Romanian As a Romance Language Outlier

Andrei writes:

As a native speaker of Romanian, I suspect that the closeness between Latin and Romanian is vastly overstated. First let’s start with the obvious fact that nobody really knows how Latin sounded. Second, even though the Romanian base vocabulary is very much Latin, the use of Latin words is highly non-standard.For example while all other Neo-Latin languages use a world similar to ‘terra‘ to express the idea of ‘earth’, in Romanian is ‘pamânt‘ – coming from ‘pavimentum‘ (paved road). So a radical change in meaning. There are hundreds of such examples where in Romanian worlds of Latin origin have very surprising meanings, meanings which cannot be guessed at all by any other speaker of neo-Romance languages. For political and patriotic reasons, Romanians tend to overestimate their language’s closeness to Latin, Italian and so on, but the truth is that Romanian is the oddest neo-Romance language in Europe, and distinctly different from all the others. Still, Romanian is an interesting language to learn for people with a passion for Romance languages, as it gives you a better understanding of how many language registers existed in Latin. The other major neo-Romance languages will only give you an incomplete image of Latin, as they represent a highly correlated evolution of vulgar Latin, in which major feature appeared or disappeared simultaneously (i.e the case system, the neutral gender etc.). Romanian is something else and you can notice that the moment you dwell in the language.

What an interesting language this is. I mess around with many Romance languages, including Portuguese, French, and Italian. I already speak Spanish pretty well. I have tried to mess with Romanian but it is too weird and written Romanian does not seem to make much sense. Wow! Instead of earth meaning land as it does in most sane languages, earth means pavement! LOL! Where did Romanian evolve? Manhattan?

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13 thoughts on “Romanian As a Romance Language Outlier”

  1. I’ve always thought that French was farther from Latin than Romanian was, and I still do. Sure, it was influenced a great deal by the Slavs, but only five per cent in standard spoken form and three per cent in standard written form (how can spoken form be different from written forms?).
    Ten per cent of French comes from Old Frankish, including common words like ‘marcher’, ‘danser’, and ‘gâteau’.
    In ‘mutual intelligibility in the Romance Languages’ post, Mr. Lindsay, you said that ;
    ‘Romanian […] seems to have some understanding of both Spanish and Italian. Romanian speakers say that they moved to Italy, could immediately pick up a fair amount of the conversation, and picked up Italian very fast. Romanians have ~65% intelligibility of Italian when spoken and possibly 85-90% when written.’
    ‘Vice versa, Italians living in Italy run into Romanians regularly and say that they can understand Romanian quite well. Spanish speakers say that they can understand a fair amount of Romanian, and Romanians can understand even more of their Spanish. Spanish and Italian have 71% and 77% lexical similarity with Romanian.’
    Italian is probably the closest language to Latin.
    You also said, ‘Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Romanians, no one can understand the darned French. This makes sense to me. I can’t understand a word of the local French-speaking tourists, and I had a semester of French.’ ‘No one can understand French except the French.’
    Maybe it’s just the way it is spoken. I don’t know.
    I honestly think Romanian is the best Romance language out there. It even retained some morphological cases.

    1. Romanian is actually very close to Latin. It is one of the closest to Latin. Romansch is also very close to Latin.
      It is French vowels and pronunciation that makes it so you can’t understand them.

  2. Robert, you said you have an MA in Linguistics right? What languages do you speak besides English and Spanish? I would think it easy for an English speaker with a great knowledge of linguistics to understand Spanish, as it is relatively easy.I do not see why you wouldn’t be able to understand Romanian if you tried a bit. I can speak about 5 languages but I’m constantly trying to learn more languages. I’ve been considering studying Linguistics but I’ve heard that there’s no money in this and I don’t want to be living paycheck to paycheck. A dream of mine is to travel to remote locations and document obscure languages and compile dictionaries of those languages. Do you think an degree in Linguistics is worth anything? Will I even be able to research undocumented languages or are those jobs extremely hard to come by?

    1. There is almost no work doing that, but I had a paid job doing that for a while.
      My degree is Linguistics (ESL). I got it so I could teach, but then I got ill and haven’t been able to teach since.
      I am sorry, Romanian makes no sense to me at all. A lot of Romance languages don’t make sense to me. Catalan TV makes no sense at all, Occitan is hard to understand and I often understand very little of Italian TV. I can’t understand much Portuguese either. I can understand a bit of it when it is broadcast, but when Portuguese speakers are talking, I understand nothing.

