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African Romance or African Latin is an extinct Romance language that is supposed to have been spoken in the Roman province of Africa by the Roman Africans during the later Roman and early Byzantine Empires and several centuries after 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.
What happened to African Romance following the Arab conquest in 696 is difficult to trace, though it was soon replaced by Arabic as the primary administrative language. At the time of the conquest a Romance language was probably spoken in the cities and Berber languages were also spoken in the region. Loanwords from North African Romance to Berber are attested and are usually in the accusative form: examples include atmun ("plough-beam") from temonem. It is unclear for how long Romance continued to be spoken, but its influence on North African Arabic (particularly in the language of northwestern Morocco) indicates it must have had a significant presence in the early years after the Arab conquest.
The Normans, when they were acquiring their African kingdom in the 12th century, received help from the remaining Christian populations of Tunisia, and some historians such as 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 Andrew H. Merrills and others.Furthermore, the 12th-century Maghrebi geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, noted that "its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue (al-lisān al-laṭīnī al-ifrīqī)." According to one author,
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, Vandals, Romans and Berbers
Muhammad al-Idrisi gives us a single but very important datum: writing on the island of 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 Romans from Africa, live like the Berbers, shun any other nation of Rûm; these people are courageous and valiant, that never part with their weapons." ("Wa ahl Ğazīrat Sardāniya fī aṣl Rūm Afāriqa mutabarbirūn mutawaḥḥišūn min ağnās ar-Rūm wa hum ahl nağida wa hazm lā yufariqūn as-silāḥ.")
Augustine of Hippo states, Afrae aures de correptione vocalium vel productione non iudicant: "African ears have no quick perception of the shortness or length of (Latin) vowels." That describes the evolution of vowels in the Sardinian language, which has only five vowels (and no diphthongs): unlike some other surviving Romance languages, the five long and short vowel pairs of classical Latin (a/ā, e/ē, i/ī, o/ō, u/ū) have merged into five single vowels with no length distinction (a, e, i, o, u).
Other Romance languages spoken in North Africa before the European colonization were the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, a pidgin with Arabic and Romance influences, and Judaeo-Spanish, a dialect of Spanish brought by Sephardi Jews.
The Italian linguist Vermondo Brugnatelli pinpoints some Berber words, relating to religious topics, as being originally words from Latin: for example, in Ghadames the word "äng'alus" (ⴰⵏⵖⴰⵍⵓⵙ, أنغلس) refers to a spiritual entity, clearly using a word from the Latin angelus "angel".
The Polish Arabist T. Lewicki (1958) tried to reconstruct some sections of this language based on 85 lemmas mainly derived from North African toponyms and anthroponyms found in medieval sources. According to him, several other authors adventured themselves to discover be it some parts of this extinct language.
Due to the historical presence in North Africa of Classical Latin, modern Romance languages, as well as the influence of the Mediterranean Lingua Franca (that has Romance vocabulary) makes it very difficult to differentiate the precise origin of words in Berber languages and in the varieties of Maghrebi Arabic.
Generally speaking, words originally from African Romance are:
- The words ending with -u (for example, the Berber abekkadu "sin") and not -us (as in the Berber asnus "(young) donkey");
- The words having a phonological or morphological aspect different from that of Italian, French or Spanish (for instance the Berber word agursel "mushroom", supposing the base *AGARICELLUS).[clarification needed]
The studies concerning the African Romance are difficult and often highly conjectural. Another difficulty comes from that, considering the immensity of the North-African territory, it is highly probable that not one but several varieties of African Romance existed, much like the wide variety of Romance languages in Europe.
Because there are doublets of North African Romance words, in many cases one can assume that they come from different Romance languages or that they originate from different periods. See for example:
- The berber of central Morocco ayugu "labor ox", Kabylia tayuga "a pair of oxen" (from Latin iugum, meaning 'a yoke, a team of oxen')
- But also: kabyle azaglu "yoke" (from Latin iugulum, meaning 'collarbone')
- Kabyle aguglu "fresh curd"
- Mediterranean Lingua Franca
- United States of Latin Africa
- British Latin
- Moselle Romance
- Pannonian Romance
- Algerian Arabic
- Tunisian Arabic
- Maltese language
- Martin Haspelmath; Uri Tadmor (22 December 2009). Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook. Walter de Gruyter. p. 195. ISBN 978-3-11-021844-2.
- Vandals, Romans and Berbers. p.94
- Gafsa and the African neolatin language
- 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. , http://eprints.uniss.it/1055/
- De doctrina christiana, Lib.IV, C.10
- Franco Fanciullo, Un capitolo della Romania submersa: il latino africano, pp. 162-187.
- 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.)