Archive for the ‘romance languages’ Category


The Lord’s Prayer in Romanian:

Tatăl nostru care eşti în ceruri,
sfinţească-se numele Tău,
vie împărăţia Ta,
facă-se voia Ta, precum în cer aşa şi pe pământ.
Pâinea noastră cea de toate zilele
dă-ne-o nouă astăzi
şi ne iartă nouă greşelile noastre
precum şi noi iertăm greşiţilor noştri.
Şi nu ne duce pe noi în ispită,
ci ne izbǎveşte de cel rău.

Romanian (587- ) is the main language of Romania and Moldova. About 24 million people speak it. The Moldovans call it Moldovan, but it is the same language.

Romanian, as you might expect from the name, comes from the language of the Romans: Latin. In the eastern Roman Empire most people spoke Greek, but what now is Romania – and back then was called Dacia – was settled by Romans soldiers. In time their Latin became Romanian.

Romanian is the oldest of the Romance languages, the languages that came from Latin. Probably because Dacia was cut off from Rome early: the Roman forces left 200 years before the fall of Rome.

The first signs of Romanian are from a Byzantine war story from 587 in which someone shouts, “Torna, torna fratre” as bags are falling.

Even though it is the oldest, its noun ending are the most like Latin. It still has cases: nouns have different endings according to their relationship to the rest of the sentences. Romanian even still has the neuter in addition to the feminine and masculine genders.

Romanian is closest to Italian. Like Italian – and Latin – it forms the plural not with an s but by changing the vowel at the end of the word.

Unlike other Romance languages, h did not become silent and short u was not changed into o. The Latin c and qu becomes p in Romanian: aqua becomes apa and octo, opt.

Most now write Romanian with Roman letters, even in Moldova, but before the 1700s it was written in Cyrillic letters, like Russian.

Romanian added four letters:

  • ş– sounds like sh
  • ţ – sounds like ts
  • î – sounds like a short Russian i (ы)
  • â – sounds like a short Russian i (ы)
  • ă – sounds like uh

Many Romanians know French and in the 1800s French words poured in so that now almost a fourth of the Romanian words come from French.

In ancient times foreign words came mainly from neighbouring Slavic languages. One word in five was from Slavic, but many of them died out so that now it is only one in seven.

Old words are mostly about country life, new words about city life.

Of the oldest words of all, 300 do not come from Latin, but some look like the same words in Albanian. This has led some to suppose that Romanians are Albanians who took on Roman ways, that the ancient language of Dacia was some kind of Albanian. But there is no solid proof of what language the Dacians spoke before Latin.

Romanian looks strange not just because of those four letters it added, but also because the sound changes that turned it from Latin into Romanian are not the sort you see in the west:

English Latin Italian Romanian
sing cantare cantare cânta
goat capra capra capra
cheese caseus formaggio brânză
key clave chiave cheie
night noctem notti noapte
place platea piazza piaţă
bridge pontem ponte pod

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The Lord’s Prayer in Italian:

Padre Nostro, che sei nei cieli,
Sia santificato il tuo nome.
Venga il tuo regno,
Sia fatta la tua volontà,
Come in cielo, così in terra.
Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano,
E rimetti a noi i nostri debiti,
Come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori.
E non ci indurre in tentazione,
Ma liberaci dal male.

Italian (960- ) is the main language of Italy and southern Switzerland. About 70 million people speak it. It is also spoken in Savoy, Nice and Corsica, parts of France that Italy once ruled, as well as in Istria in the east, now divided between Slovenia and Croatia.

Millions of Italians have moved overseas to North and South America and Australia. Yet few of their children and grandchildren – like Madonna, Rudy Giulilani or Eva Longoria – can speak Italian.

The largest overseas Italian-speaking area is in the wine country of Rio Grande do Sul, the part of Brazil near Uruguay.

