|Writing system (unwritten)|
|Linguist list lat-vul|
|Native to Roman Republic, Roman Empire|
Era Antiquity; developed into Romance languages 6th to 9th centuries
Language family Indo-European Italic Latino-Faliscan Latin Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin or Sermo Vulgaris ("common speech") is a generic term for the nonstandard (as opposed to classical) sociolects of Latin from which the Romance languages developed. Works written in Latin during classical times used Classical Latin rather than Vulgar Latin, with very few exceptions (most notably sections of Gaius Petronius' Satyricon). Because of its nonstandard nature, Vulgar Latin had no official orthography. Vulgar Latin is sometimes also called colloquial Latin, or Common Romance (particularly in the late stage). In Renaissance Latin, Vulgar Latin was called vulgare Latinum or Latinum vulgare.
- Origin of the term
- Evidence of changes
- Consonant development
- Loss of final consonants
- Lenition of stops
- Simplification of geminates
- Loss of word final m
- Neutralization of b and w
- Consonant cluster simplification
- Vowel development
- System in Classical Latin
- Loss of distinctive length and near close mergers
- Phonologization of stress
- Lengthening of stressed open syllables
- Romance articles
- Loss of neuter
- Loss of oblique cases
- Wider use of prepositions
- Contrast with Proto Romance
Origin of the term
The term "common speech" (sermo vulgaris), which later became "Vulgar Latin", was used by inhabitants of the Roman Empire. Subsequently it became a technical term from Latin and Romance-language philology referring to the unwritten varieties of a Latinised language spoken mainly by Italo-Celtic populations governed by the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Traces of their language appear in some inscriptions, such as graffiti or advertisements. The educated population mainly responsible for Classical Latin might also have spoken Vulgar Latin in certain contexts depending on their socioeconomic background. The term was first used improperly in that sense by the pioneers of Romance-language philology: François Juste Marie Raynouard (1761–1836) and Friedrich Christian Diez (1794–1876).
In the course of his studies on the lyrics of songs written by the troubadours of Provence, which had already been studied by Dante Alighieri and published in De vulgari eloquentia, Raynouard noticed that the Romance languages derived in part from lexical, morphological, and syntactic features that were Latin, but were not preferred in Classical Latin. He hypothesized an intermediate phase and identified it with the Romana lingua, a term that in countries speaking Romance languages meant "nothing more or less than the vulgar speech as opposed to literary or grammatical Latin."
Diez, the principal founder of Romance-language philology, impressed by the comparative methods of Jakob Grimm in Deutsche Grammatik, which came out in 1819 and was the first to use such methods in philology, decided to apply them to the Romance languages and discovered Raynouard's work, Grammaire comparée des langues de l'Europe latine dans leurs rapports avec la langue des troubadours, published in 1821. Describing himself as a pupil of Raynouard, he went on to expand the concept to all Romance languages, not just the speech of the troubadours, on a systematic basis, thereby becoming the originator of a new field of scholarly inquiry.
Diez, in his flagship work on the topic, Grammatik der romanischen Sprachen, "Grammar of the Romance Languages," first published in 1836–1843 and multiple times thereafter, after enumerating six Romance languages that he compared: Italian and Wallachian (i.e., Romanian) (east); Spanish and Portuguese (southwest); and Provençal and French (northwest), asserts that they had their origin in Latin, but nicht aus dem classischen Latein, "not from classical Latin," rather aus der römischen Volkssprache oder Volksmundart, "from the Roman popular language or popular dialect". These terms, as he points out later in the work, are a translation into German of Dante's vulgare latinum and Latinum vulgare, and the Italian of Boccaccio, latino volgare. These names in turn are at the end of a tradition extending to the Roman republic.
The concepts and vocabulary from which vulgare latinum descend were known in the classical period and are to be found amply represented in the unabridged Latin dictionary, starting in the late Roman republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a prolific writer, whose works have survived in large quantity, and who serves as a standard of Latin, and his contemporaries in addition to recognizing the lingua Latina also knew varieties of "speech" under the name sermo. Latin could be sermo Latinus, but in addition was a variety known as sermo vulgaris, sermo vulgi, sermo plebeius and sermo quotidianus. These modifiers inform post-classical readers that a conversational Latin existed, which was used by the masses (vulgus) in daily speaking (quotidianus) and was perceived as lower-class (plebeius).
These vocabulary items manifest no opposition to the written language. There was an opposition to higher-class, or family Latin (good family) in sermo familiaris and very rarely literature might be termed sermo nobilis. The supposed "sermo classicus" is a scholarly fiction unattested in the dictionary. All kinds of sermo were spoken only, not written. If one wanted to refer to what in post-classical times was called classical Latin one resorted to the concept of latinitas ("latinity") or latine (adverb). If one spoke in the lingua or sermo Latinus one merely spoke Latin, but if one spoke latine or latinius ("more Latinish") one spoke good Latin, and formal Latin had latinitas, the quality of good Latin, about it. After the fall of the empire and the transformation of spoken Latin into the early Romance languages the only representative of the Latin language was written Latin, which became known as classicus, "classy" Latin. The original opposition was between formal or implied good Latin and informal or Vulgar Latin. The spoken/written dichotomy is entirely philological.
