For the Love of Romance Languages


Today's post is about romance languages. I love languages; more specifically, I love the languages in which there is a SVO (subject-verb-object configuration) and I love languages that have a lot of Latin (much of which is derived from Greek) cognates.*In short, I love the languages that were promulgated and dispersed by the many Roman conquests. In many of these languages, the word “bella,” means beautiful and “a, e, i, o and u” are vowels. As a college student, I learned that Latin and/or its derivatives permeate the English language via legal terms, literary references, mottoes and quotes, as well as in taxonomy classifications in the sciences and that having a strong knowledge of Latin root words can elevate one's study skills for the GRE, SAT and ACT exams.

The phrase, “romance language,” refers to the following languages which we most frequently think of as Roman Empire-Latin language derivatives: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. The term “romance” relates to a group of Indo-European languages that began in the sixth through the ninth centuries, as an outgrowth of the common or “non-standard” Latin language. In this era, common or non-standard Latin (often referred to as Vulgar Latin) was differentiated from classical Latin, in that it was used by the common people and colloquial differences that classical Latin did not. The term, “vulgar” in no way signifies “nasty,” “objectionable,” or "low-class," as it does in English.**

Since the Roman Empire expanded into so many parts of the Mediterranean and Europe, Vulgar Latin was spoken differently in every area until separate and totally distinct languages evolved. While the five aforementioned Latin-based languages are the most commonly thought of romance languages, there actually are almost 50 recognized romance languages still in existence (although many are dying), with about half or 25 considered active. Of the Romance or Vulgar Latin-based languages, Italian is the language still most similar to Latin.

So, when thinking of singer Tina Turner’s rhetorical song, “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” in terms of “romance languages” the answer is absolutely nothing.

Spanish to Italian Crossover
In 2002, I spent time in Italy for work. I stayed in Bologna and traveled by train to Firenze or Florence--a dreamy and magical city for anyone who loves art. I studied Italian for sometime prior to going, but what helped my communication most was my knowledge of Spanish grammar and pronunciation. The Italian language is very different, but the similarities based on Latin are unmistakable. Recently I began working with two students who are studying Italian. I've had two elementary Italian language students before, but what makes this duo unique is that they are a beautiful mother-daughter team. What makes it incredibly easy for them to learn elementary Italian is the fact that both have had two years of Spanish and one, the daughter, has had two years of French, also.

As I was preparing a PowerPoint presentation for our next class, I recalled that, in the southern part of Italy locals often use a dialect similar to that of Spaniards. For example, in order to say, "I am three years old," in the central and northern part of the country one says I have three years, "Ho tre anni," while Southern Italians, usually say, "Tengo tre anni;" the word “tengo” being the word Spanish-speakers use when saying the number of years they “have.” (Spanish speakers would say, “Tengo tres años.) I decided to share both ways of saying this phrase in Italian to my students, because it is a great lesson about the interconnectedness of the romance languages.

I invite all of you who are reading this, but who have never studied a romance language, to evaluate the words “tre,” “tres,” “anni,” and “años.” Given the comparison of these words to “three” and “annual,” isn’t it likely that you, too, could learn a romance language? If so, there is no better time than now! I recommend studying Spanish first, because it is the most widely spoken of all romance languages and it remains in the top five languages spoken worldwide. I can help you with basic (Level 1) to intermediate high (level 4) Spanish. If you've studied Spanish and you want to study Italian, I can help you get a solid foundation with Level 1--basic reading, conversation and phonetic pronunciation.

Patricia G.

* Cognates are words in another language with meanings that are easily recognizable because their spelling and/or pronunciation is similar to that of one's native language.

** Speaking of English, many Latin-based words entered the English language via the French language with the Norman Conquest in 1066 and, due to at least 10,000 words introduced in 300 years of occupation which began with William the Conqueror, almost 70% of the English language is made up of cognates.

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