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Romance languages not descended from Latin.

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I was reading in some publication, I think it was PLOS, but regrettably cannot find the link, that there was some debate as to whether Latin was the parent language of the Romance languages.

Although this was a side issue, and just mentioned the fact of the controversy in passing, I wonder if anyone knows about this?

I always thought it was more or less established that Romance languages came from Latin, although thinking it over I guess you could argue that the languages evolved from Vulgate Latin. And I do not know whether then these, Latin and Vulgar Latin,  could be interpreted as separate languages. My feeling would be that these were two coins of the same language, something like a literary and a spoken variants of the same language, but maybe they were farther apart that I supposed. Could this be what they meant?

I think you're on the right track.

Vulgar Latin is Latin as it was spoken by the people ("on the streets" so to speak). We can call it equivalently "Proto-Romance", because it's the ancestor to the Romance languages, and because by definition "Proto-" languages are reconstructed and not directly documented, which is for the most part true of Vulgar Latin also (a little quoted usage in some literature, some engravings here and there, but still probably influenced by the written standard). Already some changes that are not apparent in written Latin had occurred at the time of a unified Vulgar Latin / Proto-Romance, because they're reflected in all daughter (Romance) languages.

Latin as we know it is very formal and stylized. No one spoke like Caesar's writing. But still obviously it's closely related to whatever preceded the Romance languages.

So it's a bit misleading to say they don't come from Latin. It's more accurate to say they don't come from written Latin, which is all we have records of.

Written languages tend to be somewhat archaic. So what's going on here is that the Romance family includes the modern daughter languages and Proto-Romance, which is itself a daughter of earlier Latin, the basis for formal written Latin. You can think of Proto-Romance and (written) Latin as closely related sister languages. Still, this is more of a technical point regarding reconstruction, etc. There's no real doubt that what the Romans spoke (broadly "Latin") became the modern Romance languages. After all, it was spread by Roman soldiers, citizens, etc.

Another perspective to separate them might be that Latin has remained timeless to some degree, and was used as an international written standard until a few centuries ago. In that sense, the Romance languages were changing while "Latin" was not. And the most extensive continued use of Latin was in Romance-speaking countries. There are lots of cases of borrowed words in Spanish, for example, from Latin. So that's another way to think of Latin and Romance as being parallel, like sisters, rather than one being a direct descendant of the other.

In terms of the broader grouping:
Proto-Indo-European split into numerous sub-families (Germanic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, etc.), including Italic.
Italic consisted of Latin and several other languages spoken in or near the Italic peninsula.
Latin had several varieties including written Latin (which itself had several varieties / variation over about 2000 years) and Vulgar Latin.
Some form of Vulgar Latin was then the ancestor to the Romance languages.
The Romance languages include Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, etc.

The most common, and not too critical, error I see in descriptions is calling Romance a daughter or sub-family of Proto-Indo-European directly. That should technically be Italic, with Romance another level or two below that. Whether "Latin" is the same as Proto-Romance depends on what you mean by the question and by "Latin".

Found the link http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/02/mysterious-indo-european-homeland-may-have-been-steppes-ukraine-and-russia.

The pertinent paragraph says, with the underlining in where they mention some linguist question the direct descent from Latin.

The second new paper to address PIE’s origin, in press at Language and due to be published online during the last week of February, uses linguistic data to focus on when PIE arose. A team led by University of California, Berkeley, linguists Andrew Garrett and Will Chang employed the language database and evolutionary methods previously used by Gray to create a family tree of the Indo-European languages from their first origins in PIE. But in certain cases, Garrett and Chang’s group declared that one language was directly ancestral to another and put that into their tree as a certainty. For example, they assumed that Latin was directly ancestral to Romance languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian—something that many but not all linguists agree on—and that Vedic Sanskrit was directly ancestral to the Indo-Aryan languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent.

I would be interested if someone knows who these linguists might be and if their case could have some validity, though a priori I cannot think what could it be. In retrospect I find it more troubling, since in this context, it would seem as if it did not matter whether it was Vulgar Latin or literary Latin.

Well, I found this http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Le_fran%C3%A7ais_ne_vient_pas_du_latin 

I would be really surprised that SCIENCE magazine, even in a news article would stoop to giving credence to this kind of book, but I cannot find anything else.

No serious linguist would suggest that the Romance languages aren't related to Latin.

But the case you show here is actually one where a more subtle distinction is very important. They're using statistical methods to relate sound changes over time. The exact varieties and assumptions about relationships are important. We wouldn't want to use Italian (even though it's a direct descendant of Latin in some sense!) as a proxy for the whole Romance family. Likewise, assuming Latin is a DIRECT ancestor of the Romance languages is difficult because that doesn't explain some sound changes (etc.) shared throughout the Romance languages.

It would be like trying to run DNA tests on your family tree while not being certain about classifying one of your ancestors as your grandfather, your great-grandfather, or your great-uncle. Obviously for DNA, or the statistical methods they're using in that study, there would be an important effect.


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