Romanian language evolution

1918 Union resolution


The language is one of the things that make us special. Here is a short history of the Romanian language and the major influences it suffered from the neighboring languages.


Linguists, when studying the Romanian language, usually go back in their studies as far as 2000 years. At that time, the area that today is Romania was occupied by the Dacian civilization (tribes of Thracian origin).

The Dacians’ main activity was agriculture. They also engaged in viticulture (cultivation of vineyards), were craftsmen skilled in creating tools and weapons from metals, and also known for their cattle and their bee-keeping.

Linguists have studied the Romanian language to find which words have Dacian origin. They have discovered more than one hundred words and 2200 proper names with this origin. These terms cover a very wide area: the human body (buză= lip; ceafă=nape; grumaz=neck; guşă=goiter), the family (copil=child; prunc=baby; zestre=dowry), daily activities (mazăre=peas, ţărînă­=tilled land, mânz=colt, strungă=a small gate through which sheep pass in order to be milked; ţarc=enclosure; gard= fence), the environment (măgură=lone hill, mal=bank, cătun=hamlet, brad=fir-tree; copac=tree; barză=stork; brusture=bur; gălbează=liverworts). Some of the proper names left from the Dacians are names of rivers such as: Argeş, Criş, Dunăre. Motru, Mureş, Olt, Prut, Someş, Timiş, Tisa.

BreviaryAfter loosing the wars against the Roman Empire ruled by Emperor Trajan, between 101-102 AD and 105-106 AD, Dacia became a Roman province for 165 years (106-271 AD). The Romanization of the natives was a very quick and easy process. Over 2600 engravings discovered on the Romanian territory stand as a proof for this fact. Beside the administrative measures taken by the Romans, there were some other factors that made easier the Romanization process. One of them was that young Dacians were recruited for the Roman army. By the end of their 25 years of military service they would learn Latin, the Romans habits and they were granted the Roman citizenship if they didn’t have it already. This citizenship was extended to every member of their family. Another factor was that Roman veterans married the Dacians women also creating families with Roman citizenship benefits. Another way Latin language spread throughout this area was through missioners who brought with them the Christian religion. When people attended church at that time, the services were done in Latin, As a proof stands the basic church vocabulary inherited from Latin (Dumnezeu=Domine deus=God; creştin=christianus=Christian; biserica=basilica=church; botez=baptism=christening; rugăciune=rogationem=pray; preot=presbite=priest; cruce=crucem=cross; păcat=pecatum=sin; inger=duiangelus=angel)

After 165 years of Roman dominance and few centuries of Roman influence, the language spoken on this territory changed very much. Today, almost 2/3 of the words that form the main vocabulary of Romanian language are of Latin origin.

Beginning with the 4th century waves of migratory tribes came to this territory influencing the language more or less. From this population, the Slavs had the biggest influence upon the Romanian language beginning with the 7th century. Especially the Latin emotional terms were replaced with Slavonic words (dragoste=love; drag=dear; a iubi=to love; nevastă=wife; logodnă=fiancee; milă=mercy). Other Slavonic words from Romanian language are: cleşte=pliers; boală=disease; cocoş=cock; deal=hill; muncă=work; noroc=luck.

Words of Slavonic origin form 20-22% of the main vocabulary of the Romanian language. There are also words taken from other neighboring languages: Hungarian: chip=face; fel=kind; gând=thought; oraş=city, town – Turkish: alai=procession; cişmea=water pump; ciulama=white sauce stew; ciubuc=hookah; Greek: cărămidă=brick; a pedepsi=to punish; prosop=towel.

The oldest document written in Romanian but using Cyrillic alphabet is a short letter from 1521 “The letter of Neacşu from Câmpulung”. After this date, there are a lot of letters, selling documents, dowry lists and other notes , and after 1540, printed books, most of them in Braşov. Most of those books were religious translations from Slavonic. First they were translated in Maramureş, where the manuscripts were founded and then printed by the deacon Coresi for many years. The first part of The Old Testament was printed in Orăştie in 1581-1582.

Religious books were continuously printed along the 16th century. Even if they were only legends or popular novels, they were not printed but copied by hand in several copies.

In 1860 after the two Romanian Principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia united, a new law was introduced regarding the using of the Latin alphabet. After this date, the Romanian language with its main vocabulary and grammatical structure of Latin origin and using the Latin alphabet became a full member of Romance languages group, together with Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Provencal, Retroroman. There was another one, Dalmatian, but in the 19th century ceased to be used.
Page of a printed book - 17th centuryThe oldest document written in Romanian (1521)Roman engraving