Showing posts with label Romance Languages. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romance Languages. Show all posts

16 May 2013

Two new languages in Aragón

Lapao and Lapapyp are not exactly new languages. The regional authorities of Aragón (Spain) have decided to use these odd names to refer to the minority languages spoken in that region (you can read about it here). They are actually acronyms: LAPAO stands for Lengua Aragonesa Propia del Área Occidental, and LAPAPYP is Lengua Aragonesa Propia de las Áreas Pirenaica y Prepirenaica.

What is this all about? Well, yes, you guessed right, it's all about politics. The languages concerned here are Catalan and Aragonese, but it seems there are people in Aragón who are not happy with these names. For the Aragón nationalist parties, it is inconvenient to admit that Catalan (the language of their powerful eastern neighbours) is spoken in their territory. The other party involved, the conservative PP, does not seem to be in favour of promoting regional languages, especially if they're on the verge of extinction, like Aragonese itself. What about the other parties? They have obviously criticised the new terminology as absurd and ridiculous. Let's admit it: these names have some kind of Polinesian flavour that does not quit fit in this northeastern region of Spain, especially if we bear in mind that "Lapao", as it will be officially known from now, is spoken in the north of the region, i.e. in the areas bordering the Pyrenees.

Source of the image: Wikipedia.

4 February 2012

Dictada Occitana

Last Saturday I participated in the Trobada Occitana at Burjassot (a town in the Valencia Metropolitan Area). As you can see in the bilingual programme (picture on the right), the event included a series of activities around the Occitan language: a speech, live music in Occitan, and obviously, the Dictada itself, i.e. a dictation where the participants have to show their level of proficiency in Occitan. This type of events are held once a year in many places around the Catalan/Occitan world, and they work as a way of showing support for the Occitan language.

So there we were, ready for the dictation. The singer of the band (Primaël) read out the lyrics of one of his songs (Companh), which were used as the text for the dication. I had hardly ever written any Occitan before, like most of the people there, but the words of the lyrics were easy to understand. Below you can see a photo of the three winners, and the funny thing is that the second from the right is actually ... me!
How is it possible for some Catalan/Valencian speakers like ourselves to be able to understand and write in Occitan at a more or less decent level, without having learnt or practiced any Occitan before? The answer is easy: both languages are closely related. Some authors have gone beyond that idea, proposing that Catalan and Occitan are, grossly speaking, two varieties of the same language. The truth is that centuries of separation, and a series of historical events, particularly the expansion of Spanish and French in the corresponding territories, have created a linguistic scenario that differs strongly from Medieval times. In fact, the number of people who speak Occitan in France is low, and declining, and the language has no official status. However, the idea of an Occitan/Catalan unity is at least a beautiful dream,  a mirage, one that would include a vast area with cities like Bordeaux, Marseille, Clermont-Ferrand, Toulouse, Barcelona or Valencia.

In any case, going to that Occitan dictation was such a cool thing to do! And I even got a prize.

8 May 2010

The Franco-Iberian refuge

During the last glaciation, vast areas of northern Europe, including the British Isles, were uninhabited. This glaciation reached its peak at about 20,000 BC (Late Glacial Maximum, LGM), and it wasn't until the beginning of the Holocene (about 12,000 BP) with milder climatic conditions, that these territories started to be repopulated from southern refugia. Population genetics studies show that the Franco-Iberian LGM Refugium played a major role in this repopulation, with a series of relevant gene clusters that can be traced back to that original area. Some authors, e.g. Oppenheimer, have also suggested that this Mesolithic expansion from the various rrfugia is the most important component in today's European populations; other authors suggest that the role of later oppulation movements, e.g. during the Neolithic, has left a more significant mark. This is of course a matter of current debate, and one that has important implications for the study of European prehistoric languages. Now, what was this Franco-Iberian refuge exactly?

Sometimes, it is referred to simply as the Iberian refuge, but I prefer the other name (Franco-Iberian, or Franco-Cantabrian) because I think it's a more accurate term. In his book (Origins of the British), Stephen Oppenheimer defines it as follows: (p. 118): "The refuge for south-west Europe was spread either side of the Pyrenees in southern and eastern France, the Basque Country, and other northern coastal parts of Spain such as Galicia and Catalonia." I'm not so sure of that. If we take a look at a physical map of the Iberian Peninsula, we realize that it is in general composed of high lands and mountainous terrain. In fact, Spain is the second highest country in Europe, after Switzerland, and the area of Castilla-León, sorrounded by mountains, is the highest plateau in Europe (with cities like Burgos, at an altitude of 929 m.). In present-day climatic conditions, these natural features would impose some limitations to population or linguistic exchange. In the hard conditions of the LGM, and also in later cold spells, e.g. the Younger Dryass, they probably meant complete isolation. The Mediterranean areas of Iberia, including Catalonia, were probably cut off from the Cantabrian coast, so they probably did not participate in the repopulation of north-west Europe. As I see it, there is an axis dividing the Iberian Peninsula into two distinct prehistoric areas: on the one hand, the Atlantic Façade, comprising Portugal and some regions of northern and central Spain; on the other, a Mediterranean Façade, connected with southern France and Italy. This division, caused by climatic and geographic features, is also reflected in the distribution of languages in prehistory: Celtic in the west and Iberian on the Mediterranean, as can be seen in the map of the left (source: Arkeotavira). How old are these linguistic borders? What were the languages spoken by those people who repopulated the British Isles and other northern regions from the Franco-Iberian refuge? These are difficult questions to answer. Geographic features are an important factor in population movements, as they define the possible routes of communication and the chances for interaction. This can clearly be seen during the LGM, the most hostile environment that can be imagined for human populations in Europe, but also in other periods, with milder climatic conditions.

