History of Romanian

The history of the Romanian language began in the Roman provinces of Southeast Europe north of the so-called "Jireček Line", but the exact place where its formation started is still debated. Eastern Romance is now represented by four variants  Daco-Romanian, Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian  which originated from a common Proto-Romanian language. These variants also had a common substratum. The latter's morphological and syntactic features seem to have been similar to those shared by the languages  including Albanian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian  which form the Balkan sprachbund. The adoption of a number of Proto-Slavic and Old Church Slavonic loanwords by all Eastern Romance variants shows that their disintegration did not commence before the 10th century.


Jireček Line
The "Jireček Line" which separated the Latin- and Greek-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire

A number of Romance languages were once spoken in Southeastern Europe for centuries,[1] but the Dalmatian branch of this Eastern Romance disappeared centuries ago.[2] Although the surviving Eastern group of Balkan Romance has in the meantime split into four major variants,[3] their common features suggest that all of them originated from the same idiom.[4][5][6] Daco-Romanian, the largest among these variants, is spoken by more than 20 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova.[7] Aromanian has about 350,000 speakers who mainly live in the mountainous zones[8] of Albania, Greece and Macedonia.[3] Some thousand people from the wider region of Thessaloniki speak the third variant which is known as Megleno-Romanian.[3] The smallest Eastern Romance variant, Istro-Romanian is used by less than 1,500 speakers in Istria.[3][6] All Eastern Romance variants share a number of peculiarities which differentiate them to such an extent from other Romance languages[1] that Friedrich Diez  the first Romance philologist  even stated in 1836 that Romanian was "only a semi-Romance language".[9] These peculiarities encompass, for instance, the common features of the Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and other languages[note 1] which together form the "Balkan linguistic union".[10]

Modern scholars still debate the venue of the Romanian language's formation.[11][12][13][8] There are two main concurring theories, but further hypotheses also exist.[14][15] The followers of the "theory of the Daco-Romanian continuity" propose that the Romanian language primarily developed from the Latin spoken in the province of Roman Dacia to the north of the Lower Danube.[16] The opposite "immigrationist theory" suggests that Romanian developed in Moesia, Pannonia Inferior or other provinces to the south of the Danube.[17][18] It is without doubt that a line  the so-called "Jireček Line"  can be drawn across the Balkan Peninsula which divided it into two parts in Roman times: north of this line, Latin was predominantly used, while to the south of it, Greek remained the main language of communication.[19]

External history


Vlach shepherd
Vlach shepherd in his traditional clothes

Modern knowledge of the Eastern Romance substratum is sparse, since this language was almost totally replaced by Latin.[20] For instance, the linguist Kim Schulte proposes a "Thraco-Dacian" substratum,[20] while Herbert J. Izzo argues that the Eastern Romance languages developed on an Illyrian substrate.[17] However, the small number of known Dacian, Illyrian or Thracian words excludes the systematic comparison of these idioms either with each other or with other languages.[21][22][23] Dacian is almost solely represented by less than a hundred plant names.[21][24] The number of known Thracian or Illyrian words  mainly glosses, place names and personal names  is even smaller.[25]

Estimates of the number of Romanian words of substratum origin range between about 90[26] and 140.[27] At least 70 of these words[note 2] have Albanian cognates,[28][29] which may indicate a common Albanian-Romanian substratum.[20][27][23] However, borrowings from Albanian or "Thraco-Dacian" to Romanian cannot be excluded either.[20][27][30] The linguists Gottfried Schramm,[31] Kim Schulte[20] and István Schütz[32] even propose that they were borrowed in several phases. For instance, Schulte assumes a "cohabitation, in which speakers of early Romanian and speakers of Thraco-Dacian/Albanian lived in close vicinity of each other and communicated on a regular basis about everyday matters regarding their pastoral activity and the natural environment."[33]

About 30% of these words with Albanian cognate[note 3] are connected to sheep- and goat-breeding.[30] Accordingly, Schramm even proposes that they did not stem from a pre-Latin substratum, but are loanwords borrowed from a pastoralist population by the Romans' ancestors who adopted their neighbors' mobile lifestyle when took refuge in the mountains following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 6th or 7th centuries.[28] The proportion of words with Albanian cognates is relatively high in the semantic fields of physical world[note 4] (4.8%), kinship[note 5] (3.2%), agriculture and vegetation[note 6] (2.8%), and animals[note 7] (2.7%).[34] Schütz argues that a number of Romanian words which are traditionally supposed to have been derived from hypothetical Vulgar Latin terms[note 8] are in fact Albanian loanwords. Even Romanian words of Latin[note 9] or Slavic[note 10] origin seem to have been borrowed through Albanian mediation. Parallel changes in the meaning of a number of Latin words in the Albanian and the Romanian languages[note 11] can also be illustrated.[30][35] Furthermore, a number of Albanian-Romanian calques[note 12] exist.[36]

The common morphological and syntactic features of Romanian with Albanian, Bulgarian, and other languages spoken in Southeastern Europe[note 13] can be attributed to a common substratum.[37] However, this hypothesis cannot be proven, because of modern scholars' limited knowledge of the native idioms spoken in the region.[37] Accordingly, it is also possible that these common features are to be attributed to parallel developments in all languages.[38] According to the linguist Rebecca Posner, it is not impossible that the existence of the close central unrounded vowel of Romanian  which is marked by the letters "î" or "â"  can also be traced back to the pre-Latin substratum, but she adds that "there is little evidence to support this hypothesis".[39]

Romanization and Vulgar Latin

The integration of Southeastern European territories into the Roman Empire began with the establishment of the province of Illyricum on the Adriatic coast around 60 BC.[40] The Dalmatian language which occupied an intermediary position between Romanian and Italian started to develop in these coastal regions.[2] The Roman expansion towards the Danube continued in the 1st century AD.[41] New provinces were established, including Pannonia in 9 AD, Moesia under Emperor Claudius (r. 41-54),[42] and Roman Dacia in 106.[43] The presence of legions and auxiliary troops ensured the Romans' control over the natives.[44] The establishment of colonies also contributed to the consolidation of Roman rule.[45] Accordingly, a relatively peaceful period which lasted till the end of the 2nd century followed everywhere the conquest.[46] This Pax Romana was instrumental in the "standardization of language, customs, architecture, housing and technology".[46] Even so, St Jerome and later authors evidence that Illyrian and other native tongues survived at least up until the late 4th century.[47]