The original written Latin language (what is today referred to as Classical Latin) was adapted from the actual spoken language of the Latins, with some minor modifications, long before the rise of the Roman Empire. As with many languages, over time the spoken vulgar language diverged from the written language with the written language remaining somewhat static. Nevertheless, during the classical period spoken (Vulgar) Latin still remained largely common across the Empire, some minor dialectic differences notwithstanding. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire rapidly began to change this. The former western provinces became increasingly isolated from the Eastern Roman Empire leading to a rapid divergence in the Latin spoken on either side. In the West an even more complex transformation was occurring. A blending of cultures was occurring between the former Roman citizens who were fluent in the proper Latin speech (which was already substantially different from Classical Latin), and the new Gothic rulers who, though largely Latinised, tended to speak Latin poorly, speaking what could be considered a creole of Latin and their Germanic mother tongue. What emerged in Western Europe was common form of Latin which, though mostly Latin in vocabulary (with many Germanic words introduced), was heavily influenced by Germanic grammar and represented a radical shift away from the original Roman language. For a few centuries this language remained relatively common across most of Western Europe (hence the fact that Italian, Spanish, French, etc. are far more similar to each other than to Classical Latin), though regional dialects were already developing. As early as 722, in a face to face meeting between Pope Gregory II, born and raised in Rome, and Saint Boniface, an Anglo-Saxon, Boniface complained that he found Pope Gregory's Latin speech difficult to understand, a clear sign of the transformation of Vulgar Latin in two regions of western Europe.
Soon Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin came to be viewed as distinct languages. At the third Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in the vernacular language – either in the rustica lingua romanica (Vulgar Latin), or in the Germanic vernaculars – since the common people could no longer understand formal Latin. Within a generation, the Oaths of Strasbourg (842), a treaty between Charlemagne's grandsons Charles the Bald and Louis the German, was proffered and recorded in a language that was already distinct from Latin. József Herman states:
It seems certain that in the sixth century, and quite likely into the early parts of the seventh century, people in the main Romanized areas could still largely understand the biblical and liturgical texts and the commentaries (of greater or lesser simplicity) that formed part of the rites and of religious practice, and that even later, throughout the seventh century, saints' lives written in Latin could be read aloud to the congregations with an expectation that they would be understood. We can also deduce however, that in Gaul, from the central part of the eighth century onwards, many people, including several of the clerics, were not able to understand even the most straightforward religious texts.
By the end of the first millennium, dialectization pressures had caused such divergence that mutual intelligibility of the spoken language was gone and the Romance languages had become distinct. From this point on, the Latin vernaculars were viewed as separate languages, developing local norms and, for some, orthographies of their own, so that Vulgar Latin must be regarded not as extinct – since all modern Romance varieties are its continuation – but as replaced conceptually and terminologically by multiple labels recognizing regional differences in linguistic features. In addition, some Romance languages evolved more than others. For example, Spanish, which is more conservative, resembles an archaic form of French, which changed more over the centuries:
Vulgar Latin featured a large vocabulary of words that were productive in Romance.
There was no single pronunciation of Vulgar Latin, and the pronunciation of Vulgar Latin in the various Latin-speaking areas is indistinguishable from the earlier history of the phonology of the Romance languages. See the article on Romance languages for more information.
Evidence of changes
Evidence of phonological changes can be seen in the late 3rd-century Appendix Probi, a collection of glosses prescribing correct classical Latin forms for certain vulgar forms. These glosses describe:
Many of the forms castigated in the Appendix Probi proved to be the productive forms in Romance; e.g., oricla (Classical Latin auricula) is the source of French oreille, Catalan orella, Spanish oreja, Italian orecchia, Romanian ureche, Portuguese orelha, "ear", not the Classical Latin form.
The most significant consonant changes affecting Vulgar Latin were palatalization (except in Sardinia); lenition, including simplification of geminate consonants (in areas north and west of the La Spezia–Rimini Line, e.g. Spanish digo vs. Italian dico 'I say', Spanish boca vs. Italian bocca 'mouth')); and loss of final consonants.
Loss of final consonants
The loss of final consonants was already under way by the 1st century AD in some areas. A graffito at Pompeii reads quisque ama valia, which in Classical Latin would read quisquis amat valeat ("may whoever loves be strong/do well"). (The change from valeat to valia is also an early indicator of the development of /j/ (yod), which played such an important part in the development of palatalization.) On the other hand, this loss of final /t/ was not general. Old Spanish and Old French preserved a reflex of final /t/ up through 1100 AD or so, and modern French still maintains final /t/ in some liaison environments.
