The history of a language is often the history of the people itself. This is because language – and Romanian is no exception – is the result of all the factors that have influenced the culture and civilization of a particular region over time. These factors can be historical, geographical, sociological, or even religious. The language a people speaks today is the result of the continuous relationship between the original linguistic background of the territory of those people and all these factors.
A necessary mention of the Origins of the Romanian language
First of all, if we talk about the origins of the Romanian language, we must never lose sight of the aspect mentioned above: evolution. We will never find a well-defined point (whether we think of this point as a specific historical date, a concrete moment, or a place) that is unanimously accepted by all historians or linguistic researchers as the zero moment. As I was saying, history is evolution, and this is also true of the Romanian language. We can, rather, try to identify the processes – some short-lived, others longer – whose results led to the formation of the Romanian language as we speak it today.
In short, the origins of the Romanian language imply the existence of an archaic Dacian background, on top of which the Latin language intervened, and much later the Slavic influences were placed on top of this construct.
This is, at least, the generally accepted official version at the moment. This version speaks of the Dacians who existed on the present territory of Romania, and who were conquered definitively in 106 AD by the Romans, under Emperor Traian. The official version speaks of the conquest of this territory and a subsequent massive settlement of these places by citizens of the Roman Empire brought here from other parts of the empire. These citizens would have been a number of people needed by the administrative apparatus, but mostly soldiers. The latter, mostly Latin speakers – the vulgar, or popular, form of the language – would have been assimilated over time into the native population, marrying Dacian women and forming families in which the Latin language would have been increasingly used.
This phenomenon is justified by some historians by the fact that the native population, in an attempt to resist the war with the Romans as tenaciously as possible, would have sent all their men into battle. Thus it is that, most of them having died in the battles with the Romans, their women were left alone and would have accepted the kinship with the conquering Romans.
Discussions on the Latin origin of the Romanian language
Of course, it is not a theory that is unanimously accepted and beyond debate. On the contrary, there are many objections to this version and, implicitly, to the Latin origin of the Romanian language.
First of all, the phenomenon of the Latinization of the native population is contextualized starting from the size of the territory conquered and actually occupied by the Romans, in relation to the much larger territory in which the Dacians lived. If we try to put this ratio into figures, then we have to say that the Romans occupied only a piece that represented somewhere between 16% and 20%. Why were things like this? Well, the main reason why the Romans were interested in these territories in the first place was the severe financial crisis the empire was facing. The Romans wanted nothing more from this land than the deposits of gold, silver and salt. Yes 🙂 In those days, salt could be at least as valuable as the others. After the conquest, whole convoys returned to Rome with hundreds of tons of precious deposits. The emperor himself was so happy that they had found this immediate source of revenue that the whole city of Rome was in celebration for a few days and – by the emperor’s decision – all the inhabitants of Rome were exempted from taxes for a whole year.
Beyond this, the following issue was raised. How is it that Latinisation was such an effective process in Dacia, when Roman rule here lasted about 160 years, much less than in other parts of Europe, where Roman rule lasted for centuries?
Of course, we leave it to historians and specialists in the study of linguistic phenomena to agree on all the elements still under discussion. As far as we are concerned, we can say that, from an official point of view, Romanian belongs to the Romance languages, namely those which share the same common ancestor – the Latin language. This is the family that includes French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
Romanian language today
Returning to the origins of the Romanian language, we can speak of Latin influence between the 1st and 6th centuries. The Roman rule officially ends in the 3rd century with the withdrawal of Roman troops and administration from Dacia under the Roman emperor Aurelius. The year 271 is generally mentioned to identify this moment, but what we need to remember is that it was in fact a long process, which indeed began in 271, but ended in 274. There is also some debate about the starting date, with some historians saying that the Roman retreat actually began around 250, but was formalized under Aurelian.
What is important is that the process of Latinization did not end immediately, but continued until around the 6th century. From this point onwards, we are talking about the Slavic influence on the Romanian language, and this is a long-lasting process that lasts until the 13th century.
We must also remember one of the significant milestones when we talk about the process of the formation of the Romanian language, namely the year 1521, which marks the first documented text in Romanian – as we understand it today. It is the “Letter of Neacșu of Câmpulung” to Johannes Benkner, the judge of Brasov.
Taking into account the official theory, according to which the Romanian language comes from spoken Latin and Geto-Dacian, the period of formation is considered to be between the 3rd century BC and the 6th century AD. Over the combination of Vulgar Latin and the Geto-Dacian language is superimposed the prolonged contact with Slavic populations, which is considered to be at the origin of an important part of the vocabulary. In the Middle Ages and pre-modern period, Hungarian, Old Turkish, Ottoman, and Greek words entered the language. French had a strong influence in the 19th century.
The period of the modern Romanian language begins in the 19th century, with the first texts of the great classical writers who provided the models for the modern literary Romanian language.
For more information about the origin of the Romanian language, about the culture and civilization of the Romanian people, we also welcome you to the online Romanian language course. There we will tell you about many such things, starting from the idea that you cannot really learn a language without knowing some of the important things in the history of the people who speak it.