Romanian is Not the Mother of Latin

Contrary to a stream of public opinion, which seems to think that Romanian is not a Latin language, but that the opposite is instead the case, which is obviously preposterous, I need to make a number of historical, anthropological, ethnological, and linguistic clarifications.

Now, often in the sphere of human knowledge and even more often in that of interpersonal relations, a person will make a very disturbing or controversial or unsubstantiated assertion.

In order to have an intelligent and cogent discussion about the nature of which language came first, we must consult the proper authorities. Given that we are talking about languages, linguistics comes to mind first, as the proper way to initiate a conversation.

I created the table below to clarify the premise of this post. I want to be concise. Verbiage doesn’t serve any purpose. Words are tools, not weapons of mass destruction of people’s patience.

Like all things, languages have a starting point and if we think about it, history shows that they also have an end date, past which they morph into other tongues. They are living things, and they too obey the laws of nature.

This starting point is the substrate influence (substratum or underlayer) of a language. In short, the substrate is what came before the main linguistic influence or influx. This is the linguistic context.

A language, like it or not, has a predominant influence, both from a quantitative as well as qualitative standpoint. This is a given. It is the central axiom of communications. This influence or preponderance is called the stratum or main layer.

And finally, the influence(s) that come after the sedimentation of the substratum and stratum, is called the adstratum or late stratum.

As it happens, there can be more than one substratum and adstratum, but only one stratum, as the table below will show.

Today, five main Latin languages are spoken by a significant part of the world: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese (West Romance) and Romanian (East Romance). There are many other Romance languages but they are only spoken locally, in a variety of locales throughout Europe. Their cultural importance is somewhat limited by the small numbers of their speakers.

ItalianFrenchSpanish PortugueseRomanian
SubstratumProto-Italic languages, which descended from Proto-Indo-European language or PIE*GaulishBasque and CeltiberianGallaecian and LusitanianGaetic-Dacian
StratumLatin (Vulgar Latin)Latin (Vulgar Latin)Latin (Vulgar Latin)Latin (Vulgar Latin)Latin (Vulgar Latin)
AdstratumOstrogothic and later Lombardic or Langobardic (West Germanic) languageOld FrankishVisigothic, Vandal VisigothicSlavic
Strate, Adstrate and Substrate of Latin languages.

Why Romanian cannot be the Mother/Father of Latin

Romanian is a relatively new language. It is, depending on the authorities consulted, between 200 and 600 years old. And even within this range, we are talking about a language that has rapidly evolved from using the Cyrillic alphabet (prior the 1840s) to its current Latin alphabet iteration. Romanian has undergone profound changes in terms of vocabulary as well. Whereas before mid-19th century, it was engorged with Old Slavonic, New Greek, Turkish, Russian, and Hungarian words, in the past 170 years, Romanian has stopped being predominantly the Eastern outpost of Romance languages, and turned westwards. This was not an easy or painless process. Far from it.

Only due to the valiant efforts of the Scoala Ardeleana a.k.a. Transylvanian School, who advocated a return to its original Latin roots, Romanian switched to the Latin alphabet and writing. Soon afterwards, between 1840 and 1870, Romanian started receiving the refreshing and innovating influx of French, Italian, German, and English words that slowly but very surely replaced the Russian, Turkish, and Greek loan words.

As an anecdote that I remember from high-school, it is said that one of the early proponents of the Scoala Ardeleana suggested that Romanian use the neologism “gat-legau” for the French article word cravate or tie. Since people are usually a practical bunch, and “gat-legau” literally translates into “that which binds the neck”, Romanians took cravate (or tie) and made it into cravata.

Modern Romanian retains Latin grammar principles, cases and declinations, and lexicon. The lexical similarity of Romanian with Italian has been estimated at 77%, followed by French at 75%, Sardinian 74%, Catalan 73%, Portuguese and Rhaeto-Romance 72%, Spanish 71%. Furthermore, after watching Season 1 of ZeroZeroZero, a TV series about narco-traffickers, I have come to the following empirical conclusion: the Calabrian dialect of Italian is very similar to Romanian. The intonation, vocabulary, syntax, and morphology are almost identical in both cases.

