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Romance languages

Romance languages

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Template:Infobox Language family Template:Indo-European topics The Romance languages (sometimes referred to as Romanic languages, or Neolatin languages) are a branch of the Indo-European language family comprising all the languages that descend from Latin, the language of ancient Rome. They have more than 700 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in the Americas, Europe, and Africa, as well as many smaller regions scattered throughout the world.

Romance languages have their roots in Vulgar Latin, the popular sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers and merchants of the Empire, as distinguished from the Classical form of the language used by the Roman intellectuals, and normally in writing. Between 200 BC and AD 150, the expansion of the Empire, together with its administrative and educational policies, made Latin the dominant native language over an area spanning from the Iberian Peninsula to the Black Sea, and from the Maghreb to Great Britain.

During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and collapse in the 5th century, Latin evolved within each local area at an accelerated rate; and eventually the dialects diverged into myriad distinct varieties; some of which survive in modern forms. The overseas empires established by Spain, Portugal 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.

Despite multiple influences from pre-Roman languages and from later invasions, the phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax of all Romance languages are predominantly evolutions of Vulgar Latin. Consequently, the group shares several linguistic features that set it apart from other Indo-European branches. In particular, with only one or two exceptions, Romance languages have lost the declension system of Classical Latin and, as a result, have SVO sentence structure and make extensive use of prepositions.



The term "Romance" comes from the Vulgar Latin adverb romanice, derived from Romanicus: used, for instance, in the expression romanice loqui, "to speak in Roman" (that is, the Latin vernacular), contrasted with latine loqui, "to speak in Latin" (Medieval Latin, the conservative version of the language used in writing and formal contexts), and with barbarice loqui, "to speak in Barbarian" (the non-Latin languages of the peoples that conquered the Roman Empire).[1] From this adverb the noun romance originated, which applied initially to anything written romanice, or "in the Roman vernacular".

The word romance with the modern sense of romance novel or love affair has the same origin. In the medieval literature of Western Europe, serious writing was usually in Latin, while popular tales, often focusing on love, were composed in the vernacular and came to be called "romances".


Lexical and grammatical similarities among the Romance languages, and between Latin and each of them, are apparent from the following examples:

Latin Illa claudit semper fenestram ante quam cenat.
Asturian Ella pieslla siempre la ventana primero de cenar.
Catalan Ella tanca sempre la finestra abans de sopar.
French Elle ferme toujours la fenêtre avant de dîner/souper.
Galician Ela pecha/fecha sempre a xanela/fiestra antes de cear.
Italian Lei chiude sempre la finestra prima di cenare.
Piedmontese Chila a sara sèmper la fnestra dnans da fé sin-a.
Occitan Ela barra sempre la fenèstra abans de sopar.
Portuguese Ela sempre fecha a janela antes de jantar/cear.
Romanian Ea închide întotdeauna fereastra înainte de a cina.
Spanish Ella siempre cierra la ventana antes de cenar.
Translation She always closes the window before dining/having supper.

Note that some of the lexical divergence above comes from different Romance languages using the same root word with different meanings (semantic change). Portuguese for example has the word fresta, which is a cognate of French fenêtre, Italian finestra, Romanian fereastra and so on, but now means "slit" as opposed to "window." Likewise, Portuguese also has the word cear, a cognate of Italian cenare and Spanish cenar, but uses it in the sense of "to have a late supper" in most dialects, while the preferred word for "to dine" is actually jantar (related to archaic Spanish yantar) because of semantic changes in the 19th century. Galician has both fiestra (from medieval fẽestra which is the ultimate origin of standard Portuguese fresta), and the less frequently used xanela. Like the northern dialects of Portuguese, it still uses cear with its original meaning of "dining". Italian has the word ella, a cognate of the other words for "she", but it is nowadays regarded as archaic in most dialects.


Vulgar Latin

Main articles: Vulgar Latin, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

There is very little documentary evidence about Vulgar Latin, which is often hard to interpret or generalise upon. Many of its speakers were soldiers, slaves, displaced peoples and forced resettlers, more likely to be natives of conquered lands than natives of Rome. It is believed that Vulgar Latin already had most of the features that are shared by all Romance languagesTemplate:Fact, which distinguish them from Classical Latin, such as the almost complete loss of the Latin case system and its replacement by prepositions; the loss of the neuter gender, comparative inflections, and many verbal tenses; the use of articles; and the initial stages of the palatalization of the plosives c, g, and t. There are some modern languages, such as Finnish, which have similar, quite sharp, differences between their printed and spoken form. This perhaps suggests that the form of Vulgar Latin that evolved into the Romance languages was around during the time of the empire, and was spoken alongside the written Classical Latin, reserved for official and formal occasions.

Image:Romance 20c en.png
Romance languages, 20th c.

Fall of the Empire

During the political decline of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, when there were large-scale migrations, including notably Germanic incursions, the Latin-speaking world was fragmented into several independent states. Central Europe and the Balkans were occupied by the Germanic and Slavic tribes, and the Huns and Turks, which isolated Romania from the rest of Latin Europe. Latin disappeared from southern Britain, which had been for a time part of the Empire. But the Germanic tribes that had penetrated Italy, Gaul, and Hispania eventually adopted Latin and the remnants of Roman culture, keeping Latin the dominant language there.

Latent incubation

Between the fifth and tenth centuries, the dialects of spoken Vulgar Latin diverged in various parts of their domain, eventually becoming innumerable distinct languages. This evolution is poorly documented because the literary language, Medieval Latin, remained close to the older Classical Latin.

Recognition of the vernaculars

Between the 10th and 13th centuries, some local vernaculars developed a written form and began to supplant Latin in many of its roles. In some countries, such as Portugal, this transition was expedited by force of law; whereas in others, such as Italy, many prominent poets and writers used the vernacular of their own accord.

Uniformization and standardization

The invention of the press apparently slowed down the evolution of Romance languages from the 16th century on, and brought a tendency towards greater uniformity of standard languages within political boundaries, at the expense of other Romance languages and dialects less favored politically. In France, for instance, the francien dialect spoken in the region of Paris gradually spread to the entire country, and the langue d'oc and franco-provençal of the south lost ground.

