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The Romanian language has a unique history as an Eastern Romance language. Its geographical isolation from areas where other Romance languages developed, along with its contact with Slavic languages, led to the development of distinct characteristics that make the modern-day Romanian language of especial interest to linguists and historians alike.
In more recent history, the Romanian language also has been a source of conflict and debate in the present-day Republic of Moldova. Despite the fact that most linguists agree that the Romanian and Moldovan languages are essentially the same, the Moldovan people continue to assert a unique Moldovan linguistic identity, claiming their language to be distinct from Romanian.
Early History and Classification of the Romanian Language
The Romanian language is classified as a Romance language and is derived primarily from Latin, specifically from the Latin language once spoken in Dacia, a province of ancient Rome. The ancient Dacians spoke the Indo-European language of Dacian, about which little is known. Romanian proper, also known as Daco-Romanian, derives its name from this history.
The Dacians were conquered by the Romans around 106 AD and the Romans subsequently colonized the area, bringing with them the Vulgar Latin language. Thanks to an intense agenda of Romanization, Latin soon became the primary language of business and government administration throughout the Dacian province.
It is believed that the ancient Dacian largely influenced the Latin language instituted by the Romans, resulting in the unique Dacian dialect that would develop into the Daco-Romanian language.
From Proto-Romanian to Diverse Dialects
Although the Roman Empire was forced to withdraw from Dacia in the 3rd century, a Latin language influence prevailed throughout Dacia. It is believed that Romanian was unified as a single Proto-Romanian language until the 7th to 10th centuries, at which time the area of Dacia came under Byzantine influence.
Dacian contact with the Byzantine Empire led to an increased diversity in the language, and various dialects developed. Influences from other languages, including Greek, Hungarian, and Slavic tongues, became more common.
Early Written Romanian Language
The earliest known sample of text in Daco-Romanian, the standard dialect of the Romanian language, dates from 1521. The earliest examples of written Aromanian, an alternate dialect, date to 1731. Literary Romanian was based on the Daco-Romanian dialect spoken in southern Romania.
Romanian: A Unique Romance Language
Although it is classified as a romance language, Romanian has developed a very distinct phonology and grammar system different from other Romance languages. Historians believe that this is due to Romania’s relative isolation from areas where the other Romance languages developed, and because of Romanian contact with Slavic-speaking peoples.
For example, while most Romance languages have lost the Latin language differentiation between a long “o” and short “u”, fusing the two together, Romanian has retained this distinction. Another distinct feature Romanian has as a Romance language is the fact that it tends to replace consonants such as “k” and “g” with the labial consonants “b,” “m” or “p.”
Slavic Influences on the Romanian Language
The unique Slavic language influence noticeable in the Romanian language is believed to stem from the migration of Slavic tribes into the former area of Dacia, which was comprised of present-day Romania and Moldova.
The introduction of Slavic languages into Dacia is still apparent in contemporary Romanian vocabulary. While most of the Romanian language’s vocabulary is based on Latin, as is the case with other Romance languages, it has acquired a significant number of loanwords from Slavic languages. Turkish, Hungarian, and Albanian loanwords are also common.
Contemporary Romanian Language and Dialects
Today the Romanian language is spoken primarily in the eastern European countries of Romania and Moldova, where it holds official language status. An estimated 22 million people in Romania claim Daco-Romanian as their native language. There are an estimated 24 to 28 million Romanian speakers throughout the world, when including all four dialects of the Romanian language.
There are four primary dialects in the Romanian language: Daco-Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian. Aromanian, also known as Macedo-Romanian, is spoken in communities throughout Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, and Greece. Both nearly extinct dialects, Megleno-Romanian is spoken in areas of northern Greece, while Istro-Romanian is spoken exclusively on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula.
Spoken throughout Romania and Moldova, Daco-Romanian, also known as Romanian proper, is the primary dialect that serves as the basis for the standard Romanian language.
These four primary dialects are not easily mutually intelligible; an Aromanian speaker would have difficulty understanding an Istro-Romanian speaker, for example. The dialects are so different, in fact, that some linguists classify Megleno-Romanian, Istro-Romanian, and Aromanian as distinct languages totally separate from the standard Daco-Romanian.
Romanian Language in Moldova
The question of whether “Moldovan” is a distinct language from Romanian has long been a contentious and politically-charged issue in Moldova. Because of this, both the names “Moldovan” and “Romanian” are used to refer to the language in Moldova.
The Law on State Language, enacted in 1989 when Moldova was still the Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic, refers to a distinct “Moldo-Romanian” linguistic identity. The state language of Moldova is officially termed “Moldovan” by the country’s constitution, while it is referred to as “Romanian” in Moldova’s 1991 declaration of independence from the USSR.
The vast majority of linguists are in agreement that Moldovan is technically a form of Daco-Romanian, as the two languages are essentially identical. Many leading figures within Moldova, including former Minister of Justice Ion Morei and President Vladimir Voronin, have also acknowledged the Romanian and Moldovan languages to be identical. Moldovan people as a whole, however, continue to assert their right to a distinct Moldovan identity, shying away from being classified as Romanian language speakers.
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Romanian Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Rumanian, Moldavian, Daco-Rumanian
Language Family: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Eastern
Spoken by Approximately 23,498,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
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