But where Romanian is an Eastern Romance language by virtue of holding out as an island of Latinity in a sea of Slavic, Turkic, Hungarian influences, Calabrian is also a little island, perhaps closer to Vulgar Latin, than Italian, which we are about to see, has evolved farther from its Roman origins. This is due to the Regio Callabrese’s late Romanization. Here we see again the influence of holdouts maintaining their linguistic “purity” for many centuries, in remote locales. This is why Rhaeto-Romantsch and Engandin or Ladin, Calabrian, Sardinian, Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, have all managed to endure.

According to polyglot Mario Pei’s seminal The Story of Language (1949), who compared it with the other Romance languages, the closest relative of Romanian is Italian. Romanian has had a greater share of foreign influence than some other Romance languages such as Italian in terms of vocabulary and other aspects. His study analyzed the degree of differentiation of languages from their parental language, by examining the case of Romance languages vis-à-vis Latin and comparing phonology, inflection, discourse, syntax, vocabulary, and also intonation.

He came up with the following percentages (the higher the percentage, the greater the distance from Latin):

  • Sardinian: 8%
  • Italian: 12%
  • Spanish: 20%
  • Romanian: 23.5%
  • Occitan: 25%
  • Portuguese: 31%
  • French: 44%

In a nutshell, Sardinian takes Latin gold, and French comes last. I had to say it. For some strange reason, the French seem to merit their linguistic station. And yet, as the story goes, Romanian vocabulary became predominantly influenced by French and, to a lesser extent, Italian in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Proto-Indo-European language (PIE)

PIE was spoken by the vastly nomadic but increasingly sedentary inhabitants of the Russian and Central Asian steppes during a huge chunk of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages (4500 BC to 2500 BC).

Behold, the Urheimat or Prehistoric Cradle of future Indo-European Civilizations: Indian, Iranian, Greek, Celtic civilizations. These are our Ancestors. The Basque people are all that is left from the Pre-Indo-European age.
Approximate geographical distribution of the Indo-European language family today in Eurasia.

Basically, 6500 years ago or in 4500 BC, there was/were a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) people(s) who spoke a common tongue, PIE. During the next two millennia, they migrated outside of their Cradle and covered most of Eurasia. By 2500 BC, having split into different cultures, having formed different civilizations, and yes, having laid different roots, PIE had branched out into different languages, which were growing apart with each generation of speakers.

The earliest possible end of PIE linguistic unity is believed to be around 3400 BCE. Before then, glottochronologists tell us that a PIE speaker could still make himself understood anywhere across the Eurasian plains. Afterwards, not so much. And of course, one must always remember that PIE was never a written language. In spite of this gigantic hurdle, linguists managed to recreate some of its elements. To this end, they used comparative methods that looked at myths, laws, and social institutions, which like it or not are quite useful, in this historical clue detection game.

With the end of the Proto-Indo-European era, came the New Age of the Indo-Europeans.

Branches of the Indo-European Languages

The Indo-European languages have a large number of dead or living branches: Anatolian (dead), Indo-Iranian (Indic and Iranic), Greek, Italic (which is an offshoot of Greek), Celtic (think Gaelic), Germanic, Armenian, Tocharian (dead), Balto-Slavic and Albanian.

While it is true that PIE was now extinct, one is able to this day to find words and word roots common across tens of thousands of km, uniting Norwegians to Pashtuns, and English speakers to Romanians.

OCS – Old Church Slavonic

Other examples of core words maintaining a pattern of uniformity across different IE languages are deities names.

Dyaus Pitar (Vedic), Zeus Pater (Greek), Jupiter (Roman), Dei Patrous (Illyrian), Dievs (Baltic).

Uṣas (Vedic), Eos (Greek), Aurora (Roman), Aushrine (Baltic).

Varuṇa (Vedic), Odinn/Wodan (Germanic), Ouranous (Greek), Velinas (Baltic).

Asura (Vedic), Aesir (Germanic), Ahura (Avestan).

Marut (Vedic), Ares (Greek), Mars (Roman).

Parjanya (Vedic), Perkunas (Baltic), Perunu (Slavic), Fjorgyn (Germanic).

Traitana (Vedic), Thraetaona (Avestan), Triton (Greek).