Italian seems like Spanish. But Italian words are closer to Latin. Like in Latin and unlike Spanish, double consonants still matter in Italian and plurals are made by changing the vowel at the end, not by adding an s.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, Latin continued to be spoken in Italy, but it slowly changed into Italian. It first appears in court testimony in the 960s:

Sao ko quelle terre per quelle fini que qui contene trenta anni le possette parte sancti Benedicti.

which you would now say as:

So che quelle terre per quei confini che qui sono contenuti per trenta anni le possedette la parte di San Benedetto.

But until the 1800s Italy was divided into city-states, each with its own sort of Italian. Worse still, the Italian of the north could not be understood in the south.

In other countries, the language of the capital became the language of government and education. Not so in Italy: Rome did not become the capital of Italy till the 1800s. Too late.

By the late 1500s Italian writers, no matter where they came from, wrote in the Italian of Tuscany, made famous by the works of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Through the work of Pietro Bembo and the Accademia della Crusca in Florence, the Italian of Petrarch and Boccaccio – but not Dante – became the model of pure, written Italian. It helped that Tuscan Italian is halfway between northern Italian and southern Italian.

Why not Dante too? Dante did not write in pure Tuscan Italian. He put southern words into his writing so that he could be understood throughout Italy.

In the 1800s Alessandro Manzoni brought that model up to date. It became the Italian of government and education, being spread by the schools, the army, television and films.

Half of all Italians – mostly those who are young and have an education – speak it as their main language. Older people still speak in the dialect of their part of Italy.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Haitian Creole:

Papa nou ki nan sièl la,
Nou mandé pou yo toujou réspékté non ou.
Vi-n tabli gouvènman ou,
pou yo fè volonté ou so latè,
tankou yo fè-l nan sièl la.
Manjé nou bézouin an, ban nou-l jòdi-a.
Padonnin tout mal nou fè,
minm jan nou padonnin moun ki fè nou mal.
Pa kité nou nan pozision pou-n tonbé nan tantasion,
min, délivré nou anba Satan.

Haitian Creole (1700- ), also known as simply Creole or even Kreyol, is the main language of Haiti. About 8 million speak it. Most live in Haiti but some live in Miami, Cuba and elsewhere.

Creole grew out of the broken French of the African slaves in Haiti. The slaves came from different parts of Africa and had no common language other than pidgin French, the simple sort of French that the slaves masters spoke to them in. But the French was too simple to use as a full language. The children of the slaves, growing up knowing nothing else, made it into a full language, making pidgin French into creole French. This became Haitian Creole.

Haitian Creole can do anything that French can do. But because it is the language of the poor in Haiti – the rich speak French – many look down on it.

Haitian Creole is like French but much simpler. The grammar does away with things like gender and word endings that make French hard to learn. It is more like English: word order and short little words put here and there help you to make sense of it.

Most words come from French:

English Latin French Creole
sing cantare chanter chante
goat capra chevre kabrit
cheese caseus fromage fromaj
key clave clef kle
night noctem nuit nuit
place platea place kote
bridge pontem pont pon

The difference is not as bad as it seems on paper: Creole spelling is way more up to date than French spelling.

What makes Creole different is the way these words are put together.

It is no more bad French than French is bad Latin. French itself is simpler than Latin in many of the same ways that Creole is simpler than French. It merely takes French one step further.

But is it a separate language? Some, out of pride for the Haiti they grew up in, say that it is. And because the grammar is so different, it is hard to think of it as French. Yet if you go by the simplest test to tell if two languages are the same – whether a speaker of one can understand the other – then Creole is, in fact, just a form of French.

It is a form of French by its very nature: for society to function those at the top, who spoke French, had to be able to understand it, even if they could not speak it themselves.

If you speak French, you will not understand Creole right away, but once you hear it enough you will. It is not like learning a whole new language, but rather getting used to a different form of a language you already know.

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The Lord’s Prayer in French:

Notre Père, qui es aux cieux,
que ton nom soit sanctifié,
que ton règne vienne,
que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour.
Pardonne-nous nos offences
comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du mal.