Current status

The Romance language most widely spoken natively today is Spanish, followed by Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and Catalan all of which are main and official national languages in at least one country. A few other languages have official status on a regional or otherwise limited level, for instance Friulian, Sardinian and Valdôtain in Italy; Romansh in Switzerland; Galician in Spain. French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Romanian are also official languages of the European Union. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan are the official languages of the Latin Union; French and Spanish are two of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Outside Europe, French, Spanish and Portuguese are spoken and enjoy official status in various countries that emerged from their respective colonial empires. French is an official language of Canada, Haiti, many countries in Africa, and some in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as France's current overseas possession. Spanish is an official language of Mexico, much of South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and of Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, being the most spoken language in South America, and official in six African countries. Although Italy also had some colonial possessions, its language did not remain official after the end of the colonial domination, resulting in Italian being spoken only as a minority or secondary language by immigrant communities in North and South America and Australia or African countries like Libya, Eritrea and Somalia. Romania did not establish a colonial empire, but the language spread outside of Europe due to emigration, notably in Western Asia; Romanian has flourished in Israel, where it is spoken by some 5% of the total population as mother tongue,[2] and by many more as a secondary language, considering the large population of Romanian-born Jews who moved to Israel after World War II.[3]

Proportion of the 690 million native Romance language speakers contained by each language.

The total native speakers of Romance languages is divided as follows (with their ranking within the languages of the world in brackets):[4]

The remaining Romance languages survive mostly as spoken languages for informal contact. National governments have historically viewed linguistic diversity as an economic, administrative or military liability, as well a potential source of separatist movements; therefore, they have generally fought to eliminate it, by extensively promoting the use of the official language, restricting the use of the "other" languages in the media, characterizing them as mere "dialects", or even persecuting them.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, increased sensitivity to the rights of minorities have allowed some of these languages to start recovering their prestige and lost rights. Yet, it is unclear whether these political changes will be enough to reverse the decline of minority Romance languages.

Classification and related languages

Main articles: Classification of Romance languages, and List of Romance languages, and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

The classification of the Romance languages is inherently difficult, since most of the linguistic area can be considered a dialect continuum, and in some cases political biases can come into play. Nevertheless, according to SIL counts, 47 Romance languages and dialects are spoken in Europe. Along with Latin (which is not included among the Romance languages) and a few extinct languages of ancient Italy, they make up the Italic branch of the Indo-European family.

Image:Romance languages improved.PNG
The Romance language family (simplified) - click to enlarge

Proposed subfamilies

The main subfamiles that have been proposed by Ethnologue within the various classification schemes for Romance languages are:

Pidgins, creoles, and mixed languages

Some languages have developed from mixtures of a Romance language with another language. It is not always clear whether they should be classified as pidgins, creole languages, or mixed languages. See the main article, for full lists.

Auxiliary and constructed languages

Main articles: Constructed language, and International auxiliary language, and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Latin and the Romance languages have also served as the inspiration and basis of numerous auxiliary and constructed languages, such as Interlingua, its reformed version Modern Latin,[5] Latino sine flexione, Occidental, Lingua Franca Nova, Ido and Esperanto, as well as languages created for artistic purposes only, such as Brithenig, Wenedyk and Talossan.

Linguistic features

Common Indo-European features

As members of the Indo-European family, Romance languages have a number of features that are shared with other members of this family, and in particular with English; but which set them apart from languages of other families, including:

Features inherited from Classical Latin

The Romance languages share a number of features that were inherited from Classical Latin, and collectively set them apart from most other Indo-European languages:

  • Word stress remains predominantly on the penultimate syllable in most languages, although there have been significant changes with respect to classical Latin. An exception is French, whose stress is fixed, falling predictably on the last syllable that does not contain a schwa.
  • They have two grammatical numbers, singular and plural (no dual).
  • In most languages, personal pronouns have different forms according to their grammatical function in a sentence, a remnant of the Latin case system; there is usually a form for the subject (inherited from the Latin nominative) another for the object (from the accusative or the dative), and a third set of personal pronouns used after prepositions or in stressed positions (see Prepositional pronoun and Disjunctive pronoun, for further information). Third person pronouns often have different forms for the direct object (accusative), the indirect object (dative), and the reflexive.
  • Most are null-subject languages. French is a notable exception.
  • Verbs have many conjugations, including in most languages:
  • Several tenses, especially of the indicative mood, have been preserved with little change in most languages, as shown in the following table for the Latin verb dīcere (to say), and its descendants.
Infinitive Indicative Subjunctive Imperative
Present Preterite Imperfect Present Present
Latin dīcere dīcit dīxit dicēbat dīcat/dīcet dīce
Catalan dir diu digué deia digui digues
French dire il dit il dit il disait il dise dis
Galician dicir di dixo dicía diga di
Italian dire dice disse diceva dica dici
Neapolitan dicere dice dicette diceva
Piedmontese a dis a dìsser1 a disìa
Portuguese dizer diz disse dizia diga dize2/diz
Romanian a zice zice zise zicea zică zi
Sicilian dici dissi dicìa
Spanish decir dice dijo decía diga di
Basic meaning to say he says he has said he used to say [that] he may say say [you]

1Until the 18th century.

  • The main tense and mood distinctions that were made in classical Latin are generally still present in the modern Romance languages, though many are now expressed through compound rather than simple verbs. The passive voice, which was mostly synthetic in classical Latin, has been completely replaced with compound forms.

Features inherited from Vulgar Latin

Romance languages also have a number of features that are not shared with Classical Latin. Most of these are thought to have been inherited from Vulgar Latin. Even though the Romance languages are all derived from Latin, they are arguably much closer to each other than to their common ancestor, due to a core of common developments. The main difference is the loss of the case system of Classical Latin, an essential feature which allowed great freedom of word order, and has no counterpart in any Romance language except Romanian. In this regard, the distance between any modern Romance language and Latin is comparable to that between Modern English and Old English. While speakers of French, Italian or Spanish, for example, can quickly learn to see through the phonological changes reflected in spelling differences, and thus recognize many Latin words, they will often fail to understand the meaning of Latin sentences.

