The explanation is quite simple and logical, but...
Let's take a closer look at the map of the Roman Empire:
(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click here for a larger image and further details).And now the map of the Romance languages:
(Source: Wikipedia. Click here for a larger image and further details).We can see that Romance languages are basically located in western Europe: Italian Peninsula, Gaul, Iberian Peninsula. Rumanian seems to be the only exception. What about the rest of the Roman Empire? Greece, the Danubian area, Anatolia, the African provinces... In some of these areas, like present-day Tunisia, the level of Romanization was as deep as in any western European province of the Empire. Impressive Roman remains can still be seen in many North Africa locations, and in the old days many important figures of Roman history were born there... Therefore...
WHY IS IT THAT THERE ARE NO ROMANCE
LANGUAGES IN NORTHERN AFRICA?
LANGUAGES IN NORTHERN AFRICA?
I don't know if there are many linguists who have asked themselves this question, but I find it interesting.
Traditional linguistics can offer no satisfactory explanation for this fact, because of its chronological constraints and its dependence on historical conquests and migrations. But fortunately, there are some authors (e.g. Untermann, Villar, Ballester, Alinei) whose contributions are helping to build a completely new framework for Pre-Roman languages and their connection with present-day languages. It is obvious that the Roman conquest is still the main factor in the formation of Romance languages, but it cannot be the only one. Otherwise, we would expect Romance languages in many other places, for example in northern Africa.
Very probably, the answer to the question must be found in pre-history. And also in the application of some basic principles, like this one: the more you go back in time, the less likely it is that a language spreads by way of conquest or colonization. The words of Mario Alinei (in Origine dell lingue d'Europa, Vol. 2, p. 813) are quite relevant:
"nella preistoria come nella storia, l'ibridazione linguistica è la regola, la sostituzione linguistica l'eccezione".
It is obvoius thet in the pre-history of Italy, Iberia and France there were elements that facilitated the birth of what we call Romance languanges. They can be socio-economic factors, but also linguistic, such as the presence of IE languages (mainly Celtic or Italic) in these areas already in pre-historic times. But if we look at some of the peoples that the Romans subdued (Etruscans, Iberians, etc.) we see that they are non-IE, or at least their inscriptions were written in non-IE languages. However, it is becoming quite clear that when we talk about Etruscans, for example, we are mainly talking about an intrusive elite that ruled over a mainly Italic-speaking population. Mario Alinei has given an abundant amount of evidence (from archaeology and dialectology) to prove the continuity of the Italic-speaking population in Etruria and other places, even outside Italy. The Romans of northern Africa and the Etruscans of Etruria had something in common: they were ruling elites without a capacity to alter significantly what the original populations spoke. Something similar could be said about the Iberians. They were the ruling elite in some areas. But what do we know about the peoples they subdued?
Historical linguistics must go beyond easily-explainable historical facts and enter the realm of real multidisciplinary analysis.
In future posts I'll focus on the languages of Pre-Roman Iberia, which are particularly interesting.