  3. I’m a native Spanish speaker. I studied a bit of Latin in both public middle and high school. I’m probably the last of that generation to do so since the SJW fags took over public education. I’m sure studying Latin now makes you a racist White supremacist!

    Spanish may be one of the closest languages to Latin, at least orthographically. I know Italian retains many etymological roots with Latin, but overall, standard written Spanish is really just Latin without case endings. No other written Romance language comes close. I think that Italian may be even more divergent from classical Latin precisely because it’s from the same geographic origin.

    The written Latin standard may have had a strong influence on the Romanized Celts and barbarians of the Roman Empire. The Italian inhabitants may have long-ditched speaking the written from but perceived their vulgar dialect to be more Latin based on racial and historical grounds, whereas the second languages learners really tried extra hard to learn the written form and simply fucked it up.

    I’ll tell you, French is utter madness. The Germanic influence on its phonology has turned it into an incomprehensible mess. A truly bastardized Romance language.

    1. In fact, if you
      (1) replace Spanish ñ with nn

      (2) keep in mind that syllable-final ‘m’ in Classical Latin wasn’t pronounced but rather nasalized the preceding vowel

      and (3) ignore the Arabic loan words to Spanish, written Spanish becomes even more like Latin.

      I slightly modified the Spanish translation of the Declaration of Human Rights below to match the Latin more closely. It’s perfectly grammatical Spanish though, just a different translation choice.

      Compare Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

      Todos los hombres nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y como son dotados con razón y conciencia, deben comportarse con espírito de fraternidad.

      Omne homnes nascuntu liberi e pares dignitat e jure, sunt da rationis e conscientiae, e agendu inter spiritu de fraternitat.

      All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

      1. And finally. here’s Standard Italian for comparison:

        Todos los hombres nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y como son dotados con razón y conciencia, deben comportarse con espírito de fraternidad.

        Omne homnes nascuntu liberi e pares dignitat e jure, sunt da rationis e conscientiae, e agendu inter spiritu de fraternitat.

        Tutti gli esseri umani nascono liberi ed eguali in dignità e diritti. Essi sono dotati di ragione e di coscienza e devono agire gli uni verso gli altri in spirito di fratellanza.

        1. Note, if you replace the Latin ‘omne’ with ‘toti’, then ‘todos’ and ‘tutti’ make more sense.

          1. The Italian ‘essri umani’ I think can be replaced with ‘uomini’ to make it closer to ‘homnes’ but it’s still not etymologically closer to written Latin than Spanish, albeit both Italian and Spanish pronounce it quite similarly without an h-sound.

    2. I’ve actually heard that Romansch or Ladin in Switzerland are the closest languages to Latin. Switzerland actually had a very nice road network early on because the Romans laid out a great system of roads in that land.

      1. Here’s Romanian and multiple varieties of the Romansch languages. for comparison It’s doesn’t look like orthographic Latin at all. Spanish still takes the cake for orthography. I’m sure that others are perhaps closer to Latin in structure or phonology but not in orthography.

        Toate ființele umane se nasc libere și egale în demnitate și în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu rațiune și conștiință și trebuie să se comporte unele față de altele în spiritul fraternității.

        ROMANSCH (not sure which variety this one is but it’s the closest to written Latin among the Romansches)
        Tuots umans naschan libers ed eguals in dignità e drets. Els sun dotats cun intellet e conscienza e dessan agir tanter per in uin spiert da fraternità.

        ROMANSCH (Grischun, an artificial literary standard)
        Tut ils umans naschan libers ed eguals en dignitad ed en dretgs. Els èn dotads cun raschun e conscienza e duain agir in vers l’auter en spiert da fraternitad.

        ROMANSCH (Puter)
        Tuot ils umauns naschan libers ed eguels in dignited ed in drets. Els sun dotos cun radschun e conscienza e dessan agir ün invers l’oter in spiert da fraternited.

        ROMANSCH (Surmiran)
        Tot igls carstgangs neschan libers ed eguals an dignitad ed an dretgs. Els èn dotos cun raschung e schientscha e duessan ager l’egn vers l’oter an spiert da fraternitad.

        ROMANSCH (Sursilvan)
        Tut ils humans neschan libers ed eguals en dignitad ed en dretgs. Els ein dotai cun raschun e cunscienzia e duein agir in viers l’auter en spért da fraternitad.

        ROMANSCH (Vallader)
        Tuot ils umans naschan libers ed eguals in dignità ed in drets. Els sun dotats cun radschun e conscienza e dessan agir ün invers l’oter in ün spiert da fraternità

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