In some previous posts (e.g. here) I have suggested some possible scenarios for the languages of the Iberian Peninsula in pre-Roman times. One of the hypotheses, as stated by Xaverio Ballester and other authors, is that the speakers of Iberian languages arrived at a later period, settling over a territory where IE (possibly Italid) languages were spoken. But where did these Iberian-speakers come from? A possible candidate is Aquitaine, in south-west France, as some parallels can de drawn between the ancient languages of the Aquitani and Iberian. It has also been argued that Iberian is connected with Basque, and this idea was actually quite popular in the 20th century, leading to some simplistic equations of Basque and Iberian which were more enthusiastic than scientifically sound. In any case, it is reasonable to see some possible links between the languages of the Basques, the Aquitani and the Iberians. Now, what is the possible geographic connection between these territories? If we look at the first map again, we find that there is actually a natural corridor uniting those areas: the Garonne River Valley, situated between the Pyrenees and the French Massif Central; at its centre, the city of Toulouse, a strategic point in this route. Was this natural corridor shut off during LGM? It would be interesting to know.

Whenever one attempts to make sense of the languages of western Europe, one is forced to face a familiar mystery: the presence of an unexpected non-IE linguistic isolate: Basque. And to make matters worse, the Basque-speaking area is actually at the heart of the Franco-Iberian LGM refugium. According to the German linguist Theo Vennemann, the people in the Franco-Iberian refugium spoke languages related to Basque, and they spread them through vast areas of western and northern Europe. These languages were later superseded by Indo-European (except of course in the Basque Country) and their traces, as Vasconic Substratum, can be found in the vocabulary of some European languages, including toponymical terms. Vennemann's theory has not been accepted in general, and I personally think it's not tenable (I'll discuss it in a future post). However, it presents a coherent explanation in terms of prehistoric events. Now, is there an alternative explanation? Let's try.

The question is: why would a language, in this case Basque, be excluded from the opportunity of expanding to a new territory, in this case post-Ice-Age northern Europe, when the opportunity arose? First, it must be said that, in theory, there's no reason to believe that Basque was spoken in that area at such an early age (the Mesolithic), but in any case, for the purposes of this investigation, let's assume that this was the case. The Basque country of today occupies the coastal corner of land that connects Spain and France. At first sight, this would have been the natural route for any population transfer from the LGM refugium to the north. However, let's remember that at that precise moment the coastal line was different from the one we have today; the sea level was much lower, and the lowlands extended well into the Antlantic. At least in theory, it is possible that some populations along the Cantabrian coast, speakers of a non-Basque language, moved to the north, bypassing the highland areas where Basque-related languages were spoken and actually impeding any possible expansion of this language group into the new horizon created by the receding ice. And it can also be argued that these 'opportunists' from the Cantabrian refuge were speakers of some form of Indo-European, but that's of course a different discussion. In any case, is it reasonable to suppose that the Basque-speaking population just missed the chance for expansion? The situation is not impossible in itself. To illustrate the point, I will provide an example which bears some distant resemblance: the conquest and colonization of America.

The discovery of America opened a new horizon for European populations and languages, but who took the chance? Obviously, there is a geographic factor in this: it was the areas around the Atlantic that were involved in the whole process. First the Spanish and the Portuguese, then the English, the French and the Dutch. Let's take a look at the Spanish expansion: who took part in it? Basically, it involved people from the west side of the axis (see above), mainly from areas such as Extremadura or Andalusia. There was little or no involvement of people from the Mediteranean coast in the whole event. Consequently their language (Catalan) played no role in the story. This can be explained in geographic terms but also, more importantly, in socio-economic terms: the eastern regions of Spain are in a different context, one that connects them to other Mediterranean territories. In addition, the discovery of America coincided with a time of decadence for the Catalan language, with Spanish as the language of the new emerging power.

24 October 2009

Lenga d'Òc

Today, at this time, as I sit in front of my computer writing this post, the streets of Carcassonne, a city in the south of France, must be filled with people demonstrating in favour of the Occitan language. It's impossible for me to be there (I live 650 km. further south), but I'm sure there are a lot of people from Catalonia or Valencia in that demonstration, sympathising with our northern neighbours. On the right you can see the poster of the Carcassonne event, written in Occitan.

The similarities between Valencian/Catalan and Occitan are striking, as can be seen in the poster itself: at first sight, it could be taken for a Catalan text. However, there are important differences in the official and social status of these 'regional' languages. Valencian/Catalan is considered an official language in the corresponding regions and it is used in all spheres: education, media, politics, etc. The speakers of Valencian/Catalan are counted by the million and the future of the language, despite the pessimistic views of some people, does not seem particularly sombre. The situation of Occitan is quite different. It is not considered an official language and the number of its speakers has decreased constantly since the 14th century, when la langue d'oïl, i.e. French, started to take over. A word like Provençal is forever associated with the flourishing world of the Medieval Troubadour, a time when this language was considered the lingua franca of literature in south-western Europe, and poets from Catalonia and northern Italy used it to write their poems. I'm sure that there are many people today who must think that Provençal and the other varities of the Langue d'Oc (see map on the left) are no longer spoken, but the truth is that they are still alive. In poor condition, but alive!

In two recent trips to that land of Oc (last December I visited Carcassonne and in the summer I spent a week in Provence) I tried to find out about the presence of Occitan in the areas. As I imagined, the result was a bit disappointing. But I did find some things. For example, a school in Carcassonne where children were taught in Languedocian (these schools are called 'Calandretas' and there are some more in the region). In some cities I could see street names written both in French and in Provençal (see photo on the right, which I took in Aix-en-Provence).

This reminds us that Occitan is not just a memory of the past. Below the surface of big nations with their official languages and their official borders (French, Spanish, Italian), there lies a world of less 'official' languages which are still preserved and which offer us a richer story: the one about people who could understand each other in a language continuum that lasted centuries.

Note: the map has been taken from this web-page.