  • Vulgar Latin borrowed many words, often from Germanic languages that replaced words from Classical Latin during the Migration Period, even including common basic vocabulary. Notable examples are *blancus (white), which replaced Classical Latin albus in most major languages and dialects; *guerra (war), which replaced bellum; and the words for the cardinal directions, where cognates of English "north", "south", "east" and "west" replaced the Classical Latin words borealis (or septentrionalis), australis (or meridionalis), occidentalis, and orientalis, respectively, in the vernacular. (See History of French - The Franks.)
  • There are definite and indefinite articles, derived from Latin demonstratives and the numeral unus (one).
  • There are only two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine. The neuter gender of Latin has been lost, mostly merging with the masculine. Exceptions are Romanian, which retains the neuter, and Italian, which while not keeping the neuter gender intact, has residual traces of it represented by some words that switch gender between singular and plural, such as il dito (the finger), plural le dita, inherited from Latin digitum, plural digita.
  • Apart from gender and number, nouns, adjectives and determiners are not inflected. Cases have generally been lost, though a trace of them survives in the personal pronouns. An exception is Romanian, which retains a combined genitive-dative case.
  • Adjectives generally follow the noun they modify.
  • Many Latin combining prefixes were incorporated in the lexicon as new roots and verb stems, e.g. Italian estrarre (to extract) from Latin ex- (out of) and trahere (to drag).
  • Many Latin constructions involving nominalized verbal forms (e.g. the use of accusative plus infinitive in indirect discourse and the use of the ablative absolute) were dropped in favor of constructions with subordinate clause. Exceptions can be found in Italian, for example, Latin tempore permittente > Italian tempo permettendo; L. hoc facto > I. fatto ciò.
  • The normal clause structure is SVO, rather than SOV, and is much less flexible than in Latin.
  • Due to sound changes which made it homophonous with the preterite, the Latin future indicative tense was dropped, and replaced with a periphrasis of the form infinitive + present tense of habēre (to have). Eventually, this structure was reanalysed as a new future tense.
  • In a similar process, an entirely new conditional form was created.
  • While the synthetic passive voice of classical Latin was abandoned in favour of periphrastic constructions, most of the active voice remained in use. However, several tenses have changed meaning, especially subjunctives. For example:
    • The Latin pluperfect indicative became a conditional in Catalan and Sicilian, and an imperfect subjunctive in Spanish.
    • The Latin pluperfect subjunctive developed into an imperfect subjunctive in all languages except Romansh, where it became a conditional, and Romanian, where it became a pluperfect indicative.
    • The Latin preterite subjunctive, together with the future perfect indicative, became a future subjunctive in Old Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician.
    • The Latin imperfect subjunctive became a personal infinitive in Portuguese and Galician.
  • Many Romance languages have two verbs "to be", derived from the Latin stare (mostly used for temporary states) and esse (mostly used for essential attributes). In French, however, stare and esse had become ester and estre by the late Middle Ages. Due to phonetic developments, there were the forms êter and être, which eventually merged to être, and the distinction was lost. In Italian, the two verbs share the same past participle, stato. See Romance copula, for further information.

For a more detailed illustration of how the verbs have changed with respect to classical Latin, see Romance verbs.

Sound changes

Template:IPA notice

The vocabularies of Romance languages have undergone considerable change since their birth, by various phonological processes that were characteristic of each language. Those changes applied more or less systematically to all words, but were often conditioned by the sound context, morphological structure, or regularizing tendencies.

Most languages have lost sounds from the original Latin words. French, in particular, elision progressed more than in any other of the languages (although its conservative etymological spelling does not always make this apparent). In general, all final vowels were dropped, and sometimes also the preceding consonant: thus Latin lupus and luna became Italian lupo and luna but French loup Template:IPA and lune Template:IPA. (See also Use of the circumflex in French.) Catalan, Occitan, many Northern Italian dialects, and Romanian (Daco-Romanian) lost the final vowels in most masculine nouns and adjectives, but retained them in the feminine. Other languages, including Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Galician and the Southern dialects of Romanian have retained those vowels.

Some languages have lost the final vowel -e from verbal infinitives, e.g. dīcere → Portuguese dizer (to say). Other common cases of apocope are the verbal endings, e.g. Latin amāt → Italian ama (he loves), amābamamavo (I loved), amābatamava (he loved), amābatisamavate (you loved), etc.

Sounds were often lost in the middle of words, too; e.g. Latin Luna → Galician and Portuguese Lua (Moon), crēdere → Spanish creer (to believe).

On the other hand, some languages have added epenthetic vowels to words in certain contexts. Characteristic of the Iberian Romance languages is the insertion of a prosthetic e at the start of Latin words that began with s + consonant, such as sperōespero (I hope). French originally did the same, but later dropped the s: spatula → arch. espauleépaule (shoulder). In the case of Italian, a special article, lo for the definite and uno for the indefinite, is used for masculine words that begin with s + consonant words (sbaglio, "mistake" → lo sbaglio, "the mistake"), as well as all masculine words beginning with z (i.e. clusters /ts/ or /dz/) zaino, "backpack" → lo zaino, "the backpack".

A characteristic feature of the writing systems of almost all Romance languages is that the Latin letters c and g — which originally always represented the "hard" consonants Template:IPA and Template:IPA respectively — now represent "soft" consonants when they come before e, i, or y. This is due to a general palatalization of Template:IPA and Template:IPA that occurred in the transition to Vulgar Latin. Since the written form of all the affected words was tied to the classical language, the shift was accommodated by a change in the pronunciation rules. The soft sounds of c and g vary from language to language. The consonant t, which was also palatalized, changes pronunciation in French (and English) orthography, but in the other Romance languages the spelling was altered to match the new sound. An exception is Sardinian, whose plosives remained hard before e and i in many words.

The distinctions of vowel length present in Classical Latin were lost in most Romance languages (an exception is Friulian), and partly replaced with qualitative contrasts such as monophthong versus diphthong (Italian, Spanish; French to a lesser extent), or close vowel versus open vowel (as in Portuguese, Galician, Occitan and Catalan).