Lenition of stops
Areas north and west of the La Spezia–Rimini Line lenited intervocalic /p, t, k/ to /b, d, ɡ/. This phenomenon is occasionally attested during the imperial period, but it became frequent by the 7th century. For example, in Merovingian documents, rotatico > rodatico ("wheel tax").
Simplification of geminates
Reduction of bisyllabic clusters of identical consonants to a single syllable-initial consonant also typifies Romance north and west of La Spezia-Rimini. The results in Italian and Spanish provide clear illustrations: siccus > Italian secco, Spanish seco; cippus > Italian ceppo, Spanish cepo; mittere > Italian mettere, Spanish meter.
Loss of word-final m
The loss of the final m was a process which seems to have begun by the time of the earliest monuments of the Latin language. The epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, who died around 150 BC, reads taurasia cisauna samnio cepit, which in Classical Latin would be taurāsiam, cisaunam, samnium cēpit ("He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, and Samnium"). This however can be explained in a different way, that the inscription simply fails to note the nasality of the final vowels (like in the established custom of writing cos. for consul).
Neutralization of /b/ and /w/
Confusions between /b/ and /w/ show that the Classical semivowel /w/, and intervocalic /b/ partially merged to become a bilabial fricative /β/. Already by the 1st century AD, a document by one Eunus writes iobe for iovem and dibi for divi. In most of the Romance varieties, this sound would further develop into /v/. Spanish still merges b and v even today.
Consonant cluster simplification
In general, many clusters were simplified in Vulgar Latin. For example, /ns/ was changed to /s/, reflecting the fact that /n/ was no longer consonantal. In some inscriptions, mensis > mesis ("month"), or consul > cosul ("consul"). Descendants of mensis include Portuguese mês, Spanish and Catalan mes, Old French meis, Italian mese. In some areas (including much of Italy), the clusters [mn], [kt] ⟨ct⟩, [ks] ⟨x⟩ were assimilated to the second element: [nn], [tt], [ss]. Thus, some inscriptions have omnibus > onibus ("all [dative plural]"), indictione > inditione ("indiction"), vixit > bissit ("lived"). Also, three-consonant clusters usually lost the middle element. For example: emptores > imtores ("buyers")
Not all areas show the same development of these clusters, however. In the East, Italian has [kt] > [tt], as in octo > otto ("eight") or nocte > notte ("night"); while Romanian has [kt] > [pt] (opt, noapte). By contrast, in the West, the [k] was turned into [j]. In French and Portuguese, this caused the diphthongization of the previous vowel (huit, oito; nuit, noite), while in Spanish, the [t] was palatalized and became [tʃ] (*oito > ocho, *noite > noche)
Also, many clusters including [j] were simplified. Several of these groups seem to have never been fully stable (e.g. facunt for faciunt). This dropping has resulted in the word parietem ("wall") turning into: Italian parete, Romanian părete>perete, Portuguese parede, Spanish pared, or French paroi.
The cluster [kw] ⟨qu⟩ was simplified to [k] in most instances. In 435, one can find the hypercorrective spelling quisquentis for quiescentis ("of the person who rests here"). Modern languages have followed this trend, for example Latin qui ("who") has become Italian chi and French qui (both /ki/); while quem ("who") became quien (/kjen/) in Spanish and quem (/kẽj/) in Portuguese. However, [kw] has survived in front of [a] in most areas, although not in French; hence Latin quattuor yields Spanish cuatro (/kwatro/), Portuguese quatro (/kwatru/), and Italian quattro (/kwattro/), but French quatre (/katʀ/), where the qu- spelling is purely etymological.
In general, the ten-vowel system of Classical Latin, which relied on phonemic vowel length, was newly modelled into one in which vowel length distinctions lost phonemic importance, and qualitative distinctions of height became more prominent.
System in Classical Latin
Classical Latin had 10 different vowel phonemes, grouped into five pairs of short-long, ⟨ă – ā, ĕ – ē, ĭ – ī, ŏ – ō, ŭ – ū⟩. It also had four diphthongs, ⟨ae, oe, au, eu⟩, and the rare diphthong ⟨ui⟩. Finally, there were also long and short ⟨y⟩, representing /y/, /yː/ in Greek borrowings, which, however, probably came to be pronounced /i/, /iː/ even before Romance vowel changes started.
At least since the 1st century AD, short vowels (except a) differed by quality as well as by length from their long counterparts, the short vowels being lower. Thus the vowel inventory is usually reconstructed as /a – aː/, /ɛ – eː/, /ɪ – iː/, /ɔ – oː/, /ʊ – uː/.