2 July 2009

From parents to children


In fond memory of my parents, Ismael and Asunción.
We all have a mother tongue. In my case, it's Valencian, a Romance language usually classified as a dialect of Catalan (see map below). This is the language I learnt from my parents and the one I use today in everyday life, together with Spanish. It is obvious that languages are generally transmitted from parents to children, but there are circumstances that make this transmission a bit complicated, especially in cases where the mother tongue is not associated with power or prestige. To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the history of Valencian/Catalan (I’ll try to be brief): The Late Middle Ages and Early Rennaissance were a period of splendour for this language, but by the late 15th century, under the pressure of the neighbouring powers (mainly Spain and France), there were signs of decay, which continued in the next centuries. It was still kept as the most common language for everyday communication but was not so relevant in some domains, for example in literature. This delicate balance came to an end in 1714, when the War of Succession brought about the first Bourbon King, Philip V, and with him a centralized, absolutist regime similar to the one they had in France. After the publication of the Decretos de Nueva Planta, Valencian/Catalan disappeared as an official language, substituted by Spanish, and its use was basically relegated to colloquial conversation. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that a series of Catalan/Valencian-speaking intellectuals started to think of their local language as something more than a just picturesque note. The early 20th century saw some developments in the use of Valencian/Catalan as a prestigious language, but the Civil War (1936-1939) and the Franco Regime (1939-1975) was a step backwards. After the restoration of democracy in 1975, the status of regional languages in Spain has grown considerably, and nowadays there is a lot of legislation aimed at protecting and promoting them.

When I was born, in 1968, there was only one official language in my region, and it was Spanish. Valencian was not taught at schools and most of its speakers could not even write it. But in spite of this long-lasting precarious situation, it had been kept alive by generations of people in my community. They were not the heroes or martyrs that nationalists, in Valencia or elsewhere, tend to imagine. They were just common people, people like us speaking their language and bequeathing it to their children. Maybe Valencian/Catalan was simply a lucky language, rescued from extinction at the very last minute. The forces behind modern states and their standard languages are really powerful, and the process of language substitution has been a reality in many places in recent centuries. But it seems that, beyond the great facts of history, the battles and invasions, the lists of kings and their deeds, and also beyond the works of the grammarians and antiquarians dreaming of the ideal land of the ancestors, the story of language is basically about common people. There is something particularly strong about the linguistic links between parents and their children. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine why in 1968, after more than 250 years of decay, Valencian was still alive. And 250 years is actually a quarter of a millennium, which is quite relevant in historical terms. In this blog I have written extensively about the concept of language continuity, and today I have described a nice example, one that I know at first hand. And it’s quite recent. Let’s imagine other types of context, e.g. in prehistory, where languages were not under the pressure of highly complex entities such as modern states and modern societies. Mainstream historical linguistics seems to forget these details all too often, and the history of any language is usually described as the consequence of historical or imaginary facts including invasions, conquests and a continuous process of language substitution. Is it really so? Was it really like this?

25 April 2009

Populations and languages: the Strait of Gibraltar

Many years ago I made a trip to Gibraltar. At that time I was a post-graduate student at the University of Valencia, and one of the courses I took was about dialectology and sociolinguistics. We had to do some research as the final assignment of the course and in my group we decided to go to Gibraltar to do some field-work about the linguistic situation of this peculiar place. We spent three days there, with our questionnaires and interviews, and we also had time to do some sightseeing: we walked around the city, we saw the famous monkeys and we finally climbed the Rock, from where we had some spectacular views of both Spain and the African coast, which is a mere 14 km away. We can imagine that, throughout history and prehistory, many humans living on either side of the Strait must have felt curious to know about the land that they could see across the water, and this curiosity could have led to a significant movement of human populations in both directions.
The surprising fact, however, is that the Strait of Gibraltar has been a barrier for human migration in all ages, especially in prehistory. The main reason for this is geological: the Strait of Gibraltar has remained as it is now for the last 5 million years, even at the various glacial ages, where the sea level lowered significantly all over the world. We also have other types of evidence, e.g. the archaeological record, but the most important confirmation has come from population genetics. I recently read an interesting article about this subject: Bosch et al, 2001, High-Resolution Analysis of Human Y-Chromosome Variation Shows a Sharp Discontinuity and Limited Gene Flow between Northwestern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, American Journal of Human Genetics, 68:1019-1029). In this article, the authors analysed the genetic components of various populations in Spain and Morocco, combined with other evidence from archaeology and history, and reached a series of interesting conclusions. It seems for example that in both cases, the populations of today are mostly the descendants of the people who lived in these areas in the Paleolithic, with a minor impact of migration from the Middle East, probably associated with Neolithic expansion. On the other hand, the genetic components of Iberian and NW African populations show that they come from different origins. Human settlement in Iberia is connected with the expansion of modern humans into Europe from Eurasia or Anatolia, whereas the population of NW Africa is mostly connected with components that originated in the African continent. The gene flow across the Strait of Gibraltar is not considered relevant; it can be estimated at about 5%, and it could, at least partially, show the traces of some recent historical phenomena, like the expansion of the Roman Empire or the Arabic conquest of Iberia. There’s no doubt that the Strait of Gibraltar, as a natural barrier, has played a decisive role in the distribution of human populations, both for modern humans and for older types of hominids. Instead of crossing the 14 km stretch of water that separates Africa from Europe, it took humans a few thousand years to go all the way to the Middle East and eastern Europe until they reached the Iberian Peninsula. This is what I would call a ‘Grand Tour’.

Now, what are the linguistic consequences of all this? Is there also a linguistic barrier as well? Has this language barrier existed from prehistoric times? In a previous post I wrote about the expansion of Arabic as a consequence of the Islamic Empire. The main conclusion I reached was that Arabic dialects are spoken today only in areas where other Afro-Asiatic languages (formerly known as Hamito-Semitic) were already spoken before the arrival of the Arabs, and not in areas where there were other types of languages, e.g. in Persia or Iberia. I’m not sure if anyone had realised this simple fact before, but it looks quite clear in my opinion. The important factor here is affinity. The language of the conquerors (in this case Arabic) has a varying degree of influence on the languages of the conquered depending on the affinity between them. When the Arabs arrived in northern Africa they found Berber-speaking populations, and Berber languages belong to the Afro-Asiatic group. The subsequent process of hybridization led to the linguistic situation that we find in the area today, with a series of dialects which are considered regional variations of Arabic (with the exception of the areas where Berber languages have survived until today). What about Iberia? The languages spoken in this territory were quite different from Arabic; they were connected with Latin, an Indo-European language belonging to the Italic group. The Islamic conquest brought about a process of hybridization, with a significant exchange of linguistic (mainly lexical) material in both directions, as can be seen in the vocabulary of Spanish, Portuguese and other Ibero-Romance languages, and also in many features of the Hispano-Arabic dialect. However, Arabic and Romance languages were always perceived as something different. There were not enough opportunities for hybridization to produce significant hybrids between them; people spoke one of the languages, or both, but not a mixture of them (except perhaps in some local, pidgin-like cases). Another example of the importance of affinity in situations of language contact can be seen in the Roman conquest. The influence of the Romans was linguistically relevant in the Iberian Peninsula, where there was already a background of Indo-European languages, whereas it was rather insignificant in northern Africa, with no Indo-European background (see this post for more details and some maps).

