Romance Information

The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Latin, the language of ancient Rome. There are more than 800 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in the Americas and Europe, as well as many smaller regions scattered throughout the world. Because of the extreme difficulty and varying methodology of distinguishing among language, variety, and dialect, it is impossible to count the number of Romance languages now in existence, but a restrictive, arbitrary account can place the total at approximately 25. In fact, the number is much larger, and many more existed previously. The six most widely spoken standardized Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan. Among numerous other Romance languages are Corsican, Lombard, Occitan, Aromanian, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian, Galician, and Friulian.

Romance languages are the continuation of Vulgar Latin, the popular sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers and merchants of the Roman Empire, as distinguished from the Classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. Between 350 BC and AD 150, the expansion of the Empire, together with its administrative and educational policies, made Latin the dominant native language in continental Western Europe. Latin also exerted a strong influence in southeastern Britain, the Roman province of Africa, and the Balkans north of the Jireček Line.

During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and collapse in the 5th century, varieties of Latin began to diverge within each local area at an accelerated rate, and eventually evolved into a continuum of recognizably different typologies. The overseas empires established by Portugal, Spain and France from the 15th century onward spread their languages to the other continents, to such an extent that about 70% of all Romance speakers today live outside Europe.

Wikipedia, Romance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_languages (as of Apr 11, 2010)

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