Many diphthongs had begun their monophthongization very early. It is presumed that by Republican times, ae had become /ɛː/ in unstressed syllables, a phenomenon that would spread to stressed positions around the 1st century AD. From the 2nd century AD, there are instances of spellings with ⟨ĕ⟩ instead of ⟨ae⟩. ⟨oe⟩ was always a rare diphthong in Classical Latin (in Old Latin, oinos regularly became unus ("one")) and became /e/ during early Imperial times. Thus, one can find penam for poenam.
However, ⟨au⟩ lasted much longer. While it was monophthongized to /o/ in areas of north and central Italy (including Rome), it was retained in most Vulgar Latin, and it survives in modern Romanian (for example, aur < aurum). There is evidence in French and Spanish that the monophthongization of au occurred independently in those languages.
Loss of distinctive length and near-close mergers
Length confusions seem to have begun in unstressed vowels, but they were soon generalized. In the 3rd century AD, Sacerdos mentions people's tendency to shorten vowels at the end of a word, while some poets (like Commodian) show inconsistencies between long and short vowels in versification. However, the loss of contrastive length caused only the merger of ă and ā while the rest of pairs remained distinct in quality: /a/, /ɛ – e/, /ɪ – i/, /ɔ – o/, /ʊ – u/.
Also, the near-close vowels /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ became more open in most varieties and merged with /e/ and /o/ respectively. As a result, the reflexes of Latin pira "pear" and vēra "true" rhyme in most Romance languages: Italian and Spanish pera, vera. Similarly, Latin nucem "walnut" and vōcem "voice" become Italian noce, voce, Portuguese noz, voz.
There was likely some regional variation in pronunciation, as the Romanian languages and Sardinian evolved differently. In Sardinian, all corresponding short and long vowels simply merged with each other, creating a 5-vowel system: /a, e, i, o, u/. In Romanian, the front vowels ĕ, ĭ, ē, ī evolved like the Western languages, but the back vowels ŏ, ŭ, ō, ū evolved as in Sardinian. A few Southern Italian languages, such as southern Corsican, northernmost Calabrian and southern Lucanian, behave like Sardinian with its penta-vowel system or, in case of Vegliote (even if only partially) and western Lucanian, like Romanian.
Phonologization of stress
The placement of stress did not change from Classical to Vulgar Latin, and words continued to be stressed on the same syllable they were before. However, the loss of distinctive length disrupted the correlation between syllable weight and stress placement that existed in Classical Latin. Where in Classical Latin the place of the accent was predictable from the structure of the word, it was no longer so in Vulgar Latin. Stress had become a phonological property and could serve to distinguish forms that were otherwise homophones.
Lengthening of stressed open syllables
After the Classical Latin vowel length distinctions were lost in favor of vowel quality, a new system of allophonic vowel quantity appeared sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries. Around then, stressed vowels in open syllables came to be pronounced long (but still keeping height contrasts), and all the rest became short. For example, long venis /*ˈvɛː.nis/, fori /*fɔː.ri/, cathedra /*ˈkaː.te.dra/; but short vendo /*ˈven.do/, formas /*ˈfor.mas/. (This allophonic length distinction persists to this day in Italian.) However, in some regions of Iberia and Gaul, all stressed vowels came to be pronounced long: for example, porta /*ˈpɔːr.ta/, tempus /*ˈtɛːm.pus/. In many descendents, several of the long vowels underwent some form of diphthongization, most extensively in Old French where five of the seven long vowels were affected by breaking.
It is difficult to place the point in which the definite article, absent in Latin but present in all Romance languages, arose, largely because the highly colloquial speech in which it arose was seldom written down until the daughter languages had strongly diverged; most surviving texts in early Romance show the articles fully developed.
Definite articles evolved from demonstrative pronouns or adjectives (an analogous development is found in many Indo-European languages, including Greek, Celtic and Germanic); compare the fate of the Latin demonstrative adjective ille, illa, (illud) "that", in the Romance languages, becoming French le and la, Catalan and Spanish el and la, Portuguese o and a (elision of -l- is a common feature of Portuguese), and Italian il, lo and la. Sardinian went its own way here also, forming its article from ipse, ipsa "this" (su, sa); some Catalan and Occitan dialects have articles from the same source. While most of the Romance languages put the article before the noun, Romanian has its own way, by putting the article after the noun, e.g. lupul ("the wolf") and omul ("the man" – from *lupum illum and *homo illum), possibly a result of its membership in the Balkan sprachbund.
This demonstrative is used in a number of contexts in some early texts in ways that suggest that the Latin demonstrative was losing its force. The Vetus Latina Bible contains a passage Est tamen ille daemon sodalis peccati ("The devil is a companion of sin"), in a context that suggests that the word meant little more than an article. The need to translate sacred texts that were originally in Koine Greek, which had a definite article, may have given Christian Latin an incentive to choose a substitute. Aetheria uses ipse similarly: per mediam vallem ipsam ("through the middle of the valley"), suggesting that it too was weakening in force.