French (842- ) is the main language of France, where it is the mother tongue of 61 million people. It is the first language of at least a million people in Canada (7.3m), Belgium (4.2m), Switzerland (1.8m) and the US (1.3m). Another 137 million or so use it daily as a second language, most of them in Africa. French is one of the six languages of the United Nations.


Where French is spoken as a first or second language. The darker the shade of blue, the more commonly it is used.

Of the languages that came from Latin, Spanish and even Portuguese have more speakers. French, though, is more common on the Internet.

French comes from the Latin spoken in the streets of Paris. Over time Latin slowly changed into what we know as French. It was already noticeably French by the 800s. But it became the universal language of France only in the 1800s when everyone had to learn the French of Paris in school. The top people and the best writers used it. The other sorts of French and the other languages of France – Breton, Basque, Occitan and Catalan – have been slowly and sadly dying out. Occitan, not French, was the language of the troubadours in the 1100s.

From the 1000s to the 1300s the top people in England spoke French. They spoke a English full of French words. In time it became the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

I wrote this in English, yet it would have been hard to do without these words from French:

language, people, nation, region, notice, form, change, universal, use, sort, rule, power, pure, perfect, common, slave, push, prefer, glory, banker, shop, paint, dance.

Even the -s ending for plurals comes from French!

In the 1700s in Haiti another language full of French words won the day: Creole. It grew out of the broken French of the African slaves. Creole is made of French words with some from Africa, but the words are put together in a way that is not French at all. Some argue it is a dialect of French, others say it is a separate language.

In the 1700s and 1800s French became the top language of the West, pushing aside Latin. Anyone with self-respect and a good education knew it. In Tolstoy you can read how even in Russia many preferred French to their own language. Marie Curie learned it in Poland and later went to France to make her mark in the world. So did Picasso from Spain and Josephine Baker from America.

But in the late 1900s the glory days came to an end. English, a language of bankers and shopkeepers, not of painters and dancers, became the top language in the West.

– Abagond, 2007, 2015.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Catalan:

Pare nostra del cel,
sigui santificat el teu nom;
vingui el teu Regne;
faci’s la teva voluntat,
com al cel,
així també a la terra.
Dóna’ns avui el nostre pa de cada dia;
i perdona’ns les nostres ofenses,
com també nosaltres hem perdonat els qui ens ofenen;
i no deixis que caiguem en la temptació,
ans deslliura’ns del Maligne.

Catalan (900- ) is a language spoken in Barcelona and eastern Spain by about 11 million people. It is also spoken in Andorra, the Balaeric Islands, in bits of France near Spain and in Alguer, a town on the Spain-facing side of Sardinia.

The heartland of Catalan is Catalonia and Valencia on the east coast of Spain. Yet it is not a dialect of Spanish. In fact, it is less like Spanish than Portuguese is. You can think of it as being something like Spanish yet also something like French. It grew out of Latin just as they did, but took a road of its own.

The language that it is most like is Occitan, the old language of the south of France in which the troubadours once sang. The sort of Occitan they used was called Provencal.

Occitan and Catalan are so close that some argue they are two dialects of the same language. If you know one you can pretty much make out what people are saying in the other. They are certainly much closer to each other than either are to French or Spanish:

English Latin Spanish Catalan Occitan French
sing cantare cantar cantar cantar chanter
goat capra cabra cabra cabra chevre
cheese caseus queso formatge formatge fromage
key clave llave clau clau clef
night noctem noche nit nuèit nuit
place platea plaza plaça plaça place
bridge pontem puente pont pont pont

Catalan and Occitan are regarded as two separate languages more because they are spoken in two separate countries than anything else.

The glory days of both Occitan and Catalan were in the High Middle Ages, in the 1200s and 1300s. Catalan was then a language of trade in the Mediterranean and a language of court for the kings of Valencia and Aragon. Prose writers of the time called it Catalan. Poets, however, wrote in the dialect of the troubadours: it was understandable, but no one talked like that. Something that poets can get away with.

