Rhaeto-Romance languages

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Italy, Switzerland
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
Glottolog: None

Rhaeto-Romance, or Rhaetian, is a traditional subfamily of the Romance languages that is spoken in north and north-eastern Italy and in Switzerland. The name "Rhaeto-Romance" refers to the former Roman province of Rhaetia. The linguistic basis of the subfamily is discussed in the so-called Questione Ladina.


The area where Rhaeto-Romance languages (also called Ladin languages in a wider sense, not to be confused with Judaeo-Spanish) were spoken during the Middle Ages stretched from Switzerland to the Julian Alps (in modern-day western Slovenia).

The Rhaeto-Romance languages can be distinguished into the following varieties:[1]

A phylogenetic classification[2] using basic lexicon identifies a primary split between Romansh in Switzerland and Ladin in Italy. One secondary split distinguishes Engadinic from the other Romansh varieties in Switzerland. In Italy, another secondary split is evidently caused by the Dolomite mountain range that divides Ladin into a northern and a southern subbranch, with Friulian being grouped closest to the southern branch.

In this study, the divergence of the Rhaeto-Romance languages from their reconstructed lexical ancestor is about 7% on average. This would correspond to a time depth of about 500 years if the glottochronological replacement rate of 14% per millennium for Romance were trustworthy. However, the earliest available Romance text from the Alpine area is somewhat older and dates to AD1200.[3]

Related languages[edit]

The family is most closely related to its nearest neighbors: French, Franco-Provençal, Occitan, Gallo-Italian (Piedmontese, Ligurian, Lombard, Emiliano-Romagnolo), Venetian and Istriot. A number of lexical items are shared with Ibero-Romance due to the similar date of Latinization for both regions, although it can also be explained by means of Bartoli's areal linguistics theory, being Ibero-Romance a lateral area, as it is Balkano-Romance, Southern-Italian and Rhaeto-Romance, whereas Gallo-Romance and Italo-Romance are central area.


Before the Roman conquest, the Alps were Celtic-speaking in the north and Rhaetian-speaking in the south.[citation needed] The area was incorporated into the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus. The Rhaeto-Romance languages originated as a dialect of the provincial Latin of the central Alps.[citation needed] By the end of the Roman Empire, there was an unbroken region of distinctive Romance speech here,[citation needed] which was gradually fragmented into secluded areas in the high valleys by the encroachment of German dialects from the north and of Gallo-Italic languages from the south.


Rhaeto-Romance is distinguished by a number of features that distinguish it from its neighbors, some of which it shares with French:

  • diphthongization of Vulgar Latin open e into ei, closed e into ie
    • Latin pede → Rom. (Surselvan) pei "foot", Lad pl. piesc "feet"
    • Latin festa → Rom. (Surselvan) fiasta, Friul fieste "party, feast"
  • occasional change of stressed a to e, particularly after a palatalized velar
  • fronting of long ū in all stages uiü [y] → i
    • Latin plūs "more" → Friul plui : Lad plü, Rom (Engadine) plü : Rom (other dialects) pli
  • loss of final vowels except -a, which often weakens to -e (in Friulian there is also a feminine plural in -is)
    • Rom. saira, Lad sëra, Friul sere "evening"
    • Rom. festa, Lad festa, Friul fieste "party"
  • general palatalization of the ca and ga groups
    • Lad ciampana [tʃampana], Friul čhampane "bell" [tʃampane]
  • preserved cl-, pl-, fl-; preserved Germanic w
    • Latin clāvem → Rom clav/clev, Lad (Fascian, Fodom) kle(f), Friul clâf "key"
    • Lat plēbs → Rom plaiv "parish", Lad plief "parish", Friul plêf "parish church"
    • Lat flātus → Rom flad, Lad fle, fla, Friul flât "breath"
    • Gothic werra → Rom (Surselvan) uiara, (Sutselvan) veara, Lad vera, Friul vuere "war"
  • preserved final -s leading to a single case based on an obsolete oblique that combined different endings from non-nominative cases; formerly a double case system.
    • Rom sunàis, Friul "sunàis" "you ring" [2nd person singular] (< sonās)
    • Rom culinis, Friul "culinis" "hills" (< *collinīs, dative)
    • Rom bels ölgs "beautiful eyes" (< *bellos oculos, accusative)


English Surselvan Sutselvan Surmeiran Puter Vallader Rumantsch Grischun Friulian Ladin (Gherdëina) Latin Italian Romanian Aromanian French
gold aur or or or or, aur, ar aur aur or aurum oro aur auru or
hard dir dir deir dür dür dir dûr rie durus duro dur duru dur
eye egl îl îgl ögl ögl egl voli uedl oculus (oclus) occhio ochi ocliu oeil
light, easy lev leav lev liger leiv lev lizêr lesier levis lieve/leggero lejer ledzeru léger
three treis tres treis trais trais trais trê trei tres tre trei trei trois
snow neiv nev neiv naiv naiv naiv nêf nëif nix (acc.: nivem) neve nea neauo neige
wheel roda roda roda rouda rouda roda ruede roda rota ruota roată ruatã roue
cheese caschiel caschiel caschiel chaschöl chaschöl chaschiel formadi ciajuel caseolus (formaticus) formaggio caş cashu fromage
house casa tgeasa tgesa chesa chasa chasa cjase cësa casa casa casă casã (maison)
dog tgaun tgàn tgang chaun chan chaun cjan cian canis cane câine cãne chien
leg comba tgomba tgomma chamma chomma chomma gjambe giama gamba gamba gambă gambã jambe
chicken gaglina gagliegna gagligna gillina giallina giaglina gjaline gialina gallina gallina găină gãlinã (poulet)
cat gat giat giat giat giat giat gjat giat catus gatto pisică cãtushã chat
all tut tut tot tuot tuot tut dut dut totus tutto tot tutu tout
shape fuorma furma furma fuorma fuorma furma forme forma forma forma formă formã forme
I jeu jou ja eau eu jau jo ie ego (eo) io eu io je

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paul Videsott, Chiara Marcocci, Bibliografia retoromanza 1729-2010
  2. ^ Peter Forster, Alfred Toth, Hans-Jurgen Bandelt (1998) Evolutionary Network Analysis of Word Lists: Visualising the Relationships between Alpine Romance Languages. Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 5:174-187 [1]
  3. ^ T. Gartner (1910) Handbuch der ratoromanischen Sprache und Literatur. Halle, Niemeyer