For most languages in this family, consonant length is no longer phonemically distinctive or present. However some languages of Italy (Italian, Sardinian and Sicilian) do have long consonants like Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, etc., where the doubling indicates a short hold before the consonant is released, in many cases with distinctive lexical value: e.g. note Template:IPA (notes) vs. notte Template:IPA (night), cade Template:IPA (s/he, it falls) vs. cadde Template:IPA (s/he, it fell). They may even occur at the beginning of words in Romanesco, Neapolitan and Sicilian, and are occasionally indicated in writing, e.g. Sicilian cchiù (more), and ccà (here). In general, the consonants Template:IPA, Template:IPA, and Template:IPA are long at the start of a word, while the archiphoneme Template:IPA is realised as a trill Template:IPA in the same position.

The double consonants of Piedmontese exist only after stressed Template:IPA, written ë, and are not etymological: vëdde (Latin videre, to see), sëcca (Latin sicca, dry, feminine of sech). In standard Catalan and Occitan, there exists a geminate sound Template:IPA written ŀl (Catalan) or ll (Occitan), but it is usually pronounced as a simple sound in colloquial (and even some formal) speech in both languages.

For more detailed descriptions of sound changes, see the articles Vulgar Latin, History of French, History of Portuguese, Latin to Romanian sound changes, and Linguistic history of Spanish.

Lexical stress

While word stress was rigorously predictable in classical Latin, this is no longer the case in most Romance languages, and stress differences can be enough to distinguish between words. For example, Italian Papa Template:IPA (Pope) and papà Template:IPA (daddy), or the Spanish imperfect subjunctive cantara ([if he] sang) and future cantará ([he] will sing). However, the main function of Romance stress appears to be a clue for speech segmentation — namely to help the listener identify the word boundaries in normal speech, where inter-word spaces are usually absent.Template:Fact

The position of the stressed syllable in a word generally varies from word to word in each Romance language, and often moves as the word is inflected. It is usually restricted to one of the last three in the word. That limit may be occasionally exceeded by verbs with attached clitics, provided the clitics are counted as part of the word; e.g. Spanish entregándomelo Template:IPA (delivering it to me), Italian mettiamocene Template:IPA (let's put some of it in there), or Portuguese dávamo-vo-lo Template:IPA (we were giving it to you).

Other shared features

The Romance languages also share a number of features that were not the result of common inheritance, but rather of various cultural diffusion processes in the Middle Ages — such as literary diffusion, commercial and military interactions, political domination, influence of the Catholic Church, and (especially in later times) conscious attempts to "purify" them in accordance with Classical Latin. Some of those features have in fact spread to other non-Romance (and even non-Indo-European) languages, chiefly in Europe. Some of these "late origin" shared features are:

  • Most Romance languages have polite forms of address that change the person and/or number of 2nd person subjects (T-V distinction), such as the tu/vous contrast in French, the tu/Lei contrast in Italian, the tu/dumneavoastră (from dominus + vostre, literally meaning "your Lordship") in Romanian or the (or vos) /usted contrast in Spanish.
  • They all have a large collection of learned hellenisms and latinisms, with prefixes, stems, and suffixes retained or reintroduced from Greek and Latin, and used to coin new words. Most of these are also used in English, e.g. tele-, poly-, meta-, pseudo-, dis-, ex-, post-, -scope, -logy, -tion, though their spelling may differ slightly; for example, poly- becomes poli- in Romanian, Italian and Spanish.
  • During the Renaissance, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and a few other Romance languages developed a progressive aspect which did not exist in Latin. In French, progressive constructions remain very limited, the imperfect aspect generally being preferred, as in Latin.
  • Many Romance languages now have a verbal construction analogous to the present perfect tense of English. In some, it has taken the place of the old preterite (at least in the vernacular); in others, the two coexist with somewhat different meanings (cf. English I did vs. I have done). A few examples:
    • preterite only: Galician, Sicilian, some dialects of Spanish;
    • preterite and present perfect: Occitan, Portuguese, standard Spanish;
    • present perfect predominant, preterite now literary: French, several dialects of Italian and Spanish.

Writing systems

Main articles: Latin Alphabet, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

The Romance languages have kept the writing system of Latin, adapting it to their evolution. One exception was Romanian before the 19th century, where, after the Roman retreat, literacy was reintroduced through the Romanian Cyrillic alphabet due to Slavic influences. Also the non-Christian populations of Spain used the systems of their culture languages (Arabic and Hebrew) to write Romance languages such as Ladino and Mozarabic in aljamiado.


The Romance languages are written with the classical Latin alphabet of 22 letters — A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, Z — subsequently modified and augmented in various ways. In particular, the letters K and W are rarely used in most Romance languages, mostly for unassimilated foreign names and words.

While most of the 22 basic Latin letters have maintained their phonetic value, for some of them it has diverged considerably; and the new letters added since the Middle Ages have been put to different uses in different scripts. Some letters, notably H and Q, have been variously combined in digraphs or trigraphs (see below) to represent phonetic phenomena not recorded in Latin, or to get around previously established spelling conventions.

The spelling rules of most Romance languages are fairly simple, but subject to considerable regional variation. To a first approximation, the phonetic values of the letters can be summarized as follows:

