African Romance

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African Romance
Region North Africa
Era early Middle Ages
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist list
Glottolog None

African Romance or African Latin is an extinct Romance language that is supposed to have been spoken in the Roman province of Africa during the later Roman and early Byzantine Empires, prior to the annexation of the region by the Umayyad Caliphate in 696. Little or nothing is known about this language, as African Roman texts and inscriptions were written exclusively in Classical Latin, but it is presumed that African Romance evolved from Latin as it was spoken in North Africa and was subsequently supplanted by Arabic after the Muslim conquest.


Map where can be seen in black the coast of Maghreb where existed a disappeared neolatin language

The Roman province of Africa was organized in 146 BCE following the defeat of Carthage in the Third Punic War. Carthage, destroyed following the war, was rebuilt in the dictatorship of Julius Caesar as a Roman colony. In the time of the Roman Empire, the province had become populous and prosperous, and Carthage was the second-largest Latin-speaking city in the Empire. Latin was, however, largely an urban and coastal speech; Carthaginian Punic continued to be spoken in inland and rural areas as late as the mid-5th century. It is probable that Berber languages were spoken in some areas as well.

Africa was occupied by the Germanic Vandal tribe for over a century, between 429 and 534, when the province was reconquered by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The changes that occurred in spoken Latin during that time are unknown; literary Latin, however, was maintained at a high standard, as seen in the Latin poetry of the African writer Corippus.


The fortunes of African Latin following the Arab conquest in 696 are difficult to trace, though it was soon replaced by Arabic as the primary administrative language. At the time of the conquest a Romance language was probably spoken in the cities and Berber languages were also spoken in the region.[1] Loanwords from North African Romance to Berber are attested and are usually in the accusative form: examples include atmum ("plough-beam") from temomem.[1] It is unclear for how long Romance continued to be spoken, but its influence on North African Arabic (particularly in the language of north western Morocco) indicates it must have had a significant presence in the early years after the Arab conquest.[1]

Whether the Mozarabic, the group of Romance dialects spoken in medieval Moorish Spain and which developed separately from the Spanish language, shared features with African Latin is unknown. It is, however, possible that Mozarabic "Latinisms" could have been derived from North African Latin and were brought to Spain by Arabs and Berbers: Mozarabic kanbaniya from Latin campania ("countryside") has been posited as an example.[2]

The Normans when they were acquiring their African kingdom in the 12th century received help from the remaining Christian populations of Tunisia, and some historians such as Vermondo Brugnatelli argue that those Christians still spoke a Romance language. The language may have existed until the arrival of the Banu Hilal Arabs and probably until the beginning of the fourteenth century, according to scholar Andrew H. Merrills and others.[3]

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Christian communities, generally labelled Afariqa or Ajam in the Arab sources and speaking a latin dialect ("al-li-san al-latini al-Afariq" as is termed by al-Idrisi) are known to have survived until the fourteenth century. Alan Rushworth

Furthermore the 12th-century Maghrebi geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi who, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, noted that "its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue (al-latini al-afriqi)."[4]

Related languages

Muhammad al-Idrisi gives us a single but very important datum: writing on the island of Sardinia in his work (Recreation of the desirer in the account of cities, regions, countries, islands, towns, and distant lands) defines its inhabitants: "The Sardinians are ethnic Rûm 'Afàriqah (Romans from Africa), live like the Berbers, shun any other nation of Rûm; these people are courageous and valiant, that never part with their weapons." [5][6]

Saint Augustine also states that "African ears have no quick perception of the shortness or length of (Latin) vowels".[7] That describes the evolution of vowels in the Sardinian language, which has only five vowels (and no diphthongs): the five long and short vowel pairs of classical Latin (a/ā, e/ē, i/ī, o/ō, u/ū) have merged into five single vowels with no length distinction (a, e, i, o, u).

Other Romance languages spoken in North Africa before the European colonization were the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, a pidgin with Arabic and Romance influences, and Ladino, a dialect of Spanish brought by Sephardic Jews.


No details on the characteristics of this language have been preserved. Nevertheless, the Italian linguist Vermondo Brugnatelli pinpoints some Berber words, relating to religious topics, as being loan words from Latin: for example, in Ghadames they call "äng'alus" a spiritual entity, clearly using a word from the Latin "angelus" (angel).

See also


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  3. Vandal, Romans and Berbers. p.94
  4. Gafsa and the African neolatin language
  5. Original text: وأهل جزيرة سردینیة في الأصل روم أفارقة متبربرون ومتوحشون من أجناس الروم وهم أهل نجدة وحزم لا يفارقون السلاح.
  6. Contu Giuseppe, Sardinia in Arabic sources, Annali della Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere dell'Università di Sassari, Vol. 3 (2003 pubbl. 2005), p. 287-297. ISSN 1828-5384. ,
  7. "Afrae aures de correptione vocalium vel productione non iudicant". De doctrina christiana, Lib.IV, C.10


  • Vermondo Brugnatelli, "I prestiti latini in berbero: un bilancio", in: M. Lamberti, L. Tonelli (eds.), Afroasiatica Tergestina. Papers from the 9th Italian Meeting of Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) Linguistics, Trieste, April 23–24, 1998, Padova, Unipress, 1999, pp. 325–332
  • Franco Fanciullo, "Un capitolo della Romania submersa: il latino africano", in: D. Kremer (ed.), Actes du XVIIIe Congrès International de Linguistique et de Philologie Romane - Universitè de Trèves (Trier) 1986, tome I, Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1992,162-187 pp.
  • Tadeusz Lewicki, "Une langue romane oubliée de l'Afrique du Nord. Observations d'un arabisant", Rocznik Orient. XVII (1958), pp. 415–480
  • Hugo Schuchardt, Die romanischen Lehnwörter im Berberischen, Wien 1918 (82 pp.)