It seems therefore that the population/language distribution in NW Africa and Iberia corresponds to a pattern that dates back to Paleolithic times, when modern humans arrived in these areas via different routes. The Strait of Gibraltar, as a natural barrier, was the main factor behind the whole process, limiting the possibilities of genetic or cultural exchange. Later developments, associated with the rise and fall of empires and the expansion of religions, were not strong enough to change the overall picture.

Notes on the illustrations:
- First picture: The Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. Source: OjoDigital (here).
- Second picture: The Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea. Source: NASA (here).

14 March 2009

Linguistic diversity. My trip to Carcassonne

In memory of Eusebi Penadés
Last December I went on a trip to the south of France (Departments of Aude and Ariège) with a group of people. We visited the walled city of Carcassonne (see photo below, left) and some nearby places like Mirepoix, the Abbey of Saint Hilaire and Foix and its castle, with the snowy summits of the Pyrenees in the background. We also stopped at a winery in Limoux, where we had the chance to taste some of the local wines. The one I found particularly tasty was Blanquette, a type of sparkling white wine that has been produced here since the 16th century. The photo below was taken during our visit to the winery in Limoux:In this photo there are two noticeable elements: a person on the right (me) and a big poster on the wall, with a smiling wine-grower and a sentence written in Lengadocian, the Occitan dialect spoken in the area. Let’s take a closer look at this sentence:
A Limoux, avèm le solelh demaï.
The French translation, which is also written on the poster, runs like this: “(À Limoux) on a le soleil en plus”. At first sight, some clear similarities can be seen between the Occitan text and its French counterpart: the preposition “a”, the definite article “le”, the word solehl (soleil), and the use of the verb avoir meaning possession. French (originally Langue d’Oïl) and Occitan (Langue d’Oc) are neighbouring Romance languages and ones expects these similarities. But Occitan is even closer to Catalan. In our sentence, for example, we have the ending “-em” of the verb (1st person plural), which is also typical of Catalan, for example in havem (also hem). However, in Catalan, like in Spanish, this verb does not mean possession; it is used exclusively as an auxiliary. Another similarity is the word mai, comparable to Catalan més (both connected to Latin magis). What we find here is a classical example of various linguistic isoglosses affecting the languages of a given territory, in this case Western Mediterranean Europe. Somehow, my trip from Valencia to Carcassonne was also a trip across a linguistic continuum, starting in the Valencia/Catalan area, with its own internal isoglosses; from south to north: Valencian (belonging to the Western Catalan group), Central Catalan, and Roussillon dialect (already in France). Then, the region of Languedoc, belonging to the Occitan area. If we had continued our trip further north, we would have found other Occitan dialects, and then a series of Oïl dialects, including the one we call ‘French’. Rather than language boundaries, what we have here is a language continuum, or transitional stages between dialects. Now, is this exactly the linguistic situation that we can find today? The fact is that much of the linguistic variation has disappeared after the emergence and expansion of a series of standard languages, generally associated with power and prestige. First it was Occitan and Catalan (in Medieval times), then it was French and Spanish. The expansion of literacy in recent centuries, primarily associated with the languages of prestige, has been one of the major factors in the disappearance of linguistic variation in favour of standard forms of language. On the other hand, the emergence of powerful centralised states has brought about the delimitation of stronger language barriers. The truth is that nowadays, for example, Lengadocian is spoken by a minority of the population in Languedoc, whose inhabitants generally see French as their ‘language’. But the existence of a pre-modern distribution of dialects can still be felt, as the example of the Limoux poster shows, even if the sentence looks a bit like a picturesque note for tourists. It is clear that whenever we want to deal with the languages of the past, we have to bear in mind that concepts such as ‘language’ or ‘language barrier’ cannot be understood as we see them today, in our highly-developed societies.

1 March 2009

Ibn Mardaniś, the Wolf King

The conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Muslim Empire started in 711, when the last Visigothic King, Roderic, was defeated; only some areas in the north remained independent, the rest of the Peninsula (Al-Andalus) being under the rule of the Emirs (and later Caliphs) of Cordoba. In the following centuries, the Christian territories (Asturias, Castile, Leon, Galicia, Aragon, Catalonia, etc.) became stronger and started their gradual expansion towards the south, which ended in 1492 with the conquest of Granada. All in all, the presence of Muslims in Al-Andalus comprises a period of more than seven centuries, which resulted in an important legacy that is still felt today, e.g. in the Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula, where there are many words from Arabic. Now, what was the linguistic situation in the territories under Muslim rule?

It is generally thought that the Muslim territories were basically bilingual in the first centuries of this period, with one language (Arabic) connected with power, religion and administration, and a series of Romance dialects, generally referred to as Mozarabic, spoken by a high percentage of the population. When the Castilians conquered the city of Toledo in1085, they found a multicultural society, with Christian, Muslim and Jewish elements. However, this situation of relative, diglossic balance in Al-Andalus started to break at the end of the 11th century, with the arrival of the Almoravids, who established their Kingdom from 1085 to 1145. The Almoravids had a more rigorous view on religious matters and pursued a repressive policy against the non-Muslim or non-Arabic. But they were not the only ‘fundamentalists’ who arrived in Al-Andalus. They were followed by the Almohads, who ruled between 1147 and 1227. It is clear that in those years the Romance dialects spoken in Muslim territory were in a very weak position, and some scholars think that by the 13th century their presence in those territories was minimal. It is supposed, for example, that when King James I of Aragon conquered Valencia in 1238, the population of this city was predominantly or (for some scholars) nearly exclusively Arabic-speaking. This, however, has been a matter of hard-fought debate, because of its ideological implications. In general, Arabic continued as a living language in the new Catholic kingdoms, but in a position of inferiority to the languages of the new elite. The repressive measures against the Muslim population increased after the end of the ‘Reconquista’, and culminated in 1606, when the remaining 'Moriscos' (Muslims 'converted' to Christianity) where expelled, ending a nine-century period of Arabic as a spoken language in the Iberian Peninsula.

