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Vulgar Latin
Sermo Vulgaris
Latin inscription in the Colosseum
Alt text
Spoken in Roman Republic, Roman Empire
Language extinction developed into Romance languages 6th to 9th centuries
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Unwritten
Deduced from Romance languages and literary references
Official status
Official language in None
Regulated by None
Language codes
ISO 639-1 la
ISO 639-2 lat
ISO 639-3 lat
The range of Latin, 60 AD

Vulgar Latin (in Renaissance Latin, vulgare Latinum or Latinum vulgare) was the nonstandard form of the Latin language; because of its nonstandard nature, it had no official orthography, and only Classical Latin was used in writing. It is sometimes called colloquial Latin.[1]


Origin of the term

Less simply, Vulgar Latin is a technical term from Latin and Romance-language philology referring to the unwritten varieties of Latin spoken mainly by the uneducated and therefore illiterate populations governed by the Roman republic and the Roman empire. The educated population mainly responsible for classical Latin might also have spoken Vulgar Latin in certain contexts depending on their background. The term was first used in that sense by the pioneers of Romance-language philology: François Juste Marie Raynouard (1804-1855) and Friedrich Christian Diez (1794-1876).

In the course of his studies on the lyrics of songs written by the troubadours of Provence, which had already been studied by Dante Alighieri and published in De vulgari eloquentia, Raynouard noticed that the Romance languages derived in part from lexical, morphological, and syntactic features that were Latin but were not preferred in classical Latin. He hypothesized an intermediate phase and identified it with the Romana lingua, a term that in countries speaking Romance languages meant "nothing more or less than the vulgar speech as opposed to literary or grammatical Latin."[2]

Diez, the principal founder of Romance-language philology, being impressed by the comparative methods of Jakob Grimm in Deutsche Grammatik, which came out in 1819 and was the first to use such methods in philology, decided to apply them to the Romance languages and discovered Reynouard's work, Grammaire comparée des langues de l'Europe latine dans leurs rapports avec la langue des troubadours, published in 1821. Describing himself as a pupil of Reynouard, he went on to expand the concept to all Romance languages, not just the speech of the troubadours, on a systematic basis, thereby becoming the originator of a new field of scholarly inquiry.[3]

Diez, in his flagship work on the topic, Grammatik der romanischen Sprachen, first published in 1836-1843 and multiple times thereafter, after enumerating six Romance languages that he compared: Italian and Wallachian (i.e. Romanian) (east); Spanish and Portuguese (southwest); and Provençal and French (northeast), asserts that they had their origin in Latin, but nicht aus dem classischen Latein, "not in classical Latin," rather aus der römischen Volkssprache oder Volksmundart, "from the Roman people's speech."[4] These terms, as he points out later in the work, are a translation into German of Dante's vulgare latinum and Latium vulgare, and the Italian of Boccaccio, latino volgare.[5] These names in turn are at the end of a tradition extending to the Roman republic.

The concepts and vocabulary from which vulgare latinum descend were known in the classical period and are to be found amply represented in the unabridged Latin dictionary, starting in the late Roman republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a prolific writer, whose works have survived in large quantity, and who serves as a standard of Latin, and his contemporaries in addition to recognizing the lingua Latina also knew varieties of "speech" under the name sermo. Latin could be sermo Latinus, but in addition was a variety known as sermo vulgaris, sermo vulgi, sermo plebeius and sermo quotidianus. These modifiers inform post-classical readers that a conversational Latin existed, which was used by the masses (vulgus) in daily speaking (quotidianus) and was lower-class (plebeius), although some plebeians were quite wealthy.

These vocabulary items manifest no opposition to the written language. There was an opposition to higher-class, or family, Latin (good family) in sermo familiaris and very rarely literature might be termed sermo nobilis. The supposed "sermo classicus" is a scholarly fiction unattested in the dictionary. All kinds of sermo were spoken only, not written. If one wanted to refer to what in post-classical times was called classical Latin one resorted to the concept of latinitas ("latinity") or latine (adverb). If one spoke in the lingua or sermo Latinus one merely spoke Latin, but if one spoke latine or latinius ("more Latinish") one spoke good Latin, and formal Latin had latinitas, the quality of good Latin, about it. After the fall of the empire and the death of spoken Latin its only representative then was written Latin, which became known as classicus, "classy" Latin. The original opposition was between formal or implied good Latin and informal or vulgar Latin. The spoken/written dichotomy is entirely philological.


It cannot be supposed that the spoken language was a distinct and persistent language so that the citizens or Rome would be regarded as bilingual. Instead, Vulgar Latin is a blanket term covering the popular dialects and sociolects of the Latin language throughout its range from the hypothetical prisca latinitas of unknown or poorly remembered times in early Latium to the death of Latin after the fall of the empire. Although making it clear that sermo vulgaris existed, the ancients said very little about it. Because it was not transcribed, it can only be studied indirectly. Knowledge comes from these chief sources:[6]

  1. Solecisms, especially in Late Latin texts.
  2. Mention of it by ancient grammarians, including prescriptive grammar texts from the Late Latin period condemning linguistic "errors" that represent spoken Latin.
  3. The comparative method, which reconstructs Proto-Romance, a hypothetical vernacular from which the Romance languages descended.
  4. Some literary works written in a lower register of Latin provide a glimpse into the world of Vulgar Latin in the classical period: the dialogues of the plays of Plautus and Terence, being comedies with many characters who were slaves, and the speech of freedmen in the Cena Trimalchionis by Petronius Arbiter


The Cantar de Mio Cid (Song of my Cid) is the earliest Spanish text.

