicuous phonological variations, between Romance languages or with respect to Latin, are the following:
Otherwise, letters that are not combined as digraphs generally represent the same phonemes as suggested by the International Phonetic Alphabet, whose design was, in fact, greatly influenced by Romance spelling systems.

Digraphs and trigraphs

Since most Romance languages have more sounds than can be accommodated in the Roman Latin alphabet they all resort to the use of digraphs and trigraphs – combinations of two or three letters with a single phonemic value. The concept is derived from Classical Latin, which used, for example, TH, PH, and CH when transliterating the Greek letters "θ", "ϕ", and "χ". These were once aspirated sounds in Greek before changing to corresponding fricatives, and the H represented what sounded to the Romans like an following,, and respectively. Some of the digraphs used in modern scripts are:
While the digraphs CH, PH, RH and TH were at one time used in many words of Greek origin, most languages have now replaced them with C/QU, F, R and T. Only French has kept these etymological spellings, which now represent or,, and, respectively.

Double consonants

, in the languages where it occurs, is usually indicated by doubling the consonant, except when it does not contrast phonemically with the corresponding short consonant, in which case gemination is not indicated. In Jèrriais, long consonants are marked with an apostrophe: s's is a long, ss's is a long, and t't is a long. The phonemic contrast between geminate and single consonants is widespread in Italian, and normally indicated in the traditional orthography: fatto 'done' vs. fato 'fate, destiny'; cadde 's/he, it fell' vs. cade 's/he, it falls'. The double consonants in French orthography, however, are merely etymological. In Catalan, the gemination of l is marked by a punt volat : l·l.


Romance languages also introduced various marks that may be attached to some letters, for various purposes. In some cases, diacritics are used as an alternative to digraphs and trigraphs; namely to represent a larger number of sounds than would be possible with the basic alphabet, or to distinguish between sounds that were previously written the same. Diacritics are also used to mark word stress, to indicate exceptional pronunciation of letters in certain words, and to distinguish words with same pronunciation.
Depending on the language, some letter-diacritic combinations may be considered distinct letters, e.g. for the purposes of lexical sorting. This is the case, for example, of Romanian ș and Spanish ñ.
The following are the most common use of diacritics in Romance languages.
  • Vowel quality: the system of marking close-mid vowels with an acute accent, é, and open-mid vowels with a grave accent, è, is widely used. Portuguese, however, uses the circumflex for the former, and the acute, for the latter. Some minority Romance languages use an umlaut in the case of ä, ö, ü to indicate fronted vowel variants, as in German. Centralized vowels are indicated variously. In French, Occitan and Romanian, these accents are used whenever necessary to distinguish the appropriate vowel quality, but in the other languages, they are used only when it is necessary to mark unpredictable stress, or in some cases to distinguish homophones.
  • Vowel length: French uses a circumflex to indicate what had been a long vowel. This same usage is found in some minority languages.
  • Nasality: Portuguese marks nasal vowels with a tilde when they occur before other written vowels and in some other instances.
  • Palatalization: some historical palatalizations are indicated with the cedilla in French, Catalan, Occitan and Portuguese. In Spanish and several other world languages influenced by it, the grapheme ñ represents a palatal nasal consonant.
  • Separate pronunciation: when a vowel and another letter that would normally be combined into a digraph with a single sound are exceptionally pronounced apart, this is often indicated with a diaeresis mark on the vowel. This is particularly common in the case of /gw/ before e or i, because plain gu in this case would be pronounced /g/. This usage occurs in Spanish, French, Catalan and Occitan, and occurred before the 2009 spelling reform in Brazilian Portuguese. French also uses the diaeresis on the second of two adjacent vowels to indicate that both are pronounced separately, as in Noël "Christmas" and haïr "to hate".
  • Stress: the stressed vowel in a polysyllabic word may be indicated with an accent, when it cannot be predicted by rule. In Italian, Portuguese and Catalan, the choice of accent may depend on vowel quality. When no quality needs to be indicated, an acute accent is normally used, but Italian and Romansh use a grave accent. Portuguese puts a diacritic on all stressed monosyllables that end in a e o as es os, to distinguish them from unstressed function words: chá "tea", más "bad ", "seat ", "give! ", mês "month", "only", nós "we". Word-final stressed vowels in polysyllables are marked by the grave accent in Italian, thus università "university/universities", virtù "virtue/virtues", resulting in occasional minimal or near-minimal pairs such as parlo "I speak" ≠ parlò "s/he spoke", capi "heads, bosses" ≠ capì "s/he understood", gravita "it, s'/he gravitates" ≠ gravità "gravity, seriousness".
  • Homophones: words that are pronounced exactly or nearly the same way and are spelled identically, but have different meanings, can be differentiated by a diacritic. Typically, if one of the pair is stressed and the other isn't, the stressed word gets the diacritic, using the appropriate diacritic for notating stressed syllables. Portuguese does this consistently as part of notating stress in certain monosyllables, whether or not there is an unstressed homophone. Spanish also has many pairs of identically pronounced words distinguished by an acute accent on the stressed word: si "if" vs. "yes", mas "but" vs. más "more", mi "my" vs. "me", se "oneself" vs. "I know", te "you " vs. "tea", que/quien/cuando/como "that/who/when/how" vs. qué/quién/cuándo/cómo "what?/who?/when?/how?", etc. A similar strategy is common for monosyllables in writing Italian, but not necessarily determined by stress: stressed "it, s/he gives" vs. unstressed da "by, from", but also "tea" and te "you", both capable of bearing phrasal stress. Catalan has some pairs where both words are stressed, and one is distinguished by a vowel-quality diacritic, e.g. os "bone" vs. ós "bear". When no vowel-quality needs distinguishing, French and Catalan use a grave accent: French ou "or" vs. "where", French la "the" vs. "there", Catalan ma "my" vs. "hand".

