African Romance

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
African Romance
Region North Africa
Extinct Middle Ages
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist list
Glottolog None

African Romance or African Latin is an extinct Romance language that is supposed to have been spoken in the Roman province of Africa during the later Roman and early Byzantine Empires, prior to the annexation of the region by the Umayyad Caliphate in 696. Little or nothing is known about this language, as African Roman texts and inscriptions were written exclusively in Classical Latin, but it is presumed that African Romance evolved from Latin as it was spoken in North Africa and was subsequently supplanted by Arabic after the Muslim conquest.


Map where can be seen in black the coast of Maghreb where existed a disappeared neolatin language

The Roman province of Africa was organized in 146 BCE following the defeat of Carthage in the Third Punic War. Carthage, destroyed following the war, was rebuilt in the dictatorship of Julius Caesar as a Roman colony. In the time of the Roman Empire, the province had become populous and prosperous, and Carthage was the second-largest Latin-speaking city in the Empire. Latin was, however, largely an urban and coastal speech; Carthaginian Punic continued to be spoken in inland and rural areas as late as the mid-5th century. It is probable that Berber languages were spoken in some areas as well.

Africa was occupied by the Germanic Vandal tribe for over a century, between 429 and 534, when the province was reconquered by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The changes that occurred in spoken Latin during that time are unknown; literary Latin, however, was maintained at a high standard, as seen in the Latin poetry of the African writer Corippus.

The fortunes of African Latin following the Arab conquest in 696 are difficult to trace, though it was soon replaced by Arabic as the primary administrative language. Presumably it continued to be used for some centuries under Arab rule, just as Coptic continued to be spoken in Egypt, and presumably it developed over time into a Romance language, just like the spoken Latin of Italy, Spain, Gaul, and the Balkans. It is also possible that Latin in Africa was already in sharp decline, due to the growing presence of the Berbers in the urban regions and to the Vandalic persecution of native Latin speakers.

The Andalusi Romance, wrongly called Mozarabic language, developed in al-Andalus, the Muslim part of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages, also called Moorish Spain, and is different from modern Spanish, but whether Andalusi Romance shared features with African Latin is still a research issue.

Anyway, evidence shows that a community of Latinized Berbers survived in different places of north-western Africa, speaking a "local Latin" language and practising Christianity until the year 1000. is from this end of the tenth century that we hear that Christians are abandoning even the local form of Latin, and as in the Middle East, are using Arabic to communicate.


Indeed, the Normans when conquering their African kingdom in the 12th century received help from the remaining Christian populations of Tunisia, and some historians like Vermondo Brugnatelli argue that those Christians still spoke a Romance language. The language may have existed until the arrival of the Banu Hilal Arabs and probably until the beginning of the fourteenth century, according to scholar Merrills and others.[2]

Christian communities, generally labelled Afariqa or Ajam in the Arab sources and speaking a latin dialect ("al-li-san al-latini al-Afariq" as is termed by al-Idrisi) are known to have survived until the fourteenth century. Alan Rushworth

Furthermore the 12th-century Maghrebi geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi who, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, noted that "its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue (al-latini al-afriqi)."[3]

Related languages[edit]

Muhammad al-Idrisi gives us a single but very important news: writing on Sardinia in his work (Recreation of the desirer in the account of cities, regions, countries, islands, towns, and distant lands) defines its inhabitants: "The Sardinians are ethnic Rûm 'Afàriqah (Latins of Africa), live like the Berbers, shun any other nation of Rûm; this people is courageous and valiant, that never leaves the arms." [4][5]

Saint'Agostine also states that "African ears have no quick perception of the shortness or length of (latin) vowels".[6] And that has been the evolution of vowels in Sardinian language that has the only five Latin vowels (and no diphthong), in which conjoined the corresponding long and short vowels of classical Latin.

Other Romance languages spoken in North Africa before the European colonization were the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, a pidgin with Arabic and Romance influences, and Ladino, a dialect of Spanish brought by Sephardic Jews.


No details on the characteristics of this language have been preserved. Nevertheless, the Italian linguist Vermondo Brugnatelli pinpoints some Berber words, relating to religious topics, as being loan words from Latin: for example, in Ghadames they call "äng'alus" a spiritual entity, clearly using a word from the Latin "angelus" (angel).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The last Christians of North-west Africa
  2. ^ Vandal, Romans and Berbers. p.94
  3. ^ Gafsa and the African neolatin language
  4. ^ Original text: وأهل جزيرة سرادنية في الأصل روم أفارقة متبربرون ومتوحشون من أجناس الروم وهم أهل نجدة وحزم لا يفارقون السلاح.
  5. ^ Contu Giuseppe, Sardinia in Arabic sources, Annali della Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere dell'Università di Sassari, Vol. 3 (2003 pubbl. 2005), p. 287-297. ISSN 1828-5384. ,
  6. ^ "Afrae aures de correptione vocalium vel production non iudicant". De doctrina christiana, Lib.IV, C.10


  • Vermondo Brugnatelli, "I prestiti latini in berbero: un bilancio", in: M. Lamberti, L. Tonelli (eds.), Afroasiatica Tergestina. Papers from the 9th Italian Meeting of Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) Linguistics, Trieste, April 23–24, 1998, Padova, Unipress, 1999, pp. 325–332
  • Franco Fanciullo, "Un capitolo della Romania submersa: il latino africano", in: D. Kremer (ed.), Actes du XVIIIe Congrès International de Linguistique et de Philologie Romane - Universitè de Trèves (Trier) 1986, tome I, Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1992,162-187 pp.
  • Tadeusz Lewicki, "Une langue romane oubliée de l'Afrique du Nord. Observations d'un arabisant", Rocznik Orient. XVII (1958), pp. 415–480
  • Hugo Schuchardt, Die romanischen Lehnwörter im Berberischen, Wien 1918 (82 pp.)