Another indication of the weakening of the demonstratives can be inferred from the fact that at this time, legal and similar texts begin to swarm with praedictus, supradictus, and so forth (all meaning, essentially, "aforesaid"), which seem to mean little more than "this" or "that". Gregory of Tours writes, Erat autem... beatissimus Anianus in supradicta civitate episcopus ("Blessed Anianus was bishop in that city.") The original Latin demonstrative adjectives were no longer felt to be strong or specific enough. In less formal speech, reconstructed forms suggest that the inherited Latin demonstratives were made more forceful by being compounded with ecce (originally an interjection: "behold!"), which also spawned Italian ecco through eccum, a contracted form of ecce eum. This is the origin of Old French cil (*ecce ille), cist (*ecce iste) and ici (*ecce hic); Italian questo (*eccum istum), quello (*eccum illum) and obsolescent codesto (*eccum tibi istum); Spanish aquel and Portuguese aquele (*eccum ille); Spanish acá and Portuguese cá (*eccum hac); Spanish aquí and Portuguese aqui (*eccum hic); Portuguese acolá (*eccum illac) and aquém (*eccum inde); Romanian acest (*ecce iste) and acela (*ecce ille), and many other forms.
On the other hand, even in the Oaths of Strasbourg, no demonstrative appears even in places where one would clearly be called for in all the later languages (pro christian poblo – "for the Christian people"). Using the demonstratives as articles may have still been considered overly informal for a royal oath in the 9th century. Considerable variation exists in all of the Romance vernaculars as to their actual use: in Romanian, the articles are suffixed to the noun (or an adjective preceding it), as in other members of the Balkan sprachbund and the North Germanic languages.
The numeral unus, una (one) supplies the indefinite article in all cases (again, this is a common semantic development across Europe). This is anticipated in Classical Latin; Cicero writes cum uno gladiatore nequissimo ("with a most immoral gladiator"). This suggests that unus was beginning to supplant quidam in the meaning of "a certain" or "some" by the 1st century BC.
Loss of neuter
The three grammatical genders of Classical Latin were replaced by a two-gender system in most Romance languages.
The neuter gender of classical Latin was in most cases absorbed by the masculine both syntactically and morphologically. The confusion starts already in Pompeian graffiti, e.g., cadaver mortuus for cadaver mortuum ("dead body"), and hoc locum for hunc locum ("this place"). The morphological confusion shows primarily in the adoption of the nominative ending -us (-Ø after -r) in the o-declension. In Petronius' work, one can find balneus for balneum ("bath"), fatus for fatum ("fate"), caelus for caelum ("heaven"), amphitheater for amphitheatrum ("amphitheatre"), vinus for vinum ("wine"), and conversely, thesaurum for thesaurus ("treasure"). Most of these forms occur in the speech of one man: Trimalchion, an uneducated, Greek (i.e., foreign) freedman.
In modern Romance languages, the nominative s-ending has been abandoned, and all substantives of the o-declension have an ending derived from -um: -u, -o, or -Ø. E.g., masculine murum ("wall"), and neuter caelum ("sky") have evolved to: Italian muro, cielo; Portuguese muro, céu; Spanish muro, cielo ', Catalan mur,cel; Romanian mur, cieru>cer; ; French mur, ciel. However, Old French still had -s in the nominative and -Ø in the accusative in both words: murs, ciels [nominative] – mur, ciel [oblique].
For some neuter nouns of the third declension, the oblique stem became the productive; for others, the nominative/accusative form, which was identical in Classical Latin. Evidence suggests that the neuter gender was under pressure well back into the imperial period. French (le) lait, Catalan (la) llet, Spanish (la) leche, Portuguese (o) leite, Italian language (il) latte, Leonese (el) lleche and Romanian lapte(le) ("milk"), all derive from the non-standard but attested Latin nominative/accusative neuter lacte or accusative masculine lactem. Note also that in Spanish the word became feminine, while in French, Portuguese and Italian it became masculine (in Romanian it remained neuter, lapte/lăpturi). Other neuter forms, however, were preserved in Romance; Catalan and French nom, Leonese, Portuguese and Italian nome, Romanian nume ("name") all preserve the Latin nominative/accusative nomen, rather than the oblique stem form *nominem (which nevertheless produced Spanish nombre).
