The Romance languages—sometimes called the Latin languages, and occasionally the Romanic or Neo-Latin languages—are the modern languages that evolved from spoken Latin between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D. and that thus form a branch of the Italic languages within the Indo-European language family.
Today, around 800 million people are native speakers worldwide, mainly in Europe and the Americas, but also elsewhere. Additionally, the major Romance languages have many non-native speakers and enjoy widespread use as lingua francas.〔(Paul Lewis, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth Edition http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by=size )〕 This is especially the case for French, which is in widespread use throughout Central and West Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Maghreb region.
The five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers are Spanish (410 million), Portuguese (216 million), French (75 million), Italian (60 million), and Romanian (25 million).〔Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007/2010〕
Because of the difficulty of imposing boundaries on a continuum, various counts of the Romance languages are given; Dalby lists 23 based on mutual intelligibility:〔David Dalby, 1999/2000, ''The Linguasphere register of the world’s languages and speech communities.'' Observatoire Linguistique, Linguasphere Press. Volume 2, p. 390-410 (zone 51). Oxford.()〕
* Ibero-Romance: Portuguese and Galician, Mirandese and Asturian-Leonese, Spanish, Aragonese;
* Occitano-Romance: Catalan, Occitan;
* Gallo-Romance: Langues d'oïl (including French), Franco-Provençal;
* Rhaeto-Romance: Romansh, Ladin, Friulian;
* Gallo-Italic languages;
* Italo-Romance: Corsican, Italian, Neapolitan-Sicilian;
* Dalmatian (extinct);
* Romanian: Daco-Romanian, Istro-Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian.
In several of these cases, more than one variety has been standardized, so is considered a distinct language in the popular conception; this is true, for example, with Asturian and Leonese, as well as Neapolitan and Sicilian.
Romance languages are the continuation of Vulgar Latin, the popular and colloquial sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers, and merchants of the Roman Empire, as distinguished from the classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. Between 350 BC and AD 150, the expansion of the Empire, together with its administrative and educational policies, made Latin the dominant native language in continental Western Europe. Latin also exerted a strong influence in southeastern Britain, the Roman province of Africa, the Roman province of Asia and the Balkans north of the Jireček Line.
During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and collapse in the fifth century, varieties of Latin began to diverge within each local area at an accelerated rate and eventually evolved into a continuum of recognizably different typologies. The overseas empires established by Portugal, Spain, and France from the fifteenth century onward spread their languages to the other continents to such an extent that about two-thirds of all Romance language speakers today live outside Europe.
Despite other influences (e.g. ''substratum'' from pre-Roman languages, especially Continental Celtic languages; and ''superstratum'' from later Germanic or Slavic invasions), the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of all Romance languages consist mainly of evolved forms of Vulgar Latin. However, some notable differences occur between today's Romance languages and their Roman ancestor. With only one or two exceptions, Romance languages have lost the declension system of Latin and, as a result, have SVO sentence structure and make extensive use of prepositions.
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