Romance Languages: Origin, Definition, and Similarities

A couple in rome

When English speakers speak about “romance,” they’re generally referring to affection and love defined by a courtship or strong attraction to another person. But the origin of romance has a completely different meaning that’s linked to Ancient Rome. 

And that older definition defines a class of the most influential languages in the world: The Romance Languages.  

Does that mean these languages are rooted in romantic love? Not exactly—though some may argue that French, a Romance language, is the “Language of Love.”

People speak the Romance Languages widely throughout Europe and North and South America. The full number of languages in this category varies. But scholars classify at least 23 languages as a Romance Language, and there are nearly 50 if you only consider dialect and basic structure. 

In this article, we’ll give you a list of common Romance Languages, break down their origin, point out similarities between the languages, and give tips on learning English if your native language is a Romance Language. 

Why Are They Called Romance Languages?

Let’s go back in history to when the Roman Empire dominated the known world and Latin was the most widely spoken language in the world. There were two types of Latin used in the world: Classical and Vulgar.

The Romans used Classical Latin in writing and in formal documents. It’s like the way we use formal and informal language in different situations today. 

However, the language used in speaking and in daily life was Vulgar Latin. Most important, it was the language spoken by soldiers and traders who traveled the world expanding the land and financial power of the Roman Empire.

The term Vulgar is an adjective for the word “crowd” in English. It truly was the language of the people! And it was much easier to understand. 

You can observe the usage of Vulgar Latin to this day from “graffiti” on the walls at the Roman historical site of Pompeii. Note: Some of the graffiti is vulgar (modern English definition) in nature.

As the Roman Empire expanded, so did Vulgar Latin. It also developed in various ways (spelling, phonetics, sound, grammar) based on the native language of the region. These dialects of Latin continued to develop after the fall of the Roman Empire. They evolved into what we know as the Romance Languages.

This was the original definition of romance. It comes from the Vulgar Latin term romanice which means “in Roman.” Romance as we know it today (love) didn’t come into usage until the late 17th century. 

What Are the Romance Languages?

The Romance Languages are a major branch of the Indo-European Language Family. Again, based on who you reference, there are at least 23 Romance Languages and up to 50 if you consider only structure and dialect. 

The most popular Romance Languages are Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. They make up nearly ninety percent of the total speakers. However, you can find its influence in many other regions of the world.

Other popular Romance languages include: Catalan, Galacian, Sardinian, Walloon, and Provençal. Here’s a complete Romance Language tree.

What are their Similarities?

You might think that since these languages all developed from the same base language that speakers may understand each other. Though some Romance Language speakers can navigate a basic conversation with each other, it’s typically not the case.

The dialects and linguistics between the various languages are too far apart for them all to be mutually understood. However, there are many similarities between the languages, which is another reason scholars classify them together.

Though spelling and sound patterns may differ, Romance Languages all share a great deal of basic vocabulary words and some of the grammar forms (between the modern languages) are still very similar. 

However, the modern counterparts differ greatly from ancient Vulgar Latin. Modern Romance Languages only have two genders (masculine and feminine) whereas Vulgar Latin had three (neutral). 

Another similarity between Romance Languages is their use of prepositions and word order. This was a departure over time from Vulgar Latin which used inflection to convey grammar, meaning, mood and tone. 

Last, you’ll find that the verb conjugation systems of the Romance Languages are very similar. These systems include the ways of establishing tense and making the verbs formal or informal, or plural or singular. 

Learning English for Romance Language Speakers

As with every language, there are a distinct set of challenges that most native speakers of a Romance Language face. In this section, we’re going to point out some of those challenges, so you can be aware and correct any potential issues.

Mixing -ed and -ing

In English, -ed typically refers to something that is temporary. As in, “I am bored.” However, it’s common for speakers of Romance languages to mix the -ed and -ing endings so “I am bored” becomes “I am boring” (a completely different issue!). 

Another example is with the word concentrate. Concentrated means to intensify something, as in concentrated orange juice (remove the excess water). However concentrating, means a person is focusing their thoughts on a particular task (e.g. I’m concentrating on my homework right now.). 

It’s common for English learners to mix up the two and create incorrect sentences like: I’m concentrated on my homework right now

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

In English, typically you add an -s to the end of a word to make it plural, but that’s not always the case. English is full of nouns considered uncountable. 

Coffee and rice are two examples of uncountable nouns. For example, you don’t order two coffees from the barista. You order two cups of coffee. 

Knowing countable and uncountable nouns is also very helpful when determining whether or not to use an article in a sentence.

To Make and To Do

Learning whether to use make or do in various situations is very confusing for Romance Language speakers as their native language does not distinguish between the two verbs.

In Spanish, hacer; in French, faire; and in Italian, fare, all mean to make and to do! This leads to confusion for phrases like: make the bed, do your homework, make a mistake, or do the laundry

There’s no specific rule for which verb to use and when. Generally, use do when referring to something that’s laborious or a job (e.g. Do my chores). Whereas, you use make for things that have an actual action.

In fact, you can often use a verb instead of make as in: make a cake or bake a cake, make a change or implement a change, make a choice or choose.

Conclusion

The Romance Languages have a rich history and are spoken widely throughout the world. If you’re a native speaker of a Romance Language, we hope you found our information and tips on learning English helpful.

As always, for all things English grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and business speaking, visit the Magoosh English Speaking blog!

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