Most neuter nouns had plural forms ending in -A or -IA; some of these were reanalysed as feminine singulars, such as gaudium ("joy"), plural gaudia; the plural form lies at the root of the French feminine singular (la) joie, as well as of Catalan and Occitan (la) joia (Italian la gioia is a borrowing from French); the same for lignum ("wood stick"), plural ligna, that originated the Catalan feminine singular noun (la) llenya, and Spanish (la) leña. Some Romance languages still have a special form derived from the ancient neuter plural which is treated grammatically as feminine: e.g., BRACCHIUM : BRACCHIA "arm(s)" → Italian (il) braccio : (le) braccia, Romanian braț(ul) : brațe(le). Cf. also Merovingian Latin ipsa animalia aliquas mortas fuerant.
Alternations in Italian heteroclitic nouns such as l'uovo fresco ("the fresh egg") / le uova fresche ("the fresh eggs") are usually analysed as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, with an irregular plural in -a. However, it is also consistent with their historical development to say that uovo is simply a regular neuter noun (ovum, plural ova) and that the characteristic ending for words agreeing with these nouns is -o in the singular and -a in the plural. Thus, a relict neuter gender can arguably be said to persist in Italian and Romanian.
In Portuguese, traces of the neuter plural can be found in collective formations and words meant to inform a bigger size or sturdiness. Thus, one can use ovo/ovos ("egg/eggs") and ova/ovas ("roe", "a collection of eggs"), bordo/bordos ("section(s) of an edge") and borda/bordas ("edge/edges"), saco/sacos ("bag/bags") and saca/sacas ("sack/sacks"), manto/mantos ("cloak/cloaks") and manta/mantas ("blanket/blankets"). Other times, it resulted in words whose gender may be changed more or less arbitrarily, like fruto/fruta ("fruit"), caldo/calda (broth"), etc.
These formations were especially common when they could be used to avoid irregular forms. In Latin, the names of trees were usually feminine, but many were declined in the second declension paradigm, which was dominated by masculine or neuter nouns. Latin pirus ("pear tree"), a feminine noun with a masculine-looking ending, became masculine in Italian (il) pero and Romanian păr(ul); in French and Spanish it was replaced by the masculine derivations (le) poirier, (el) peral; and in Portuguese and Catalan by the feminine derivations (a) pereira, (la) perera. As usual, irregularities persisted longest in frequently used forms. From the fourth declension noun manus ("hand"), another feminine noun with the ending -us, Italian and Spanish derived (la) mano, Romanian mânu>mâna pl (reg.)mânule/mânuri, Catalan (la) mà, and Portuguese (a) mão, which preserve the feminine gender along with the masculine appearance.
Except for the Italian and Romanian heteroclitic nouns, other major Romance languages have no trace of neuter nouns, but still have neuter pronouns. French celui-ci / celle-ci / ceci ("this"), Spanish éste / ésta / esto ("this"), Italian: gli / le / ci ("to him" /"to her" / "to it"), Catalan: ho, açò, això, allò ("it" / this / this-that / that over there); Portuguese: todo / toda / tudo ("all of him" / "all of her" / "all of it").
In Spanish, a three-way contrast is also made with the definite articles el, la, and lo. The last is used with nouns denoting abstract categories: lo bueno, literally "that which is good", from bueno: good.
Loss of oblique cases
The Vulgar Latin vowel shifts caused the merger of several case endings in the nominal and adjectival declensions. Some of the causes include: the loss of final m, the merger of ă with ā, and the merger of ŭ with ō (see tables). Thus, by the 5th century, the number of case contrasts had been drastically reduced.
There also seems to be a marked tendency to confuse different forms even when they have not become homophonous (like in the generally more distinct plurals), which indicates nominal declension was not only shaped by phonetic mergers, but also by structural factors. As a result of the untenability of the noun case system after these phonetic changes, Vulgar Latin shifted from a markedly synthetic language to a more analytic one.
The genitive case died out around the 3rd century AD, according to Meyer-Lübke, and began to be replaced by de + noun as early as the 2nd century BC. Exceptions of remaining genitive forms are some pronouns, many fossilized combinations like sayings, some proper names, and certain terms related to the church. For example, French jeudi ("Thursday") < Old French juesdi < Vulgar Latin jovis diēs; Spanish es menester ("it is necessary") < est ministeri; terms like angelorum, paganorum; and Italian terremoto ("earthquake") < terrae motu as well as names like Paoli, Pieri.
The dative case lasted longer than the genitive, even though Plautus, in the 2nd century BC, already shows some instances of substitution by the construction ad + accusative. For example, ad carnuficem dabo.
The accusative case developed as a prepositional case, displacing many instances of the ablative. Towards the end of the imperial period, the accusative came to be used more and more as a general oblique case.