Vulgar Latin (proto-Romance) developed differently in the various provinces of the Roman Empire, gradually giving rise to the different Romance languages. József Herman states:

It seems certain that in the sixth century, and quite likely into the early parts of the seventh century, people in the main Romanized areas could still largely understand the biblical and liturgical texts and the commentaries (of greater or lesser simplicity) that formed part of the rites and of religious practice, and that even later, throughout the seventh century, saints' lives written in Latin could be read aloud to the congregations with an expectation that they would be understood. We can also deduce however, that in Gaul, from the central part of the eighth century onwards, many people, including several of the clerics, were not able to understand even the most straightforward religious texts.[7]

At the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in the vernacular language — either in the rustica lingua romanica (Vulgar Latin), or in the Germanic vernaculars — since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin. Within a generation, the Oaths of Strasbourg (842), a treaty between Charlemagne's grandsons Charles the Bald and Louis the German, was proffered and recorded in a language that was already distinct from Latin. Consider the excerpt below:

Extract of the Oaths, the earliest French text.
Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il me altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.

For the love of God and for Christendom and our common salvation, from this day onwards, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine Charles, with aid or anything else, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never knowingly make any covenant with Lothair that would harm this brother of mine Charles.

From approximately this point on, the Latin vernaculars began to be viewed as separate languages, developing local norms and, for some, orthographies of their own, so that Vulgar Latin must be regarded not as extinct - since all modern Romance varieties are its continuation - but as replaced conceptually and terminologically by multiple labels recognizing regional differences in linguistic features.


Vulgar Latin featured a large vocabulary of words that were productive in Romance.

The Reichenau Glosses

Insight into the vocabulary of late Vulgar Latin in France can be seen in the Reichenau Glosses,[8] written on the margins of a copy of the Vulgate Bible (written in Classical Latin though intended for the vulgus), suggesting that the 4th-century words of the Bible were no longer readily understood in the 8th century, when the glosses were likely written. These glosses demonstrate typical vocabulary differences between Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin in Gallo-Romance:

  • arena > sabulo (French sable, Italian sabbia, Catalan sorra, "sand"; but c.f. Spanish arena, Galician area, Portuguese areia, French arene, Italian rena, Romanian arină )
  • canere > cantare (Portuguese/Galician/Spanish/Catalan cantar, French chanter, Italian cantare, Romanian cânta, "to sing", frequentative of canere)
  • mares (nom. mas) > masculi (French mâle, Italian maschio, Portuguese/Spanish macho, Catalan mascle, Romanian mascur , "male", diminutive of mas)
  • liberos > infantes (Catalan infants, "children"; French enfants, "children"; Italian infante, "infant"; Portuguese infante, "prince"; Spanish infante, "child" but as a literary word also "prince")
  • hiems > hibernus (French hiver, Italian inverno, Spanish invierno, Portuguese inverno, Catalan hivern, Romanian iarnă, "winter", adjective of hiems)
  • forum > mercatum (French marché, Italian mercato, Portuguese/Spanish mercado, Catalan mercat; "market"; but c.f. Italian foro, "law court", Spanish fuero, "jurisdiction", Portuguese foro, "jurisdiction", Catalan fur, "jurisdiction"; French forum, "market", "jurisdiction", however, is a Latin loanword.)
  • lamento > ploro (French pleurer, Spanish llorar, Portuguese chorar, Catalan plorar, "to weep"; but c.f. Portuguese/Spanish lamentar, Italian lamentare, French lamenter.)
  • ager > campus (French champ, Italian/Spanish/Portuguese campo, Catalan camp, Romanian câmp but also agru, "field")
  • caseum > formaticum (French fromage, Italian formaggio, Catalan formatge, "cheese", post-classical, from formare, "to form"; but cf. Italian cacio, Portuguese queijo, Spanish queso, Romanian caş)
  • flare > suflare (French souffler, Italian soffiare, Portuguese soprar, Romanian sufla, Spanish soplar, "to blow", from flare with prefix sub)
  • ita > sic (French si, Italian , Spanish , Portuguese sim, "yes", Romanian "şi" "and")
  • pulchra > bella (French beau / belle, Italian/Spanish bello, Portuguese belo, Catalan bell, "beautiful", diminutive of bonus, "good"; but c.f. Spanish pulcro, "tidy, neat" )
  • umo > terra (French terre, Italian/Portuguese/Catalan terra, Spanish tierra, Romanian ţărână but also humă, "ground")
  • lebes > chaldaria (French chaudière, Italian calderone, Spanish caldera, Portuguese caldeira, Romanian căldare, Catalan calda, "cauldron", from calidus, "warm")
  • necetur > occidetur (Italian uccidere, Romanian ucide, "to kill"; but c.f. Italian annegare, Romanian în(n)eca "to drown")
  • pingues > grassi (French gras, Italian grasso, Romanian gras, Portuguese graxo, Catalan gras, "fat", post-classical, possibly from crassus fat, thick, stout; but c.f. Italian pingue)
  • ungues > ungulas (French ongle, Italian unghia, Spanish uña, Portuguese unha, Romanian unghie, Catalan ungla, "fingernail", diminutive of unguis)
  • vim > fortiam (French force, Italian forza, Spanish fuerza, Portuguese força, Catalan força, "force", Romanian foarte "very (much); intense", post-classical, from fortis, "strong")
  • si vis > si voles (French tu veux, Italian tu vuoi, Catalan tu vols, Romanian tu vrei, "you want", 2nd personal singular of *volere, "to want", regularized form of velle)
  • oppidis > civitatibus (French cité, Italian città, Portuguese cidade, Spanish ciudad, Catalan ciutat, Romanian cetate, "city")