As we have seen, the emergence of fundamentalist ideologies, triggered by a series of complex historical events, put an end to a long history of cultural hybridization and coexistence in Al-Andalus. If we look at some of the historical figures of this period we can get a rich picture of the times they lived in. One of them is Muhammad Ibn Mardaniś (1124 or 1125- 1172), also known as the Wolf King. He ruled over the Kingdom of Murcia (one of the Taifa Kingdoms into which Al-Andalus was divided at the time) and became an important political figure of his time, and also a controversial one. He expanded the limits of his Kingdom, incorporating new territories in eastern Spain, among them the region of Valencia. King Mardaniś was an example of hybridization. He came from a Hispanic family who had converted to Islam (his surname is supposed to derive from the same source as Martínez or other similar Romance names). His attitude towards the Catholic Kingdoms or the presence of Hispanic elements in his troops, and also some aspects of his private life (for example the clothes he used to wear), reveal the mixture of cultural elements in his personality. During his reign he had to fight the Almohads, who were trying to impose a unified, ultra-orthodox state in Al-Andalus. It was only after his death, in 1172, that the Kingdom of Murcia became a vassal to the Almohads. This defeat can also be seen as the end of an era in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, and the beginning of another. I find it surprising that his life, so full of events and marked by such a rich and controversial personality, has not yet inspired a major literary work or a feature film.

Notes:
- for more on Ibn Mardaniś you can read this article, by Ignacio González Cavero. In Spanish.
- further reading on the languages of Al-Andalus: Federico CORRIENTE (2008). Romania Arabica. Tres cuestiones básicas: arabismos, 'mozárabe' y 'jarchas'. Madrid, Trotta.
Images:
- first picture: Muslim architecture in the Mosque of Cordoba.
- second picture: Castle of Monteagudo, near Murcia, an important place in
Ibn Mardaniś's life. Source: here.

Last Edit: 5 March 2009

22 December 2008

Francesco Benozzo. La Tradizione Smarrita.

I have just read an excellent book, written by Francesco Benozzo, an Italian scholar of Celtic studies. Its title is La Tradizione Smarrita (Roma: Viella, 2007), which could be translated as The Lost Tradition. In this book the author analyses the earliest forms of literature in Western Romance languages (Occitan troubadour poetry, chansons de geste, etc.), linking them with an oral tradition which goes back to the times of the Celts, well before the Roman conquest. According to the author, there are many formal and thematic parallelisms between these two traditions. On the other hand, the medieval “troubadour”, and also some imagery which is found in early Romance literature, can be seen as the remnants of a much earlier period, when the poet-sorcerers, or shamans, and their ritual, played an important role in Western European society. The book offers a great amount of evidence to support the author’s thesis: text and linguistic analysis, anthropological data, historical sources. All in all, La Tradizione Smarrita is recommendable for anyone interested in the history of Western European literature and the origins of Celtic mythology.

Francesco Benozzo is a member of the Continuity Theory (CT) workgroup, and he has applied the CT approach to his research on compared literature, anthropology and Celtic studies, as can be seen in his book La Tradizione Smarrita, and also in other writings (you can find some of his articles here). He has also translated a series of old Celtic texts into Italian and edited some modern literary works, apart from creating his own. But this is not all. When I entered his web-page for the first time I discovered yet another interesting thing about Benozzo: he is a musician, an expert in the Celtic harp. He regularly gives concerts, where he plays the harp and sings in old Welsh and other languages, and has also recorded several albums (you can take a look at his web-page for some samples of his music and further information about his discography).

14 December 2008

Toponymy and historical linguistics

This weekend I attended a conference on onomastics, i.e. the study of the history and use of proper names, including place names (toponyms) and people’s names (anthroponyms). It was held in Xàtiva, a town near Valencia (you can find the full programme of the conference here, written in Catalan). In general, I found the talks quite interesting, especially the ones given by Josep Moran (University of Barcelona), Emili Casanova (University of Valencia) and Agustí Ventura (former professor of Latin and an expert in local history and toponymy). There were also some insightful contributions by other participants, whose research focused on specific areas or villages, e.g. Enric Mut’s account of the toponymy of Guadassuar and Francisco Llácer’s new ideas about the toponymy of the Algemesí area, both in the Valencia province. The world of toponyms is full of little jewels that can be of great interest for the linguist. In recent times I have become increasingly interested in this field of study and, in fact, I’m currently doing some research on toponymy in collaboration with Xaverio Ballester (University of Valencia).

Toponyms and anthroponyms have never played a much relevant role in historical linguistics or in theoretical linguistics. As we have already seen in this blog (for example in the previous post, see here), historical linguists are mainly interested in establishing genealogical relationships between languages by means of laws and principles. Place-names and people’s names do not fit very well into this theoretical framework: they offer a much more real and complex picture of language, and that's not something that many linguists are comfortable with. The history of a toponym tells us about the different languages or dialects that have shaped it through the ages, regardless of genealogies or language families. Human languages are the result of people’s interaction, which happens in all directions. Concepts such as ‘language unity’ or ‘purity’, or ‘deviation from the norm or from the common ancestor’ are modern developments or purely abstract ideas, and are not very useful if we want to study the history (or prehistory) of languages. There are other approaches, other tools to look into language history or to analyse toponyms and anthroponyms in a scientific way, and I'm actually quite interested in them.

27 November 2008

Language family trees: what are they good for?

Genealogical trees have been used extensively in historical linguistics. They are a visual representation of the relationships between an original language, normally extinct, and its descendants, through a series of divisions and subdivisions that have taken place during long periods of time. A familiar example would be the genealogical tree of Romance languages, stemming from Latin. Another example is the IE familiy tree, which has been portrayed in a variety of forms. In this post you can find a couple of pictures depicting the IE 'family' (the first one is really beautiful, with its leaves and branches; the second one is a more prosaic diagram).