C: Generally a "hard" Template:IPA, but "soft" (fricative or affricate) before e, i, or y.
G: Generally a "hard" Template:IPA, but "soft" (fricative or affricate) before e, i, or y. In some languages, like Spanish, the hard g is pronounced as a fricative Template:IPA after vowels. In Romansch, the soft g is a voiced palatal plosive Template:IPA.
H: Silent in most languages; used to form various digraphs. But represents Template:IPA in Romanian and Gascon Occitan.
J: Represents a fricative in most languages, or the palatal approximant Template:IPA in Romansh and in several of the languages of Italy. Italian does not use this letter in native words.
Q: As in Latin, its phonetic value is that of a hard c, and in native words it is always followed by a (sometimes silent) u. Romanian does not use this letter in native words.
S: Generally voiceless Template:IPA, but voiced Template:IPA between vowels in most languages. In Spanish, Romanian, Galician and several varieties of Italian, however, it is always pronounced voiceless. At the end of syllables, it may represent special allophonic pronunciations.
W: No Romance language uses this letter in native words, with the exception of Walloon.
X: Its pronunciation is rather variable, both between and within languages. In the Middle Ages, the languages of Iberia used this letter to denote the voiceless postalveolar fricative Template:IPA, but with the Renaissance the classical pronunciation Template:IPA — or similar consonant clusters, such as Template:IPA, Template:IPA, or Template:IPA — were frequently reintroduced in latinisms and hellenisms. In Venetian it represents Template:IPA, and in Ligurian the voiced postalveolar fricative Template:IPA. Italian does not use this letter in native words.
Y: This letter is not used in most languages, with the prominent exceptions of French and Spanish, where it represents Template:IPA before vowels (or various similar fricatives such as the palatal fricative Template:IPA, in Spanish), and the vowel or semivowel Template:IPA elsewhere.
Z: In most languages it represents the sound Template:IPA, but in Italian it denotes the affricates Template:IPA and Template:IPA (which are allophones), and in Galician and Spanish it denotes either the voiceless dental fricative Template:IPA or Template:IPA.

Otherwise, letters that are not combined as digraphs generally have the same sounds as in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), whose design was, in fact, greatly influenced by the Romance spelling systems.

Digraphs and trigraphs

Since most Romance languages have more sounds than can be accommodated in the Roman Latin alphabet they all resort to the use of digraphs and trigraphs — combinations of two or three letters with a single sound value. The concept (but not the actual combinations) derives from Classical Latin; which used, for example, TH, PH, and CH when transliterating the Greek letters "θ", "ϕ" (later "φ"), and "χ" (These were once aspirated sounds in Greek before changing to corresponding fricatives and the <H> represented what sounded to the Romans like an Template:IPA following Template:IPA, Template:IPA, and Template:IPA respectively. Some of the digraphs used in modern scripts are:

CI: used in Italian, Romance languages in Italy and Romanian to represent Template:IPA before A, O, or U.
CH: used in Italian, Romance languages in Italy, Romanian, Romansh and Sardinian to represent Template:IPA before E or I; Template:IPA in Occitan, Spanish and Galician; Template:IPA in Romansh before A, O or U; and Template:IPA in most other languages.
ÇH: used in Poitevin-Saintongeais for voiceless palatal fricative Template:IPA
DD: used in Sicilian and Sardinian to represent the voiced retroflex plosive Template:IPA. In recent history more accurately transcribed as DDH.
DJ: used in Catalan and Walloon for Template:IPA.
GI: used in Italian, Romance languages in Italy and Romanian to represent Template:IPA before A, O, or U.
GH: used in Italian, Romance languages in Italy, Romanian, Romansh and Sardinian to represent Template:IPA before E or I, and in Galician for the voiceless pharyngeal fricative Template:IPA (not standard sound).
GL: used in Romansh before consonants and at the end of words for Template:IPA.
GLI: used in Italian and Romansh for Template:IPA.
GN: used in French, Italian, Romance languages in Italy and Romansh for Template:IPA, as in champignon or gnocchi.
GU: used before E or I to represent Template:IPA or Template:IPA in all Romance languages except Italian, Romance languages in Italy and Romanian.
IG: used at the end of word in Catalan for Template:IPA, as in maig, safareig or enmig.
IX: used between vowels or at the end of word in Catalan for Template:IPA, as in caixa or calaix.
LH: used in Portuguese and Occitan Template:IPA.
LL: used in Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Norman and Dgèrnésiais, originally for Template:IPA which has merged in some cases with Template:IPA. Represents Template:IPA in French unless it follows I (i) when it represents Template:IPA (or Template:IPA in some dialects). It's used in Occitan for a long Template:IPA
L·L: used in Catalan for a geminate consonant Template:IPA.
NH: used in Portuguese and Occitan for Template:IPA, used in official Galician for Template:IPA .
N-: used in Piedmontese and Ligurian for Template:IPA between two vowels.
NY: used in Catalan for Template:IPA.
QU: represents Template:IPA in Italian and Romance languages in Italy; Template:IPA in French and Spanish; Template:IPA (before e or i) or Template:IPA (normally before a or o) in Occitan, Catalan and Portuguese.
RR: used between vowels in several languages (Occitan, Catalan, Spanish...) to denote a trilled Template:IPA or a guttural R, instead of the flap Template:IPA.
SC: used before E or I in Italian and Romance languages in Italy for Template:IPA, and in French and Spanish as Template:IPA in words of certain etymology.
SCH: used in Romansh for Template:IPA or Template:IPA.
SCI: used in Italian and Romance languages in Italy to represent Template:IPA before A, O, or U.
SH: used in Aranese Occitan for Template:IPA.
SS: used in French, Portuguese, Piedmontese, Occitan and Catalan for Template:IPA between vowels.
TG: used in Romansh for Template:IPA. In Catalan is used for Template:IPA between vowels, as in metge or fetge.
TH: used in Jèrriais for Template:IPA (as in English "thick"); used in Aranese for either Template:IPA or Template:IPA.
TJ: used between vowels and before A, O or U, in Catalan for Template:IPA, as in sotjar or mitjó.
TSCH: used in Romansh for Template:IPA.
TX: used at the beginnig or at the end of word or between vowels in Catalan for Template:IPA, as in txec, esquitx or atxa.

While the digraphs CH, PH, RH and TH were at one time used in many words of Greek origin, most languages have now replaced them with C/QU, F, R and T. Only French has kept these etymological spellings, which now represent Template:IPA or Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA and Template:IPA, respectively.

Double consonants

Gemination, in the languages where it occurs, is usually indicated by doubling the consonant, except when it does not contrast phonemically with the corresponding short consonant, in which case gemination is not indicated. In Jèrriais, long consonants are marked with an apostrophe: S'S is a long Template:IPA, SS'S is a long Template:IPA, and T'T is a long Template:IPA. The double consonants in French orthography, however, are merely etymological.

Diacritics and special characters

Romance languages use a variety of diacritics, especially on vowels, to mark various present or historical pronunciation changes. The following are the most common.