Grammatical changes:

  • optimos > meliores (Portuguese melhor, Galician mellor, Spanish mejor, Catalan millor, French meilleur, Italian migliore, "best", originally "better"; but cf. reborrowed Spanish óptimo, Portuguese óptimo, Italian ottimo, French optimal, Catalan òptim, with the sense of "excellent" or "optimal")
  • saniore > plus sano (French plus sain, Italian più sano, Spanish más sano, catalan més sa, Portuguese mais são, Romanian mai sănătos)

Germanic loan words:

  • turbas > fulcos (French foule, Italian folla, "mob"; but cf. Spanish/Portuguese/Catalan turba)
  • cementariis > mationibus (French maçon, Spanish masón, "stonemason")
  • galea > helme (French heaume, Italian/Portuguese elmo, Catalan elm, Spanish yelmo, "helmet")
  • coturnix > quaccola (French caille, Italian quaglia, "quail"; but cf. Spanish codorniz, Portuguese codorna)
  • fulvus > brunus (French/Romanian brun, Catalan bru, Portuguese/Italian bruno, "brown/dark")

And words whose meaning has changed:

  • in ore (nom. os) > in bucca (Portuguese/Spanish/Catalan boca, French bouche, Italian bocca, "mouth", originally "cheek" but cf. Romanian bucă, with the sense of "cheek" and "buttock")
  • emit > comparavit (Italian comprare, Spanish/Portuguese comprar, Romanian cumpăra, Catalan comprar, "to buy", originally "to arrange, settle")
  • rerum (nom. res) > causarum (French chose, Italian/Spanish/Catalan cosa, Portuguese coisa/cousa, "thing", originally "cause"; but c.f. French rien, Catalan res, "nothing")
  • rostrum > beccus (French bec, Italian becco, Catalan bec, Spanish pico, Portuguese bico, "beak", post-classical, from Gaulish; but cf. Italian rostro "beak", Spanish/Galician rostro, and Portuguese rosto, "face", Romanian rost, "mouth" and a rosti, "to pronounce", "to tell")
  • femur > coxa (Portuguese, Galician and Old Spanish coxa, French cuisse, Italian coscia, Catalan cuixa, Romanian coapsă, "thigh", originally "hip", first attested in Silver Latin)


Evidence of changes

Evidence of phonological changes can be seen in the late 3rd century Appendix Probi, a collection of glosses prescribing correct classical Latin forms for certain vulgar forms. These glosses describe:

  • a process of syncope, the loss of unstressed vowels ("masculus non masclus");
  • the merger between long /e/ and short /i/ ("vinea non vinia");
  • the levelling of the distinction between /o/ and /u/ ("coluber non colober") and /e/ and /i/ ("dimidius non demedius");
  • regularization of irregular forms ("glis non glirus");
  • regularization and emphasis of gendered forms ("pauper mulier non paupera mulier");
  • levelling of the distinction between /b/ and /w/ between vowels ("bravium non brabium");
  • the substitution of diminutives for unmarked words ("auris non oricla, neptis non nepticla")
  • the loss of syllable-final nasals ("mensa non mesa") or their inappropriate insertion as a form of hypercorrection ("formosus non formunsus").
  • the loss of /h/, both initially ("hostiae non ostiae") and within the word ("adhuc non aduc").

Many of the forms castigated in the Appendix Probi proved to be the productive forms in Romance; oricla (Classical Latin auricula) is the source of French oreille, Catalan orella, Spanish oreja, Italian orecchia, Romanian ureche, Portuguese orelha, "ear", not the Classical Latin form.