However, despite increasing case mergers, nominative and accusative forms seem to have remained distinct for much longer, since they are rarely confused in inscriptions. Even though Gaulish texts from the 7th century rarely confuse both forms, it is believed that both cases began to merge in Africa by the end of the empire, and a bit later in parts of Italy and Iberia. Nowadays, Romanian maintains a two-case system, while Old French and Old Occitan had a two-case subject-oblique system. This Old French system was based largely on whether or not the Latin case ending contained an "s" or not, with the "s" being retained but all vowels in the ending being lost (as with veisin below). But since this meant that it was easy to confuse the singular nominative with the plural oblique, and the plural nominative with the singular oblique, along with the final "s" becoming silent, this case system ultimately collapsed as well, and French adopted one case (usually the oblique) for all purposes, leaving the Romanian the only one to survive to the present day.
Wider use of prepositions
Loss of a productive noun case system meant that the syntactic purposes it formerly served now had to be performed by prepositions and other paraphrases. These particles increased in number, and many new ones were formed by compounding old ones. The descendant Romance languages are full of grammatical particles such as Spanish donde, "where", from Latin de + unde, or French dès, "since", from de + ex, while the equivalent Spanish and Portuguese desde is de + ex + de. Spanish después and Portuguese depois, "after", represent de + ex + post. Some of these new compounds appear in literary texts during the late empire; French dehors, Spanish de fuera and Portuguese de fora ("outside") all represent de + foris (Romanian afară – ad + foris), and we find Jerome writing stulti, nonne qui fecit, quod de foris est, etiam id, quod de intus est fecit? (Luke 11.40: "ye fools, did not he, that made which is without, make that which is within also?"). In some cases, compounds were created by combining a large number of particles, such as the Romanian adineauri ("just recently") from ad + de + in + illa + hora.
As Latin was losing its case system, prepositions started to move in to fill the void. In colloquial Latin, the preposition ad followed by the accusative was sometimes used as a substitute for the dative case.
Classical Latin:Marcus patrī librum dat. "Marcus is giving [his] father [a/the] book."
Vulgar Latin:Marcus da libru a patre. "Marcus is giving [a/the] book to [his] father."
Just as in the disappearing dative case, colloquial Latin sometimes replaced the disappearing genitive case with the preposition de followed by the ablative.
Classical Latin:Marcus mihi librum patris dat. "Marcus is giving me [his] father's book.
Vulgar Latin:Marcus mi da libru de patre. "Marcus is giving me [the] book of [his] father."
Unlike in the nominal and adjectival inflections, pronouns kept great part of the case distinctions. However, many changes happened. For example, the /ɡ/ of ego was lost by the end of the empire, and eo appears in manuscripts from the 6th century.
Classical Latin had a number of different suffixes that made adverbs from adjectives: carus, "dear", formed care, "dearly"; acriter, "fiercely", from acer; crebro, "often", from creber. All of these derivational suffixes were lost in Vulgar Latin, where adverbs were invariably formed by a feminine ablative form modifying mente, which was originally the ablative of mens, and so meant "with a ... mind". So velox ("quick") instead of velociter ("quickly") gave veloci mente (originally "with a quick mind", "quick-mindedly") This explains the widespread rule for forming adverbs in many Romance languages: add the suffix -ment(e) to the feminine form of the adjective. This originally separate word becomes a suffix in Romance.
In general, the verbal system in the Romance languages changed less from Classical Latin than did the nominal system.
The four conjugational classes generally survived. The second and third conjugations already had identical imperfect tense forms in Latin, and also shared a common present participle. Because of the merging of short i with long ē in most of Vulgar Latin, these two conjugations grew even closer together. Several of the most frequently-used forms became indistinguishable, while others became distinguished only by stress placement:
These two conjugations came to be conflated in many of the Romance languages, often by merging them into a single class while taking endings from each of the original two conjugations. Which endings survived was different for each language, although most tended to favour second conjugation endings over the third conjugation. Spanish, for example, mostly eliminated the third conjugation forms in favour of second conjugation forms. French and Catalan did the same, but tended to generalise the third conjugation infinitive instead. Catalan in particular almost completely eliminated the second conjugation ending over time, reducing it to a small relic class. In Italian, the two infinitive endings remained separate (but spelled identically), while the conjugations merged in most other respects much as in the other languages. However, the third-conjugation third-person plural present ending survived in favour of the second conjugation version, and was even extended to the fourth conjugation. Romanian also maintained the distinction between the second and third conjugation endings.
In the perfect, many languages generalized the -aui ending most frequently found in the first conjugation. This led to an unusual development; phonetically, the ending was treated as the diphthong /au/ rather than containing a semivowel /awi/, and in other cases the /w/ sound was simply dropped. We know this because it did not participate in the sound shift from /w/ to /β̞/. Thus Latin amaui, amauit ("I loved; he/she loved") in many areas became proto-Romance *amai and *amaut, yielding for example Portuguese amei, amou. This suggests that in the spoken language, these changes in conjugation preceded the loss of /w/.
