Gallo-Romance languages

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France, Northern Italy, San Marino, Monaco, Channel Islands, parts of Belgium and Switzerland
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
Glottolog: nort3208[1]
Historical area of development for strict Gallo-Romance (Oïl languages and Arpitan).

The Gallo-Romance branch of the Romance languages includes French and the languages of northern Italy.[2][3][4] Based on mutual intelligibility, David Dalby counts seven languages: Gallo-Wallon, French, Franco-Provençal (Arpitan), Romansh, Ladin, Friulian, and Lombard.[5] However, other definitions are far broader, variously encompassing the Rhaeto-Romance languages, Occitano-Romance languages, and Gallo-Italic languages.


The Gallo-Romance group includes:

Other language families which are sometimes included in the Gallo-Romance:

Traditional geographical extension[edit]

The approximate extent of the Gallo-Romance languages as natively spoken in Europe (according to the broadest definition of the term).

How far the Gallo-Romance languages spread varies a great deal depending on which languages are included in the group. Those included in its narrowest definition (i.e. the Langues d'oïl and Arpitan), were historically spoken in the north of France, parts of Flanders, Alsace and part of Lorraine; the Wallonia region of Belgium, the Channel Islands, parts of Switzerland, and northern Italy.

Today, a single Gallo-Romance language (French) dominates much of this geographic region (including the formerly non-Romance areas of France), and has also spread overseas.

At its broadest, the area also encompasses southern France, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic islands in eastern Spain, and much of northern Italy.

General characteristics[edit]

The Gallo-Romance languages are generally considered the most innovative (least conservative) among the Romance languages. Northern France—the medieval area of the langue d'oïl, out of which modern French developed—was the epicenter. Characteristic Gallo-Romance features generally developed earliest and appear in their most extreme manifestation in the langue d'oïl, gradually spreading out from there along riverways and transalpine roads. It is not coincidental that the earliest vernacular Romance writing occurred in Northern France: Generally, the development of vernacular writing in a given area was forced by the almost total inability of Romance speakers to understand the Classical Latin that still served as the vehicle of writing and culture.

Gallo-Romance languages as a whole are usually characterized by the loss of all unstressed final vowels other than /-a/ (most significantly, final /-o/ and /-e/ were lost). However, when the loss of a final vowel would result in an impossible final cluster (e.g. /tr/), a prop vowel appears in place of the lost vowel, usually /e/. Generally, the same changes also occurred in final syllables closed by a consonant.

Furthermore, loss of /e/ in a final syllable was early enough in Primitive Old French that the Classical Latin third-singular /t/ was often preserved, e.g. venit "he comes" > /ˈvɛːnet/ (Romance vowel changes) > /ˈvjɛnet/ (diphthongization) > /ˈvjɛned/ (lenition) > /ˈvjɛnd/ (Gallo-Romance final vowel loss) > /ˈvjɛnt/ (final devoicing). Elsewhere, final vowel loss occurred later or unprotected /t/ was lost earlier (perhaps under Italian influence).

Other than southern Occitano-Romance, the Gallo-Romance languages are quite innovatory, with French and some of the Gallo-Italian languages rivaling each other for the most extreme phonological changes compared with conservative languages. For example, French sain, saint, sein, ceint, ceint meaning "healthy, holy, breast, (he) girds, (was) girded" (Latin sānum, sanctum, sinum, cinget, cinctum) are all pronounced /sɛ̃/; similarly cent, sent, sans, sang meaning "hundred, (he) feels, without, blood" (Latin centum, sentit, (ab)sentis, sanguen) are all pronounced /sɑ̃/.

In some ways, however, the Gallo-Romance languages are conservative. The older stages of many of the languages are famous for preserving a two-case system consisting of nominative and oblique, fully marked on nouns, adjectives and determiners, inherited almost directly from the Latin nominative and accusative cases and preserving a number of different declensional classes and irregular forms.

In the opposite of the normal pattern, the languages closest to the oïl epicenter preserve the case system the best, while languages at the periphery—near to languages that had long before lost the case system except on pronouns—lose it early. For example, the case system is well preserved in Old Occitan up through the thirteenth century or so but is totally lost in Old Catalan at the time, despite otherwise being virtually the same language at the time.

The Occitan group is known for an innovatory /ɡ/ ending on many subjunctive and preterite verbs, and an unusual development of [ð] (Latin intervocalic -d-), which in many varieties merges with [dz] (from intervocalic palatalized -c- and -ty-).

The following tables show two examples of the extensive phonological changes that French has undergone. (Compare modern Italian saputo, vita, even more conservative than the reconstructed Western Romance forms.)

