|Man knows so much and does so little. - Inventor Buckminster Fuller|
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European family that includes French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian, as well as regional languages such as Catalan, ProvenÃ§al, Sardinian and Sicilian. All of these tongues are the modern descendents of Vulgar Latin, the spoken language of the Roman Empire.
If you have studied Latin, you may have noticed that the modern Romance languages are quite different from the Latin used by Caesar, for example. This is because the written language used at the time of Caesar (1st century B.C.) was an archaic form of Latin very different from the Latin spoken on the streets of Rome. For example, in written Latin the word for mouth was "os", while in the spoken language it was "bucca", a word that has survived in the modern Romance languages ("boca", "bouche" etc.)
Latin is notorious for its difficult grammar, and thankfully for us, most of the difficult features of Latin did not survive. Around the time of Caesar, the word "de" was frequently used in place of the genitive case, and over the next several centuries, the genitive died out completely. Another simplification was the loss of the third gender. Latin has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. But the neuter did not survive in the modern languages (except Romanian), and the neuter nouns became masculine for the most part.
In addition to the rapid changes occurring within the language itself, Latin was also subject to influences from the languages spoken by the native populations of the Roman colonies. In Northern Spain for example, the native Basque population could not make an "f" sound, and they substituted an "h". (In Castilian, this "h" sound eventually become silent.) In Gaul, Latin changed as it was learned by the native Basque and Gothic tribes. In Italy, Latin broke into a number of dialects as it came into contact with the other native languages of the penninula, which included Celtic, Greek and Oscan. Romanian is unique among the Romance languages in that it has assimilated a large number of words from Albanian, Hungarian and the Slavic languages.
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