The root of the word “romance” goes back to the Latin rōmānicus, which meant “Roman.” The language of Rome was Latin, and all of the Romance languages are descended from Vulgar Latin.
Like “Romance,” the word “Vulgar” here doesn’t mean what you’d normally think when you hear “vulgar.” It comes from the Latin vulgus, meaning “common people,” and so Vulgar Latin refers to the many dialects of Latin spoken by regular people.
Because of the expansiveness of the Roman Empire, Vulgar Latin was spoken all across Europe in the first few centuries CE. While the governmental empire began to collapse in the 5th century, the language was still spread all around the continent. As the communities started to close off from each other and individual kingdoms sprang up, the languages drifted apart and started sounding more distinct.
The languages spread even further apart with the various colonial empires, bringing French, Spanish, and Portuguese to North and South America. All the branches of the Romance language tree split off according to the shifting geopolitical order.
How Similar Are The Romance Languages?
Depending on which Romance language you learn, you may have an easier or harder time understanding other Romance languages. Part of that has to do with the linguistic “distance” between various languages.
Learning Brazilian Portuguese, for example, will prepare you to understand the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, despite there being some differences between the two.
French and Spanish are more clearly different, but there’s still enough mutual intelligibility that a French speaker and a Spanish speaker could probably have a rudimentary conversation.
Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps
Piazza di Sant’Apollinare, 46, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Telephone: +39 06 684851
The National Roman Museum is a 15th-century palace housing Renaissance artworks & antiquities, Greek & Roman sculptures & a library. Its mission is the acquisition, conservation, enhancement, and use of a unique cultural heritage in the world. This exceptional testimony of the past is promoted and developed by the National Roman Museum, projecting a sense of historical continuity into the future.
- Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=589883
- By Original: Koryakov Yuri Vector: Mrmw – Own work based on: Romance-lg-classification-en.png:, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61617379
- By Lalupa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1739829