  • Stress: word stress may be indicated with the acute, é (in Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan), or the grave accent, è (Italian, Catalan). The orthographies of French and Romanian do not mark stress. In Italian orthography, indicating stress with a diacritic is only required when it falls on the last syllable of a word.
  • Vowel quality: the system of marking close-mid vowels with an acute, é, and open-mid vowels with a grave accent, è, is widely used (in Catalan, French, Italian, etc.) Portuguese, however, uses the circumflex (ê) for the former, and the acute (é), for the latter.
  • Homophones: homophones with a different meaning can be differentiated with an acute (as in Spanish, where si means "if" while means "yes", "himself", "herself", "itself", or "themselves") or with a grave accent (French, in which ou means "or" and means "where", as well as Italian and Catalan). The circumflex can also have this function in French, sometimes. Often, such words are monosyllables, the accented one being phonetically stressed, while the unaccented one is a clitic; examples are the Spanish clitics de, se, and te (a preposition and two personal pronouns), versus the stressed words , , and (two verbs and a noun).
  • Diaeresis: when a vowel and another letter that would normally be combined into a digraph with a single sound are exceptionally pronounced apart, this is often indicated with a diaeresis mark on the vowel. In the Spanish word pingüino (penguin), the letter u is pronounced, even though it is normally silent when the digraph gu is followed by an i. Other Romance languages that use the diaeresis in this fashion are French, Catalan, and (Brazilian) Portuguese.
  • Nasalization: Portuguese marks nasal vowels with a tilde (ã) when they occur before other vowels. While not frequent among the other Romance languages, this orthographic convention has been adopted by several indigenous languages of the Americas, for instance the Guarani.

Less widespread diacritics in the Romance languages are the breve (in Romanian, ă) and the ring (in Wallon and the Bolognese dialect of Emiliano-Romagnolo, å). The French orthography includes the etymological ligatures œ and (more rarely) æ. The circumflex frequently has an etymological value in this language, as well; see Use of the circumflex in French, for further information.

Upper and lower case

Most languages are written with a mixture of two distinct but phonetically identical variants or "cases" of the alphabet: majuscule ("uppercase" or "capital letters"), derived from Roman stone-carved letter shapes, and minuscule ("lowercase"), derived from Carolingian writing and Medieval quill pen handwriting which were later adapted by printers in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In particular, all Romance languages presently capitalize (use uppercase for the first letter of) the following words: the first word of each complete sentence, most words in names of people, places, and organizations, and most words in titles of books. The Romance languages do not follow the German practice of capitalizing all nouns including common ones. Unlike English, the names of months (except in European Portuguese), days of the weeks, and derivatives of proper nouns are usually not capitalized: thus, in Italian one capitalizes Francia ("France") and Francesco ("Francis"), but not francese ("French") or francescano ("Franciscan"). However, each language has some exceptions to this general rule.

Vocabulary comparison

The table below provides a vocabulary comparison that illustrates a number of examples of sound shifts that have occurred between Latin and the main Romance languages, along with a selection of minority languages.