The literary form of Latin and its popular variants  which are now known as "Classical Latin" and "Vulgar Latin", respectively  started to split off by the time of the Roman conquest of Southeastern Europe.[48] Accordingly, the Roman colonists introduced these popular forms when they settled in the newly conquered provinces.[49] Inscriptions from the Roman period evidence that the Latin tongue of Southeastern Europe developed in line with the evolution of the language in the empire's other parts[50] at least until the end of the 3rd century.[51] Likewise, a number of inherited Romanian words testify that the variant of Latin from which they emerged experienced the changes affecting the phonemes, lexicon, and other features of the Latin in the same period.[52] For instance, the merger of the close "e" and open "i" vowels into a close "e" can be demonstrated[note 14] through inherited Romanian words,[53] and many items of Romanian vocabulary had its origin in popular terms[note 15] instead of literary forms.[54]

Justinian I's golden coins
Emperor Justinian I's golden solidi
Ruins of Tauresium
Ruins of Tauresium (Taor, Republic of Macedonia), the ancient town where Emperor Justinian I was born in a Latin-speaking family

Trajan's Dacia to the north of the Lower Danube was abandoned in the early 270s.[3][43] Those who left these territories were settled to the south of the river where a new province bearing the same name, Aurelian's Dacia was carved out of Moesia.[55] However, written sources refer to the use of Latin in the territories to the north of the Lower Danube up until the 6th century.[56] Priscus of Panium's report of his visit in the court of Attila the Hun in 448 evidence that all "subjects of the Huns" who had "commercial dealings with" the Western Roman Empire spoke Latin, "but none of them easily"[57] spoke Greek.[56] He also met Rusticius from Moesia who acted as interpreter, Constantiolus, "a man from the Pannonian territory",[57] and "Zerkon, the Moorish dwarf" whose words "were a confused jumble of Latin, Hunnic, and Gothic".[57][56] A century later Procopius of Caesarea wrote of a prisoner of war who "was by birth of the Antae",[58] but who "spoke in the Latin tongue"[59][56]

The Goths and other neighboring tribes made frequent raids against the Roman territories in the decades following the Romans' withdrawal from Trajan's Dacia, but the Emperors Diocletian (r. 284-305) and Constantine the Great (r. 324-337) consolidated the empire's frontiers.[60] The empire was officially divided into two parts in 395,[61] but Latin remained one of the two official languages of the Eastern Roman Empire up to the early 7th century.[62] For instance, when Leo II was proclaimed emperor in Constantinople in 474, his armies hailed him in Latin.[63] Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565) who was born in Dardania[64] even stated that Latin was his native language (paternus sermo).[63] Eastern Roman rule in the Balkan Peninsula collapsed under Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641).[65]

Inscriptions and literary sources evidence that Latin remained the predominant language of communication in the provinces along the Danube throughout the 4th and 6th centuries.[66] For the same reason, Justinian's Novels were published in Latin for these provinces.[56] The last Latin inscriptions in the region are dated to the 610s.[67] Gábor Vékony argues that some place name recorded in The Buildings of Justinian by Procopius of Caesarea show vowel shifts which characterize the development of Romanian.[68] For instance, the featuring shift from "o" to "u" seems to be reflected in the name of Scumbro[69]  a fortress in the region of Remesiana (now Bela Palanka, Serbia)  which cannot be independent of the ancient Scombrus mons name of the Vitosha Mountains.[70] Theophylact Simocatta and Theophanes the Confessor recorded the first words  torna, torna fratre ("turn, turn brother")[71] or torna, torna ("turn, turn")[72]  which may be attributed to the Romanian language.[4][73] These words were shouted by a soldiers from the region between the Haemus Mountains and the Upper Thracian Plain "in his native tongue"[71] during an Eastern Roman campaign of 587.[4][74]

The classification of the Romance languages
The classification of Romance languages

The Latin variant from which Romanian developed shows the traits of many changes of the Latin which occurred in the 4th and 6th centuries.[75] However, these changes cannot always be detected in all Romance languages which suggests that the Latin language underwent a process of regional differentiation in this period.[76] Ovid Densusianu wrote, already in 1901, of a Vulgar Latin which "lost its unity, breaking into languages that developed into today's Romance languages.[77] For instance, the sonorization of the voiceless consonants between vowels[note 16] which can be demonstrated during the formation of the Western Romance languages cannot be detected in the evolution of the Eastern Romance and Dalmatian languages.[78] In many cases, Romanian share common features with Italian,[note 17] Romansh and Dalmatian[note 18] languages.[79] Nandriș argues that these common features suggest that "for some time the development of Carpatho-Balkan Latin" (that is of old Romanian) "moved along the same lines as the Latin of the Adriatic coast and that of the Alps and of South-Eastern Italy."[79] On the other hand, he argues that the similar features of the Romanian and Sardianian languages[note 19] "are explained by the principle of peripheral areas in dialectal development".[79]


The Romanian linguist Ovid Densusianu coined the term "Thraco-Roman" in 1901[80] to describe the "oldest epoch of the creation of the Romanian language", when the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Balkans between the 4th and 6th centuries, having its own peculiarities, had evolved into what is known as Proto-Romanian.[77] Estimates of the ratio of Romanian words directly inherited from Latin range between around 20%[81] and 60%.[34] The proportion of words of Latin origin is especially high in the semantic fields of sense perception[note 20] (86.1%), quantity[note 21] (82.3%), kinship[note 22] (76.9%), and time[note 23] (74.7%).[34] More than 90% of the function words, 80% of the adverbs and 68% of the adjectives in the Romanian language were directly inherited from Latin.[82]

