Did you know that Romanian is actually a Romance language? Yes, it is a language based from Latin and is quite similar to Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. It is the only Romance language spoken in Eastern Europe and is spoken not only in Romania but is also an official language in Moldova and parts of Serbia and Greece.
In Hungary, Romanian is recognized as a minority language, and Romanian is also spoken in Ukraine, Albania, and Macedonia. Globally, Romanian is spoken by 24 million speakers natively and another 4 million as a second language.
However, Romanian is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten Romance language” because it is often left out entirely from Romance language programs, overshadowed by the more popular Spanish and French in particular.
Similarity to other Romance languages
Romanian sets itself apart from the other Romance languages because it was developed in Eastern Europe, next to the Slavic countries. The strong influence of the Slavic language neighbors sets Romanian apart from the rest of the Romance languages.
However, Romanian is still very close to Italian in that a Romanian speaker can understand Italian relatively well without formally learning it (while Italian is closest to French).
Perhaps this is because of geography: Italy is the closest Romantic country to Romania, while France is the closest Romantic country to Italy. However, Romanian’s similarity to Italian was also purposeful. In the 18 th century there was much more Slavic influence on the Romanian language.
Romania had gone through many government changes and decided to “re-Latinize” the Romanian language. They removed many of the Slavic-origin words and replaced them with words from Latin, Italian, and French.
History of the Romanian language
But how did this Latin-derived language make its way to Eastern Europe in the first place? And why did it become the only Romance language in Eastern Europe?
To know a little more about the Romanian language, you have to look at Romanian history.
One theory as to how the Romanian language came to be is that it was brought there by Latin-speaking Roman soldiers towards the end of the Roman Empire.
Part of the reason that this theory has gained popularity is because the Romanian language has inherited many military Latin words with their classical meanings. Romanian even has some military Latin slang.
However, to get an even better understanding of how the Romanian language developed, we really need to go further back in time. About two thousand years ago, the place that we currently call Romania was occupied by the Dacians (pronounced dachyanz ).
There is not too much known about the Dacians, but we do know that this civilization did affect the Romanian language, as there are certain words that have been adapted into Romanian from the Dacian language. It is believed that the Dacians spoke a Thracian language, which is an extinct language from South-East Europe that we also do not know much about.
Although we do not know much about the Dacians or their language, linguists have been about to study the Romanian language and have discovered that about 160 words in Romanian are of Dacian origin.
The Dacian civilization is no longer around, but the Dacian people are still very much alive, ethnically, in the Romanian people. The Dacian people were agricultural people, who engaged in the cultivation of vineyards, bee-keeping, and the raising of cattle. Many of the words in the Romanian language that are of Dacian origin have agricultural, pastoral, and viticultural (of vineyards) themes.
Of course, after the Dacians came the Romans. In 106 A.D., the Roman Emperor, Trajan, had finally succeeded in conquering the Dacians after many years of fighting. And so, the Romans came in and Romanticized the land. It actually all happened quite quickly. The Romans only ruled over Dacia for 165 years, but Romanians still speak a Latin-based language to this day, nearly 1700 years later!
There are many factors as to why Latin became so deeply-rooted in Romanian culture. Part of it was that many Roman soldiers were of Dacian decent, so it was easy for the Dacians to see the Roman soldiers as their own.
Further, many Roman soldiers married Dacian women. All in all, the Dacians and the Romans had people that were very intertwined. The country was also able to be Romanticized because the Romans had won over the Dacian people.
The Dacians liked Roman culture and the Roman language, and so they were not very reluctant to embrace it. Finally, the Romans brought over the Christian religion. Church services were all performed in Latin, so the religious Dacians had to learn Latin if they wanted to continue to pursue their religion.
From the seventh to ninth century, the Slavs came to the Dacia area. During this time, there was an exchange of language. The Slavs adopted certain Latin terms and the Dacians adopted Slavic words. When the Slavs came to Dacia, they began speaking Latin but they spoke it with heavy accents and this came to affect the Romanian language that we have today.
One of the most notable effects is that rounding of the /e/ vowel. The word el (he), for instance, is pronounced more like “yel” in Romanian, while in all other Romance languages, the initial /e/ sound in a word dos not have this rounding. This is part of what makes Romanian unique.
But, as mentioned earlier, Romanian was re-Latinized in the 18 th century. Many Romanians thought of this as a “purification” of their language and did not like the “ugliness” of the Slavic linguistic influence.
Even though Romanian went through this “re-Latinization” some 300 years ago, every language is fluid. Languages are constantly changing – which is why older generations use idioms that younger ones can’t understand and vice-versa. Beyond just idioms, languages are constantly borrowing words from other languages and adopting them as their own.
The Romanian language tells us a story of survival.
The Romanian people have long been conquered by other, more powerful civilizations, but the Romanian people are still with us today. Moreover, their language is with us and shows us the story of their past: from the Dacian words that still exist in the language, to the military Latin and the newer Slavic influence. The Romanian language is unique and beautiful and truly shows us a story of survival and perseverance.