The idea behind family language trees seems quite reasonable. It is based on analogous types of representation found in other sciences, especially zoology and botany, where the evolution of species is shown as a succession of mutations and adaptations whereby new species are born out of the older ones. It seems that the use of genealogical trees in biology is justified, or at least acceptable. Now, can languages be compared to living organisms? Do they undergo mutations? Can they be classified into family trees? In this blog, I have already stressed the fact that there are no inherent components in languages that make them change. It is speech communities that change, causing hybridization and other phenomena that affect language. It is hard to imagine how a given speech community would just split into two without the actual intervention of external factors. Following this line of thought, it is clear that language family trees are just an inaccurate account of how languages evolve. However, an advocate of these trees may argue that the new approaches to language change, like the ones proposed by Mario Alinei, can be incorporated to the old theory, so that the idea of family relationships, with the whole array of divisions and branches, can still be maintained, at least to a certain extent. This way, for example, the division of language A into A1 and A2 is not just the consequence of a simple ‘mutation’ but the result of a combination of social and historical factors. Family trees are saved: there’s nothing specially wrong about them, and they’re visually attractive and very useful for pedagogical reasons. No problem then... Really? I’m not so sure.

First, a question: what can we see when we look at an IE genealogical tree? Does it depict the history of IE languages or, rather, the history of the written languages belonging to the IE group? The main concern of traditional historical linguistics has been the study of the written texts that have reached us from the past. Most of the principles and rules that have been proposed to describe the genealogical relationships between the various IE languages are based on this type of analysis. Is this an acceptable way to understand the ‘evolution’ of languages? I think it isn’t.

Let’s imagine a given geographic area, where there is written evidence of an old, now extinct language (Language A): by carefully studying the texts and all the available information, we can produce a description of the grammar, vocabulary and phonology of this language. We also find a second 'language' in the area (we will call it Language A2), whose written documents belong to a different period, about 500 years later. This language has a lot in common with its predecessor (Language A) but shows some clear signs of ‘evolution’. In Language A, for example, we find the words “pata” and “bolún”. Five centuries later, in Language A2, we have "peita" and "bulún". Apparently, the facts are clear: Language A has evolved into Language A2, and we can even devise a series of 'laws' that govern these changes. No problem. End of story. Or maybe not... As I said earlier, traditional IE theories and chronology are mainly based on the 'evolution' of written standards. However, if we apply a sociolinguistic approach to diachronic studies we get a different picture. Written languages originate in the dialect spoken by the ruling elite. Their social prestige and their association with power turn them into a very influential factor that affects the language of the whole society, but we can imagine that in a stratified society this written standard is not ‘the language’ (take a look at this post for a similar analysis). Let's turn now to Language A2 in our example. What is it exactly? Is it the result of an evolution process from Language A? Or is it a standard language connected with a different ruling elite that emerged later in the historical record? How do we know that the features of Language A are 'older' than the features of Language A2? The only thing we know is that they’re different standardized languages used at different times. Mario Alinei, in the framework of the Continuity Theory, is one of the first linguists who have analysed historical linguistics from a sociolinguistic perspective. He takes into account the written evidence and the traditional analysis but he puts them in a completely new context. His research on Italian dialects, for example, shows that some traditional assumptions about the emergence of Romance dialects in Italy cannot be accepted any more, as we have already seen in this post. A similar type of analysis could be applied to other languages.

13 September 2008

Romance languages before the Romans

It is generally accepted that, at around 1000 BC, the geographic distribution of Italic languages (among them Latin, Faliscan and Osco-Umbran) was restricted to some areas of central and southern Italy. Later on, the expansion of the Romans involved a massive process of language substitution whereby large populations, especially in western Europe, abandoned their languages (Celtic, Etruscan, Iberian, or in some cases obscure languages with no name) and adopted Latin, which was the origin of the subsequent Romance languages that are still spoken in those areas today (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Catalan, Italian, etc.). - This traditional explanation looks quite clear and reasonable, but in fact there are many good reasons to question it, as I’ll try to show here.

The readers of this blog are already familiar with Mario Alinei and the Continuity Theory. One of the main features of this new approach is the fact that the linguistic data are always analysed in connection with archaeological and anthropological data. Another important aspect is the type of linguistic analysis that is carried out. As I have already noted, Mario Alinei is a dialectologist. For many years he was the president of the Atlas Linguarum Europae project and he is considered one of the most important experts in Italian and European dialectology. One of the things he found out is that the main differences between the various Italian dialects had been established at a very archaic period, and not in the Middle Ages, as is generally assumed. The distribution of some kinship or agricultural terminology and the diffusion of some phonological traits from one dialect to another point to a pre-Roman chronology (Alinei, 2000:951-978). This can be applied to areas where other Italic dialects have traditionally been attested (central and southern Italy) but also to other areas where it was supposed that other types of languages were spoken: in northern Italy, on the islands of Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, and also in Etruria, where the presence of the Etruscans has been interpreted, in the light of the CT, as an intrusive elite that ruled over a mainly Italic-speaking population. One by one, Alinei analyses the data from the various areas and comes to the conclusion that the most relevant elements in the formation of these dialects, even at the most archaic stages, are Italic. Otherwise, how is it possible, for example, that the names for the plough, or for the various parts of the plough, were coined on the basis of a vocabulary that was more archaic than the one the Roman conquerors actually brought with them? In many respects Italian dialects (in Sardinia, in Piedmont, in Tuscany and elsewhere) seem to be 'older' than Classical Latin. The only acceptable explanation for this apparently paradoxical fact is that Italic languages were spoken in these areas before the Romans arrived. After the conquest, Latin became the most influential element in these territories, in a process which eventually shaped the local dialects into what they are today.

