Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

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MysteryMan23
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Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by MysteryMan23 » 15 Feb 2019 18:38

Okay, so, I've heard that Vulgar Latin had different regional dialects, and that the phonological history of these dialects is effectively one and the same with the early phonological history of the Romance languages. However, I've also heard that the differences between these dialects were minor up until the Western Roman Empire fell apart, after which the dialects started to diverge.

This makes me wonder: how exactly did the different dialects of Vulgar Latin develop during the Roman Empire's lifetime? Presumably, they shared the vast majority of their grammatical changes and a good deal of their phonological and lexical changes, but what about those changes that were unique to certain dialects? When did they come about?

Also, are there any good sources on this topic?

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Zekoslav
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Zekoslav » 16 Feb 2019 11:50

Inscriptions (that is, spelling mistakes in inscriptions) are our best source of Roman era Vulgar Latin, and they show reality was more complicated than it's usually thought: sometimes spelling mistakes in a particular area don't really correspond to the earliest development of the local Romance language. An example I've recently come upon when studying Romanian: even though Romanian doesn't merge Latin short /u/ and long /o/ like most other Romance languages, spelling mistakes which confuse U and O are plentiful in the Balkans... This likely indicates that there were VL dialects in Roman times which didn't leave any modern descendants (Romanian is remarkably homogeneous and all it's dialects, even diaspora ones, descend from a rather late common ancestor: probably the only Balkans dialect which survived the migration period).

It's actually possible to reconstruct, on a first glance, a Proto-Western-Romance which would already be quite innovative compared to CL, indicating that most of the differences between modern Western Romance languages really did happen after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, a closer inspection of some particular sound changes will show that this "proto-language" wasn't as homogeneous as it seems. One such inspection that I know of is this paper about metaphony in Spanish and Catalan. It's quite technical, but the gist is that some unique Spanish features were already there by the time the "Proto-Western-Romance" vowel system appeared.
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by WeepingElf » 16 Feb 2019 18:39

Spelling errors often are hypercorrections - attempts to "restore" the standard orthography by dialect speakers which overshoot the aim. A famous example from German is Helmut Kohl's pronunciation of Geschichte 'history' as Gechichte. That's not the usual form in his dialect; in his dialect, the word is Geschischte. But as he tried to change the latter into the standard form, he changed both the first and second sch into ch, arriving at Gechichte, though only the second sch had to be changed.
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Zekoslav » 17 Feb 2019 11:11

Yes, Appendix Probi has some nice examples of hypercorrection, e.g. occasio non occansio.
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Salmoneus » 17 Feb 2019 13:05

Which is why, as Zekoslav alludes to, what matters is not mistakes but confusions - signs that people were unsure between two options. So confusing O and U indicates that some sound change was blurring the difference - but doesn't by itself tell us whether this was o>u or u>o, and whether one or both of these was conditional in some way.

A big problem with many inscriptions, however, is that a lot of the people who made inscriptions - politicians, soldiers, shrine pilgrims, slave-scribes - did not learn Latin in the area where they ended up leaving inscriptions, because these groups were not just theoretically mobile but often actively moved away from their homelands. Which makes it very hard to really understand what was going on on the ground in these areas.

I know Aelfwine has been reading up on east latin dialectology, but I can't off-hand remember the details of what he found. Perhaps he may be along later, or you may e-mail him.


Personally, my impression is that there were five phases of Romance:
- Latin expands rapidly, creating a mostly homogenous language
- Latin begins to diverge into local dialects
- In response to increasing divergence, a new lingua franca develops, a fashionable, cosmopolitan form of Latin, which spreads rapidly to major port towns, but takes longer to penetrate into rural hinterlands. [i'm not saying there was actually a 'lingua franca' in the sense of a separate language, just that features spread that generated a 'general imperial' dialect]
- after the fall of Rome, the rise of the Frankish Empire creates a new standard. Not everybody immediately starts speaking Parisian Latin, but the features of Parisian Latin spread out from Paris, and are responsible for many features of "Western Romance" (lenition, palatalisation, etc), which never reached more distant or remote areas (southern Spain, southern Italy, probably at first the Pyrenees although this is disguised by later changes)
- after the fall of the Franks, individual local dialects develop in their own direction.

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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Zekoslav » 19 Feb 2019 10:41

I've got the impression that Western or Gallo-romance features started to spread earlier than the period of Frankish rule. Already during the late Empire, with the weakening of Rome, there was an important trade route on from Lugdunum to Mediolanum to Sirmium, by which Gallo-romance features could spread. I think our first examples of intervocalic lenition are a bit earlier than the establishment of the Franks.

On the other hand, the famous Western Romance seven vowel system could easily be a feature of the late imperial koiné you've mentioned.
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Znex » 19 Feb 2019 10:57

Zekoslav wrote:
19 Feb 2019 10:41
I've got the impression that Western or Gallo-romance features started to spread earlier than the period of Frankish rule. Already during the late Empire, with the weakening of Rome, there was an important trade route on from Lugdunum to Mediolanum to Sirmium, by which Gallo-romance features could spread. I think our first examples of intervocalic lenition are a bit earlier than the establishment of the Franks.
Yes, this happens in tandem with the changes that the Brythonic Celtic languages (ie. Welsh, Cornish, Breton) went through (including coda velar palatalisation and lenition, and final vowel loss), so maybe they, Gaulish, and any other remaining Continental Celtic languages formed a Sprachbund with the Western Romance languages, prior to at least the retreat of the Romans from Britain.
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Zekoslav » 19 Feb 2019 11:09

Yes, I know substrates are considered a sort of deus-ex-machina nowadays, but the changes French and Welsh went through are remarkably similar...
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Re: Regional Differences in Vulgar Latin

Post by Ælfwine » 22 Feb 2019 23:30

I agree with Zekoslav that these innovations happened earlier than Frankish rule (although Frankish rule no doubt in part solidified them). For example, intervocalic voicing was at first allophonic in Latin, present everywhere in the Empire, even in locations where one would think it would not. Observe Spanish, which still has intervocalic fricatives as allophones as intervocalic plosives. Later two tendencies emerged: either languages lost the allophony, like Romanian and southern Italian, or they phonemized them. In the east, this change seemed to have affected Istriot, but not Vegliot Dalmatian.

The fronting of /a/ was probably not even an originally Francien trait, given that is exists as far east as Friulian, and early inscriptions show that the development /a/ > [æ] happened in the latin of Noricum and Pannonia. Possibly when the Roman Empire collapsed in the east, refugees from this area took their fronted a’s with them, but not so far north as Normandy, nor past the Pyrenees.

Diphthongization of /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ was incredibly common that it occurred nearly universally throughout the Empire, except in the far west (Portuguese). Areas influenced by Frankish rule would then diphthongize mid-high /e/ and /o/ (although it doesn’t seem to have reached Friulian, Vegliot did something similar.)

As for the vowel mergers, the change u > o seems to have reached everywhere but the most backwater locations, so much so that I wouldn’t really draw the distinction between the branches based on this given how ubiquitous it is.

If you are looking for sources on Vulgar Latin dialectology, I recommend Romance Languages: A Historical Introduction by Alkire and Rosen.
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