InLanguage Families

The Romance Language Family – A Quick Overview

French, Spanish, and, to a smaller extent, Italian are amongst the most learned languages worldwide. Portuguese might not be that popular, but over 200 million people speak it. In the east, Romanian keeps on surviving between Slavic and Hungarian neighbors. Do 800 million sound a lot to you? Because almost 800 million people are native speakers within the Romance language family.

Where do these languages come from? Why do they sound so different from each other? What is the reason that Latin disappeared? Why the heck do people in Romania speak a Romance language?

The Italian Peninsula – Birthplace of the Romance Languages

One thing is for sure: The area of today’s Italy has been the most important region throughout the history of the Romance language family. Similar to how Proto-Slavic came from the Proto-Indo-European language, several Italic languages started to evolve around 1,000 BC. Where? Of course, in the area of the Italian Peninsula! This is exceptionally early if you keep in mind that there was only one Slavic language until 600 AD!

Dominant emerging Italic languages were: Umbrian, Faliscan, South Picene, Oscan, Latin. Guess which language would go on to determine the further development of the Romance language family? One tip: It starts with an “L” and ends with “atin.” Funny fact: North of Sicily, people spoke Greek at that time!

The Roman Empire – The World Domination of the Latin Mother

We find ourselves in the time of a couple of centuries before Christ. Latin has already taken over the entire Italic peninsula. By around 100 AD, there has been an unseen proliferation of one language across the whole Roman Empire: Latin. How huge was that area? Well, it stretched from North Africa over Spain to South England. And, on the side, it reached to the east over Turkey up until today’s Iran. H U G E. As you can imagine, the Latin language spoken in all of the Empire was all but the same. Instead, numerous different Vulgar Latin dialects coexisted.

Image of the Colosseum shown to illustrate the influence of Latin on the Romance language family.

The Manifestation of Today’s Romance-Speaking Regions

Shouldn’t Greeks, Turks, Egyptians, and the Balkans also be talking in Romance languages in this day and age? We all know that this is not the case. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD led to an abrupt demise of the Latin language from Greece eastward. Then, Proto-Slavic reached the Balkans in several early Slavic migrations shortly after 500 AD. The Romans’ grip on this area was weak as the mountainous landscape was barely populated. This is why the Slavic language quickly became dominant.

However, one group of dialects in the east survived, attesting the former Roman glory up until today. This group continues being alive in form of Romanian. At the time of all of these shifts, around 650 AD, the romance dialects were no longer intelligible with Latin. Remember that Proto-Slavic had hardly even split up back then!

The Latin Dialects Become Distinct Languages

The Moorish invasion brought the Arabic language to the Iberian Peninsula, bringing many Arabic words with it. Castilian and Portuguese replaced Mozarabic during the Spanish Reconquista (around 1,400 AD).

1539, langues d’oil were spoken in the north, whereas langues d’oc were used in the south. In this very year, the Parisian dialect (lying in the north) became the standard language. As Northern France lies on the edge of the Roman Empire, Gaulish exercised a noticeable influence on French.

The dialects in southern France and northern Italy, and the related Catalan have a lot in common. They belong to the slowly disappearing Occitan language group and are closer to the Italian version of Vulgar Latin.

In 1871, Italy became a national state, at last, and the Florentine dialect became the standard language. Finally, being surrounded by Slavic-speaking countries, Romanian adopted many loanwords. By the way, the earliest written text in Romanian dates back to 1521.

The flags of the five main Romance languages of the The Romance Language Family are depicted.

Of course, these are only the main Romance languages today. Many more exist(ed). Did you know that you still find Romance language isles throughout the area of the former Roman Empire? After almost 1,500 years? Incredible!

What Does the Romance Language Family Have in Common?

Obviously, a lot. We will focus on two prominent similarities amongst the five main Romance languages.


All of the languages contain a great set of common word pool. This does not mean that the words are exactly the same. Instead, this means that a lot of terms show the same roots and sound more or less similar.

The lexical similarity coefficient is a handy indicator to measure how strongly the vocabularies between two languages overlap. All five languages show lexical similarities between 71 % and 89 %. As one might expect, Romanian generally scores the lowest values. The following language-vocabulary pairs are very similar to each other: Spanish to Portuguese and French to Italian.

The subjunctive

The subjunctive will always be a frustrating piece of grammar when you don’t speak any language of the Romance language family. Us German or English speakers would wonder: “Why the heck do the subjunctive clauses even exist?! Only to make us suffer!” Anyway, what is the subjunctive?

It is the verb form you need to use to speak about wishes, doubts, possibilities, after certain words or phrases, and also in subordinate clauses. On the YouTube channel “NativeLang”, you can watch a short video about this topic. The subjunctive has its roots in Vulgar Latin, as you might expect. For example, in Spanish, it would look like this:

  • Indicative clause: Yo quiero que vienes.
  • Subjunctive clause: Yo quiero que vengas.

Both mean: “I want that you come.” However, in the first sentence, you state it in a matter-of-fact way. The second emphasizes the existing wish and the uncertainty whether it will come true. Strange, isn’t it?

Our Present From Rome: The Romance Language Family

The group of all Romance languages still bears the heritage of the former Roman Empire. Vulgar Latin has given birth to a number of modern Romance languages. Many consider a lot of them, like Spanish, Italian, or French, to be melodious languages. The ever-growing number of their students shows that we are talking about one of the most popular language groups!

Latin might no longer be spoken, and the Roman Empire is gone. But, it has not left without leaving a unique linguistic present: the Romance languages. So, let’s cherish it and study them!

The Romance Language Family – A Quick Overview – The Growth of an Exciting Blog

In this blog, you will discover a bunch of proven tips on how to crack the language-learning game! Just give me a bit of time. I hope I was able to spark your interest in the Romance languages. I believe that all of them are worth the effort of learning them! Well, see you in my next blog entry!

There will be a loooooot more articles coming!

Are you asking yourself: “Who is this guy whose words I am reading right now?” You will find some information about me here.

Image of Eiffel Tower shown.
#9 QuickTip: Show interest in and read about the culture of the language you are learning. Doing so will accelerate your progress tremendously.

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  • 2observer


    February 17, 2022 at 16:26
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