But Alinei’s proposals go beyond the geographic boundaries of Italy. He finds evidence for pre-Roman Italic languages in other territories, e.g. the Balearic Islands, southern France and the east and south of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as some Adriatic areas. In fact, he coined the term gruppo italide in order to avoid the geographic connotations of the word Italic. Some linguistic data seem to point in this direction, but a great amount of research is still to be done in order to refine this thesis. It seems, however, that the archaeological data support the existence of this “Italid” group, as can be seen in the areal distribution of the Printed-Cardium Pottery culture (c. 5000 BC; see the image on the right as an example; more information about this picture, here), or even in the distribution of the Epigravettian culture (24000 to 10000 BC). Looking at the maps of these cultures (you can find them in Alinei, 2002), it seems that there is correspondence between some present-day Romance languages and the areas that Alinei considers originally Italid. As we saw in the previous post, about the languages of Switzerland (you can read it here), the historical event of the Roman conquest is not relevant in the distribution of dialects in that area. Something similar could be said about the Italid area in general. (Alinei, 2000, p. 582): la romanizzazione avrebbe lasciato le proprie tracce solo là dove i linguemi precedenti erano già affini al Latino, mentre non avrebbe avuto conseguenze linguistiche rilevanti – salvo l’introduzione di prestiti – nelle aree in cui i linguemi autoctoni erano di ceppo diverso (Germanico, Celtico, Slavo, Illirico); (ib., p. 592): "Dal Neolitico Medio in poi, insomma, le principali aree dialettali sono già manifeste". Which is, of course, a revolutionary thing to say in the field of Historical Linguistics or Romance Studies. And I quite agree with him. First, because it offers a rational way of explaining the emergence of modern Romance dialects, avoiding the typical (and easier) explanations based on conquests and invasions. Secondly, because there are other researchers, with no direct connection with Mario Alinei or the CT, who have reached a series of results which, at least partially, point in the same direction.

One of these researchers is the Spanish linguist Francisco Villar, one of the most prestigious experts in pre-Roman languages of the Iberian Peninsula. As I said, he is no adherent to the CT, and his approach and methodology have little to do with it. In one of his studies (Villar, 2000), he analysed the whole corpus of pre-Roman Hispanic names for people and places, especially hydronyms. He found out that there were both Indo-European and non-IE elements in this archaic vocabulary. One would expect something like this, because it has traditionally been assumed that in Pre-Roman Hispania there were both IE languages, belonging to the Celtic group, and also non-IE languages, for example Iberian. But he also found some unexpected results, for example the existence of another IE language, that he called substrato indoeuropeo italoide. This non-Celtic IE lexicon is found in many areas in the Iberian Peninsula, but especially in the south and north-east. (Villar, 2000, p. 442): “El estrato étnico y lingüístico más profundo y abundante tanto en Cataluña y la Cuenca del Ebro, como en Andalucía que nos permite detectar la toponimia lo constituyen unas poblaciones indoeuropeas muy antiguas, que crearon el primer entramado hidrotoponímico de densidad suficiente como para perdurar a través de los sucesivos cambios de lengua y llegar hasta nuestros días”; (ib., p. 414): “La lengua paleohispánica tiene relaciones dialectales particularmente estrechas con las itálicas y, en forma más lejana y menos definida con las bálticas”.

Finally, I would like to summarize and conclude this article with a hypothesis, which is also an invitation for future research: In the Italian Peninsula, on the islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, in the south of France and the east of the Iberian Peninsula, dialects belonging to the Italid group have been spoken at least from the Neolithic, with no discontinuity. On the other hand, it is also possible that the first Homo Sapiens Sapiens who settled in these territories were speakers of Indo-European languages.

Bibliography:
- ALINEI, Mario (2000). Origini delle Lingue d’Europa. II. Continuità dal Mesolitico all’età del ferro nelle Principali Aree Etnolinguistiche. Bologna, Il Mulino.
- ALINEI, Mario (2002). Towards a generalised continuity model for Uralic and Indo-European languages. In Julku, Kyösti (ed.), The Roots of Peoples and Languages of Northewrn Eurasia IV. Oulu, Societas Historiae Fenno-Ugricae, 2002, 9-33 .
- VILLAR, Francisco (2000).
Indoeuropeos y No-Indoeuropeos en la Hispania Prerromana. Salamanca, Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.

12 September 2008

Language continuity in Europe (II): Switzerland

If we were asked to think of a typical example of a multilingual country in Europe, Switzerland would probably be one of the first ones to come to mind. Let’s take a look at the map of the offical languages of this country:












(From Wikimedia Commons. Click here for a larger image and further details).



This linguistic complexity, however, can be simplified if we bear in mind that these languages belong to two different and clearly-defined groups: on the one hand, we have a Germanic dialect: Swiss German (Schwyzertütsch), spoken in the Centre and north of the country, and, on the other hand, a group of Romance dialects (Franco-Provençal, Gallo-Italic and Ladin), located in the west and south.

The traditional explanation for this language diversity derives from two historical facts: the Roman Conquest, which brought about Latin as the base of modern Romance dialects, and the Germanic migrations at the end of the Roman Empire, which are the origin of Swiss German. It is also supposed that, before these historical events, the people who lived in this area were basically speakers of Celtic dialects.

The Continuity Theory (CT), however, sees it quite differently. Switzerland is actually a good place to test this theory. During the last glaciation, this area was completely uninhabited. It was only at around 8000 BC, when the ice-cap started to recede, that human populations started to settle in this area again, which means that there is no continuity between these human groups and the ones that lived here before the glacial period. A similar situation can be seen, in general, in the northern territories of Europe and Asia. For example in the Scandinavian Peninsula (see this post for more details).

Mario Alinei (2000, pp. 334-353) analyzed the prehistoric cultures of Switzerland from the Mesolithic (i.e. from the end of the last Glacial Age) onwards and found out that there is a consistent and significant correspondence between the distribution of these cultures and the distribution of present-day dialects. For example, analyzing the cultures of the Early Neolithic Period, Alinei realized that the Liniendandkeramik (LBK) culture was present in the areas were Germanic languages are spoken today, whereas the Chassey, Lagozza and Cortaillaud cultures correspond, respectively, to the areas where French (oil), Gallo-Italic and Franco-Provençal dialects are spoken, all of them belonging to the Italic group. This correlation of prehistoric cultures and modern dialects continues in the Late Neolithic and Calcolithic periods, and also in the Bronze and Iron Ages. An important factor in the formation of these speech communities is the presence of Celtic elements, connected mainly with the Iron Age cultures of Hallstatt (750-450 BC) and La Tène (450-58 BC), but also to be found in some older cultures, already in the Neolithic. In any case, these Celtic elements cannot be seen as the result of a massive migration or invasion. In the words of the archaeologist Marc Sautier (1976, 153):

“The arrival of the Celts did not deeply alter the indigenous way of life, except probably in the social field, as the impression is given that the relatively few newcomers constituted a ruling class”.

