12 Apr 2014

What living language is the closest to Latin?

Em Português

The Roman Empire conquered a large portion of Europe, they brought their language, Latin along with them. It was spoken throughout the empire but over the centuries, local, popular, nonstandard forms of Latin called 'Vulgar Latin' evolved into today's Romance languages. 
Image by KayYen

There are 5 major Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) and several minority Romance languages (such as Sardinian, Sicilian and Occitan). Romance languages are split into two groups, Western and Eastern. Western Romance languages include Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, while Romanian is an Eastern Romance language.  



Grammar:
There is a common belief that Romanian is the closest language to Latin, but Romanian is probably only the closest in grammar. Romanian preserved certain features of Vulgar Latin grammar that other Romance languages lost. For example, Romanian has three genders (Masculine, Feminine and Neuter) and kept all six Latin cases. 

But, the pronunciation and vocabulary is not as similar to Latin when compared to Italian or Spanish. This is because Romanian was influenced by the surrounding Slavic languages.

Image by Mario Sánchez Prada
Pronunciation:
According to Wikipedia, Sardinian is the closest living language to Latin in phonology. 
There are ten vowels in Latin; a,e,i,o,u (short) and a,e,i,o,u (long). In continental Romance languages the short vowels e,i,o and u evolved into different sounds while in Sardinian the short vowels evolved and pronounced as long vowels. This probably helped to retain the original pronunciation. 

Image by Piermario
Vocabulary:
According to Wikipedia, Italian is the closest living language to Latin in vocabulary. This is because other Romance languages were influenced by their native Germanic, Slavic or Celtic languages such but in Rome, Latin was their native language. 

Image by Gerald Queen
Heritage:
Sardinian is the least evolved Romance language because the island was isolated from the changes that continental Vulgar Latin went through. 


Romance Language 'Family Tree'
Overall:
According to a study by Mario Pei, this is the percentage of difference between Romance languages and Latin:
Sardinian 8%,
Italian 12%, 
Spanish 20%,
Romanian 23.5%,
Occitan 25%,
Portuguese, 31%,
French 44%

So, the major Romance languages in order of closeness to Latin are Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese and French. 

Personally, I don't find it surprising that Italian is the closest because Latin originally came from Italy.

More information and resource list:

Vulgar Latin - Wikipedia
Romanian grammar - Wikipedia
Romance languages - Wikipedia

40 comments:

  1. Hey nice blog post, I was just wondering this and you gave a great answer.

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    1. I don't trust this answer! I have seem several different answers to this questions. I speak portuguese (Native), Spanish, Italian, and French and the feeling I have is in fact that Italian is the closest language to latin but in the second place would be Portuguese followed by Spanish and French!

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    2. Do you have evidence that Portuguese is closer to Latin than Spanish? I'd love to see some examples.

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    3. I'd love to see this debate take place but it seems like someone isn't willing to gather enough evidence to counter act the challenge.

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    4. Did Vulgar Latin (in the sense of a single language) ever exist? In some places we see languages which people say barely changed and in other places sudden rapid changes happened due to outside influences. Why assume there was a single vulgar Latin in the first place? In the case of Spain you had large numbers of Italian colonists whereas in France you had a large Celtic (and possibly some kind of Germanic speaking population) already there. The word Celtic is also misleading since speakers of pretty different languages all got put in the same category. I imagine French was always French kind of like Hinglish and Singlish have odd sounding accents because the speakers are coming from another language and bilingual. There is no vulgar English that later separated into different languages. What you have are different colonization events that occurred in different places at different times. Portugal was conquered about 200 years later than Spain which likely is a huge a reason for the dramatically different Portuguese accent.

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. French, Romanian and Portuguese likely fall into this category. Spanish, Italian and Sardinian are probably about how Latin was spoken in daily conversation by the time of the colonization of Spain. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-03/hinglish-hindi-english-hybrid-language-popular-in-india/8158746

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    7. You are all wrong. Spanish is the best. God made the best football players speak Spanish. This is evidence that Spanish is the best. Gods language.

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  2. Entiendo that Italian es tre bien mas like latin.lol

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  3. Entiendo that Italian es tre bien mas like latin.lol

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  4. Replies
    1. Sorry about that, I only mentioned the major languages that I wanted to discuss in the post. I will make an updated version of the image with Catalan and Occitan in the future.

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    2. I was also surprised that Catalan didn't appear here. There are about 7 million speakers -including me. I had read somewhere that Catalan is very close to Latin - not sure if that is vocabulary or grammar.

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  5. catalan and occitan are romance languagges too -.-

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    1. Catalan is a Gallo-Romance language and Occitan is part of the Occitano-Romance language group. In the image, I only included major languages I wanted to discuss in the post. I did include the percentage of difference between Occitan and Latin. I will make an updated version of the image to include Catalan and Occitan.

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  6. Romanian has only 5 cases at most - while I would even go so far as to say that there are really only 3 cases since the nomenative and accusative have the same form, and the genetive and the dative also have the same form. So saying they have kept all 6 cases from laten is simply wrong.