Significant sound changes affected the consonants of Vulgar Latin:

  • Final -t, which occurred frequently in verb conjugations, was often dropped (but not in Sardinian or Old French). Final -s was dropped in Eastern Romance (Italian and Romanian).
  • The scansion in Latin poetry suggests that the letter -m may have been pronounced very softly in classical Latin, being either voiceless or merely a silent letter that marked the nasalisation of the vowel which preceded it. It continued, however, to be consistently written in the literary language. In Vulgar Latin, these nasal vowels disappeared completely except in monosyllables (the nasal vowels of French and Portuguese developed from other sources).
  • Palatalisation ("softening") of Latin c, t and often g before the front vowels e and i was almost universal in Vulgar Latin. The initial results were likely affricates[ts], [tʃ], [dz], [dʒ] —, possibly after a palatal intermediate stage, but these eventually became plain fricatives in most daughter languages. Thus Latin caelum (sky, heaven), pronounced [kailu(m)] with an initial [k], became Italian cielo, [tʃɛlo], Romanian cer [tʃer], Spanish cielo, [θjelo] or [sjelo], French ciel, [sjɛl], Catalan cel, [sɛɫ], and Portuguese céu, [sɛu]. The only Romance languages that were not affected were Dalmatian and some varieties of Sardinian.
  • The voiced labial consonants /b/ and /w/ (represented by ‹b› and ‹v›, respectively) both developed a fricative [β] as an intervocalic allophone.[9] This is clear from the orthography; in medieval times, the spelling of a consonantal ‹v› is often used for what had been a ‹b› in Classical Latin, or the two spellings were used interchangeably. In many Romance languages (Italian, French, etc.), this fricative later developed into a /v/; but in others (Spanish, Catalan, etc.) reflexes of /b/ and /w/ simply merged into a single phoneme.

Several other consonants were "softened" in intervocalic position in Western Romance (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Northern Italian), 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 (instances of diachronic lenition) 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, [β̞], [ð̞], [ɣ˕] (as in Spanish) or disappearing entirely (as /t/ and /k/, but not /p/, in French).
  • The voiced plosives /d/ and /ɡ/ tended to disappear.
  • The plain sibilant -s- [s] was also voiced to [z] between vowels, although in many languages its spelling has not changed. (In Spanish, intervocalic [z] was later devoiced back to [s].)
  • 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.
  • The double sibilant -ss- [sː] also became phonetically single [s], although in many languages its spelling has not changed.

The changes listed above are phonemic. Weakening of intervocalic /p t k/ is common in much of Central and Southern Italy, in Sardinia, and in Corsica, but is generally phonetic, with no effect on structure.

  • The approximant j, which in Latin was merely an allophone of the vowel i[citation needed], became a fricative, and in most languages split into an independent phoneme.
  • In Western Romance, an epenthetic vowel was inserted at the beginning of any word that began with /s/ and another consonant: thus Latin spatha ('sword') became Portuguese and Spanish espada, Catalan espasa, and French épée. 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 an epenthetic /i/ if a consonant preceded such clusters, so that 'in Switzerland' was in /i/Svizzera. Some speakers still use the prothetic /i/, and it is fossilized in a few set locutions as per iscritto 'in writing'.

Stressed vowels

Evolution of the stressed vowels in Proto-Western-Romance (Vulgar Latin excluding Romanian and Sardinian)
Classical Vulgar
Acad.1 Roman IPA Acad.1
ă short A [a] [a] a
ā long A [aː]
ĕ short E [ɛ] [ɛ] ę
ē long E [eː] [e]
ĭ short I [ɪ]
ī long I [iː] [i] i
ŏ short O [ɔ] [ɔ] ǫ
ō long O [oː] [o]
ŭ short V [ʊ]
ū long V [uː] [u] u
ў short Y [y] > [ɪ] [e]
ȳ long Y [yː] > [iː] [i] y, i
æ AE [ai] > [ɛ] [ɛ] ę
œ OE [oi] > [e] [e]
au AV [au] [au] > [o] au,
1 Traditional academic transcription in Latin and Romance studies, respectively.

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 (see the table in the right, for their likely pronunciation in IPA), and four diphthongs, ae, oe, au and eu (five according to some authors, including ui). There were also long and short versions of y, representing the rounded vowel [y(ː)] in Greek borrowings, which however probably came to be pronounced [i(ː)] 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.[10] So, for example ē was pronounced close-mid /eː/ while ĕ was pronounced open-mid /ɛ/, and ī was pronounced close /iː/ while ĭ was pronounced near-close /ɪ/. The diphthongs ae and oe, pronounced /ai/ and /oi/ in earlier Latin, had also begun their monophthongisation to /ɛ/ and /e/, respectively. Oe was always a rare diphthong in Classical Latin; in Old Latin, oinos (one) regularly became unus.[11]

As Vulgar Latin evolved, three main changes occurred in parallel. First, length distinctions were lost, so that for instance ă and ā came to be pronounced the same way. Second, the near-close vowels ĭ and ŭ became more open in most varieties of Vulgar Latin, merging with the long vowels ē and ō, respectively. As a result, Latin pira "pear" (fruit) and vēra "true", came to rhyme in most of its daughter languages: Italian, French, and Spanish pera, vera; Old French poire, voire (but not Modern French "vrai"). Similarly, Latin nux ("nut", acc. sing nucem) and vōx (voice) become Italian noce, voce, Portuguese noz, voz, and French noix, voix (in some cases the quality of the vowel later changed again, because of regularising tendencies, or other extraneous influences).