Aryaman (Vedic), Airyaman (Avestan), Ariomanus/Eremon (Celtic).

Saramā/Sārameya (Vedic), Hermes (Greek).

Pūṣan, Paṇi (Vedic), Pan (Greek), Vanir (Germanic).

Rudra (Vedic), Ruglu (Slavic).

Danu (Vedic), Danu (Irish).

Indra (Vedic), Indra (Avestan), Inara (Hittite).

Śarvara (Vedic), Kerberos (Greek).

Śrī (Vedic), Ceres (Greek), Freyr/Freya (Germanic).

Bhaga (Vedic), Baga (Avestan), Bog (Slavic).

Apām Napāt (Vedic), Apām Napāt (Avestan), Neptunus (Roman), Nechtain (Celtic).

Ṛbhu (Vedic), Elbe (Germanic = English Elf).

Yama (Vedic), Yima (Avestan), Ymir (Germanic).

Not to make too fine a point and to make a very long story short, we will rapidly advance through the history of the following Indo-European languages:

  1. Anatolian (3400 BC – 1800 BC) – branching out into the Hittite, Luvian, Palaic, Lycian, and Lydian. By the way, the legendary rich King Croessus was the monarch of Lydia, an Anatolian kingdom.
  2. Indo-Iranian(1500/1300 BC – 500 BC), which split out into the Indic and Iranic or Iranian language families, that are now spanning from India, Pakistan, Iran, to some offshoots in and around the Black Sea and Western China. Sanskrit belongs to this category and is the language of the famous Indian Rig-Veda epic poem, which speaks of a legendary journey undertaken by the proto-Indians. Avestan and Old Persian are the languages of the Achaemenid dynasty, the (in)famous Medes and Persians who wanted to subjugate Free Greece during the Persian Wars. Other more modern examples: Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Farsi, Pashto, and Kurdish.
  3. Ancient Greek (3000 BC – 300 BC), which afterwards morphed into Koine/Hellenistic/New Testament Greek (300 BC – 300 AD), which also evolved into medieval or Byzantine Greek (300 AD – 1453 AD), and which finally gave us Modern Non-Hellenic Greek (11th century AD – today). To make this easy on the eye, Ancient Greek has absolutely nothing to do with Modern Greek (misnomer). In fact, these are two different tongues altogether. Ancient Greek is a group of dialects, and not a branch of languages. During their 3000 years of written history, Ancient Greek dialects never evolved into the same language due to the geographical segmentation of Greece, which also gave us the vast variety of city-states or polis.
  4. Italic languages (1000 BC – 0 AD). Italic peoples of possibly Celtic or even Greek origin crossed the Alps into Northern Italy. {I need to point out that a quick Wikipedia search will indicate that Dacian or proto-Romanians if you will, as members of the Thracian family of languages/peoples, joined their blood lines to those of the Celts and Scythian. In light of their common PIE ancestor, and given their second point of convergence/divergence cca. 1000 BC, enough linguistic evidence exists to generate the kind of superfluous speculation as to the nature of which language, Latin or Dacian/proto-Romanian, was first, that we see today.} [In another quirk of history, the descendants of the same Celts, the Gauls, who had inhabited Italy at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, would later invade and defeat/be defeated by Rome three times: in 390-283 BC, in 232 -194 BC, and in 121 BC. Quite ironic to be invaded by your distant cousins ten times removed, isn’t it?!}
  5. Latin, the most notorious of the group of Italic languages, was originally a small tongue with no apparent future, spoken by the ancestors of Remus and Romulus, in and around Latium, in the 8th century BC. At this stage, it wasn’t even Latin but proto-Latin. Incidentally, proto-Latin was revived becoming the language of the epic Italian 2020 film Il Primo Re – The First King. Latin evolved with Rome, becoming a written language thanks to the Greek and Phoenician alphabets. Later on, Classical Latin became the lingua franca of the Roman World, and where so many Italic languages are now extinct, Latin endures to our day and age. In fact, it can be said that the Romance languages, its only surviving offspring, gave Latin a second life.
  6. Celtic languages (600 BC – 50 AD) – dominant in most continental Europe and the British Isles. Caesar and the Claudians would soon put paid to the Celtic culture (50 BC-50 AD). However, the language was robust and stubborn enough to survive to the 21st century in Bretagne as Breton, Wales as Welsh, Ireland and Scotland as Gaelic.
  7. Germanic languages (750 BC – 1000 AD) – divided in three sub-branches: East Germanic, currently extinct; North Germanic, comprising of Old Norse, the ancestor of all modern Scandinavian languages; and West Germanic, containing Old English, Old Saxon, and Old High German. Dutch, English, Frisian, and Yiddish are examples of modern survivors of the West Germanic sub-branch, while Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish are survivors of the North Germanic branch. Please note that Finnish, being a Finno-Ugric language just like Hungarian, is not a part of this group.
  8. Armenian (1100 BC – ongoing) – the people entered Anatolia from the Balkans in the 2nd millennium BC, and settled in the Greater Armenia around the 7th century BC. Armenia was first a vassal of the Medes and then a Persian satrap.
  9. Tocharian (1800 BC – 200 AD) – spoken by an Indo-European (IE) people inhabiting the desserts of Western China. Now extinct. Tocharian was the IE language spoken farthest to the east.
  10. Balto-Slavic (1500/1200 BC – 450/550 AD) – this group split into two sub-groups: Baltic and Slavic. The higher prestige Baltic culture influenced the Finnish, who borrowed a lot of words from Baltic. Due to Slavic and Gothic migrations, the Balts’ territory and influence was reduced towards 450 AD. The Slavs or their ancestors inhabited the Polish-Belarusian plains for 1000 years, before demographic pressures pushed them into Greece and the Balkans and also towards the outskirts of Iran. The Slavs also pushed westward, where they entered contact with German tribes. Consequently, a lot of Iranian and Germanic words made it into the pre-Slavic languages. Today, only two Baltic languages survive (Lithuanian and Latvian). Please note that Estonian is not a Baltic but an Uralic language just like Finnish, although Estonians are considered Baltics. However, there are seven major Slavic languages in existence (Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Russian), and a few minor ones.
  11. Albanian (last IE language to appear in written form) – two competing hypothesis attempt to explain its paternity. Some linguists claim that Albanian descended from Illyrian, a now dead language spoken locally. Others say that Thracian (a lost language) was its ancestor.