Apuseni Mountains
Apuseni Mountains in Western Transylvania
Durmitor Mountain
Durmitor Mountain in Montenegro the name of which is of Romanian origin

While some Eastern Romance variants and dialects adopted a number of loanwords in the course of their development, others remained more conservative.[83] In this respect, the Wallachian subdialect of the Daco-Romanian variant is the most innovative among all Eastern Romance subdialects.[84] Many linguists and historians  including Grigore Nandriș and Alexandru Madgearu  even propose that the preservation of inherited Latin worlds by the subdialects spoken in Roman Dacia which were replaced by loanwords in other regions[note 24] proves that these territories served as centres of "linguistic expansion".[85][86] Likewise, the Maramureș subdialect of Romanian[note 25] has also preserved words of Latin origin which disappeared from most other variants.[83] On the other hand, Aromanian, although it is now spoken in territories where its development could not start still uses a number of inherited Latin terms instead of the loanwords[note 26] which were adopted by other Eastern Romance variants.[87]

No Latin terms connected to an urbanized society have been preserved in the Romanian language.[88] Inherited Romanian words for "road" also reveal that the life of the Romanians' ancestors became more rural after the collapse of Roman civilization.[89] For instance, the Latin word for bridge (pons) developed into Romanian punte which refers to a tree trunk placed over a ditch or a ravine, while the Romanian word for road (cale) developed from Latin callis ("a narrow foot path, a track").[90] Grigore Nandriș emphasizes that Romanian "terms for «to move from one place to another»[note 27] seem to be particlularly numerous".[91] Likewise, Romanian verbs referring to "going"[note 28] developed from Latin verbs with a different meaning.[91]

Based on the study of inherited Latin words and loanwords in the Romanian language, Nandriș, Schramm, Vékony and other scholars conclude that the Romanians stemmed from a population who inhabited the mountainous zones of Southeastern Europe and were primarily engaged in animal husbandry.[90][28][92] For instance, Schramm emphasizes that "the Romanians inherited the word for «to plow» from Latin, but borrowed both the names of the parts of the plough [...] and the terminology of the intricacies of plowing techniques from Slavic" which suggests that their ancestors only preserved some very basic knowledge of cultivation of plants.[93] In contrast with these views, other scholars  including the historian Victor Spinei  state that the great number of names of crops[note 29] and agricultural techniques[note 30] directly inherited from Latin indicates "a very long continuity of agricultural practices".[94]

Slavic adstratum

Traditional house in Maramures
A traditional house built in Berbești in 1775 (Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in Bucharest)

Huge territories to the north of the Lower Danube were dominated by Goths and Gepids for at least 300 years from the 270s, but no Romanian words of East Germanic origin have so far been detected.[95][96] On the other hand, Slavic influence on Romanian was much stronger than Germanic influence on French, Italian, Spanish and other Western Romance languages.[21] Although "a number of Slavic loanwords have fallen victim to a strong re-latinisation process since the 19th century",[note 31] the proportion of Slavic loanwords is still around 15%.[97] The ratio of Slavic loanwords is especially high in the semantic fields of house[note 32] (26,5%), religion and belief[note 33] (25%), basic actions and technology[note 34] (22,6%), social and political relations[note 35] (22,5%), and agriculture and vegetation[note 36] (22,5%).[34] About 20% of the Romanian adverbs, nearly 17% of the nouns, and around 14% of the verbs are of Slavic origin.[82] Slavic loanwords often coexist with a synonym inherited from Latin which sometimes give rise to semantic differentiation.[98] For instance, both inherited "timp" and the Slavic loanword "vreme" may refer to either time or weather, but nowadays "vreme" is preferred in meteorological context.[82] Loanwords borrowed from Slavic often have an emotional[note 37] context,[99] and they represent a positive[note 38] connotation in many cases.[82] Many linguists  including Günther Reichenkron and Robert A. Hall  argue that these features of the Slavic loanwords point at the one-time existence of bilingual communities with many Slavic speakers adopting Romanian,[100][33] but their view have not been universally accepted.[101]

The earliest stratum of Slavic loanwords  which is now represented by around 80 terms  was adopted in the Common Slavic period which ended around 850.[102] However, the majority of Romanian words of Slavic origin was only adopted after the metathesis of the Common Slavic *tort-formula  which was "a specific type of syllable whereby t stands for any consonant, o for either e or o, and r for both r and l"[103]  had been completed.[102] Old Church Slavonic terms also enriched the Romanians' religious vocabulary in this period.[21][102] Proto-Romanian even adopted words of Latin[note 39] or Greek[note 40] origin through Slavic mediation in this period.[104][105] The bulk of the Old Church Slavonic loanwords has been preserved by all Eastern Romance variants which implies that their disintegration into separate languages did not start before 900.[106] Each Eastern Romance variants and dialects adopted loanwords from the neighboring Slavic peoples thereafter.[107] For instance, Ukrainian and Russian influenced the northern dialects of Daco-Romanian, while Croatian influenced Istro-Romanian.[107]

In addition to vocabulary, Slavic languages also had effects on Eastern Romance phonology and morphology,[108] although their extent is debated by specialists.[109] The iotation of e in word-initial position in some basic words[note 41]  that is the appearance of a semi vowel j before e in these terms  is one of the Romanian phonological features with a debated origin.[110] Peter R. Petrucci argues that it was the consequence of a language shift from Common Slavic to Eastern Romance,[111] while Grigore Nandriș emphasizes that "Latin e was diphthongised at an early period not only in" Romanian "but also in most Romance languages".[110] The formation of numerals between eleven and nineteen clearly follow Slavic pattern  for instance, unsprezece ("one-on-ten"), doisprezece ("two-on-ten"), and nouăsprezece ("nine-on-ten")  which also indicates that a significant number of originally Slavic-speaking people once adopted Romanian.[112][100]