The expansion of Celtic cultures (and also, in the east, of Balkan elements) is connected with technological developments, especially in metallurgy. In many cases, especially in the later periods, the Celts can be interpreted as an intruding elite that ruled over the original population.

As we have seen, the CT explains the linguistic situation of Switzerland in a completely new way. Germanic and Italic dialects were already spoken here in the Mesolithic, i.e. from around 8,000 BC, with a geographical distribution which is quite similar to the one we have today, 10,000 years later. An important factor in the formation of these dialects is the influence of external groups, especially the Celts.

What about the Romans then? It is obvious that their language, and also the dialects brought by the Germanic tribes that migrated from the north, are of great importance in the formation of modern Swiss dialects. However, their role in the geographic distribution of these dialects is basically irrelevant.

Bibliography:
- ALINEI, Mario. (2000). Origini delle Lingue d’Europa. II. Continuità dal Mesolitico all’Età del Ferro nelle Principali Aree Etnolinguistiche. Bologna, Il Mulino.
- SAUTER, Marc R. (1976).
Switzerland from Earliest Times to the Roman Conquest. London, Thames and Hudson.

8 August 2008

Written on a coin


In the study of languages that are no longer spoken (e.g. Hittite, Sumerian, Classical Latin, Old Greek, Old English, etc.), historical linguistics has traditionally relied on written texts, found in coins, stone inscriptions, clay tablets, etc., or trasmitted by means of cultural tradition, as the main (or nearly the only) source of relevant data. Very often it has been argued that trying to figure out what these languages looked like at those early, pre-literate times is a highly speculative pursuit, which means that in their reconstructions of proto-languages (e.g. proto-Indo-European), linguists do not normally go far beyond this chronological limit. At most, they will set a time-scale which starts a few thousand years before the first examples of written materials. This method looks reasonable, and scientifically sound, but it raises a couple of questions:

1. Are written texts a reliable indication of the linguistic situation of a human society at a given time in history?

2. Are there not any other alternative ways to look into the languages of the past?

The best way to discuss these issues is by means of examples. In this article I will focus on a series of coins minted in the Iberian Peninsula at different times in history. To begin with, an example that I know very well:

I was born in a town called Xàtiva, situated in the region of Valencia, on the Mediterranean Coast of Spain. When the Romans arrived here in the 2nd century BC, Xàtiva was already an old city. Bronze coins with inscriptions in Iberian were minted here, and many of them have been preserved. We can even see some kind of evolution in these coins. Some of them are written in Iberian only. We can read the word Sait, which is thought to be the Iberian name of the city. Some other coins are bilingual, like the one you can see in the picture. On one side there is an effigy with the Latin name Saetabi, and on the other side a horse-riding warrior with the inscription Sait. Finally, we have some coins whose inscriptions are only in Latin.

Apparently, there is an easy explanation for this series of coins: Iberian was the language spoken here before the Romans. After the conquest, there was a period of bilingualism, reflected on the coins. Eventually, Iberian disappeared as a spoken language and was completely substituted by Latin, which is the origin of the Romance languages spoken here today. Simple and easy. But, is it really so simple? I’m afraid not. Let’s see some other examples.

By the time I was born, the Spanish currency was called peseta and it looked like this:
As you can see, the inscriptions on this coin are all written in Spanish. Now, does this coin reflect the linguistic situation of the place where I was born? Should we infer that Spanish was the only language spoken here at that time? Definitely not. Spanish has been the language of the ruling elite in the last centuries, and it is ruling elites (here as in any other country) that have the power to mint coins. However, the majority of the population in the area where I live speak Valencian, a Romance language which belongs to the Catalan-Valencian continuum (also spoken in the French region of Roussillon and closely related to Occitan). This is the language that my parents taught me, and the language I use everyday in all kinds of situations. Spanish is also widely spoken here, especially in urban areas, not only as a consequence of the dominant role of Spanish in the last centuries, but also through migration and other phenomena, and we can roughly say that I live in a bilingual community. But if we look at the coins, what do they tell us?... Let’s see another example:

This coin was not minted in Arabia or in Egypt. It was made in Spain in the 8th century AD, during the reign of Abd al-Rahman I. For many years, and in many parts of the Iberian Peninsula, Arabic was the language of the elite, and the only language in which coins were minted. Does it mean that the whole population of these territories shifted to Arabic, abandoning the languages they previously spoke? And that these people became once more Romance-language speakers when the Catholic Kingdoms expanded south in the long process known as Reconquista?

According to the 'orthodox' view, language substitution by means of conquest and expansion is the normal event in the history of languages. I see it quite differently. It is necessary to apply concepts such as social stratification and language continuity in historical linguistics. There are many factors affecting the linguistic situation of a given community, and the dialect of the ruling elite is only one of them.

So what languages were spoken in eastern Spain when the Romans arrived? One thing is for sure: Iberian was the language of the ruling elite at that time. But what about the rest of the local population? Maybe a significant percentage of this population spoke something which was not so different from the language of the Roman conquerors. They left no written record of their language, but it is not impossible to find evidence from other sources, e.g. place names, and especially hydronyms. In the last decades a series of linguists have analysed this material, reaching some conclusions that challenge the principles and chronology of traditional IE studies.-- But I'll be talking about this in another post. This one is already very long!


NOTE: The picture of the Ibero-Roman coin has been taken from: SARTHOU CARRERES, Carlos. Datos para la Historia de Játiva. Bellver, Xàtiva, 1933.
Last edit: 27 Jan, 2009

22 June 2008

What the Romans spoke

Everybody would agree that what we call Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, etc.) are languages that derive from Latin. The Roman legions fought hard to make the Empire bigger and bigger, and as a result Roman civilization and language reached a vast territory. In the traditional view, it was by way of conquest and acculturation that Latin became the language of these new provinces, substituting the pre-existing ones, which would only remain as the substratum.

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?


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.