The Uncensored History of Romance Languages in Latin America
What picture comes to mind when you hear the expression “romance languages”? Cheesy French movies or gladiators talking to Roman soldiers in the Coliseum? Can you name all the languages that belong to this linguistic group in one breath?
I’ve got even more questions. Like, how many people speak Romance languages? And, what is the relationship between Romance languages and Latin America? For example, is “Latino” a synonym for “Latin people”?
The list goes on. What is Latin? Who spoke Latin? Have people ever spoken Latin in Latin America? Is Spanish a romantic language?
I’ve done some proper digging and discovered the fascinating history of romance languages in Latin America. If you’re curious to know the answers, keep reading!
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What are Romance Languages?
If you look for the romance language definition, it says:
Romance languages are Latin-derived languages spoken nowadays by around 900 million native speakers. Their origin can be traced back to the times of the Roman Empire.
Today, the most popular Latin-based languages are:
- Italian (68 million)
- Spanish (543 million)
- Portuguese (258 million)
- French (267 million)
- Romanian (24 million)
But why are they called Romance languages?
The name “Romance,” which means “in the style of the Romans” in vulgar Latin, started to be spoken in the early Middle Ages in the territory of the Roman Empire. The Romans were the most expansive nation between the third and eighth centuries and quickly conquered most of Europe.
Latin was the official language. However, most people didn’t know how to speak and write it. So linguists later named their language “vulgar Latin.”
“Vulgaris” means “common,” and this version, far from the classical literary standards, was taken by the soldiers to the countries conquered by the Roman empire in Europe. There, it continued evolving, mixing up with different local tribal dialects. These local versions later became separate national languages heavily based on Latin vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
These languages are mutually intelligible, and if you know one, you’ll be able to understand the others to a great degree, at least in the written version.
If you want to learn which of these Romance languages is the easiest to learn, check out Spanish vs. Portuguese: Similarities and Differences.
Are Romance Languages Romantic?
Romance languages may be perceived as romantic for cultural and linguistic reasons.
In Western culture, we associate many countries with romantic movies and songs.
In the 12th Century, folk minstrels, called Troubadours, originated in Provence, in the south of France. Their songs about love traveled to Italy and Spain. Later on, the literary genre of romance originated in France and spread to other countries.
Nowadays, we think of Paris as the city of lovers. We associate Italians with passion, romantic pizzerias, sonatas, and Venetian gondolas. On the other hand, Spanish is considered the most romantic language in the world.
Some linguists investigate the melodicity and euphony of the languages, and although Australian aboriginal languages are considered the most sonorant, romance languages are also in the leading group.
Romance languages sound pleasant and sweet to the ear. They use vowels more often than German, English, or Dutch. The accent that usually lies on the last or penultimate syllable also makes them sound more melodic.
In conclusion, the sound of Romance languages, together with the cultural history and influence of the countries where they are spoken, makes us consider them “romantic.”
Romance Languages in Latin America
Let’s go back to Latin America.
Nowadays, there are three official Romance languages spoken in Latin America.
Spanish is the predominant language in Latin America, Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, and some Caribbean countries speak French.
Apart from these, there is a strong Italian community in Argentina, making Italian the fourth, although unofficial, Romance language in Latin America.
The immigration from Italy to Argentina started in the late 19th Century. However, in 1960 over 2 million Italians moved across the ocean, fleeing from poverty and wars.
Nowadays, most Argentinians boast some connection to claim some Italian heritage. However, Italian has never become an official language of Argentina but has influenced its version of Spanish, food, and culture.
You might like: 10 Surprising Ways Italian Culture Has Influenced Argentina
Where Does the Title ‘Latin America’ Come From?
It won’t be a surprise if I tell you that “Latin America” owes its name to the fact that the primary spoken languages on its territory, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, come from Latin. They’re all Romance languages.
However, it’s enough to cast a quick glimpse on the world map to see how far this continent is from Rome, the cradle of the Latin Language. It’s also quite far from the countries where Latin was initially spoken and where it evolved into Romance languages.
How Did Romance Languages Reach Latin America?
Nobody ever used Latin as their mother language in Latin America. The official story started long after the times when Latin was in vogue.
The 15th and 16th centuries were periods of significant expansion of three European nations: Spain, Portugal, and to a smaller extent, France. Like the Roman soldiers centuries earlier, the settlers took their languages to the newly discovered territories across the ocean.
These languages mixed with the local dialects but to a lesser degree than Latin combined with vernacular languages in Europe.
That’s why Brazilian Portuguese is slightly different from the one spoken in Portugal. Likewise, French in French Guiana sounds different from the one spoken in Paris. And Spanish, the predominant Romance language in Latin American countries, has a different vocabulary and even grammar rules from the Castilian version.
If you feel intrigued by the distinctions, see 10 Differences Between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish.
The term “Latin America” was coined by Napoleon III in the middle of the 19th Century as one of the territories he wanted to expand. However, nowadays, most people associate it with South and Central American countries that use Spanish and Portuguese.
On the other hand, Canada, which also lies in the American territories, and where French is an official language in some regions like Quebec, is usually not considered part of Latin America.
Some people in the USA use this term to refer to all the territory below their country. However, some South American countries like Belize, Jamaica, and Barbados speak English, which is not a Romance language.
Also, in the U.S., Latinos refers to people whose origins can be traced to Latin American countries, even though they themselves were born in the U.S. and only speak English.
Do you Want to Learn the Most Romantic Romance Languages of All?
As I mentioned, knowing one Romance language makes it easier to understand and learn the others.
Why not start with the one that is the most spoken one in Europe and Latin America, and at the same time, the most romantic one? Sign up for a free trial class with one of our professional, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala and start your adventure with Romance languages!
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