    Upper and lower case

Most languages are written with a mixture of two distinct but phonetically identical variants or "cases" of the alphabet: majuscule, derived from Roman stone-carved letter shapes, and minuscule, derived from Carolingian writing and Medieval quill pen handwriting which were later adapted by printers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In particular, all Romance languages capitalize the following words: the first word of each complete sentence, most words in names of people, places, and organizations, and most words in titles of books. The Romance languages do not follow the German practice of capitalizing all nouns including common ones. Unlike English, the names of months, days of the weeks, and derivatives of proper nouns are usually not capitalized: thus, in Italian one capitalizes Francia and Francesco, but not francese or francescano. However, each language has some exceptions to this general rule.

Vocabulary comparison

The tables below provide a vocabulary comparison that illustrates a number of examples of sound shifts that have occurred between Latin and Romance languages. Words are given in their conventional spellings. In addition, for French the actual pronunciation is given, due to the dramatic differences between spelling and pronunciation.
manhomō, hominemómineomomuomuuomoomoòmòmòmomumhomme òmehomeomehombrehomehomemhome
woman, wifeDomina, femina,mulier, mulieremFémina, muzèrefemeie, muieremugghieridonna, mogliedonna, mogliemujermujérdòna/fomna, miee/moglierfomnamuîrmuglierfemme
OF moillier
OOc mólher /
dona, mullermullermujermuyermulhermuller
sonfīliumfízufiufigghiufigliu/figliolufigliofiofiōlfiœlfieulfifigl, feglfils filhfillfillohijofíufilhofillo
wateraquamàbbaapăacquaacquaacquaacuaaquaaqua/ova/eivaevaagheauaeau aigaaiguaaigua, auguaaguaaguaáguaauga
firefocumfócufocfocufocufuocofogofoeughfœgfeufûcfieufeu fuòcfocfuegofuegofueufogofogo
rainpluviampróidaploaiechiuvutapioggiapioggiapióvapioeuvapiœvapieuvaploeplievgiapluie pluèjaplujaplebialluvialluviachuvachoiva
landterramtèrraţarăterraterraterraterateraterratèratiereterra/tiaraterre tèrraterratierratierratierraterraterra
skycaelumchélucercelucelucieloçiélcēlcelcelcîltschielciel cèlcelzielocielocielucéuceo
highaltumàrtuînaltautualtualtoaltoéltalt/oltàutaltauthaut n-autaltaltoaltoaltualtoalto
newnovumnóbunounovunovunuovonóvonoeuvnœvneuvgnovenovneuf nòunounuebonuevonuevunovonovo
canca, goscancan/perrocancãocan
dofacerefàcherefacefari/fàcirifarefarfarfarfaire far/fàserferferhacerfacerfazerfacer
milklactemlàtelaptelattilattelattelatelattlacc/latlàitlatlatglait lachlletleitlechellecheleiteleite
eyeoculum > *oclumócruochiocchiuochiu/ochjuocchioocioòćœggeuj/euggvolieglœil uèlhullgüelloojogüeyuolhoollo
earauriculam > *oriclamorícraurecheauricchiaorecchiu/orechjuorecchiooréciauréćoregia/oreciaorijaoreleuregliaoreille
linguamlímbalimbǎlingualingualingualéngualéngualengualengalenghelingualangue lengallengualuengalenguallingualíngualingua
handmanummànumânămanumanumanomanmanman/mamanmanmaunmain manmanmanomanomão man
skinpellempèdhepielepeddipellepellepełepèlpellpelpielpelpeau pèlpellpielpielpielpelepel
Iegoègoeueu/jè/jueiuiojojauje ieu/jojoyoyoyoeueu
ournostrumnóstrunostrunostrunostrunostronostronosternòst/nòsternòstnestrinossnotre nòstrenostrenuestronuestronuesu, nuestrunossonoso
threetrēstrestreitritretretretriitri /
trètretraistrois trestrestrestrestréstrêstres
fourquattuor >
  • quattro
bàtoropatruquattruquattruquattrocuatroquàtarquàterquatrcuatriquaterquatre quatrequatrecuatre, cuatrocuatrocuatroquatrocatro
fivequīnque >
  • cīnque
  • chímbecincicincucinquecinqueçincuesinccinc/sicsinchcinctschintgcinq cinccinczinco, zingocincocinco, cincucincocinco
    sixsexsesşasesiaseiseisìesiēsex sessîssissix sièississeis/saisseisseisseisseis
    sevenseptemsèteşaptesettisettesettesetesètsetsetsietset, siatsept sètsetsietsietesietesetesete
    eightoctōòtooptottuottuottootoòtvòt/òteutvotot, ochhuit uèchvuitgüeito, ueitoochoochooitooito
    ninenovemnòbenouănovinovenovenovenóvnœvneuvnûvnovneuf nòunounueunuevenuevenovenove
    tendecemdèchezecedecidecediecidiéxedéśdex desdîsdieschdix dètzdeudiezdiezdiezdezdez

    Degrees of [lexical similarity] between the Romance languages

    Data from Ethnologue: