Lexical changes from Classical Latin to Proto-Romance

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As Classical Latin developed into Proto-Romance, its lexicon underwent numerous changes.


Irregular nouns and verbs tended to be either regularized or replaced with preexisting regular equivalents. Cf. the loss of esse 'to eat' in favour of manducare or its own regularized compound comedere. Similar motives underlie the general replacement of ferre 'carry' with portare or loqui 'speak' with parabolare and fabulari.[1]

Semantic drift[edit]

Various words experienced a significant change in meaning, notable examples being causa ('subject matter' 'thing'), civitas ('citizenry' 'city'), focus ('hearth' 'fire'), mittere ('send' → 'put'), necare ('murder' 'drown'), pacare ('placate' 'pay'), and totus ('whole' 'all, every').[2]

Certain words may have shed their originally lower-status or humble associations to become default unmarked terms, thus replacing the literary Classical equivalents. Cf. the general loss of equus 'horse' in favour of caballus (originally 'workhorse') or that of domus 'house' in favour of casa (originally 'hut').[3]

Loss of short forms[edit]

Words that were felt to be too short or phonetically insubstantial were liable to be replaced, often with their own derivatives, hence auris 'ear' and agnus 'lamb' were rejected in favour of their diminutives auricula and agnellus.[4]

Most Classical particles (such as an, at, autem, donec, enim, etc.) simply died out and survive nowhere in Romance.[5]


There was a trend towards forming compound prepositions of the type ab ante, which at first simply combined the sense of their constituents (hence the original sense of ab ante was 'from before'). In time many would develop a generic sense, often simply that of one of their constituents (hence ab ante came to mean 'before', in competition with ante). Other examples attested in Late Antiquity are de inter, de retro, de foris, de intus, de ab, and de ex.[6]

A number of verb-forming (or extending) suffixes were popularized, such as -icare (based on the adjective ending -icus), -ulare (based on the diminutive -ul-), and -izare (borrowed from Greek).[7]


Numerous foreign terms were borrowed into the Latin vernacular, a majority of which came from Greek, particularly in the domains of medicine, cooking, and Christian worship. A smaller fraction came from Gaulish or Germanic.[8]

Selected lexical comparisons[edit]

Meaning Classical word Inherited descendants[α] Competitor(s) in Proto-Romance Inherited descendants Origin
all omnis It. ogni totus Fr. tout, Oc. tot, Cat. tot, Sp. todo, Pt. todo, Srd. totu, It. tutto, Ro. tot Meant 'entire' in CL.
before ante OIt. anti, Sp. ante avante Fr. avant, Occ. avan, Cat. abans, Pt. avante, Sp. avante,[β] It. avanti Ab 'away from' + ante.
inante OPt. enante, OSp. enante, Vgl. aninč, OIt. inanti, Nea. 'nnante, Ro. înainte, ARo. nãnte In + ante.
antes Sp. antes, Pt. antes Ante + an adverbial analogical -s.
begin incipere Rms. entscheiver, Ro. începe(re) comintiare Fr. commencer, Occ. començar, Cat. començar, Sp. comenzar, Pt. começar, It. cominciare Prefixed and syncopated version of LL initiare 'start', a verb based on CL initium 'beginning'.
bird avis Cat. au, Sp. ave, Pt. ave, Srd. ae aucellus Fr. oiseau, Occ. aucèl, Cat. ocell, It. uccello Diminutive of avis.
passarus Sp. pájaro, Pt. pássaro, Ro. pasăre, It. passero Alteration of CL passer 'sparrow'.
cat felis cattus Fr. chat, Occ. cat, Cat. gat, Sp. gato, Pt. gato, It. gatto Late borrowing of obscure origin.
ear auris auricla~oricla Fr. oreille, Occ. aurelha, Cat. orella, Sp. oreja, Pt. orelha, It. orecchio, Ro. ureche Diminutive of auris.
eat esse comedere Sp. comer, Pt. comer Prefixed and regularized version of esse.
manducare Fr. manger, Occ. manjar, Cat. menjar, Ara. minchar, OIt. manicare, It. mangiare, Ro. mâncare Meant 'chew' in CL.
evening vesper Fr. vêpre, Occ. vèspre, Cat. vespre, Pie. vespr, Lmb. vèsper, Vgl. viaspro sera Fr. soir, Rms. saira, Vgl. saira, It. sera, Ro. seară Likely a shortening of an expression such as sera dies 'late (part of the) day'.
fire ignis focus Fr. feu, Occ. fuòc, Cat. foc, Sp. fuego, Pt. fogo, It. fuoco, Ro. foc Meant 'hearth' in CL.
fight pugna lucta Fr. lutte, Occ. lucha, Cat. lluita, Sp. lucha, Pt. luta, It. lotta, Ro. luptă Noun based on CL luctari 'wrestle, struggle'.
battalia Fr. bataille, Occ. batalha, Cat. batalla, Pt. batalha, It. battaglia, Ro. bătaie Alteration of earlier battualia, from CL battuere 'strike', an early borrowing from Gaulish.
from a~ab Occ. amb, Cat. amb[γ] de Fr. de, Oc. de, Cat. de, Sp. de, Pt. de, It. di, Ro. de Meant 'down from' in CL.
help iuvare Frl. zovâ, It. giovare adiutare Fr. aider, Occ. ajudar, Cat. ajudar, Sp. ayudar, Pt. ajudar, It. aiutare, Ro. ajutare Frequentative of CL adiuvare, a prefixed version of iuvare.
home domus It. duomo,[δ] Srd. domu casa OFr. chiese,[ε] Occ. casa, Cat. casa, Sp. casa, Pt. casa, It. casa, Ro. casă Meant 'hut' in CL.
horse (m.) equus caballus Fr. cheval, Oc. caval, Cat. cavall, Sp. caballo, Pt. cavalo, It. cavallo. Ro. cal. Originally 'workhorse, nag'.
inside intus OFr. enz, Lig. inte deintus Fr. dans, Occ. dins, Cat. dins, It. dentro, Nea. dinto, Pt. dentro De + intus, originally 'from within'. Attested in Late Latin.
kitchen culina cocina Fr. cuisine, Occ. cosina, Cat. cuina, Sp. cocina, Pt. cozinha, It. cucina Noun based on CL coquere 'cook'.
know scire Ro. știre, Srd. ischire sapere Fr. savoir, Occ. saber, Cat. saber, Sp. saber, Pt. saber, It. sapere Meant 'taste' in CL, but with the secondary senses of 'understand' and 'be intelligent'.
lamb agnus Pt. anho agnellus Fr. agneau, Occ. anhèl, Cat. anyell, Rms. agnè, It. agnello, Sic. agneddu, Ro. miel Originally simply the diminutive of agnus.
leg crus camba~gamba Fr. jambe, Occ. camba, Cat. cama, OSp. cama, It. gamba, Ro. gambă Late borrowing of Greek καμπή.
man vir homo Fr. homme, Occ. òme, Cat. home, Sp. hombre, Pt. homem, It. uomo, Ro. om Meant 'human being' in CL.
money pecunia ARo. picunj~piculj denarii Fr. deniers, Occ. dinèrs, Cat. diners, Sp. dineros, Pt. dinheiros, It. denari, Ro. dinari Referred to a specific type of coin in CL, though was used as a metonym for 'money' in Cicero's letters.
mouth os bucca Fr. bouche, Occ. boca, Cat. boca, Sp. boca, Pt. boca, It. bocca, Ro. bucă[ζ] Meant 'cheek' in CL. Attested in the sense of 'mouth' already in the writings of Petronius.[9]
narrow angustus Sp. angosto, It. angusto, Ro. îngust strictus Fr. étroit, Occ. estreit, Cat. estret, Sp. estrecho, Pt. estreito, It. stretto, Ro. strâmt Meant 'tightened' in CL.
now nunc ora Sp. ora, Pt. hora, It. ora CL hora 'hour, time'.
adora Fr. or, Occ. aüra, Cat. ara Composed of CL ad + hora(m). Attested in the writings of Anthimus.[10]
acora Sp. ahora, Pt. agora Composed of CL hac 'this' + hora.
old vetus OFr. viet, Sp. viedo, OPt. vedro, It. vieto veclus Fr. vieux, Occ. vièlh, Cat. vell, Sp. viejo, Pt. velho, It. vecchio, Ro. vechi Alteration of CL vetulus, a diminutive of vetus.
right[η] dexter OFr. destre, OOcc. dèstre, Cat. destre, Sp. diestro, Pt. destro,[θ] It. destro directus~drectus Fr. droit, Occ. dreit, Cat. dret, Sp. derecho, Pt. direito, It. diritto, Ro. drept Meant 'straight' or 'level' in CL.
rope funis It. fune, Ro. funie corda Occ. còrda, Cat. corda, Sp. cuerda, Pt. corda, It. corda, Ro. coardă Borrowing of Greek χορδή.
Saturday dies saturni dies sabbati Occ. dissabte, Cat. dissabte Lit. 'day of the Sabbath'.
sambati dies Fr. samedi, Rms. sonda The same but reversed and with a nasal infix.
sabbatu~sambatu Sp. sábado, Pt. sábado, It. sabato, Ro. sâmbătă,[ι] Srd. sàpadau Simply the word for 'Sabbath' on its own.
shirt tunica Cat. tonga, Sp. tonga, It. tonaca camisia Fr. chemise, Occ. camisa, Cat. camisa, Sp. camisa, Pt. camisa, It. camicia, Ro. cămașă Late borrowing from Gaulish.
short brevis Fr. bref, Occ. brèu, Cat. breu, It. breve, Sp. breve, Pt. breve curtus Fr. court, Occ. cort, Sp. corto, OPt. corto, It. corto, Ro. scurt[κ] Meant 'cut short, mutilated' in CL.
sick infirmus OFr. enfer, OOcc. eferm, Sp. enfermo, Pt. enfermo, It. infermo malabitus Fr. malade, Occ. malaut, Cat. malalt, It. malato, Srd. malaidu Contraction of LL male habitus 'in poor shape'.
skin cutis pellis Fr. peau, Occ. pèl, Cat. pell, Sp. piel, Pt. pele, It. pelle, Ro. piele Meant 'animal hide' in CL.
speak loqui fabulare OOcc. faular, Vgl. favlur, OIt. favolare, Sp. hablar, Pt. falar Regularization of the rare CL fabulari 'chat', originally 'tell stories', a verb based on fabula.
fabellare Frl. fevelâ, OIt. favellare, Srd. faeddare Verb based on CL fabella, the diminutive of fabula.
parabolare Fr. parler, Occ. parlar, Cat. parlar, It. parlare Verb based on CL parabola 'parable', a borrowing of Greek παραβολή.
stone saxum Pt. seixo,[λ] It. sasso petra Fr. pierre, Occ. pèira, Cat. pedra, Sp. piedra, Pt. pedra, It. pietra, Ro. piatră Late borrowing of Greek πέτρα.
Sunday dies solis dies dominicus Fr. dimanche, Occ. dimenge, Cat. diumenge, Sp. domingo, Srd. dominigu Lit. 'day of the Lord'. Dies 'day' could be either masculine or feminine in Latin.
dies dominica Vgl. domienca, It. domenica, Ro. duminică
swift celer rapidus OFr. rade, OSp. raudo, OIt. ratto, Ro. repede Meant 'hasty' in CL.
sword gladius OFr. glai,[μ] OOcc. glazi, OIt. ghiado spatha Fr. épée, Occ. espasa, Cat. espasa, Sp. espada, Pt. espada, It. spada, Ro. spată Borrowing of Greek σπάθη.
teach docere OFr. duire insignare Fr. enseigner, Occ. ensenhar, Cat. ensenyar, Sp. enseñar, Pt. ensinar, It. insegnare Prefixed version of CL signare 'note, indicate'.
thick densus Ro. des, Vgl. dais grossus Fr. gros, Occ. gròs, Cat. gros, Sp. grueso, Pt. grosso, It. grosso, Ro. gros Of obscure origin.
spissus Fr. épais, Occ. espés, Cat. espès, Sp. espeso, Pt. espesso, It. spesso Generally meant 'slow', 'difficult', etc. in CL.
think cogitare OFr. cuidier, Occ. cuidar, Cat. cuidar, Sp. cuidar, Pt. cuidar,[ν] OIt. coitare, Ro. cugetare pensare Fr. penser, Occ. pensar, Cat. pensar, Sp. pensar, Pt. pensar, It. pensare, Ro. păsare[ξ] Generally meant 'weigh' in CL, along with the extended sense of 'consider'.
tomorrow cras OSp. cras, OPt. cras, OIt. crai, Sic. crai, Srd. cras mane Ro. mâine Meant 'in the morning' in CL.
de mane Fr. demain, Occ. deman, Cat. demà, Rms. damaun, It. domani LL expression meaning 'early in the morning'.
touch tangere OCat. tànyer, Sp. tañer,[ο] Pt. tanger toccare Fr. toucher, Occ. tocar, Cat. tocar, Sp. tocar, Pt. tocar, It. toccare, Ro. tocare Borrowed from Germanic, with the original sense of 'hit, strike'.
understand intellegere Rms. encleger, Ro. înțelegere intendere Fr. entendre, Occ. entendre, Cat. entendre, Sp. entender, Pt. entender, It. intendere Had various senses in CL, most relevantly 'direct one's attention (towards)'.
week hebdomas OFr. domée, Ct. doma, Rms. jamna, Vgl. jedma, OIt. edima and domada.[11] septimana Fr. semaine, Occ. setmana, Cat. setmana, Sp. semana, Pt. semana, Vgl. setimuon, It. settimana, Ro. săptămână Attested in LL, from CL septem 'seven', referring to the number of days in a week.
wide latus Fr. , Ro. lat largus Fr. large, Occ. larg, Cat. llarg, OSp. largo,[π] Pt. largo, It. largo, Ro. larg Meant 'abundant' in CL.
word verbum Fr. verve,[ρ] OSp. vierbo, Ast. vierbu, Ro. vorbă[σ] parabola Fr. parole, Occ. paraula, Cat. paraula, Sp. palabra, Pt. palavra, It. parola, Srd. paragula Meant 'parable' in CL, a borrowing of Greek παραβολή.
work laborare Occ. laurar, Cat. llaurar, Sp. labrar,[τ] Pt. lavrar, Rms. luvrar, It. lavorare tripaliare Fr. travailler, Occ. trabalhar, Cat. treballar, Sp. trabajar, Pt. trabalhar, Srd. triballare Verb based on LL tripalium, a sort of torture device made of three stakes.

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Clearly borrowed words are not counted as descendants. This excludes, for instance, the Italian word igne 'fire, which was taken from Latin.

    List of abbreviations:

    Fr. — French (central)
    OOcc. — Old Occitan
    Occ. — Occitan (central)
    OCat. — Old Catalan
    Cat. — Catalan (central)
    Ara. — Aragonese
    OSp. — Old Spanish
    Sp. — Spanish (central)
    Ast. — Asturian
    OPt. — Old Portuguese
    Pt. — Portuguese (central)
    Lig. — Ligurian
    Pie. — Piedmontese
    Lmb. — Lombard (Milanese)
    Rms. — Romansh
    Frl. — Friulan
    Vgl. — Vegliote
    OIt. — Old Italian
    It. — Italian
    Srd. — Sardinian (Logudorese)
    Sic. — Sicilian
    Ro. — Romanian
    ARo. — Aromanian
  2. ^ With the specialized sense of 'forward', cf. the Portuguese cognate.
  3. ^ With the transferred sense of 'with', cf. the Catalan cognate. The original form in both languages, as attested in medieval texts, was ab.
  4. ^ With the specialized sense of 'cathedral'.
  5. ^ Survives in modern French as chez, a grammaticalized expression meaning 'at the house of', cf. Catalan ca and Italian ca'.
  6. ^ Only the Romanian word continues to mean 'cheek'.
  7. ^ In the directional sense.
  8. ^ Today mostly obsolete in the directional sense, cf. the Spanish and Catalan cognates.
  9. ^ Now a feminine word, likely influenced by zi (f.) 'day'.
  10. ^ Derived from *ex-curtus.
  11. ^ With the specialized sense of 'pebble'.
  12. ^ With the transferred sense of 'sword-lily'.
  13. ^ With the transferred sense of 'care (for)' and 'pay attention', cf. the Spanish and Catalan cognates.
  14. ^ With the transferred sense of 'care'.
  15. ^ Had the sense of 'touch' in medieval times but has since come to mean 'play (an instrument)', cf. the Portuguese cognate.
  16. ^ Modern Spanish largo has come to mean 'long' and has completed ousted the original luengo (=Lat. longus) from that role.
  17. ^ With the transferred sense of 'eloquence'.
  18. ^ Etymology remains disputed.
  19. ^ With the specialized sense of 'plough', cf. the Catalan, Occitan, and Portuguese cognates.


  1. ^ Herman 2000: 98
  2. ^ Harrington et al. 1997: 7–10
  3. ^ Clackson, James. 2016. Latin as a source for the Romance languages. In Ledgeway, Adam & Maiden, Martin (eds.), The Oxford guide to the Romance languages, 11. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Herman 2000: 99–100
  5. ^ Harrington et al. 1997: 11
  6. ^ Löfstedt 1959: 163–171
  7. ^ Harrington et al. 1997: 12–13
  8. ^ Herman 2000: 106
  9. ^ Dworkin 2016: 584
  10. ^ Herman 2000: 96
  11. ^ Dworkin 2016: 585

General sources[edit]

  • Dworkin, Steven Norman. 2016. Lexical stability and shared lexicon. In Ledgeway, Adam & Maiden, Martin (eds.), The Oxford guide to the Romance languages, 577–587. Oxford University Press.
  • Elcock, William Dennis. 1975. The Romance languages. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Herman, József. 2000. Vulgar Latin. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Translated by Wright, Roger.
  • Lewis, Charlton; Short, Charles. 1879. A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Löfstedt, Einar. 1959. Late Latin. Oslo: H. Aschehoug & Co. Translated by Willis, James.
  • Meyer-Lübke, Wilhelm. 1911. Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: C. Winter.