There was likely some regional variation in pronunciation, as the Eastern Romance languages and the Southern Romance languages evolved differently.[12] In Sardinian, for instance, ĭ and ŭ became more close, merging with their long counterparts ī and ū; as a result, all corresponding short and long vowels simply merged with each other. In Romanian, the front vowels ĕ, ĭ, ē, ī evolved like the Western languages (the majority of languages, as described above), but the back vowels ŏ, ŭ, ō, ū evolved as in Sardinian. There are also small sets of remnant dialects in southern Italy that behave like Sardinian or Romanian. Apart from these cases, what happened to Vulgar Latin can be summarized as in the table to the right. More precisely, these mergers happened in most of western Europe, yielding the seven vowel system of Italo-Western-Romance.

In general, the ten-vowel system of Classical Latin (not counting the Greek letter y), 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.

In Vulgar Latin, the stress on accented syllables became much more pronounced than in Classical Latin.[citation needed] This tended to cause unaccented syllables to become less distinct, while working further changes on the sounds of the accented syllables. The results of short o and e in stressed position proved to be unstable in several of the Romance languages, with a tendency to break up into diphthongs. Focus, "fireplace", became the general word in Vulgar Latin for "fire" (replacing ignis), but its short o sound became a diphthong — a different diphthong — in many languages:

In French and Italian, these changes occurred only in open syllables (providing historical evidence of the syllabification of, for example, a word such as FESTA, i.e. FES.TA, given that no Italian or French forms of the word have ever contained a diphthong). Spanish, however, diphthongised in all circumstances, resulting in a simple five-vowel system in both stressed and unstressed syllables. Romanian shows diphthongisation of short e (fier from Latin ferrum, "iron") but not of short o (foc). In Portuguese, no diphthongisation occurred at all (ferro, fogo).

Some languages experienced further mergers, reducing the number of stressed vowels down from seven (to six in Romanian, to five in Sardinian and Spanish). On the other hand, later monophthongisations led to new vowel phonemes in some languages (such as [y], [œ], and [ø] in French), while nasalisation produced new phonemic nasal vowels in French and Portuguese.

Latin au was under some pressure to change in the Roman Republican period; a populist politician adopted the spelling Clodius for the well known Roman name Claudius, but this change was not universal, and marked as basilectal well into the early Empire. Au was initially retained, but was eventually reduced in many languages to [o]. (Portuguese evolved only as far as [ou] until much more recently; Occitan and Romanian preserve [au] to this day.)[12] The results of Latin ae were also subject to at least some early variation; French proie (spoils) presumes [e] rather than [ɛ] from Classical Latin praeda.

Unstressed vowels

There was more variability in the result of the unstressed vowels. Two main paths can be distinguished:

  • Languages like Italian or Spanish have largely retained the system of five unstressed vowels of Vulgar Latin, with pronunciations still close to what they would have been in Classical Latin, except for distinctive length.
  • In French, Portuguese, or Occitan, there has been more instability, with unstressed vowels changing pronunciation significantly (unstressed o, a[u], [ɔ] in Occitan; unstressed o, e[u], [i]/[ɨ] in Portuguese), some being reduced to a kind of schwa (unstressed final ae[ə] in French).

In Catalan, the process was similar to that of Portuguese in that the short Latin o evolved into an open vowel, but short e eventually developed as closed [e] in Western dialects (opposite to the pattern in the other Italo-Western languages), and a schwa in the Eastern ones. This schwa slowly evolved towards an open [ɛ], although in most of the Balearic Islands the schwa is maintained even today. Eastern dialects have some vocalic instability similar to that of Portuguese as well: unstressed [e] and [a] turn into a schwa (at some point of the evolution of the language, this change did not affect [e] in pre-stressed position, a pronunciation that can still be heard in part of the Balearics), and, except in most of Majorca, unstressed [o] and [u] merge into [u].


The Romance articles

It is difficult to place the point in which the definite article, absent in Latin but present in some form in all of the 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 formerly were demonstrative pronouns or adjectives; compare the fate of the Latin demonstrative adjective ille, illa, (illud), in the Romance languages, becoming French le and la, Catalan and Spanish el and la, and Italian il and la. The Portuguese articles o and a are ultimately from the same source. Sardinian went its own way here also, forming its article from ipse, ipsa (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, eg. lupul ("the wolf") and omul ("the man" — from lupus ille and *homo ille),[12] possibly a result of its membership in 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 dæmon 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 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.[13]

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 prædictus, 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 felt no longer to be specific enough.[13] 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. This is the origin of Old French cil (*ecce ille), cist (*ecce iste) and ici (*ecce hic); Spanish aquel and Portuguese aquele (*eccu ille); Italian questo (*eccu iste), quello (*eccu ille) and obsolescent codesto (*eccu tibi iste); Spanish acá and Portuguese , (*ecce hic), Portuguese acolá (*ecce illic) and aquém (*ecce 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 ninth century. Considerable variation exists in all of the Romance vernaculars as to their actual use: in Romanian, the articles can be suffixed to the noun, as in other members of the Balkan sprachbund and the North Germanic languages.