In time Catalonia and Valencia fell under Spanish rule. Ferdinand and Isabelle, who ruled Spain in the time of Columbus, wanted everyone to speak Spanish. In 1500 most books printed in Valencia were still in Latin or Catalan, but by 1600 most were in Spanish. From 1600 to 1800 Catalan had few serious writers.

The laws against Catalan did not ease till after the death of Franco in the 1970s. Now it can be taught at school, though everyone still has to learn Spanish so it still has the advantage.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Portuguese:

Pai nosso, que estais no céu
Santificado seja o Vosso nome,
Venha a nós o Vosso reino,
Seja feita a Vossa vontade,
Assim na terra como no céu.
O pão nosso de cada dia nos dai hoje.
Perdoai as nossas ofensas,
Assim como nós perdoamos a quem nos tem ofendido.
E não nos deixeis cair em tentação,
Mas livrai-nos do mal,

Portuguese (1290- ) is the main language of Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and some other bits of the old Portuguese empire. More people speak Portuguese than French, but not as many as speak Spanish. It is spoken by half of all Latin Americans and by more Africans than Europeans.

Portuguese is like Spanish, but it has sh and zh sounds, more z and oy sounds and, like French, is partly spoken through the nose. The spelling is also different. But if you know one, the other is easy to learn: many of the words are the same in both. Some people who speak Portuguese can understand spoken Spanish, but it does not work the other way round.

They both come from Latin. If history had been a bit different, they might have been one language.

Some see Galician of north-western Spain as a dialect of Portuguese. That is a matter of debate: while those in northern Portugal can understand it, those in the south have trouble.

What is certain is that they both came from the same language in the Middle Ages: Galician-Portuguese. It was the language of choice for poets in the 1200s and 1300s, even in the court of the Spanish king. But later Galicia fell under Spanish rule while Portugal had its own kings who made Portuguese a language of learning.

The main dialects of Portuguese are those of Portugal, Africa and Brazil. African and European Portuguese are closer to each other than either is to Brazilian Portuguese.

Africa: Portuguese has taken root in Angola. It is not merely the language of those at the top with good educations – like, say, English in Pakistan. It has become the native language of a third of Angolans and is understood by most of them. It has also taken root in Sao Tome and Principe. It is also widely understood in Mozambique, though less than one in ten speak it as a native language. Portuguese is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

Brazil: While the written language that everyone learns in school is close to that of Portugal, the Portuguese that you hear in the street is almost another language.

The Portuguese in Europe can understand spoken Brazilian Portuguese because they are used to hearing it in television shows and songs from Brazil. But some Brazilians have a hard time understanding Portuguese the way it is spoken in Europe.

Countries with a million or more Portuguese speakers:

186m: Brazil
11m: Portugal
9m: Angola
8m: Mozambique
2m: America
2m: Germany
1m: France
1m: South Africa

Some would add the 4 million Galicians to this list.

– Abagond, 2007.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Galician:

Noso Pai que estás no ceo:
santificado sexa o teu nome,
veña a nós o teu reino
e fágase a túa vontade
aquí na terra coma no ceo.
O noso pan de cada día dánolo hoxe;
e perdóano-las nosas ofensas
como tamén perdoamos nós a quen nos ten ofendido;
e non nos deixes caer na tentación,
mais líbranos do mal.

Galician (1200- ) is a language spoken in north-western Spain by about 4 million people. It is taught at schools there (but so is Spanish) and has its own television station. Galician grew out of the everyday Latin spoken in that part of Spain back in Roman times.

Some say Galician is just a sort of Portuguese with Spanish spelling; others say it is a language in its own right.

When you see Galician and Portuguese written out, they look like different languages, but if you wrote Galician according to Portuguese spelling rules they look almost the same. Galician seems like Portuguese with some Spanish words added.

For example, the Portuguese word for “old” is velho while the Galician word is vello. Different, right? But the ll is the Spanish way of writing the lh sound of Portuguese. So if you wrote the Galician word according to Portuguese rules, it would become velho!

