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Latin & today’s Romance languages

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 Message 1 of 15
12 December 2007 at 1:15pm | IP Logged 
Q: Does anyone know which of the modern Romance languages probably sounds most like the spoken Latin of 2000 years ago? Italian? Romanian?

Of course, Latin was probably spoken with different accents throughout the empire.

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 Message 2 of 15
12 December 2007 at 2:15pm | IP Logged 
It is impossible to determine this because the Romans didn't leave us any tapes ;-)

Modern Romance languages simultaneously developed out of Vulgar Latin. Classical Latin (such as used in almost every Roman text we have) was considerably different from the Latin of the people already in AD 200, but the earliest written evidence of modern Romance languages dates back to the 8th century only. Also due to the fall of the Roman empire and the subsequent dark ages, that's several hundred years for which we aren't able to trace at all what happened to the language(s).
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 Message 3 of 15
12 December 2007 at 2:34pm | IP Logged 
they say italian is closest to its original pronunciation.
although, romanian looks most like latin did (keeping alot of inflections etc.)

however, that is, and will be unknown to us. :(
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 Message 4 of 15
12 December 2007 at 3:49pm | IP Logged 
Most experts think Italian is closest, though Sardinian is perhaps even closer in some respects. Romanian's case system may be the result of Slavic influences, not Roman.
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 Message 5 of 15
13 December 2007 at 3:04am | IP Logged 
Before Latin was identified as such, linguists believed that Provencal was the mother of all Romance languages...   This may not reflect on the pronunciation though.
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 Message 6 of 15
13 December 2007 at 10:07am | IP Logged 
It is not quite true that we can't know anything about the pronunciation of Classical Latin. The Romans had excellent linguists (or rhetorics) like Quintillian, and they all say one important thing, namely that the orthography in the early Imperial age corresponded fairly well to the pronunciation. To supplement these authors there are other methods such as the analysis of spelling errors and loanwords in other languages, but of course there is a limit as to how far these methods can take us. Unfortunately the taperecorder wasn't invented back then. There are several sites on the internet where the pronunciation of Latin is discussed, - see for instance the links on this page.

The problem with Latin is that the modern Romance languages all descend from Latin through a bunch of dialects commonly known as "Vulgar Latin" (as mentioned by Sprachprofi), and there were simply no good contemporary linguists around to describe this conglomerate of language forms in detail. Our best guesses as to the pronunciation of for instance the Oath of Strasbourg (842) can only be based on the spelling:

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. (see Wikipedia)

This is a far cry from French, even Old French. Notice for instance the "dh" that may be a soft 'd', and the "K" in "Karle". This specimen is said to be the first in French, but it is to my eyes closer to Occitan - maybe that's where the idea about Occitan as a particularly oldfashioned language comes from.

Even around 1200 the language is still far from even modern written French (and even further from the spoken language), - here a quote from Chrétien de Troyes' Conte du Graal:

Atant vers le chastel s'an cort,
que tart li est qu'il vaigne a cort,
tant que pres del chevalier vint.

Sardic is normally said to be the most conservative Romance language, but I don't know whether this also applies to the pronunciation, and I don't know its history in details.

This text from 1080-85 is quoted in the Italian Wiki, and it is clearly extremely close to Latin - so much in fact that it could be seen a belated example of Vulgar Latin::

Ego iudice Mariano de Lacon fazo ista carta ad onore de omnes homines de Pisas pro xu toloneu ci mi pecterunt: e ego donolislu pro ca lis so ego amicu caru e itsos a mimi; ci nullu imperatore ci lu aet potestare istu locu de non (n)apat comiatu de leuarelis toloneu in placitu: de non occidere pisanu ingratis: e ccausa ipsoro ci lis aem leuare ingratis, de facerlis iustitia inperatore ci nce aet exere intu locu

This is Modern Sardic from the site "Sardegnattiva":

Esti su jassu de su Comitau Obradoris de Bilinguismu, un'assòtziu de obradoris linguìstigus e curturalis ki trabàllanta po su bilinguismu italianu..

Apart from Sardinian the most likely candidate to the title as the most conservative Romance language is Italian, though even Italian has run through a series of soundshifts that make the connection somewhat distant. But let's check its earliest history. Something that can be seen as Italian is apparently only documented from around 960-963, with some legal documents "I Placiti Capuani" from Benevento (whose language is hypothesized to have been influenced by the Longobardian, a Germanic language).

