A Foundation for the Romance Languages

One of the immediate benefits of knowing Latin is that it provides a foundation for understanding the other Romance languages — if your intellectual curiosity ever steers you in that direction. As noted earlier in the book, the primary Romance languages are French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. They ultimately represent the way local peoples (mostly those whom the Romans conquered) changed Latin as they incorporated it into their everyday speech.

The idea of the Romans' “conquering” foreign peoples is probably not exactly what you may think. By force or by request, the Romans set up military bases all over the Mediterranean (pax Rī na), not too unlike the way the United States has military bases all over Western Europe (pax Americā na), ostensibly for “protection.” The peoples under Rome's watchful eye were free to maintain whatever form of government, customs, religion, or language they wished. If, however, you wanted to rise in the world or do business with the Romans, you needed to know Latin. Over time Latin merged with and to varying degrees replaced the native languages.

Not only does Latin provide a grammatical foothold for understanding the Romance languages (although none is as inflected as Latin), it also provides a large set of common vocabulary stems. Look at how similar these words are:

Table 20-1 Latin and the Romance Languages

See any patterns? Admittedly, Latin isn't exactly a decoder ring, but knowing it certainly gives you a tremendous advantage when and if you decide to tackle a Romance language, as the chart above indicates.

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