Indo-European Similarities: the case of Ancient Greek and Latin

Fact is that all Indo-European languages come from Proto-Indo-European tongues. This is apparent nowadays as it was even 2,500 or 2,000 years ago. I would wager it is safe to say that instinctively, the closer two languages are to one another, the easier it is for the speaker of language #1 to master language #2.

The Ancients noticed how Greek and Latin, for example, exhibited striking common traits. The Greek héks “six” and heptá “seven” is similar to the Latin sex and septem. This was a clean cut case of regular correspondence of the initial h- in Greek to the initial s- in Latin. Classical antiquity linguists considered this proof that the Latin language was a descendant of Greek language.

It took another 1,000 years for the world to realize the importance of this capital discovery. It was during the Renaissance (1400-1600) that Humanism rediscovered or at least seized on this major linguistic and cultural linkage. The Greco-Roman culture and civilization was put on its deserving pedestal, to be admired by an Age that saw itself as the continuator of the Lost Spirit of the Ancient Greek/Latins. Humanism and Renaissance will forever be defined by their myriad attachments with their glorious Greco-Roman heritage.

But what had started as a merely movement to discover the meaning of history, a sense of cultural belonging, and a historic legacy, ended up revolutionizing the world. It moved into the future. Linguistics were also exposed to this maxim of renewal. Historians taking the magnifying glass to different language pairs soon discovered that Icelandic and English were related; the same was the case with Romance languages. Yet progress was slow, and things did not advance further before the 18th century AD.

During the British colonial expansion into India, Sir William Jones, an orientalist and also a man of the law, took an avid interest in the Sanskrit language. Jones was also a Latinist and Grecian, so when he adopted Sanskrit as his new linguistic interest, he quickly observed noted similarities between these three tongues.

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquity of Persia. (Fortson, p. 9)

Sir William Jones’ lecture on February 2, 1786

This was a turning point in the development of Historical Linguistics. The notion that Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and Persian had a common ancestor, their own ‘Lucy’, was Revolutionary. It was nothing short of ground-breaking, earth-shattering.