The numeral unus, una (one) supplies the indefinite article in all cases. 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.

Gender: loss of the neuter

The genders

The three grammatical genders of Classical Latin were replaced by a two-gender system in most Romance languages. In Latin, gender is partly a matter of inflection, i.e. there are different declensional paradigms associated with the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter, and partly a matter of agreement, i.e. nouns of a certain gender require forms of the same gender in adjectives and pronouns associated with them.

The loss of final consonants led to a remodelling of the gender system. In Classical Latin, the endings -us and -um distinguished masculine from neuter nouns in the second declension; with both -s and -m gone, the neuters merged with the masculines, a process that is complete in Romance. By contrast, some neuter plurals such as gaudia, "joys", were re-analysed as feminine singulars. 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 TAVRASIA CISAVNA SAMNIO CEPIT, which in Classical Latin would be Taurāsiam, Cisaunam, Samnium cēpit, "He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, and Samnium". (Note that in the Latin alphabet, the letters u and v, i and j were not distinguished until the early modern period. Upper-case u and j did not exist, while lower-case j and v were only graphic variations of i and u, respectively.) This however can be explained in a different way, that the inscription simply fails to note the nasality of the final vowels (like in the established custom of writing COS. for consul). See the Consonants section above.

The neuter gender of classical Latin was in most cases absorbed by the masculine both syntactically and morphologically. The syntactical confusion starts already in the Pompeian graffiti, e.g. cadaver mortuus for cadaver mortuum "dead body" and hoc locum for hunc locum "this place" (-us was normally a masculine ending, and -um a neuter ending). The morphological confusion shows primarily in the adoption of the nominative ending -us ( after -r) in the o-declension: in Petronius Arbiter, we find balneus for balneum "bath", fatus for fatum "fate", caelus for caelum "heaven", amphitheater for amphitheatrum "amphitheatre", vinus for vinum "wine" and conversely the nominative thesaurum for thesaurus "treasure". Notably, most of these misdemeanours occur in the speech of one man: Trimalchion.

In modern Romance languages, the nominative s-ending has been abandoned and all substantives of the o-declension have an ending derived from -UM > -u/-o/: MURUM (masc.) > Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish muro, Catalan and French mur and CAELUM (neut.) > Italian, Spanish cielo, French ciel, Portuguese céu, Romanian "cer", Catalan cel, Sardinian kelu. Old French still had -s in the nominative and in the accusative in both original genders (murs, ciels).[14]

For some neuter nouns of the third declension, the oblique stem was the productive form in Romance; for others, the nominative/accusative form, which was identical in Classical Latin, was the one that survived. Evidence suggests that the neuter gender was under pressure well back into the imperial period. French (le) lait, Catalan (la) llet, 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 nom./acc. neut. lacte or acc. masc. lactem. Note also that 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 ("name") all preserve the Latin nominative/accusative nomen, rather than the oblique stem form *nominem (which nevertheless produced Spanish nombre).[12]

Typical Italian endings
Nouns Adj. & determiners
sing. plur. sing. plur.
m giardino giardini buono buoni
f donna donne buona buone
n uovo uova buono buone

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 such as l'uovo fresco ("the fresh egg") / le uova fresche ("the fresh eggs") in Italian are usually analysed as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, with an irregular plural in -a (heteroclisis). 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. Thus, neuter nouns can arguably be said to persist in Italian, and also Romanian.

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. Fagus ("beech"), another feminine noun ending in -us, is preserved in some languages as a masculine, e.g. Romanian fag(ul) or Catalan (el) faig; other dialects have replaced it with its adjectival forms fageus or fagea ("made of beechwood"), whence Italian (il) faggio, Spanish (el) haya, and Portuguese (a) faia.

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, Catalan (la) mà, 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 all have vestigial, semantically neuter pronouns. French: celui-ci, celle-ci, ceci; Spanish: éste, ésta, esto (all meaning "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"); Venetian: 'sto qua, 'sta qua, questo (meaning "this") and qûeło là, qûeła là, queło=queła (meaning "that").

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 'the good' or 'that which is good', from bueno: good; "lo importante", i.e. that which is important. "¿Sabes lo tarde que es?", literally "Do you know 'the late' that it is?", or more idiomatically "Do you know how late it is?", from tarde: late. This is traditionally interpreted as the existence of a neuter gender in Spanish, although no morphological distinction is made anywhere else but in the singular definite article. Leonese keeps three genders with the same finish for masculine and neuter, clarified with the articles: (el) bonu, (la) bona, (lu) bonu ("good").

The loss of the noun case system

Classical Latin
Nominative: rosa
Accusative: rosam
Genitive: rosae
Dative: rosae
Ablative: rosā
Vulgar Latin
Nominative: rosa
Accusative: rosa
Genitive: rose
Dative: rose
Ablative: rosa

The sound changes that were occurring in Vulgar Latin made the noun case system of Classical Latin harder to sustain, and ultimately spelled doom for the system of Latin declensions. As a result of the untenability of the noun case system after these phonetic changes, vulgar Latin moved from being a markedly synthetic language to a more analytic language where word order is a necessary element of syntax. Consider what the loss of final /m/, the loss of phonemic vowel length, and the sound shift of ae from /ai/ to /ɛ/ entailed for a typical first declension noun (see table).