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    1. Yes Richard, in Romanian there are 5 cases, not 6. The nominative and accusative does not have the same form. The genitive and dative have the same form only on singular and only unarticulated. Well, it may look strange for a foreigner, but not to a romance speaker :)

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  7. I, too, enjoyed your work. Thank you.

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  8. The article is good and Mario Pei´s research results look trustworthy. Italian is by far the closest to Latin of major languages. And Frech is farthest to Latin of major languages. Mari Messias is simply wrong in this case.

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  9. Nice article! Add Galacian while you're at it.

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  10. Replies
    1. Yeah Romansh is the closest. Should have been on the list.

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  11. Isnt English suppose to be 60% Latin based.(Dont know if that is factually based or theory)

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    1. We learned that 60% of English's vocabulary comes directly or (mostly) indirectly (e.g., via Norman French, Parisian French, Spanish, etc.) from Latin.

      But English is not a Romance language; it is a Germanic language (and a Western Germanic language at that). Thus, it has a lot of grammatical elements in common with Dutch, German, etc.

      Also, if you look at the majority of the simple, common words that we use in English, they're more similar to simple, common German words. But if you include longer and/or more technical words, they tend to have a Latin/French/Romance origin. (Interestingly but not surprisingly, German and Dutch have also borrowed heavily from Latin and French over the centuries. Now they also share a lot of technical words with us all.)

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  12. Dear friend ,
    Would you help me with letting me know the source of the Mario pei's research on the percentage of differences between Latin and It's daughters ?
    I relly need it for my dissertation .
    This is my Email Add : ohlife5382@gmail.com
    tnx

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    1. Hello. Here are the sources:
      Italica: Bulletin of the American Association of Teachers of Italian. 27–29. Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta Publishing Company. 1950. Retrieved November 18, 2013.

      Koutna, Olga (December 31, 1990). "Chapter V. Renaissance: On the History of Classifications in the Romance Language Group". In Niederehe, Hans-Josef; Koerner, E.F.K. History and Historiography of Linguistics: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS IV), Trier, 24–28 August 1987. Volume 1: Antiquitity–17th Century. Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 294. ISBN 9027278113. Retrieved November 18, 2013.

      This can be found on this Wikipedia page:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classification_of_Romance_languages

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  13. If there were only one Romance language, it would be called Modern Latin. Modern Irish seems, at first, second, and third glance, to bear little relationship to Old Latin but it's called Irish. (Gaeilge) I've heard people ask why Latin is not still spoken since Greek still is. If Greek had produced as many children as Latin did, we'd be referring to the many Hellenic languages as we do of the many ROmance languages.

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    1. Good point. And don't forget English and other languages. Modern English is about as far from "Old English" as any of these modern romance languages are from Latin -- in both grammar and pronunciation, and decidedly in vocabulary. And, English has had less time to accomplish the feat.

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    2. Maybe one day English dialects will separate so much they split into many "Anglic languages".

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  14. Very interesting, especially for me as Englishman who lives in Sardinia and studied Latin at school many years ago. Nowadays Sardinia is a part of Italy so everybody there speaks Italian but a high percentage of Sardinians still speak Sardinian or 'Sardo'. I remember buying a little Italian-Sardinian dictionary and being amazed when looking at the conjugation of the present tense of the verb 'amare' and seeing how it was identical, but for the second person plural, to the Latin version that I'd learnt as an 11-year-old!

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  15. Very nice post, so thanks for sharing it. I agree with you, I'd say that perhaps Romanian is the closest living language to Latin in terms of grammar, but as you mentioned, it is very far from it when it comes to vocabulary. As for Italian (I am a native speaker myself) I feel like that in terms of vocab, it is for sure the closest to Latin (and Sardinian, too - but I would't call it a major Romance language). I remember studying Latin in high school, and being amazed at how many words I could understand without using a dictionary, but of course things were different when faced with Latin grammar. However, I think it is strange that French is the furthest Romance language when compared to Latin, yet it is the closest to Italian when it comes to vocabulary. Don't you think so?

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  16. It's funny to me as a Spanish native speaker that I can understand far more of Italian than I can of French despite Spanish and French coming from a dialect that had already separated from the one that became Italian.

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  17. Very interesting blog. Thank you for posting. I do have a question. Is Serbian part of the Romance family? If so, how close would it be to Latin? Also, I would love to have historical references that explain the evolution of all the Romance languages. If anyone could share some information I would greatly appreciate it. oscarami72@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks Oskey. Serbian is Slavic and isn't part of the Romance family. Latin and Serbian are related through Pro-Indo-European. However, there are many words in Serbian (and other Slavic languages) of Latin origin, this is due to the use of Latin in science and technology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_language
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbo-Croatian

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  18. Romanian is spoken by Vlach/Romanian minorities in Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia and Croatia.( over 1 million inhabitants) It is spoken by Romanian minorities in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

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  19. In terms of vocabulary Italian is the closest, and French is the next closest. But French is the least like latin in terms of pronunciation.

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