People, educated and knowledgeable people, who had invested all their lives in the pursuit of advancing human knowledge, started to see how Latin was not the “offspring” of Greek; instead Latin was the “sister” of Greek. History teaches us that Progress sometimes comes in waves but it can also come in jolts. Sir Jones provided the latter by using Sanskrit and Persian as comparadors to the Greek-Latin binomial pair. Given the geographic distance between these languages, and eliminating hazard from the equation, his insight triggered and ushered in a new era of understanding.

Sir William Jones is one of the Founding Fathers of modern linguistics.

Yeah, this is who I am talking about: Romulus. By the way, La Storia Diventa Leggenda translates into the Story becomes Legend or Povestea (istoria) devine Legenda. Another evidence that Italian and Romanian are both the descendants of Mother-Latin. * In Latin, the same phrase reads as follows: Legenda historia fit. I rest my case a.k.a. Quod erat demonstrandum a.k.a. Ceea ce era de demonstrat a.k.a. Può essere mostrato! And there are thousands of examples just like these.

Micheál Ledwith controversy

Micheál Ledwith is a former Catholic priest of the Diocese of Ferns in County Wexford from 1967 to 2005. His Wikipedia background is less than stellar. However we shall ignore that which is not germane to the current issue. On the other hand, what Micheal Ledwith has to say about the historical relation between Latin and Romanian, that is very difficult to ignore. He claims that Romanian, not Latin, is the chicken and that Latin, not Romanian, is the egg. This is not only false, but also dangerous. Nothing is more perilous than hubris. Hubris is the manifestation of a self-aggrandised view of one’s worth, based on false premises and confirmation bias.

For a former man of the cloth, exposed to the polyglot background of the Roman Catholic Church, Michael Ledwith is confused about the relations between PIE, Romance languages, Latin and Romanian. You see, it is quite easy to look at the morphology, syntax, and even easier to go straight to the vocabulary and say Evreka, I have it! – and falsely claim that Romanian was exported from the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic area to the Italian peninsula before ab urbe condita, in the middle of the 8th century BC.

However, a closer inspection of the causal relations between the peoples of the era and of the remaining glottochronological evidence, will quickly show that the Romanian chicken came out of the Latin hen, and not vice-versa, so to speak.

There is little philological and linguistic evidence to suggest that the Getae and Dacian (different) languages spoken by the inhabitants of the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic locale between the 7th century BC and until the 2nd century AD, formed somehow the foundation, or in any way contributed more than a few random words to Latin. During the 900 years of contact with the Greek polises, Macedonian soldiers of Lysimachus, the Roman Empire, and various other Barbarians, the Getae and Dacians were more often influenced by these cultures, rather then acting as influencers themeselves.

Languages are always a mix of words of different origins. They are closely influenced by the dominant culture of the day. For instance, English is still the lingua franca of the early 21st century. Up until WW2, and perhaps even a bit into the 50s, French used to be the common medium of intercourse of diplomacy, culture, and even science. Although German had mostly been used to intermediate exchanges in the areas of chemistry, engineering and scientific thought since the very late 1890s.

Beforehand, Italian did the honours as lingua franca of music. We all know that operas used to be mostly composed in Italian, before Mozart proposed to the Austrian Emperor, Josef II, to allow German a chance at allying music with words, in the 1780s. At least, that is what Milos Forman’s Mozart (1984) seems to suggest. I am jocular, of course. German did become the language of music not by replacing Italian, but by adding to the international repertoire.

French, Spanish, Latin, Ancient Greek, and even Hebrew were the esoteric languages of past centuries and even millennia, as were countless other, some dead and some kicking still.

Languages are the closest things we have to remind us of our history, our shared past. They are in fact tools used by humanity to travel through time. It’s true they do not withstand the test of time with flying colours, being ‘alive’ and all, but still they are artifacts that can be easily reconstructed and more importantly, they transmit the knowledge from our long gone ancestors.

How else would we know that Charlemagne was crowned the Emperor of Rome in December 800 AD for saving the Pope from the furia longobarda? How else, indeed, eh!