The complete elimination of case happened only gradually. Old French still maintained a nominative/oblique distinction (called cas-sujet/cas-régime); this disappeared in the course of the 12th or 13th centuries, depending on the dialect. Old Occitan also maintained a similar distinction, as did many of the Rhaeto-Romance languages until only a few hundred years ago. Romanian still preserves a separate genitive/dative case along with vestiges of a vocative case.

The distinction between singular and plural was marked in two ways in the Romance languages. North and west of the La Spezia-Rimini line, which runs through northern Italy, the singular was usually distinguished from the plural by means of final -s, which was present in the old accusative plurals in masculine and feminine nouns of all declensions. South and east of the La Spezia-Rimini Line, the distinction was marked by changes of final vowels, as in contemporary standard Italian and Romanian. This preserves and generalizes distinctions that were marked on the nominative plurals of the first and second declensions.

Prepositions multiply

Loss of a productive noun case system meant that the syntax purposes it formerly served now had to be performed by prepositions and other paraphrases. These particles increased in numbers, 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 afară - ad + 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?").

As Latin was losing its case system, prepositions started to move in to fill the void. In colloquial Latin, the preposition ad followed by the accusative was sometimes used as a substitute for the dative case.

Classical Latin:

Marcus patrī librum dat. "Marcus is giving his father a/the book."

Vulgar Latin:

Marcus dat librum ad patrem. "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.

Classical Latin:

Marcus mihi librum patris dat. "Marcus is giving me his father's book."

Vulgar Latin:

Marcus mihi dat librum de patre. "Marcus is giving me the book of (belonging to) his father."


Classical Latin had a number of different suffixes that made adverbs from adjectives: carus, "dear", formed care, "dearly"; acriter, "fiercely", from acer; crebro, "often", from creber. 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 mens, and so meant "with a _____ mind". So velox ("quick") instead of velociter ("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. This originally separate word becomes a suffix in Romance.


The verb forms were much less affected by the phonetic losses that eroded the noun case systems; indeed, an active verb in Spanish (or other modern Romance language) will still strongly resemble its Latin ancestor. One factor that gave the system of verb inflections more staying power was the fact that the strong stress accent of Vulgar Latin, replacing the light stress accent of Classical Latin, frequently caused different syllables to be stressed in different conjugated forms of a verb. As such, although the word forms continued to evolve phonetically, the distinctions among the conjugated forms did not erode (much).

For example, in Latin the words for "I love" and "we love" were, respectively, amō and amāmus. Because a stressed A gave rise to a diphthong in some environments in Old French, that daughter language had (j')aime for the former and (nous) amons for the latter. Though several phonemes have been lost in each case, the different stress patterns helped to preserve distinctions between them, if perhaps at the expense of irregularising the verb. Regularising influences have countered this effect in some cases (the modern French form is nous aimons), but some modern verbs have preserved the irregularity, such as je viens ("I come") versus nous venons ("we come"), which came from Latin veniō and venīmus, respectively.[12]

Another set of changes already underway by the 1st century AD was the loss of certain final consonants. A graffito at Pompeii reads quisque ama valia, which in Classical Latin would read quisquis amat valeat ("may whoever loves be strong/do well").[13] In the perfect tense, 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 the /w/ sound was in many cases dropped; 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/.[12]

Another major systemic change was to the future tense, remodelled in Vulgar Latin with auxiliary verbs. This may have been due to phonetic merger of intervocalic /b/ and /w/, which caused future tense forms such as amabit to become identical to perfect tense forms such as amauit, introducing unacceptable ambiguity. A new future was originally formed with the auxiliary verb habere, *amare habeo, literally "to love I have". 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":

  • French: j'aimerai (je + aimer + ai) < aimer ["to love"] + ai ["I have"].
  • Portuguese and Galician: amarei (amar + [h]ei) < amar ["to love"] + hei ["I have"]
  • Spanish and Catalan: amaré (amar + [h]e) < amar ["to love"] + he ["I have"].
  • Italian: amerò (amar + [h]o) < amare ["to love"] + ho ["I have"].
  • Romanian: voi iubi

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 Portuguese, which in these tenses allows clitic object pronouns to be incorporated as infixes 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.

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 is the verbs expressing the concept "to go". Consider three particular verbs in Classical Latin expressing concepts of "going": ire, vadere, and ambulare. 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 ambulare. Italian instead merged vadere and ambulare into the verb andare. And at the extreme French merged all three Latin verbs with, for example, the present tense deriving from vadere and ambulare 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.


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 a fi derives from fieri which means "to become"). However, 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 at the marketplace". The same sentence in Vulgar Latin should have been *(h)omo stat in foro, "the man stands 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 actually correct assuming that it meant "to stand", but soon the shift from essere to stare became more widespread, and, in the end, essere only denoted natural qualities that would not change. (Although it might be objected that in sentences like Spanish la catedral está en la ciudad, "the church 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 church stands in the city".)

