Lenga d'òc and the Latin dialect continuum

Occitan is a Romance language spoken by less than a million speakers in southern France. Its name comes from the Occitan word for yes. Latin did not have a word for yes, and thus over the years three distinct words emerged:

  • òc, from Latin hoc (“this”), in Occitan and dialects in southern France;
  • oïl, from Latin hoc illud (“this is it”), in France and dialects in northern France, now oui in modern French;
  • si, from Latin sic (“thus”) in Italy and Spain, developing into Italian and Sicilian , Spanish , Portuguese sim.

Thus Occitan or lenga d’òc came to refer to the those dialects using òc. Langues d’oïl refers to modern French and related dialects spoken in northern France. There is a great degree of mutual intelligibility for speakers of French, Italian, Spanish, or Catalan.

Today, most people are familiar with the five largest daughter languages of Latin: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian, each associated with a European nation-state. Medieval Europe, however, was populated with a dialect continuum that resulted from the collapse of the Roman Empire and the decentralization and deurbanisation that followed. There were only small differences in neighboring varieties, but mutually intelligibility decreased as distance increased. Remnants of this continuum can be seen in the numerous smaller Romance languages still alive today. Some notable ones include:

  • Catalan català, spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and Andorra;
  • Occitan, which shares official status with Catalan in Catalonia;
  • Galician galego, spoken in Galicia in northwestern Spain, which is very similar to Portuguese but with Castilian phonology and accent,
  • Leonese Llionés, Asturian asturianu, and Aragonese aragonés, which were all widely spoken on Iberia in their respective kingdoms until the spread of Castilian Spanish;
  • Norman Nourmand, the language of the Normans and William the Conqueror and the source of the French words that entered English during the Middle English period. The langue d’oïl that was an official language of England was not, therefore, a direct ancestor of modern French but rather a sister language of the Paris dialect that developed into modern French.
  • Romantsch romontsch, one of the four national languages of Switzerland;
  • Neapolitan napulitano, the historical dialects of southern Italy (modern Italian originates in the northern Tuscan or Florentine dialects);
  • Sicilian sicilianu, a language of 5 million speakers that is surprisingly distinct from Italian,
  • Ligurian ligure, spoken on the Italian Riviera, the language of the dominant maritime city-state of Genoa.