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.
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 the Vandalic conquest that resulted in the persecution of native Latin speakers. The Mozarabic language developed in Moorish Spain, and is different from modern Spanish, but whether Mozarabic shared features with African Latin is likewise unknown.
The 12th century Moroccan 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)."
Indeed, the Normans when conquering their Tunisian 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 end of the thirteenth century.
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).
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.
- 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.)