What Are the Main Romance Languages?

Although many languages can trace their roots back to Latin, there are five widely spoken romance languages most people recognize. This romance languages list includes these five, as well as a few others you may recognize.

Two woman with bicycles viewing Roman ColosseumTwo woman with bicycles viewing Roman Colosseum

What Are the Romance Languages?

The Romans wrote in Latin, but they also spoke a less formal version of the language, called vulgar Latin. As Roman soldiers conquered and fought in various parts of the ancient world, they took their language with them. The romance languages are all variations on vulgar Latin. Prior to 800 AD, these languages evolved in different parts of the world, taking their Latin roots and expanding with regional differences. 

The term “romance language” doesn’t refer to saying “I love you” or finding the perfect partner. Instead, the word “romance” means “like the Romans.” Even so, some romance languages, such as Italian, can be very romantic.

Italian

Considered to be the most similar to vulgar Latin of all the romance languages, Italian is an important European language. Spoken by about 67 million people, this language is closely tied to its ancient roots. The strong similarities may be due to proximity. Italy was the center of the Roman Empire, so the Latin language did not have far to travel to evolve into Italian.

Italian shares much of its vocabulary with very similar Latin words, and sentence structure is also similar. Both languages have very similar words for “book”:

Italian: libro

Latin: liber

French

If Italian is the most similar romance language to vulgar Latin, French is one of the least similar. It is considered a “peripheral” romance language. However, it does maintain many important similarities with Latin. One is vocabulary. Although French vocabulary may sound different and look different than Latin, it is easy to see the connection between the two languages when you compare individual words.

You can see this similarity in the words for “book” in both languages:

French: livre

Latin: liber

Spanish

Spanish is also a romance language, having some elements in common with vulgar Latin. It came from the Western Roman Empire, which controlled the Iberian Peninsula. There are more than 480 million Spanish speakers worldwide, but subtle regional variations further illustrate how this language changes with time. 

Still, there are significant similarities, as you can see in the translation of the word “book”:

Spanish: libro

Latin: liber

Portuguese

Also part of the Western Roman Empire on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal was the original  home of the Portuguese language. Now spoken by about 260 million people worldwide, it involves multiple dialects and exemplifies how language can evolve with time and distance. There are many similarities with vulgar Latin, however, especially in the area of vocabulary.

The translation of the word “book” shows how much Portuguese still shares with Latin:

Portuguese: livro

Latin: liber

Romanian

While Romanian is considered a romance language, it has the least in common with Latin. It shares some vocabulary with vulgar Latin, but it also has some significant differences. This may be due to the fact that many regions where people speak Romanian were not originally part of the Roman Empire.

You can see the difference between Romanian and Latin when you look at the translation of the word “book”:

Romanian: carte

Latin: liber

Other Romance Languages

Although they may not be on every romance languages list, the following languages are considered to have romance language roots:

  • Aragonese

  • Aromanian

  • Asturian

  • Arpitan

  • Catalan

  • Corsican

  • Emilian

  • Extremaduran

  • Fala 

  • Friulian

  • Galician

  • Istriot

  • Jèrriais

  • Ladin

  • Ladino

  • Ligurian

  • Lombard

  • Minderico

  • Mirandese

  • Napoletano-Calabrese

  • Occitan

  • Picard

  • Piedmontese

  • Romagnol

  • Romansh

  • Sardinian

  • Shuadit

  • Sicilian

  • Venetian

  • Walloon

  • Zarphatic

Is English a Romance Language?

English has plenty of words with Latin influence. In fact, many important legal terms have Latin roots, and the English language in general is full of Latin root words. However, English is not a romance language. Instead, it is considered Germanic. 

Living Descendants of a Dead Language

Because it is no longer spoken, Latin is considered a dead language. However, that distinction does nothing to reduce its significance. In fact, many Latin words and variations on Latin words are still spoken today all over the world.

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