That moment, which will forever live in the hearts and minds of the French as their greatest moment. Too bad it wasn’t a French but Frankish king who got the Roman Imperial Crown. Yet people will always take credit for other people’s achievements. Sic transit gloria mundi!
The Starting Point of the Romanian ethno-genesis. That is how it all started, people. Dacians exchanging blows with Romans. Note the semi-naked berserker on the right-hand side attempting to carve up some poor legionary only trying to earn is pay (or salary, which comes from LAT salarium, which comes from the LAT word for salt – sal; Roman soldiers were paid in salt, which was at the time very valuable). The Dacians are using falx swords which were quite effective in splitting Roman shields as you can see in the centre. You will also note the Dacian Draco flag, that was actually adopted by the Roman Army by the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), and later on became the imperial ensign. Talk about cultural syncretism, eh.

What I am trying to say here is this. Dacian and Gaetic languages are not the Fathers of Latin. Dacia was conquered by Rome, who colonized it with people from all across the Empire, including Jews from Judea. As a matter of fact, there is an ongoing anecdote in Romania claiming that people from Oltenia (a region from south-western Romania) are smarter and more business-savvy than most Romanians. They say that this is due to the two Roman legions camped in the general area 1,900 years ago, whose recruits came mainly from Judea. Historically speaking some of the legions stationed in Dacia, such as X Gemina and VI Ferrata (the Ironclad Division), have also participated in quelling rebellions and fighting in and around Judea. So there is some merit to that idea.

More importantly, the synthetic relation that developed soon after the Roman invasions of Dacia (101-106 AD), between Dacians and Romans, whereby the former adopted Latin as a tongue, culture, and way of life, and the latter adopted martial symbols of the conquered people, was to borne fruit and yield the Romanian language, many centuries later (cca. 9th century AD).

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a historical episode that Romanian linguists believe to be the beginning of proto-Romanian language. I speak of course of the famous “Torna, torna, fratre!” incident alluded to in In Theophylactus Simocatta Histories, (c. 630). The episode happened during one of the frequent Balkan raids of Byzantine emperor Mauricius (582-602 AD) against the Avars. In 587 AD, Byzantine geneal Comentiolus was campaigning in Haemus Mons a.k.a. the Balkans. As Theophylactus put it, the successful outcome of the campaign was compromised by a miscommunication between two soldiers, during a night march.

“a beast of burden had shucked off his load. It happened as his master was marching in front of him. But the ones who were coming from behind and saw the animal dragging his burden after him, had shouted to the master to turn around and straighten the burden. Well, this event was the reason for a great agitation in the army, and started a flight to the rear, because the shout was known to the crowd: the same words were also a signal, and it seemed to mean “run”, as if the enemies had appeared nearby more rapidly than could be imagined. There was a great turmoil in the host, and a lot of noise; all were shouting loudly and goading each other to turn back, calling with great unrest in the language of the country “torna, torna”, as a battle had suddenly started in the middle of the night.”

1400 years later, “Torna, torna, fratre!” is taught in Romanian schools as the first example of proto-Romanian. It means, as Latinists and Romance speakers will no doubt attest, “Turn, turn, brother!” Romanians have no trouble whatsoever grasping its meaning since the modern translation reads “In(toarce)-te, intoarce-te frate!”, a visible vulgarisation of the original post-Latin phrase.

The etymology of “torna” is straightforward. The LAT. imperative “torno” gives the EN “Return or come back!” This literally translates in modern RO as “toarna” meaning “pour” as in “pour me an ale into my cup”. The mechanics of the expression involve the revolution of the hand, which is akin to turning a knob. Eureka! But wait there is more. However, in older or early Romanian, the verb “toarna” also denoted the action of “to return or come back”, which is exactly the sense maintained to this day in modern Aromanian “tornu.” Quod erat demonstrandum!

The incident is also found 200 years later, in the Chronographia of Theophanes Confessor (cca. 810-814 AD), who mentions it thus:

“A beast of burden had thrown off his load, and somebody yelled to his master to reset it, saying in the language of their parents/of the land: “torna, torna, fratre”. The master of the animal didn’t hear the shout, but the people heard him, and believing that they are attacked by the enemy, started running, shouting loudly: “torna, torna””

It took almost another 1000 years but in 1774, Johann Thunmann first claimed this to be an example of early Romanian. Scholars have since debated this with various, more or less convincing, arguments. That “torna” was either a proto-Romanian local slang, or a Byzantine martial command of Latin origin, as it appears in Emperor Mauricius’ Strategikon, is neither here nor there. That the soldiers used “fratre”, which clearly comes from Latin “frater” meaning brother, that is quite important to unpack.

As Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940), the great Romanian historian, noticed in 1905, “torna” was a word commonly used in the patois of the Romanic population of the Balkans at the end of the 6th century AD, as it was also a common military command in the Byzantine Empire, which was still using Latin words in its official command lexicon.

Most Romanian scholars have since adopted the view that this episode marks the inception of early Romanian. There are some like Konstantin Josef Jirecek (1854-1918) who maintained the pure Latin origins of the phrase, while dismissing any other line of investigation. But again, Jirecek was deeply involved in Slavistics. His pro-Slavic bias was apparent during his lifetime.

I for one believe that early Romanian was much closer to Vulgar Latin, than its modern iteration. It would be grand to be able to somehow rediscover or recreate it. I find languages fascinating. But that’s just me.

The Balkans and Jirecek line dividing the Latin from the Greek/Byzantine legacy. This is the Latin/Greek Rostigraben and the reason why the Romanian word for church is not the Italian “chiesa” derived from the Late Roman Empire Christian Church term – “ecclesia”. The Romanian word for church is “biserica”, which comes straight from the Latin of the earlier pre-Christian Roman Empire “basilica”. This is further proof of Romanian’s early Latin roots. Just for kicks, if you look up the Greek term for church, it’s ekklisia.

PARENTHETICAL UPDATE: How does one know that their memory is starting to desert them? One forgets that “the ecclesia or ekklesia was the assembly of the citizens in the democratic city-states of ancient Greece. The ekklesia of ancient Athens is particularly well-known. It was the popular assembly, open to all male citizens as soon as they qualified for citizenship.” I am ashamed to say that I did not connect the dots on this one until this morning. I was reviewing my daughter’s History homework, and stumbled upon this important dot that I failed to connect. Mea culpa!

So basically, today’s Church is the direct etymological descendant of the original democratic institution of the assembly of the people in ancient Athens. Because, there is nothing democratic about the Church. I can see why the Greek gave us the word ecclesia, given its meaning of a popular assembly, which is the case in both Ancient Athens and the Church. But direct democracy is not hierarchic. But you know what is? The Church.

Romanian is not just a mix of Dacian and Latin words. In fact, there are only 100 Dacian words that can be retraced to those ancient times, in the whole 125,000-word Romanian language. Romanian has borrowed robustly from Slavic, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish and German languages. In the last 150 years, Romanian has also been revitalized by the adoption of French, Italian, German, English, and Spanish loan-words, some of which have found a new Eastern European home.

There is more evidence pointing to the remote and disconnected evolution of Latin and Dacian languages, then there is to support the far-fetched notion that somehow Dacian has nurtured Latin in its bosom. This is why it’s always important to remember to look at the evidence, the envelope, and examine the conclusions, before reaching your own. There is no need to be a denier. Nor is there any need to agree with everyone. Be your own authority, read, consult, inform yourself. Never take anything for granted. Don’t be Debbie Downer. But do not believe anything that flies either.

Use the scientific method. You will be surprised how much you can achieve by using reason to cut through the veil of ignorance. Do not be satisfied when you see other people agree with you. Look to the ones who disagree with you. They may know something that you don’t.

Good luck! Ave, atque, vale!

2 thoughts on “Romanian is Not the Mother of Latin

  1. hey,
    ur work has no historical value… is just ur opinion based on the fear of romania being he mother of latinity.. that s all.. propaganda,,,


    1. Not sure how to take your comment. At face value, as satire, irony or all of the above? As a born and bred Romanian, I would welcome such a finding – but the historical and ethno-linguistic record doesn’t support your opinion.
      If you’re impervious to the whole explication, that is on you not I.

      Furthermore, just because you may want it to be so, doesn’t make your wish real.

      Romania couldn’t be the mother of latinity anymore than your mother could be your daughter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s