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What’s In a Name? Why Spanish Is Considered a Romance Language

Ever wonder why some languages are classified as Romance languages? Before I began studying languages, I assumed a Romance language was simply called that because it sounded more romantic. That made sense to my adolescent brain, since I knew French and Italian were two examples of romance languages, and what could possibly sound more romantic than someone wooing you in French or Italian?


As it turns out, my youthful predisposition to relate everything to love was wrong. Romance languages earned that designation because they developed in regions that once belonged to the Roman Empire. On the family tree of languages, they all have a common ancestor—Latin. However, the Roman Empire was vast, and as the Romans traveled around, Latin dialects formed and eventually became their own languages—like French, Italian, and, yes, Spanish.


The Romans ruled the entirety of the Iberian Peninsula beginning in 19 BCE until its end around 476 CE. As the empire began to decline, pure Latin was spoken less and less, giving way to what is referred to as Vulgar Latin, which are the different, commonly spoken dialects. Over time on the Iberian Peninsula, two distinct languages developed from those dialects—Spanish and Portuguese. The other languages that influenced and gave Spanish its own grammar, vocabulary, and phonological characteristics were those spoken by the native Iberians and those of the Germanic tribes who arrived in the early medieval period.


With around 543 million speakers, Spanish has the distinction of being the most popular Romance language, according to Enthnologue. The other Romance languages topping the charts are French, Portuguese, and Italian. By studying one Romance language, you really are getting a head start on the others. Just take the word “love,” for example, in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian: amor, amour, amor, amore. Sounds very romantic, right?



By Kelli Drummer-Avendano


Also read:

Romance Languages: What Makes Italian a Romance Language


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