Sao ko kelle terre, per kelle fini que ki contene, trenta anni le possette parte sancti Benedicti.
Sao cco kelle terre, per kelle fini que tebe monstrai, Pergoaldi foro, que ki contene, et trenta anni le possette.
Kella terra, per kelle fini que bobe mostrai, sancte Marie è, et trenta anni la posset parte sancte Marie.
Sao cco kelle terre, per kelle fini que tebe mostrai, trenta anni le possette parte sancte Marie.

The k's here correspond to 'qu' (or 'c' before a,o,u) in modern Italian. My impression is that these fragments are closer to modern Italian than the Oaths above were to modern French, but they are still heavily dependent on Latin: "tebe" from "tibi", still "ct" instead of "tt" and so on. This text from 960-963 may not be like modern Italian - it rather reminds me of Latin spoken by an Italian immigrant. To see something with a clear Italian flavour we have to move to around 1200. The following quote is the beginning of the famous Cantico del Sole of Francesco d'Assisi from around 1216, and it is almost like modern Italian though with some important dialectal differences:

Altissimu, onnipotente bon Signore,
Tue so' le laude, la gloria e l'honore et onne benedictione.
Ad Te solo, Altissimo, se konfano,
et nullu homo ène dignu te mentovare

It took Dante to make the Tuscan dialect the basis of Modern Italian. This is the highway to Hell in the Divina Commedia from the early 1300s:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura /
ché la diritta via era smarrita. /
Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura / esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte /
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

How then about the Iberoromance languages? Among the oldest texts in Castilian are the Glosas Emilianenses from the late 900s which are written in Latin, Romance and Euskera (Basque). A quote from these glosas:

Cono aiutorio de nuestro / dueno dueno Christo, dueno / salbatore, qual dueno
get ena honore et qual / duenno tienet ela / mandatione cono /
patre cono spiritu sancto / enos sieculos delo siecu / los. Facanos Deus Omnipotes
tal serbitio fere ke / denante ela sua face / gaudioso segamus. Amen

I would probably not have guessed that this would develop into Spanish if Wiki hadn't told me. However just a few hundred years later we find this in the wellknown Cantar del Mio Cid:

De los sos ojos tan fuerte mientre lorando
tornava la cabeça y estava los catando.
Vio puertas abiertas e uços sin cañados,
alcandaras vazias sin pielles e sin mantos
e sin falcones e sin adtores mudados.

It is evident that the Spanish language as we know it was forged between these to moments in history and - quite frankly - nothing much has happened since 1200. So at least Castilian is marginally more distant from Latin than Italian, but the difference is not that big. And - without quoting any samples - I would say that the same applies to Portuguese and Catalan. None of them sound like Latin, but they both were fixated somewhere around the 1200-1300s so that you can read their great medieval works (I have in fact quoted the great Ramon Llull here).

Romanian is very poorly documented before the 1700s, but even though it has kept some grammatical categories from Latin it has moved quite far in other respects - maybe less than French, but certainly more than Italian. Even some of the likenesses are in reality less clearcut than you might think. For instance it is true that there is a neutrum gender, but it's a composite of masculine forms in the singular and feminine forms in the plural. It's a fact that it has kept a distinct Genitive/Dative case, but these forms are used quite differently from Latin - Modern Greek is as close a comparison, and this also applies to the very restricted use of the infinitive in Romanian.

So on almost all parameters Sardinian, followed by Italian is closest to Latin, and this in all likelihood also applies to the pronunciation. The one that has moved furthest away from Latin is spoken French, mainly because of the immense changes since 12-1400 which aren't paralleled in the other Romance languages.

Edited by Iversen on 15 December 2007 at 12:29pm

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 Message 7 of 15
13 December 2007 at 11:12am | IP Logged 
Due to phonetic Latin->Ancient Greek name conversions which have been found in Greece, and the remarkably slow change of the Greek language, we have a vague idea of the most basic sounds of Latin.

More importantly, the exact rhythm and stresses of Latin words have been worked out from ancient poems and rhymes (from meter, I believe), there has been a lot of research into this. I saw this mentioned somewhere, probably on this forum but a cursory search doesn't turn anything up.

Using 'meter', the Latin poems become a gigantic simultaneous equation, for the mathematically inclined, which can be solved to find the exact stresses and sounds. If the stress is guessed wrong for instance, then the next time the word pops up, it will put the rhythm of the poem into discord.

Anyway, it's late and I've had a long day, be back tomorrow, bye.
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 Message 8 of 15
13 December 2007 at 6:46pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the fascinating answers.

Language is for communication and I, personally, find it repulsive when English speakers quote Latin when most of their audience does not understand it. Now it is even more nauseating when a pompous person quotes Latin like an expert, but has the accent totally wrong.

Note: my issue is not with Latin speakers, but with those who pompously use it in the middle of other languages.

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