La Spezia–Rimini Line

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Historically, the La Spezia–Rimini Line marked a series of isoglosses that distinguished Northern Italian speech from that of Tuscany, home of the standard Italian language.
Eastern and Western "Romania" (Romance-speaking Europe)

The La SpeziaRimini Line (also known as the MassaSenigallia Line), in the linguistics of the Romance languages, is a line that demarcates a number of important isoglosses that distinguish Romance languages south and east of the line from Romance languages north and west of it. The line runs through northern Italy, very roughly from the cities of La Spezia to Rimini. Romance languages on the eastern half of it include Italian and the Eastern Romance languages (Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, Istro-Romanian),[citation needed] whereas Spanish, French, Catalan, Portuguese as well as Gallo‒Italic languages are representatives of the Western group.[citation needed] (Sardinian does not fit into either Western or Eastern Romance.)[citation needed]

It has been suggested that the origin of these developments is to be found in the last decades of the Western Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom (c. 395–535 AD). During this period, the area of Italy north of the line was dominated by an increasingly Germanic Roman army of (Northern) Italy, followed by the Ostrogoths; whereas the Roman Senate and Papacy became the dominant social elements south of the line. As for the provinces outside Italy, the social influences in Gaul and Iberia were broadly similar to those in Northern Italy, whereas the Balkans were dominated by the Byzantine Empire at this time (and later, by Slavic peoples).[1]

Some linguists, however, say[2] that the line actually runs through Massa and Senigallia about 40 kilometres further to the south and would more accurately be called the Massa–Senigallia Line.

Generally speaking, the western Romance languages show common innovations that the eastern Romance languages tend to lack.[citation needed] The two isoglosses considered traditionally are:

  • formation of the plural form of nouns
  • the voicing or not of some consonants

To these should be added a third criterion, generally more decisive than the phenomenon of voicing:

  • preservation (below the line) or simplification (above the line) of Latin geminate consonants

Plural of nouns[edit]

North and west of the line (excluding all Northern Italian varieties) the plural of nouns was drawn from the Latin accusative case, and is marked with /s/ regardless of grammatical gender or declension. South and east of the line, the plurals of nouns are marked by changing the final vowel, either because these were taken from the Latin nominative case, or because the original /s/ changed into a vocalic sound (see the Romance plurals debate). Compare the plurals of cognate nouns in Aromanian, Romanian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, French, Sardinian and Latin:

Aromanian Romanian Italian Spanish Portuguese Catalan French Sardinian Latin (nom.) Latin (acc.) meaning
viață, viațe viață, vieți vita, vite vida, vidas vida, vides vie, vies bida, bidas vita, vitae vitam, vitās life, lives
lupu, lupi lup, lupi lupo, lupi lobo, lobos llop, llops loup, loups lupu, lupos/-us lupus, lupī lupum, lupōs wolf, wolves
omu, uamini om, oameni uomo, uomini hombre, hombres homem, homens home, homes/hòmens homme, hommes òmine/-i, òmines/-is homo, hominēs hominēm, hominēs man, men

Voicing and degemination of consonants[edit]

Another isogloss that falls on the La Spezia–Rimini Line deals with the restructured voicing of voiceless consonants, mainly Latin sounds /p/, /t/ and /k/, which occur between vowels. Thus, Latin catēna ('chain') becomes catena in Italian, but cadeia in Portuguese, cadena in Catalan and Spanish, cadéna/cadèina in Emilian, caéna/cadéna in Venetian and chaîne in French. Voicing, or further weakening, even to loss of these consonants is characteristic of the western branch of Romance; their retention is characteristic of eastern Romance.

However, the differentiation is not totally systematic, and there are exceptions that undermine the isogloss: Gascon dialects in south-west France and Aragonese in northern Aragon, Spain (geographically Western Romance) also retain the original Latin voiceless stop between vowels. The presence in Tuscany and elsewhere below the line of a small percentage but large number of voiced forms both in general vocabulary and in traditional toponyms also challenges its absolute integrity.

The criterion of preservation vs. simplification of Latin geminate consonants stands on firmer ground. The simplification illustrated by Spanish boca /boka/ 'mouth' vs. Tuscan bocca /bokka/, both continuations of Latin bucca, typifies all of Western Romance and is systematic for all geminates except /rr/ in some locales (e.g. Spanish carro and caro are still distinct), and to some degree for earlier /ll/ and /nn/ which, while not preserved as geminates, did not generally merge with their simplex correlates (e.g. /n/ > /n/ but /nn/ > /ɲ/ in Spanish, annus > /aɲo/ 'year'). Nevertheless, the La Spezia-Rimini line is real in this respect for most of the consonant inventory, although it should be noted that simplification of geminates to the east in Romania spoils the neat east-west division.

Indeed, the significance of the La Spezia–Rimini Line is often challenged by specialists within both Italian dialectology and Romance dialectology. One reason is that while it demarcates preservation (and expansion) of phonemic geminate consonants (Central and Southern Italy) from their simplification (in Northern Italy, Gaul, and Iberia), the areas affected do not correspond consistently with those defined by voicing criteria. Romanian, which on the basis of lack of voicing is classified with Central and Southern Italian, has undergone simplification of geminates, a defining characteristic of Western Romance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Peter (1970). The World of Late Antiquity. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 131. ISBN 0-393-95803-5. 
  2. ^ Renzi, Lorenzo (1985). Nuova introduzione alla filologia romanza. Bologna: il Mulino. p. 176. ISBN 88-15-04340-3. 


Note that, up to c. 1600, the word Lombard meant Cisalpine, but now it has narrowed in its meaning, referring only to the administrative region of Lombardy .

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