The Romance Languages

Authored by: Martin Harris

The Romance Languages

Print publication date:  January  1988
Online publication date:  December  2003

Print ISBN: 9780415164177
eBook ISBN: 9780203426531
Adobe ISBN: 9781134712298


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The Romance languages, whose history, structure and present-day distribution are the subject of the chapters which follow, share a common source: their development in each case may be traced back to Latin. Latin for its part developed from a form of Italic spoken originally in a number of small communities in Latium (Lazio) in central Italy, probably settled by Proto-Latin speakers around 1000 bc. The Italic branch of Indo-European appears to have been brought to the peninsula towards the end of the second millennium bc, and included Oscan (spoken over much of southern Italy at least until the time of the Pompeii disaster, as graffiti clearly testify), Umbrian (spoken in the north Tiber valley) and a number of other more or less well known varieties in addition to the Latin group of dialects. The label ‘Latin’ may be said to refer initially to this group of related dialects (including, for instance, Faliscan, spoken around what is now Cività Castellana, some fifty miles from Rome on the north bank of the Tiber), but it soon came firstly to designate the speech of Rome—attested since the sixth century bc—and then to be used as an increasingly broad cover term for a range of related varieties differing along temporal, geographical and social dimensions (see below). Latin was, as we have seen, bordered to the south and east by cognate tongues, while to the north its principal neighbour was the non-Indo-European Etruscan. Farther north still, by the fourth century bc—the time at which Rome was establishing her dominance in central Italy—the Po plain had been settled by speakers of varieties of Celtic (p. 3), a separate Indo-European family, but one which bears a number of striking structural parallels to Italic. In the extreme south, on the other hand, Greek was a recurrent source of external but still Indo-European influence.

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