English Latin Catalan French Galician Italian Norman Jèrriais Lombard (literary Milanese) Piedmontese (West-Piedmont)
Apple [Mattiana] Mala; Pomum (fruit) Poma Pomme Mazá Mela Poumme Pomm/Pumm Pom
Arm Bracchium Braç Bras Brazo Braccio Bras Brasc Brass
Arrow Sagitta (Frankish Fleuka) Fletxa / Sageta Flèche Frecha / Seta Freccia / Saetta Èrchelle Frecia Flecia
Bed Lectus; Camba (for sleeping) Llit Lit Leito / Cama Letto Liet Lecc Let
Black Nigrum Negre Noir Negro Nero Nièr Negher Nèir
Book Liber (acc. Librum) / (Frankish Bōk) Llibre Livre / Bouquin Libro Libro Livre Liber/Libor Lìber
Breast Pectus Pit Poitrine Peito Petto Estonma Stòmi
Cat Feles; Cattus[6] Gat Chat (kat, khat, cat) Gato Gatto Cat Gatt Gat
Chair Sella (Greek Kathedra, seat) Cadira Chaise Cadeira Sedia Tchaîse Cadrega Cadrega / Carea
Cold Frigus (adj. Frigidus) Fred Froid Frío Freddo Fraid Fregg Frèid
Cow Vacca Vaca Vache Vaca Vacca / Mucca[7] Vaque Vaca Vaca
Day Dies (adj. Diurnus) Dia / Jorn Jour Día Giorno / Dì Jour Di
Dead Mortuus Mort Mort Morto Morto Mort Mort Mòrt
Die Morior Morir Mourir Morrer Morire Mouothi Morì/Mor Meuire/Murì
Family Familia Família Famille Familia Famiglia Famil'ye Familia Famija
Finger Digitus Dit Doigt Dedo Dito Dii Dil
Flower Flos (acc. Florem) Flor Fleur Flor Fiore Flieur Fiôr Fior
Give Dono, -are;
Donar Donner Dar Dare Donner / Bailli
Go Eo, -ire; Ambulare (to take a walk) Anar Aller Ir Andare Aller Ndà Andé
Gold Aurum Or Or Ouro Oro Or Or Òr
Hand Manus Main Man Mano Main Man Man
High Altus Alt Haut Alto Alto Haut Olt Àut
House Domus; Casa (hut) Casa Maison[8] Casa Casa Maîson[8] Ca
I Ego Jo Je Eu Io Mi Mi / I
Ink Atramentum; Tincta (dye) Tinta Encre Tinta Inchiostro Encre Nciòster Anciòst
January Januarius Gener Janvier Xaneiro Gennaio Janvyi Ginée / Genar Gené
Juice Sucus Suc Jus Zume Succo Jus Sugh Gius / Bagna
Key Clavis (acc. Clavem) Clau Clé Chave Chiave Clié Ciav/Ciau Ciav
Language Lingua Llengua Langue Lingua Lingua Langue Lengua Lenga
Man Homo (acc. Hominem) Home Homme Home Uomo Houmme Omm Òmo / Òm
Moon Luna Lluna Lune Lúa Luna Leune Luna Lun-a
English Latin Catalan French Galician Italian Norman Jèrriais Lombard (literary Milanese) Piedmontese (West-Piedmont)
Night Nox (acc. Noctem) Nit Nuit Noite Notte Niet Nocc/Nott Neuit
Old Senex (adj. Vetus) Vell Vieux[9] Vello[10] Vecchio Vyi Vegg Vej
One Unus Un Un Un Uno Ieune Vun Un
Pear Pirum Pera Poire Pera Pera Paithe Pera Pruss
Play Ludo; Jocare (to joke) Jugar Jouer Xogar Giocare Jouer Giogà/Giugà Gieughe/Giughé
Ring Anellus Anell Anneau Anel Anello Anné / Bague Anèl Anel
River Flumen; Rivus (small river) Riu Rivière / Fleuve Río[11] Fiume Riviéthe Riva/Riu Fium / Ri
Sew Consuo Cosir Coudre Coser Cucire Couôtre Cusì Cuse / Cusì
Snow Nix (acc. Nivem) Neu Neige Neve Neve Nev/Fiòca Fiòca
Take Capio; Prehendere (to catch) Agafar / Prendre Prendre Prender[12] Prendere Prendre Ciapà Pijé
That Ille (Eccu + Ille)[13] Aquell Quel Aquel Quello Chu Quell Col
The -; Ille/Illa/Illud,
(acc. Illum/Illam/Illud,
Balearic: es/sa/so
lé/la el/la
Throw Jacio; Lanceo, -are (to throw a weapon); Adtirare Llençar Lancer / Tirer Lanzar / Guindar Lanciare Pitchi Trà[15] Tiré/Campé
Thursday dies Jovis Dijous Jeudi Xoves Giovedì Jeudi Gioedì Giòbia
Tree Arbor Arbre Arbre Árbore Albero Bouais Pianta[16]/Albor Pianta / Erbo
Two Duo / Duae Dos / Dues Deux Dous / Dúas Due Deux Duu / Doo Doi / Doe
Urn Urna Urna Urne Urna Urna Vas Urna
Voice Vox (acc. Vocem) Veu Voix Voz Voce Vouaix Vôs Vos
Where Ubi (in-), Unde (from-), Quo (to-) On Onde / U Dove Ioù / Où'est Ndoe Andoa / Anté
White Albus (Germ. Blank) Blanc Blanc Branco Bianco Blianc Bianch Bianch
Who Quis/Quæ (acc. Quem/Quam) Qui Qui Quen Chi Tchi Chi Chi
World Mundus Món Monde Mundo Mondo Monde Mond/Mund Mond
Yellow Flavus (also meaning "reddish"); Galbus; Amarellus Groc Jaune Amarelo Giallo Jaune Giald Giàun
English Latin Catalan French Galician Italian Norman Jèrriais Lombard (literary Milanese) Piedmontese (West-Piedmont)
English Latin Occitan Portuguese Romanian Romansh Sardinian Sicilian Spanish
Apple [Mattiana] Mala; Pomum (fruit) Poma Maçã Măr Mail Mela Pumu Manzana / Poma
Arm Bracchium Braç Braço BraTemplate:Unicode Bratsch Bratzu Vrazzu Brazo
Arrow Sagitta (Frankish Fleuka) Sageta / Flècha Seta / Flecha Săgeată Frizza Fretza Fileccia Flecha / Saeta
Bed Lectus; Camba (for sleeping) Lièch (lièit) Cama, Leito Pat[17] Letg Lettu Lettu Cama / Lecho
Black Nigrum Negre Preto[18] / Negro Negru Nair Nieddu / Nigru Nìguru / Nìuru Negro / Prieto
Book Liber (acc. Librum) Libre Livro Carte[19] Cudesch Libru / Lìburu Libbru Libro
Breast Pectus Pièch (pièit) Peito Piept Pèz Pettus Pettu Pecho
Cat Feles; Cattus[20] Cat (gat, chat (kat, khat, cat)) Gato Pisică[21] Giat Gattu / Battu Gattu / Jattu Gato
Chair Sella (Greek Kathedra, seat) Cadièra (chadiera, chadèira) Cadeira[22] Scaun[23] Sutga Cadira / Cadrea Seggia Silla
Cold Frigus (adj. Frigidus) Freg (freid, hred) Frio Frig Fraid Friu Friddu Frío
Cow Vacca Vaca (vacha) Vaca Vacă Vatga Bacca Vacca Vaca
Day Dies (adj. Diurnus) Jorn / Dia Dia Zi Di Die Jornu Día
Dead Mortuus Mòrt Morto Mort Mort Mortu / Mottu Mortu Muerto
Die Morior Morir Morrer (a) Muri Murir Morrer Muriri / Mòriri Morir
Family Familia Familha Família Familie[24] Famiglia Famìlia Famigghia Familia
Finger Digitus Det Dedo Deget Det Didu Jìditu Dedo
Flower Flos (acc. Florem) Flor Flor Floare Flur Frore (S)Ciuri / Hjuri Flor
Give Dono, -are;
Donar / Dar Doar[25] / Dar (a) Da Dar Dare Dari / Dunari Donar[25] / Dar
Go Eo, -ire; Ambulare (to take a walk) Anar Ir / Andar[26] (a) Umbla / (a) Merge[27] Ir Andare Jiri Ir / Andar[26]
Gold Aurum Aur Ouro, Oiro Aur Aur Oru Oru Oro
Hand Manus Man Mão Mână Maun Manu Manu Mano
High Altus Aut / Naut Alto[28] Înalt Aut Artu / Attu Àutu Alto
House Domus; Casa (hut) Ostal (ostau) / Maison / Casa Casa Casă Chasa Domu Casa Casa
I Ego Ieu / Jo Eu Eu Jau Deu Iu / Jo / Ju / Eu / Jia Yo
Ink Atramentum; Tincta (dye) Tencha (tinta) / Encra Tinta Cerneală[29] Tinta Tinta Inga[30] Tinta
January Januarius Genièr (girvèir) Janeiro Ianuarie Schaner Ghennarzu / Bennarzu Jinnaru Enero
Juice Sucus Suc Suco / Sumo Suc Suc Sutzu Sucu Jugo / Zumo
Key Clavis (acc. Clavem) Clau Chave Cheie Clav Crae Chiavi / Ciavi Llave
Language Lingua Lenga Língua Limbă Lingua Lingua Lingua Lengua
Man Homo (acc. Hominem) Òme Homem[31] Om Um Homine Omu / Òminu Hombre
Moon Luna Luna (lua) Lua Lună Glina Luna Luna Luna
English Latin Occitan Portuguese Romanian Romansh Sardinian Sicilian Spanish
Night Nox (acc. Noctem) Nuèch (nuèit) Noite Noapte Notg Notte Notti Noche
Old Senex (adj. Vetus) Vièlh Velho[10] Vechi[32] / Bătrân[33] Vegl Betzu / Sèneghe / Vedústus[34] Vecchiu / Vecciu Viejo
One Unus Un Um Unu In Unu Unu Un / Uno
Pear Pirum Pera Pêra Pară Pair Pira Piru Pera
Play Ludo; Jocare (to joke) Jogar (jugar, joar) Jogar (a se) Juca Giugar Zogare Jucari Jugar
Ring Anellus Anèl (anèth, anèu) Anel Inel Anè Aneddu Aneddu Anillo
River Flumen; Rivus (small river) Riu / Flume Rio[11] Râu[35]/ Rîu[36] Flum Riu / Frùmine (S)Ciumi / Hjumi Río
Sew Consuo Cóser Coser (a) Coase Cuser Cosire Cùsiri Coser
Snow Nix (acc. Nivem) Nèu Neve Nea / Zăpadă[37] Naiv Nie Nivi Nieve
Take Capio; Prehendere (to catch) Prene / Pilhar[38] Prender[12] / Pegar / Levar[39]/ Tomar (a) Lua[39] Prender Pigare[40] Pigghiari[38] Tomar / Prender[12] / Llevar[39]
That Ille (Eccu + Ille)[13] Aquel (aqueth, aqueu) Aquele Acel/Acela Quel Kudhu / Kussu[41] Chiddu / Chissu[41] Aquél
The -; Ille/Illa/Illud,
(acc. Illum/Illam/Illud,
los/las (lei[s], lu/li)
sos/sas (is)[14]
lu ('u) / la ('a)
li ('i)
Throw Jacio; Lanceo, -are (to throw a weapon); Adtirare Lançar Lançar / Atirar / Deitar (a) Arunca[42] Trair Ghettare / Bettare Lanzari / Jittari Lanzar / Tirar / Echar
Thursday dies Jovis Dijòus (dijaus) Quinta-feira[43] Joi Gievgia Zobia Jovi / Juvidìa Jueves
Tree Arbor Arbre (aubre) Árvore Arbore / Pom[44]/ Copac[45] Planta Àrvore Àrvuru Árbol
Two Duo / Duae Dos / Doas (dus, duas) Dois[46] / Duas Doi Dua Duos, Duas Dui Dos
Urn Urna Urna Urna Urnă Urna Urna Urna Urna
Voice Vox (acc. Vocem) Votz Voz Voce, Glas[47] Vusch Boghe Vuci Voz
Where Ubi (in-), Unde (from-), Quo (to-) Ont (dont) Onde[48] Unde Nua Ue/Aundi Unni Donde[49]
White Albus (Germ. Blank) Blanc Branco[50] Alb Alv Àbru Biancu / Vrancu / Jancu Blanco
Who Quis/Quæ (acc. Quem/Quam) Qual (quau), Qui, Cu Quem Cine Tgi Kini/Ki/Chie Cui (cu') Quien
World Mundus Mond Mundo Lume[51] Mund Mundu Munnu Mundo
Yellow Flavus (also meaning "reddish"); Galbus; Amarellus Jaune Amarelo Galben Mellen Grogu Giarnu[52] Amarillo
English Latin Occitan Portuguese Romanian Romansh Sardinian Sicilian Spanish