Pre-literary Romanian

Alone among the Romance peoples, Romanians has preserved the romanus endonym.[113][114] Its rumân variant  which referred to serfs  [115] was first recorded in the 1500s, while its român version has been documented from the 17th century.[113] However, other peoples mentioned the Romanians as Vlach throughout the Middle Ages.[114][116] This exonym and its variants[note 42] stemmed from a reconstructed Germanic word *walxa, by which the ancient Germans initially referred either to all foreigners[73] or specifically to the Celts, next to the Romanized Celts, and finally to all Latin speaking peoples.[114][117] It was adopted by the Slavs, from whom the Byzantines borrowed it.[76]

Historians have not reached a consensus on the date of the first historical event which can without doubt connected to Romanians. The Romanian historian Ioan-Aurel Pop makes mention of "written records" which refer to Romanians existing in the 8th and 9th centuries, but does not name any of them.[118] Vlad Georgescu cites a "ninth-century Armenian geography" which refers to an "unknown country called Balak", but Victor Spinei emphasizes that it is an interpolation "probably from the first centuries of the second millennium".[119][120] Spinei himself suggests that the first recorded events of the Romanians' history are connected to their fights against the Hungarians in territories to the north of the Danube around 895.[121] In this respect, he cites the Russian Primary Chronicle from the 1120s and the late 13th-century Gesta Hungarorum.[122] However, the idea that the Primary Chronicle refers to Romanians has not been universally accepted. Likewise, specialists have often questioned the reliability of the Gesta Hungarorum.[123] All the same, it is without doubt that especially Vlachs of the Balkan Peninsula are mentioned by Byzantine sources in connection with events of the late 10th century.[124][125] Spinei and Georgescu propose that the Blakumen of a Varangian runestone from around 1050 are the first Romanians whose presence in the lands east of the Carpathians was recorded.[119][126]

The western regions of the Pontic steppes were dominated from around 837 by the Hungarians, between around 895 and 1046 by the Pechenegs, from around 1046 by the Ouzes, and between around 1064 and 1241 by the Cumans.[127] The Hungarians who settled in the lowlands of the Carpathian Basin around 895 established a Christian state around 1000 which gradually integrated Banat, Transylvania and other regions of present-day Romania.[128] The Romanians' presence in the Kingdom of Hungary is proven by nearly contemporary sources from the beginning of the 13th century.[129] The Pechenegs and the Cumans spoke Turkic languages, but the distinction of words borrowed from them and loanwords of Crimean Tatar or Ottoman Turkish origin is almost impossible.[130] For instance, Lazăr Șăineanu proposes that the Romanian word for mace (buzdugan) stemmed from the Cumans or Pechenegs, but no maces dated to the period before around 1300 have been unearthed in the Pontic steppes.[131] According to István Schütz, cioban  a Romanian word for shepherd which also exists in Albanian, Bulgarian and many other Slavic languages  can be of Pecheneg or Cuman origin.[132] The cohabition of Romanians and Hungarians caused that the former adopted a number of Hungarian words.[133][134] The proportion of Hungarian loanwords is now about 1,6%.[34] Their ratio is relatively high in the semantic fields of social and political relations[note 43] (6,5%), clothing and grooming[note 44] (4,5%), speech and language[note 45] (4,5%), and the house[note 46] (4,3%).[135] Although most Hungarian loanwords have spread in all Daco-Romanian dialects, many of them are only used in Transylvania.[134]

Old records

Neacșu's Letter from 1521, the oldest surviving document written in Romanian

The Polish chronicler Jan Długosz remarked in 1476 that Moldavians and Wallachians "share a language and customs".[136]

The oldest surviving writing in Romanian that can be reliably dated is a letter sent by Neacșu Lupu from Dlăgopole (Câmpulung), Wallachia, to Johannes Benkner of Brașov, Transylvania. From the events and people mentioned in the letter it can be inferred that it was written around the 29th or 30 June 1521. Other documents do exist from the same period, but could not be dated accurately.

A page of his "Letopiseț" manuscript

Grigore Ureche, in his The Chronicles of the land of Moldavia (Romanian Letopisețul Țării Moldovei) (1640s), talks about the language spoken by the Moldavians and considers it to be an amalgam of numerous languages (Latin, French, Greek, Polish, Turkish, Serbian, etc.) and is mixed with the neighbouring languages.[137] The author however assumes the preponderance of Latin influence, and claims that, at a closer look, all Latin words could be understood by Moldavians.

Writ issued on 14 October 1465 by the Wallachian voivode Radu cel Frumos, from his residence in Bucharest.

Miron Costin, in his De neamul moldovenilor (1687) while noting that Moldavians, Wallachians, and the Romanians living in the Hungarian Country have the same origin, says that although people of Moldavia call themselves "Moldavians", they name their language "Romanian" (românește) instead of Moldavian (moldovenește).[138] Also, in his Polish language Chronicle of Wallachia and Moldavia, Miron Costin assumes that both Wallachians and Moldavians once called themselves "Romans".

Dimitrie Cantemir, in his Descriptio Moldaviae (Berlin, 1714), points out that the inhabitants of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania spoke the same language. He notes, however, that there are some differences in accent and vocabulary.[139] He says:

"Wallachians and Transylvanians have the same speech as the Moldavians, but their pronunciation is slightly harsher, such as giur, which a Wallachian will pronounce jur, using a Polish ż or a French j. [...] They also have words that the Moldavians don't understand, but they don't use them in writing."

Cantemir's work is one of the earliest histories of the language, in which he notes, like Ureche before him, the evolution from Latin and notices the Greek, Turkish and Polish borrowings. Additionally, he introduces the idea that some words must have had Dacian roots. Cantemir also notes that while the idea of a Latin origin of the language was prevalent in his time, other scholars considered it to have derived from Italian.

In old sources, such as the works of chroniclers Grigore Ureche (1590–1647), Miron Costin (1633–1691), or those of the Prince and scholar Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723), the term Moldavian (moldovenească) can be found. According to Cantemir's Descriptio Moldaviae, the inhabitants of Wallachia and Transylvania spoke the same language as Moldavians, but they had a different pronunciation and used some words not understood by Moldovans. Costin and, in an unfinished book,[140] Cantemir attest the usage of the term Romanian among the inhabitants of the Principality of Moldavia to refer to their own language.

Romanian in Imperial Russia

Following annexation of Bessarabia by Russia (after 1812), the language of Moldavians was established as an official language in the governmental institutions of Bessarabia, used along with Russian,[141] as 95% of the population was Romanian. The publishing works established by Archbishop Gavril Bănulescu-Bodoni were able to produce books and lithurgical works in Moldavian between 1815-1820.[142]

Map of the border between Moldavia/Romania and Russia, 1856-1878

Gradually, the Russian language gained importance. The new code adopted in 1829 abolished the autonomous statute of Bessarabia, and halted the obligatory use of Moldavian in public pronouncements. In 1854, Russian was declared the only official language of the region, Moldavian being eliminated from schools in the second part of the century[143]

According to the dates provided by the administration of Bessarabia, since 1828, official documents were published in Russian only, and around 1835 a 7-year term was established during which state institutions would accept acts in the Romanian language.[144]

Romanian was accepted as the language of instruction until 1842, afterwards being taught as a separate subject. Thus, at the seminary of Chișinău, the Romanian language was a compulsory subject, with 10 hours weekly, until 1863, when the Department of Romanian was closed. At the High School No.1 in Chișinău, students had the right to choose among Romanian, German, and Greek until 9 February 1866, when the State Counselor of the Russian Empire forbade teaching of the Romanian language, with the following justification: "the pupils know this language in the practical mode, and its teaching follows other goals".[144]

Around 1871, the tsar published an ukase "On the suspension of teaching the Romanian language in the schools of Bessarabia," because "local speech is not taught in the Russian Empire".[144]

The linguistic situation in Bessarabia from 1812 to 1918 was the gradual development of bilingualism. Russian continued to develop as the official language of privilege, whereas Romanian remained the principal vernacular. The evolution of this linguistic situation can be divided into five phases.[145]

The period from 1812 to 1828 was one of neutral or functional bilingualism. Whereas Russian had official dominance, Romanian was not without influence, especially in the spheres of public administration, education (particularly religious education) and culture. In the years immediately following the annexation, loyalty to Romanian language and customs became important. The Theological Seminary (Seminarul Teologic) and Lancaster Schools were opened in 1813 and 1824 respectively, Romanian grammar books were published, and the printing press at Chișinău began producing religious books.[145]

The period from 1828 to 1843 was one of partial diglossic bilingualism. During this time, use of Romanian was forbidden in the sphere of administration. This was carried out through negative means: Romanian was excluded from the civil code. Romanian continued to be used in education, but only as a separate subject. Bilingual manuals, such as the Russian-Romanian Bucoavne grammar of Iacob Ghinculov, were published to meet the new need for bilingualism. Religious books and Sunday sermons remained the only monolingual public outlet for Romanian. By 1843, the removal of Romanian from public administration was complete.[145]

According to the Organic Statute of 1828, the Moldovan language was also the official language of Ottoman-dominated Moldavia.

The period from 1843 to 1871 was one of assimilation. Romanian continued to be a school subject at the Liceul Regional (high school) until 1866, at the Theological Seminary until 1867, and at regional schools until 1871, when all teaching of the language was forbidden by law.[145]

The period from 1871 to 1905 was one of official monolingualism in Russian. All public use of Romanian was phased out, and substituted with Russian. Romanian continued to be used as the colloquial language of home and family. This was the era of the highest level of assimilation in the Russian Empire. In 1872, the priest Pavel Lebedev ordered that all church documents be written in Russian, and, in 1882, the press at Chișinău was closed by order of the Holy Synod.[145]

Viața Basarabiei on a 2007 Moldovan stamp

The period from 1905 to 1917 was one of increasing linguistic conflict, with the re-awakening of Romanian national consciousness. In 1905 and 1906, the Bessarabian zemstva asked for the re-introduction of Romanian in schools as a "compulsory language", and the "liberty to teach in the mother language (Romanian language)". At the same time, the first Romanian language newspapers and journals began to appear: Basarabia (1906), Viața Basarabiei (1907), Moldovanul (1907), Luminătorul (1908), Cuvînt moldovenesc (1913), Glasul Basarabiei (1913). From 1913, the synod permitted that "the churches in Besserabia use the Romanian language".[145]

The term "Moldovan language" (limbă moldovenească) was newly employed to create a state-sponsored Ausbausprache to distinguish it from 'Romanian' Romanian. Thus, șt. Margeală, in 1827, stated that the aim of his book was to "offer the 800,000 Romanians who live in Bessarabia,... as well as to the millions of Romanians from the other part of Prut, the possibility of knowing the Russian language, and also for the Russians who want to study the Romanian language". In 1865 Ioan Doncev, editing his Romanian primer and grammar, affirmed that Moldovan is valaho-româno, or Romanian. However, after this date, the label "Romanian language" appears only sporadically in the correspondence of the educational authorities. Gradually, Moldovan became the sole label for the language: a situation that proved useful to those who wished for a cultural separation of Bessarabia from Romania. Although referring to another historical period, Kl. Heitmann stated that the "theory of two languages — Romanian and Moldovan — was served both in Moscow as well as in Chișinău to combat the nationalistic veleities of the Republic of Moldova, being, in fact, an action against Romanian nationalism". (Heitmann, 1965). The objective of the Russian language policies in Bessarabia was the dialectization of the Romanian language. A. Arțimovici, official of the Education Department based in Odessa, wrote a letter, dated 11 February 1863, to the Minister of Public Instructions stating: "I have the opinion that it will be hard to stop the Romanian population of Bessarabia using the language of the neighbouring principalities, where the concentrated Romanian population may develop the language based on its Latin elements, not good for Slavic language. The government's directions pertaining to this case aim to make a new dialect in Bessarabia, more closely based on Slavic language, will be, as it will be seen, of no use: we cannot direct the teachers to teach a language that will soon be dead in Moldova and Wallachia... parents will not want their children to learn a different language to the one they currently speak". Although some clerks, like Arțimovici, realised that the creation of a dialect apart from the Romanian spoken in the United Principalities could never be truly effective, most of them "with the aim of fulfilling governmental policy, tendentiously called the majority language Moldovan, even in the context where Romanian had always been used previously".[145]

Internal history

This section presents the sound changes that happened from Latin to Romanian. The order in which the sound changes are listed here is not necessarily the order in which they actually happened in reality.

Up to Proto-Romanian


In the Vulgar Latin period

Classical Latin had ten pure vowels (monophthongs), along with three diphthongs. By the 1st century AD, if not earlier, Latin diphthong ae became [ɛː], with the quality of short e but longer; and oe soon afterwards became [eː], merging with long ē. This left au. An early trend in the urban Latin of Rome, already during Cicero's time (c. 50 BC), merged it with ō, and a few common words reflect this in Romanian, e.g. coadă "tail" < cōda < Classical cauda; similarly ureche "ear" < ōricla < Classical auricula. But in general, the territories outside of Rome were unaffected by this change; /au/ remained everywhere for centuries afterward, and continues to this day in Romanian.

Long and short e,i,o,u differed in both quality and quantity, with the shorter versions lower and laxer (e.g. e [ɛ] vs. ē [eː]). Long and short a differed only in quantity. At a certain point, quantity ceased being phonemic, with all vowels long in stressed open syllables and short elsewhere. This automatically caused long and short a to merge, but the remaining vowels took two different paths:

Romanian and other Eastern Romance languages follow a mixed scheme, with the back vowels o,u following the Sardinian scheme but the front vowels e,i following the Western Romance scheme. This produces a 6-vowel system (contrast the Sardinian 5-vowel system and Western Romance 7-vowel system).

Back vowels:

Latin short u seems to have been lowered to o when stressed and before m or b in some words:

Also, Latin long ō was changed to u in a few words:

Front vowels:

Breaking of stressed open e

In Romanian, as in a number of other Romance languages, stressed /ɛ/ (including from original ae) broke (diphthongized) to */je/. This happened in all syllables, whether open or closed, similarly to Spanish, but unlike Italian or French, where this breaking only happened in open syllables (those followed by only a single consonant).

Frequently, the /j/ was later absorbed by a preceding consonant, by the operation of second palatalization.

The /e/ was later affected by other changes in certain circumstances, e.g. breaking to /ea/ or lowering to /a/:

Backing of e

The vowel e was changed to ă when preceded by a labial consonant and followed by a back vowel in the next syllable (i.e. it stayed e when the following vowel was i or e):

Breaking of e and o

The vowel o was broken (diphthongized) to oa before a non-high vowel:

The vowel e was broken to ea in similar circumstances when not changed to ă/a (see above). The e was often absorbed by a preceding palatal sound:

Vowel reduction

Unstressed a became ă (except when at the beginning of the word) and unstressed o was reduced to u. Then ă became e after palatal consonants. Unstressed o was kept in some words due to analogy.



In the Vulgar Latin period, the labiovelars qu gu /kʷ ɡʷ/ were reduced to simple velars /k ɡ/ before front vowels. These were subsequently palatalized to /tʃ dʒ/ by the second palatalization (see below):

The labiovelars originally remained before a, but were subsequently changed to labials /p b/, although in question words beginning with qu-, this was never changed to p- (presumably through analogy with words beginning que-, qui-, quo- in Latin):

Labialization of velars

Another important change is the labialization of velars before dentals, which includes the changes ct > pt, gn [ŋn] > mn, and x [ks] > ps. Later, ps assimilated to ss, then to s ~ ș in most words.

Final consonants

In both Romanian and Italian, virtually all final consonants were lost. As a consequence, there was a period in the history of Romanian in which all words ended with vowels. In addition, final -s produced a new final -i, as in Lat. nos > Rom. noi 'we' and Lat. stas > Rom. stai 'you stand'.


In Vulgar Latin, short /e/ and /i/ followed by another vowel were changed to a glide /j/. Later, /j/ palatalized preceding coronal and velar consonants, changing its quality. For dentals, the outcome depended on whether word stress precedes or follows:

Notice that the twofold outcome for dentals is still productive in modern Romanian:

The above palatalizations occurred in all of the Romance languages, although with slightly differing outcomes in different languages. Labial consonants, however, were unaffected by the above palatalizations. Instead, at a later time, the /j/ underwent metathesis:

Palatalization of cl clusters

The Latin cluster cl was palatalized to /kʎ/:


At some point, Latin intervocalic l developed into r. From the evolution of certain words, it is clear that this happened after the above-mentioned palatalization, but before the simplification of double consonants (as ll did not rhotacize) and also before i-palatalization. Some examples:

Second palatalization

The dental consonants t, d, s, l were palatalized again by a following i or (from the combination i̯e/i̯a < ɛ < stressed e):

The velar consonants /k ɡ/ (from Latin labiovelars qu gu) were palatalized to /tʃ dʒ/ before front vowels:

Modern changes

These are changes that did not happen in all dialects of Romanian. Some belong to the standard language, while some do not.


In southern dialects, and in the standard language, dz is lost as a phoneme, becoming z in all environments:

The affricate /dʒ/ became j /ʒ/ only when hard (i.e. followed by a back vowel):

Lenition of resonants

Former palatal resonants /ʎ ɲ/ were both lenited (weakened) to /j/, which was subsequently lost next to /i/:

Former intervocalic /l/ from Latin -ll- was lost entirely before /a/ by first vocalizing to /w/:

Former intevocalic /l/ from Latin -ll- was preserved before other vowels:

Former intervocalic /v/ (from Latin -b-,-v-) was lost, perhaps first weakened to /w/:


Relatively recently, stressed u preceded by n lengthens and nasalizes, producing a following n (epenthesis).


In some words, the semivowel /j/ was inserted between â and soft n:

It also explains the plural mână - mâini ('hand, hands'). This is also specific to southern dialects and the standard language; in other regions one may hear câne etc.

It may be compensatory lengthening followed by dissimilation: pâne > pââne > pâine. It has spread from the Oltenian dialect to literary Romanian. It has alternatively been explained as palatalization followed by metathesis: câne > *câni̯e > câine. Oltenian has câine; all other dialects have câni̯e.


Backing of vowels after ș, ț and dz is specific to northern dialects. Because those consonants can be followed only by back vowels, any front vowel is changed to a back one:

It is similar to vowel backing after hard consonants in Russian (see Russian phonology § Front vowels).

See also


  1. For instance, the postposed definite articles and the duplication of the object in sentences (Petrucci 1999 pp. 9-13.; Mišeska Tomić 2006, p. 27.).
  2. For instance, Romanian abur and Albanian avull ("steam, vapor") , (Orel 1998, p. 12.), Romanian grumaz ("neck") and Albanian gurmaz ("gullet") (Orel 1998, pp. 127-128.), Romanian ceafă and Albanian qafë ("neck") (Orel 1998, p. 353.), and Romanian vatră and Albanian vatër or votër ("hearth, fireplace") (Orel 1998, pp. 495-496.).
  3. Including, Romanian bască and Albanian bashkë ("fleece") (Orel 1998, p. 19.), Romanian țap and Albanian cjap ("he-goat") (Orel 1998, p. 47.), Romanian daș and Albanian dash ("ram") (Orel 1998, p. 57.), Romanian zară and Albanian dhallë or dhalltë ("buttermilk") (Orel 1998, p. 80.), Romanian gălbează and Albanian gëlbazë ("fasciolosis") (Orel 1998, pp. 112-113.), and Romanian țark and Albanian thark ("enclosure for milking") (Orel 1998, p. 472.).
  4. Including, Romanian mal ("bank, shore") and Albanian mal ("mountain") (Orel 1998, p. 243.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.), and Romanian pârâu and Albanian përrua or përrue ("brook, river-bed") (Orel 1998, p. 323.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.).
  5. For instance, Romanian copil ("child") and Albanian kopil ("lad, chap, bastard") (Orel 1998, p. 190.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.), and Romanian moș ("grandfather, old man") and Albanian moshë ("age") (Orel 1998, p. 274.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.).
  6. For instance, Romanian brad and Albanian bredh ("fir tree") (Orel 1998, p. 34.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.).
  7. Including, Romanian căpușă and Albanian këpushë ("tick") (Orel 1998, p. 179.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.), and Romanian mânz and Albanian mëz or mâz ("foal") (Orel 1998, p. 265.; Schulte 2009, p. 252.).
  8. For instance, Schütz suggests that the Romanian word a spăla ("to rinse") was borrowed from Albanian shpëlaj ("to rinse") instead of originating from a hypotethical Vulgar Latin *expellavare (<*ex+per+lavare) (Schütz 2002, pp. 16-17.).
  9. For instance, Romanian sat ("village") < Albanian fshat("village") < Latin fossātum ("ditch") (Schramm 1997, p. 312; Orel 1998, p. 104.).
  10. For instance, Romanian gata ("ready") < Albanian gatuaj or gatuej ("make ready") < Common Slavic *gotovati or *gotoviti ("make ready") (Schramm 1997, p. 320; Orel 1998, p. 111.).
  11. For instance, Romanian pădure and Albanian pyll ("forest") < Vulgar Latin *padūlem("forest") < Latin palūdem ("swamp") (Schramm 1997, p. 312; Orel 1998, p. 353.; Schütz 2002, p. 13.); Romanian drac and Albanian dreq ("devil") < dracō ("dragon") (Schramm 1997, p. 312; Orel 1998, p. 353.); Romanian femeie ("women, wife") and Albanian fëmijë ("child, family, spouse") < Latin famīlia ("family") (Orel 1998, p. 95.; Schütz 2002, pp. 12-13.).
  12. For instance, both the Albanian and Romanian terms for "first" derived from words with a meaning "before": Albanian parë from Albanian para,(Orel 1998, p. 311.) and Romanian întii from Latin āntāneus (Schramm 1997, p. 313.).
  13. For instance, the merger of dative and genitive cases, and the use of auxiliary verbs with a meaning "will, want" to form the future tense are listed among the features shared by these languages (Mišeska Tomić 2006, pp. 26-27.).
  14. For instance, Romanian măiestru < Vulgar Latin maester < Classical Latin magister ("master") (Vékony 2000, p. 180.)
  15. For instance, the Romanian word for horse (cal) stemmed from caballus ("pack horse") instead of the Classical Latin equus ("horse") (Alkire & Rosen 2010, pp=287-288.).
  16. For instance, Romanian freca, Dalmatian frekur from Latin fricare, in contrast to French frayer, Spanish and Portuguese fregar, and Italian fregare (Mihăescu 1993, p. 156.).
  17. Including the change of "s" at the end of words into "i" in Italian and Romanian words: Italian and Romanian trei from Latin tres, and Italian and Romanian noi from Latin nos (Nandriș 1951, p. 21.).
  18. For instance, the development of the consonant clusters "ct", "cs" and "gn" into "pt", "ps" and "mn": Romanian opt and Dalmatian guapto from Latin octo, Romanian coapsă and Vegliot kopsa from Latin coxa, and Romanian cumnat and Ragusan comnut from Latin cognatus (Nandriș 1951, p. 21.).
  19. For instance, the development of the "gua" cluster into "ba" in both languages as it is demonstrated by Romanian limbă and Sardinian limba which developed from Latin lingua (Nandriș 1951, p. 21.).
  20. For instance, Daco-Romanian vedea, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian ved, and Istro-Romanian vedę from Latin videre ("to see"), Daco-Romanian asculta, Aromanian ascultu, Megleno-Romanian scult, and Istro-Romanian scutå from Latin ascultare ("to listen"), Daco-Romanian dulce, Aromanian dulțe, Megleno-Romanian dulți, and Istro-Romanian dul'če from Latin dulcis ("sweet") (Mihăescu 1993, pp. 227-228.).
  21. Including, Daco-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian mult, Aromanian multu and Istro-Romanian munt or mund from Latin multus ("much or many"), Daco-Romanian, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian singur from Latin singulus ("single, only")(Mihăescu 1993, p. 184.), and Daco-Romanian, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian patru from Latin quattour ("four") (Mišeska Tomić 2006, p. 663; Mallinson 1998, p. 404).
  22. For instance, Daco-Romanian and Aromanian frate, Megleno-Romanian frati and Istro-Romanian fråte from Latin frater ("brother"), Daco-Romanian, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian soră or sor, and Istro-Romanian sora from Latin soror ("sister"), and Daco-Romanian unchi from Latin avunculus ("uncle") (Mihăescu 1993, pp. 272-273.).
  23. Including Daco-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian timp from Latin tempus ("time"), Daco-Romanian primăvară, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian primăveară, and Istro-Romanian primavera from Latin primavera, Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian zi, Aromanian dzî or dzuuă, and Megleno-Romanian zuuă from Latin dies ("day"), and Daco-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian nou, Aromanian nou or nău and Istro-Romanian now or nou from Latin novus ("new") (Mihăescu 1993, pp. 183-184.).
  24. For instance, the Latin word for snow (nivem) was preserved in Western Transylvania as nea, but was repladed by Slavic loanwords (omăt or zăpada) in other territories (Nandriș 1951, p. 18.).
  25. For instance, the Latin word for sand (arena) was preserved in Western Transylvania and Maramureș as arină, but was repladed by Slavic loanword (nisip) in most other territories (Nandriș 1951, p. 18.).
  26. For instance, similarly to the Western Transylvanian subdialect, (Nandriș 1951, p. 18.) Aromanian preserved neao for snow and arină for sand (Mišeska Tomić 2006 p. 665.). Furthermore, for instance, the Aromanian word for plow (arat) was directly inherited from Latin aratru in contrast with the Daco-Romanian plug which is a Slavic loanword (Mihăescu 1993, p. 177.).
  27. For instance, the Latin term for "to fold tents" (plicare) developed into Romanian a pleca ("to go, to wander"), and Romanian a se duce ("to go") but a duce ("to lead") stemmed from Latin ducere ("to lead")(Nandriș 1951, p. 12.).
  28. For instance, Romanian a lua ("to take the road") from Latin levare ("to lift") lua, Romanian a urla ("to howl, to go down in the valley") from Latin ululare ("to howl") urla, and Romanian a merge ("to go") from Latin mergere ("to dive") merge (Nandriș 1951, pp. 12-13.).
  29. For instance, Daco-Romanian grâu, Aromanian grănu, and Megleno-Romanian gron ("wheat") from Latin granum ("grain, seed"), Daco-Romanian secară, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian sicară and Istro-Romanian secåre from Vulgar Latin secala ("rye"), Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian oz, Aromanian ordzu and Megleno-Romanian uarz from Latin hordeum ("barley"), and Daco-Romanian mei, Aromanian mel'u, and Megleno-Romanian and Istro-Romanian mel' from Latin milium ("millet") (Mihăescu 1993, pp. 256-257.; Spinei 2009, p. 224).
  30. For instance, Romanian ara, Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian arare and Istro-Romanian arå from Latin arare ("to plow") (Mihăescu 1993, p. 261.; Spinei 2009, p. 224).
  31. For instance, the (Schulte 2009, p. 244.).
  32. Including, perie ("brush"), colibă ("hut"), ogradă ("yard, court"), stâlp ("doorpost", "post", "pole"), zâvor ("latch, doorbolt"), odaie ("room"), prag ("door, gate"), and cămin ("fireplace") (Schulte 2009, pp. 252-254.).
  33. For instance, a propovădui ("to preach"), a posti ("to fast"), iad ("hell"), and duh ("ghost") (Schulte 2009, pp. 252-254.).
  34. For instance, a clădi and a zidi ("to build"), a tăvăli ("to turn"), a stropi ("to splash"), daltă ("chisel"), and ciocan ("hammer") (Schulte 2009, pp. 252-254.).
  35. Including, a opri ("to forbid"), a porunci ("to command"), stăpân ("master"), rob ("slave"), prieten ("friend") (Schulte 2009, pp. 252-253.).
  36. For instance, ovăz ("oats"), hârleț ("spade"), lopată ("shovel"), a sădi ("to sow"), a cosi ("to mow"), and brazdă ("furrow") (Schulte 2009, pp. 252-253.).
  37. Including, dragă ("dear"), slab ("weak"), boală ("sickness") (Hall 1974, pp. 91-92.).
  38. For instance, the Slavic loanword a iubi ("to love") and inherited a urî("to hate"),or the inherited nu ("not") and the borrowed da ("yes") (Schulte 2009, p. 244.).
  39. For instance, oțet ("vinegar"), oțel ("steel"), colinde ("Christmas carols") (Mihăescu 1993, p. 479.).
  40. Including, chilie ("cell"), psaltire ("psalter"), and călugăr ("monk") (Mallinson 1998, p. 414.).
  41. For instance, eu ("I") is pronounced as [yew] and ești ("you are") as [yest] (Petrucci 1999, p. 50.).
  42. Including Byzantine Greek βλάχοϛ, Hungarian oláh, and Polish wołoch (Mihăescu 1993, p. 155.).
  43. For instance, gazdă ("host") , neam ("people") (Schulte 2009, p. 255.).
  44. For instance, cismă ("boot") , and bumb ("button") (Schulte 2009, p. 255.).
  45. For instance, a făgădui ("to promise") , and a tăgădui ("to deny") (Schulte 2009, p. 255.).
  46. For instance, a locui ("to live") , and lacăt ("lock, padlock") (Schulte 2009, p. 255.).


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