Extensive reduction in French: sapūtum > su /sy/ "known"
Language Change Form Pronun.
Vulgar Latin saˈpūtum /saˈpuːtũː/
Western Romance vowel changes,
first lenition
Gallo-Romance loss of final vowels /saˈbuːd/
second lenition /saˈvuːð/
pre-French final devoicing,
loss of length
loss of /v/ near
rounded vowel
early Old French fronting of /u/ seüṭ /səˈyθ/
Old French loss of dental fricatives seü /səˈy/
French collapse of hiatus su /sy/
Extensive reduction in French: vītam > vie /vi/ "life"
Language Change Form Pronun.
Vulgar Latin vītam /ˈviːtãː/
Western Romance vowel changes,
first lenition
early Old French second lenition,
loss of length,
final /a/ to /ə/
viḍe /ˈviðə/
Old French loss of dental fricatives vie /ˈviə/
French loss of final schwa vie /vi/

Notable characteristics of the Gallo-Romance languages are:

  • Early loss of all final vowels other than /a/—the defining characteristic, as noted above.
  • Further reductions of final vowels in Langue d'oïl and many Gallo-Italic languages, with the feminine /a/ and prop vowel /e/ merging into /ə/, which is often subsequently dropped.
  • Early, heavy reduction of unstressed vowels in the interior of a word (another defining characteristic). This, along with final vowel reduction, accounts for the lion's share of the extreme phonemic differences between the Northern and Central Italian dialects, which otherwise share a great deal of vocabulary and syntax.
  • Loss of final vowels phonemicized the long vowels that formerly were automatic concomitants of stressed open syllables. These phonemic long vowels are maintained directly in many Northern Italian dialects. Elsewhere, phonemic length was lost, but in the meantime many of the long vowels diphthongized, resulting in a maintenance of the original distinction. The langue d'oïl branch is again at the forefront of innovation, with no less than five of the seven long vowels diphthongizing (only high vowels were spared).
  • Front rounded vowels are present in all four branches. /u/ usually fronts to /y/, and secondary mid front rounded vowels often develop from long /oː/ or /ɔː/.
  • Extreme lenition (i.e. multiple rounds of lenition) occurs in many languages esp. in Langue d'oïl and many Gallo-Italian languages. Examples from French: ˈvītam > vie /vi/ "life"; *saˈpūtum > su /sy/ "known"; similarly vu /vy/ "seen" < *vidūtum, pu /py/ "been able" < *potūtum, eu /y/ "had" < *habūtum.
  • The Langue d'oïl, Swiss Rhaeto-Romance languages and many of the northern dialects of Occitan have a secondary palatalization of /k/ and /ɡ/ before /a/, producing different results from the primary Romance palatalization: e.g. centum "hundred" > cent /sɑ̃/, cantum "song" > chant /ʃɑ̃/.
  • Other than the Occitano-Romance languages, most Gallo-Romance languages are subject-obligatory (whereas all the rest of the Romance languages are pro-drop languages). This is a late development triggered by progressive phonetic erosion: Old French was still a null-subject language, and this only changed upon loss of secondarily final consonants in Middle French.

The Gallo-Italian and Italian Rhaeto-Romance languages have a number of features in common with the other Italian languages:

  • Loss of final /s/, which triggers raising of the preceding vowel (more properly, the /s/ "debuccalizes" to /j/, which is monophthongized into a higher vowel), e.g. /-as/ > /-e/, /-es/ > /-i/, hence Standard Italian plural cani < canes, subjunctive tu canti < tu cantes, indicative tu cante < tu cantas (now tu canti in Standard Italian, borrowed from the subjunctive); amiche "female friends" < amicas. Note the palatalization in masculine amici /aˈmitʃi/ but lack of palatalization in amiche /aˈmike/; this proves that feminine -e cannot come from Latin ae, which became /ɛː/ by the first-century AD and would certainly have triggered palatalization.
  • Use of nominative -i for masculine plurals instead of accusative -os.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northwestern Shifted Romance". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Charles Camproux, Les langues romanes, PUF 1974. p. 77–78.
  3. ^ Pierre Bec, La langue occitane, éditions PUF, Paris, 1963. p. 49–50.
  4. ^ G.B. Pellegrini, "Il cisalpino ed il retoromanzo, 1993". See also "The Dialects of Italy, edited by Maiden & Parry, 1997
  5. ^ David Dalby, 1999/2000, The Linguasphere register of the world’s languages and speech communities. Observatoire Linguistique, Linguasphere Press. Volume 2. Oxford.[1]