In French, the evolved forms of the two verbs, estre and ester, merged in the late Middle Ages, as the "s" disappeared from words beginning in est-, as this phenomenon produced Modern French être and an obscure form *éter, which eventually merged.


  1. ^ Posner, Rebecca (1996). The Romance Languages. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 98. 
  2. ^ Meyer (1906), p.239.
  3. ^ Meyer (1906), pp.244-245.
  4. ^ Diez (1882), p.1.
  5. ^ Diez (1882), p.63.
  6. ^ Grandigent (1907), p.5.
  7. ^ Herman (2000), p.114.
  8. ^ The Reichenau Glosses
  9. ^ Pope (1934).
  10. ^ 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), as well as evidence from older inscriptions where "e" stands for normally short i, and "i" for long e, etc.
  11. ^ Palmer (1954).
  12. ^ a b c d e f Vincent (1990).
  13. ^ a b c Harrington et al. (1997).
  14. ^ 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. (Menéndez Pidal 1968, p. 208; Survivances du cas sujet)



  • Allen, W. Sidney (2003). Vox Latina – a Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37936-9. 
  • Boyd-Bowman (1980). From Latin to Romance in Sound Charts. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. 
  • Diez, Friedrich (1882) (in German). Grammatik der romanischen Sprachen (5 Auflage ed.). Bonn: E. Weber. 
  • Grandgent, C.H. (1907). An Introduction to Vulgar Latin. Boston: D.C. Heath. 
  • Harrington, K. P.; Pucci, J.; Elliott, A. G. (1997). Medieval Latin (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31712-9. 
  • Herman, József; Wright, Roger (Translator) (2000). Vulgar Latin. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02001-6. 
  • Meyer, Paul (1906), "Beginnings and Progress of Romance Philology", in Rogers, Howard J., Congress of Arts and Sciences: Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904, Volume III, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, pp. 237-255 
  • Palmer, L. R. (1988) [1954]. The Latin Language. University of Oklahoma. ISBN 0-8061-2136-X. 
  • Pulgram, Ernst (1950). "Spoken and Written Latin". Language 26 (4): 458–466. doi:10.2307/410397. 
  • Sihler, A. L. (1995). New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508345-8. 
  • Tucker, T. G. (1985) [1931]. Etymological Dictionary of Latin. Ares Publishers. ISBN 0-89005-172-0. 
  • Vincent, Nigel (1990), "Latin", in Harris, M.; Vincent, N., The Romance Languages, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-520829-3 
  • von Wartburg, Walther; Chambon, Jean-Pierre (1928-) (in German, French). Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch: eine Darstellung des galloromanischen Sprachschatzes. Bonn: F. Klopp. 

Transitions to Romance Languages

To French

  • Kibler, William W. (1984). An Introduction to Old French. New York: Modern Language Association of America. 
  • Pope, Mildred K. (1934). From Latin to Modern French with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman Phonology and Morphology. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 
  • Price, Glanville (1998). The French language: present and past (Revised ed.). London: Grant and Cutler. 

To Italian

  • Maiden, Martin (1996). A Linguistic History of Italian. New York: Longman. 

To Spanish

  • Penny, Ralph (2002). A History of the Spanish Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Pharies, David A. (2007). A Brief History of the Spanish Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Pountain, Christopher J. (2000). A History of the Spanish Language Through Texts. London: Routledge. 

To Portuguese

  • Williams, Edwin B. (1968). From Latin to Portuguese: Historical Phonology and Morphology of the Portuguese Language. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

To Occitan

  • Paden, William D. (1998). An Introduction to Old Occitan. New York: Modern Language Association of America. 

See also

History of specific Romance languages

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun

Vulgar Latin


Vulgar Latin

  1. The Latin language as spoken by the Roman people, as opposed to Classical Latin as written in formal literature until about 4c.

Ages of Latin
—75 BC    75 BC – 200    200 – 900    900 – 1300    1300 – 1600    1600 – 1900   1900 – present
Old Latin    Classical Latin    Late Latin    Medieval Latin    Renaissance Latin   New Latin    Recent Latin
See also: Vulgar Latin, Ecclesiastical Latin, Low Latin, Romance languages

Related terms


See also

Simple English

Vulgar Latin is one of the two types of Latin. Latin is an old language that was spoken by the Romans. It is not spoken much today, but the Romance languages come from it.

Who spoke it?

Vulgar Latin was spoken by the regular people: farmers, workers, and people without a great deal of education. Because of this it is also called Common Latin.

How did it start?

Classical Latin is the type of Latin that was first spoken by the Romans. As time went by, less and less people spoke Classical Latin, and in the end the language changed to become Vulgar Latin. After a while, only scholars spoke Classical Latin. Books were still written in it. Nowadays nobody speaks Latin anymore, except for people who study it and the Roman Catholic Church's officials.


The Grammar of Vulgar Latin is similar to classical Latin, except in pronunciation and some vocabulary use. Latin has 5 basic noun cases.

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