Another major systemic change was to the future tense, remodelled in Vulgar Latin with auxiliary verbs. A new future was originally formed with the auxiliary verb habere, *amare habeo, literally "to love I have" (cf. English "I have to love", which has shades of a future meaning). This was contracted into a new future suffix in Western Romance forms, which can be seen in the following modern examples of "I will love":
A periphrastic construction of the form 'to have to' (late Latin habere ad) used as future is characteristic of Sardinian:
An innovative conditional (distinct from the subjunctive) also developed in the same way (infinitive + conjugated form of habere). The fact that the future and conditional endings were originally independent words is still evident in literary Portuguese, which in these tenses allows clitic object pronouns to be incorporated between the root of the verb and its ending: "I will love" (eu) amarei, but "I will love you" amar-te-ei, from amar + te ["you"] + (eu) hei = amar + te + [h]ei = amar-te-ei.
In Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, personal pronouns can still be omitted from verb phrases as in Latin, as the endings are still distinct enough to convey that information: venio >Sp vengo ("I come"). In French, however, all the endings are typically homophonous in the spoken language except the first and second person (and occasionally also third person) plural, so the pronouns are always used (je viens) except in the imperative.
Contrary to the millennia-long continuity of much of the active verb system, which has now survived 6000 years of known evolution, the synthetic passive voice was utterly lost in Romance, being replaced with periphrastic verb forms—composed of the verb "to be" plus a passive participle—or impersonal reflexive forms—composed of a verb and a passivizing pronoun.
Apart from the grammatical and phonetic developments there were many cases of verbs merging as complex subtleties in Latin were reduced to simplified verbs in Romance. A classic example of this are the verbs expressing the concept "to go". Consider three particular verbs in Classical Latin expressing concepts of "going": ire, vadere, and ambitare. In Spanish and Portuguese ire and vadere merged into the verb ir, which derives some conjugated forms from ire and some from vadere. andar was maintained as a separate verb derived from ambitare. Italian instead merged vadere and ambitare into the verb andare. And at the extreme French merged three Latin verbs with, for example, the present tense deriving from vadere and another verb ambulare (or something like it) and the future tense deriving from ire. Similarly the Romance distinction between the Romance verbs for "to be", essere and stare, was lost in French as these merged into the verb être. In Italian, the verb essere inherited both Romance meanings of "being essentially" and "being temporarily of the quality of", while stare specialized into a verb denoting location or dwelling.
The copula (that is, the verb signifying "to be") of Classical Latin was esse. This evolved to *essere in Vulgar Latin by attaching the common infinitive suffix -re to the classical infinitive; this produced Italian essere and French être through Proto-Gallo-Romance *essre and Old French estre as well as Spanish and Portuguese ser (Romanian a fi derives from fire, which means "to become"). However, in Vulgar Latin a second copula developed utilizing the verb stare, which originally meant (and is cognate with) "to stand", to denote a more temporary meaning. That is, *essere signified the essence, while stare signified the state. Stare evolved to Spanish and Portuguese estar and Old French ester (both through *estare), while Italian and Romanian retained the original form.
The semantic shift that underlies this evolution is more or less as follows: A speaker of Classical Latin might have said: vir est in foro, meaning "the man is in/at the marketplace". The same sentence in Vulgar Latin should have been *(h)omo stat in foro, "the man stands in/at the marketplace", replacing the est (from esse) with stat (from stare), because "standing" was what was perceived as what the man was actually doing. The use of stare in this case was still actually correct assuming that it meant "to stand", but soon the shift from esse to stare became more widespread. In the Iberian peninsula esse ended up only denoting natural qualities that would not change, while stare was applied to transient qualities and location. In Italian, "stare" is used only for location and the eminently transient quality implied in a verb's progressive form, such as sto scrivendo for "I am writing". (Although it might be objected that in sentences like Spanish la catedral está en la ciudad, "the cathedral is in the city" this is also unlikely to change, but all locations are expressed through estar in Spanish, as this usage originally conveyed the sense of "the cathedral stands in the city").
Contrast with Proto-Romance
Vulgar Latin is often confused with Proto-Romance.
Proto-Romance is a proto-language, in that it represents the latest stage common to all of the Romance languages. Inasmuch as some of the less familiar Romance languages branched off earlier than others (Sardinian in particular), followed by Romanian and related Eastern Romance languages, it is also common to reconstruct later stages, in particular:
Proto-Romance and the other proto-languages are theoretical, unitary linguistic constructions. Vulgar Latin, on the other hand, is the actual speech of the common people at the time of the Roman Empire. As a result, it is not simply theoretical but actually attested (if thinly), and is not unitary, with differences over both time and space. Hence, it is possible to speak of, for example, the loss of initial /j/ in unstressed syllables in the Vulgar Latin of Cantabria (an area in northern Spain), whereas it is meaningless to speak of a similar change in the "Proto-Romance of Cantabria".