See also

Template:Romance languages Template:Latin Europe

External links

Template:Link FA

af:Romaanse tale als:Romanische Sprachen ar:لغات رومانسية an:Luengas romanzes frp:Lengoues romanes ast:Llingües romániques az:Roman qrupu bn:রোমান্স ভাষাসমূহ zh-min-nan:Romance gí-giân be-x-old:Раманскія мовы bs:Romanski jezici bg:Романски езици ca:Llengües romàniques cs:Románské jazyky co:Lingue rumaniche cy:Ieithoedd Romáwns da:Romanske sprog de:Romanische Sprachen et:Romaani keeled el:Ρομανικές γλώσσες es:Lenguas romances eo:Latinida lingvo eu:Erromantze hizkuntzak fa:زبان‌های رومی fr:Langues romanes fur:Lenghis romanzis gv:Çhengaghyn romanagh gl:Linguas románicas ko:로망스어군 hsb:Romaniske rěče hr:Romanski jezici io:Latinida linguo id:Bahasa Roman ia:Linguas romanic is:Rómönsk tungumál it:Lingue romanze he:שפות רומאניות kw:Romanek sw:Lugha za Kirumi ht:Lang roman ku:Zimanên romanî la:Linguae Romanicae lt:Romanų kalbos li:Roemaanse tale lmo:Lenguf rumaanz hu:Újlatin nyelvek mk:Романски јазици mt:Lingwi Romanici ms:Bahasa-bahasa Romawi nl:Romaanse talen ja:ロマンス諸語 no:Romanske språk nn:Romanske språk nrm:Laungue romanne nov:Latinidi lingues pms:Lenghe romanze pl:Języki romańskie pt:Línguas românicas ro:Limbi romanice rmy:Romanikane chhiba rm:Linguas romanas ru:Романские языки se:Románalaš gielat sc:Limbas romanzas sco:Romance leids scn:Lingui rumanzi simple:Romance languages sk:Románske jazyky sl:Romanski jeziki sr:Романски језици sh:Romanski jezici fi:Romaaniset kielet sv:Romanska språk ta:ரோமானிய மொழிகள் vi:Nhóm ngôn ngữ Rôman tr:Roman Dilleri uk:Романські мови wa:Lingaedjes romans zh-yue:羅曼語族 zh:罗曼语族

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