In fact, people in northern Portugal have no trouble understanding Galician, though people in the south do.

Galician and Portuguese both came from the same language in the Middle Ages: Galician-Portuguese. It was spoken in what is now north-western Spain and northern Portugal. It had so many good poets in the 1200s and 1300s that even the poets of Madrid wrote in it instead of their own Spanish.

Some who spoke Galician-Portuguese stayed put and fell under Spanish rule. They became the Galicians. Others moved south as land was taken back from the Muslims. They founded the country of Portugal and became the Portuguese.

No one questions the standing of Portuguese as a language. It has had a country of its own for hundreds of years and now many countries speak it. Galician has not had that. It has become an ugly stepchild.

When Isabella and Ferdinand brought all Spain under their rule in 1492, most people stopped writing in Galician. The best and brightest of Galicia now went to study in Toledo and wrote in Spanish. Even today Spanish remains the road to success in Galicia.

There are two schools of thought about the way forward for Galician:

  1. Isolationists: Galician is fine the way it is and should be seen as a language in its own right, equal to Portuguese and Spanish.
  1. Reintegrationists: Galician should use Portuguese spelling and take its rightful place as a dialect of Portuguese, on an equal footing with Brazilian or African Portuguese. Forget Spain: Galicians should become part of the wider Portuguese-speaking world.

So the very way you spell Galician tells people which side you are on. It is not an innocent act.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Spanish:

Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo,
santificado sea tu nombre.
Venga a nosotros tu reino.
Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo.
Danos nuestro pan de cada día.
Perdona nuestras ofensas, como
también nosotros perdonamos a los
que nos ofenden.
No nos dejes caer en la tentación,
y líbranos del mal.

Spanish (900- ) is the main language in Spain and in Latin America outside of Brazil. More people speak it as a first language than even English. Yet, like Chinese and Hindi, few speak it outside its home region. It is one of the six languages of the United Nations.

Heat map of where Spanish is spoken as a first language.

Heat map of where Spanish is spoken as a first language.

Spanish grew out of Vulgar Latin: not the old-fashioned book Latin that Cicero and Caesar wrote, but the street Latin that traders and soldiers spread to the West. It was a looser and simpler Latin. Some of the words were even different. For example, house was casa, not domus, horse was caballus not equus and carry was portare not fer.

Between 500 and 1000 Vulgar Latin became Spanish in the north of Spain, Galician-Portuguese in the north-west and Catalan in the north-east. In the middle of Spain, then ruled by the Moors, Vulgar Latin had become Mozarabic. The Moors were Muslim Arabs and Berbers.

From 1000 to 1492 the Christian armies took back what is now Spain and Portugal from the Moors. Mozarabic died out as the languages of the north spread southward.

Although they pushed the Moors out, they kept the Arabic words for sugar, coffee, alcohol, algebra, zero and much else.

English Latin Portuguese Galician Spanish Catalan
sing cantare cantar cantar cantar cantar
goat capra cabra cabra cabra cabra
cheese caseus queijo queixo queso formatge
key clavem chave chave llave clau
night noctem noite noite noche nit
place platea praça praza plaza plaça
bridge pontem ponte ponte puente pont

The differences are not as great as they seem on paper because Spanish and Galician spell words one way and Portuguese another.

Notice that Spanish and Portuguese are much closer to each other than either is to Catalan. They are so close that some who speak Portuguese can understand spoken Spanish – though it does not work the other way round.

Portuguese is almost a dialect of Spanish. It is only because Portugal had its own kings that it has a life as a separate language. We know that from looking at the sad history of Galician and Catalan after their home regions fell under Spanish rule. From 1600 to 1800 they had no serious writers.

Even today they are at a disadvantage compared to Spanish: In the schools of Spain everyone learns Castilian, the Spanish of the capital city, Madrid, regardless of what they might speak at home.

Spanish in Latin America came from the south, so it is not Castilian. Yet the difference is no worse than that between British and American English.

– Abagond, 2007.


Click to watch the spread of languages from 1000 to 2000.

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