12 Apr 2014

What living language is the closest to Latin?

Em Português

The Roman Empire conquered a large portion of Europe, they brought their language, Latin along with them. It was spoken throughout the empire but over the centuries, local, popular, nonstandard forms of Latin called 'Vulgar Latin' evolved into today's Romance languages. 
Image by KayYen

There are 5 major Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) and several minority Romance languages (such as Sardinian, Sicilian and Occitan). Romance languages are split into two groups, Western and Eastern. Western Romance languages include Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, while Romanian is an Eastern Romance language.  

There is a common belief that Romanian is the closest language to Latin, but Romanian is probably only the closest in grammar. Romanian preserved certain features of Vulgar Latin grammar that other Romance languages lost. For example, Romanian has three genders (Masculine, Feminine and Neuter) and kept all six Latin cases. 

But, the pronunciation and vocabulary is not as similar to Latin when compared to Italian or Spanish. This is because Romanian was influenced by the surrounding Slavic languages.

Image by Mario Sánchez Prada
According to Wikipedia, Sardinian is the closest living language to Latin in phonology. 
There are ten vowels in Latin; a,e,i,o,u (short) and a,e,i,o,u (long). In continental Romance languages the short vowels e,i,o and u evolved into different sounds while in Sardinian the short vowels evolved and pronounced as long vowels. This probably helped to retain the original pronunciation. 

Image by Piermario
According to Wikipedia, Italian is the closest living language to Latin in vocabulary. This is because other Romance languages were influenced by their native Germanic, Slavic or Celtic languages such but in Rome, Latin was their native language. 

Image by Gerald Queen
Sardinian is the least evolved Romance language because the island was isolated from the changes that continental Vulgar Latin went through. 

Romance Language 'Family Tree'
According to a study by Mario Pei, this is the percentage of difference between Romance languages and Latin:
Sardinian 8%,
Italian 12%, 
Spanish 20%,
Romanian 23.5%,
Occitan 25%,
Portuguese, 31%,
French 44%

So, the major Romance languages in order of closeness to Latin are Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese and French. 

Personally, I don't find it surprising that Italian is the closest because Latin originally came from Italy.

More information and resource list:

Vulgar Latin - Wikipedia
Romanian grammar - Wikipedia
Romance languages - Wikipedia


  1. Hey nice blog post, I was just wondering this and you gave a great answer.

    1. I don't trust this answer! I have seem several different answers to this questions. I speak portuguese (Native), Spanish, Italian, and French and the feeling I have is in fact that Italian is the closest language to latin but in the second place would be Portuguese followed by Spanish and French!

    2. Do you have evidence that Portuguese is closer to Latin than Spanish? I'd love to see some examples.

    3. I'd love to see this debate take place but it seems like someone isn't willing to gather enough evidence to counter act the challenge.

    4. Did Vulgar Latin (in the sense of a single language) ever exist? In some places we see languages which people say barely changed and in other places sudden rapid changes happened due to outside influences. Why assume there was a single vulgar Latin in the first place? In the case of Spain you had large numbers of Italian colonists whereas in France you had a large Celtic (and possibly some kind of Germanic speaking population) already there. The word Celtic is also misleading since speakers of pretty different languages all got put in the same category. I imagine French was always French kind of like Hinglish and Singlish have odd sounding accents because the speakers are coming from another language and bilingual. There is no vulgar English that later separated into different languages. What you have are different colonization events that occurred in different places at different times. Portugal was conquered about 200 years later than Spain which likely is a huge a reason for the dramatically different Portuguese accent.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. French, Romanian and Portuguese likely fall into this category. Spanish, Italian and Sardinian are probably about how Latin was spoken in daily conversation by the time of the colonization of Spain. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-03/hinglish-hindi-english-hybrid-language-popular-in-india/8158746

    7. You are all wrong. Spanish is the best. God made the best football players speak Spanish. This is evidence that Spanish is the best. Gods language.

  2. Entiendo that Italian es tre bien mas like latin.lol

  3. Entiendo that Italian es tre bien mas like latin.lol

  4. Replies
    1. Sorry about that, I only mentioned the major languages that I wanted to discuss in the post. I will make an updated version of the image with Catalan and Occitan in the future.

    2. I was also surprised that Catalan didn't appear here. There are about 7 million speakers -including me. I had read somewhere that Catalan is very close to Latin - not sure if that is vocabulary or grammar.

  5. catalan and occitan are romance languagges too -.-

    1. Catalan is a Gallo-Romance language and Occitan is part of the Occitano-Romance language group. In the image, I only included major languages I wanted to discuss in the post. I did include the percentage of difference between Occitan and Latin. I will make an updated version of the image to include Catalan and Occitan.

  6. Romanian has only 5 cases at most - while I would even go so far as to say that there are really only 3 cases since the nomenative and accusative have the same form, and the genetive and the dative also have the same form. So saying they have kept all 6 cases from laten is simply wrong.

    1. Yes Richard, in Romanian there are 5 cases, not 6. The nominative and accusative does not have the same form. The genitive and dative have the same form only on singular and only unarticulated. Well, it may look strange for a foreigner, but not to a romance speaker :)

  7. I, too, enjoyed your work. Thank you.

  8. The article is good and Mario Pei´s research results look trustworthy. Italian is by far the closest to Latin of major languages. And Frech is farthest to Latin of major languages. Mari Messias is simply wrong in this case.

  9. Nice article! Add Galacian while you're at it.

  10. Replies
    1. Yeah Romansh is the closest. Should have been on the list.

  11. Isnt English suppose to be 60% Latin based.(Dont know if that is factually based or theory)

  12. Dear friend ,
    Would you help me with letting me know the source of the Mario pei's research on the percentage of differences between Latin and It's daughters ?
    I relly need it for my dissertation .
    This is my Email Add : ohlife5382@gmail.com

  13. If there were only one Romance language, it would be called Modern Latin. Modern Irish seems, at first, second, and third glance, to bear little relationship to Old Latin but it's called Irish. (Gaeilge) I've heard people ask why Latin is not still spoken since Greek still is. If Greek had produced as many children as Latin did, we'd be referring to the many Hellenic languages as we do of the many ROmance languages.

    1. Good point. And don't forget English and other languages. Modern English is about as far from "Old English" as any of these modern romance languages are from Latin -- in both grammar and pronunciation, and decidedly in vocabulary. And, English has had less time to accomplish the feat.


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