The study of Romance linguistics was born in the 19th-century German university, and like all linguistics of that era it is historical in nature. With respect to Indo-European and Germanic linguistics, a difference was immediately apparent: Unlike Indo-European and Common Germanic, Latin’s attestation is extensive in duration, as well as rich and varied: Romance linguists can thus make use of reconstruction as well as documentation. Friedrich Diez, author of the first historical grammar and first etymological dictionary on Romance languages, founded Romance linguistics. His studies singlehandedly constructed the foundations of the discipline. His teaching soon spread not only across German-speaking countries, but also into France and Italy. Subsequently, the most significant contributions came from two scholars trained in the Indo-European field: the German linguist Hugo Schuchardt, whose doctoral thesis studied with sharp theoretical awareness the passage from Latin to the Romance languages, and the Italian Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, who showed how the Romance panorama could be extraordinarily enriched by the analysis of nonstandard varieties. The discipline thus developed fully and radiated out. Great issues came to be debated: models of linguistic change (genealogical tree, wave), the possibility of distinguishing dialect groups, the relative weight of phonology, and semantics in lexical reconstruction. New disciplines such as linguistic geography were born, and new instruments like the linguistic atlas were forged. Romance linguistics thus became the avant-garde of general linguistics. Meanwhile, a new synthesis of the discipline had been created by a Swiss scholar, Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke, who published a historical grammar and an etymological dictionary of the Romance languages.
Albanian has been documented in historical texts only since the 16th century. In contrast, it had been in continuous contact with languages of the Latin phylum since the first encounters of Romans and Proto-Albanians in the 2nd century bce. Given the late documentation of Albanian, the different layers of matter borrowings from Latin and its daughter languages are relevant for the reconstruction of Proto-Albanian phonology and its development through the centuries. Latinisms also play a role in the discussion about the original home of the Albanians. From the very beginning, Latin influence seems to have been all-embracing with respect to the lexical domain, including word formation and lexical calquing. This is true not only for Latin itself but also for later Romance, especially for Italian historical varieties, less so for now extinct Balkan-Romance vernaculars like Dalmatian, and doubtful for Romanian, whose similarities with Albanian had been strongly overestimated in the past. Many Latin-based words in Albanian have the character of indirect Latinisms, as they go back to originally Latin borrowings via Ancient (and Medieval) Greek, and there is also the problem of learned borrowings from Medieval Latin. As for other Romance languages, only French has to be considered as the source of fairly recent borrowings, often hardly distinguishable from Italian ones, due to analogical integration processes. In spite of 19th-century claims in this respect, Latin (and Romance) grammatical influence on Albanian is (next to) zero. In Italo-Albanian varieties that have developed all over southern Italy since the late Middle Ages, based on a succession of immigration waves, Italian influence has been especially strong, not only with respect to the lexical domain but by interfering in some parts of grammar, too.
The German sinologist and general linguist Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893) occupies an interesting place at the intersection of several streams of linguistic scholarship at the end of the 19th century. As Professor of East Asian languages at the University of Leipzig from 1878 to 1889 and then Professor for Sinology and General Linguistics at the University of Berlin from 1889 until his death, Gabelentz was present at some of the main centers of linguistics at the time. He was, however, generally critical of mainstream historical-comparative linguistics as propagated by the neogrammarians, and instead emphasized approaches to language inspired by a line of researchers including Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), H. Steinthal (1823–1899), and his own father, Hans Conon von der Gabelentz (1807–1874). Today Gabelentz is chiefly remembered for several theoretical and methodological innovations which continue to play a role in linguistics. Most significant among these are his contributions to cross-linguistic syntactic comparison and typology, grammar-writing, and grammaticalization. His earliest linguistic work emphasized the importance of syntax as a core part of grammar and sought to establish a framework for the cross-linguistic description of word order, as had already been attempted for morphology by other scholars. The importance he attached to syntax was motivated by his engagement with Classical Chinese, a language almost devoid of morphology and highly reliant on syntax. In describing this language in his 1881 Chinesische Grammatik, Gabelentz elaborated and implemented the complementary “analytic” and “synthetic” systems of grammar, an approach to grammar-writing that continues to serve as a point of reference up to the present day. In his summary of contemporary thought on the nature of grammatical change in language, he became one of the first linguists to formulate the principles of grammaticalization in essentially the form that this phenomenon is studied today, although he did not use the current term. One key term of modern linguistics that he did employ, however, is “typology,” a term that he in fact coined. Gabelentz’s typology was a development on various contemporary strands of thought, including his own comparative syntax, and is widely acknowledged as a direct precursor of the present-day field. Gabelentz is a significant transitional figure from the 19th to the 20th century. On the one hand, his work seems very modern. Beyond his contributions to grammaticalization avant la lettre and his christening of typology, his conception of language prefigures the structuralist revolution of the early 20th century in important respects. On the other hand, he continues to entertain several preoccupations of the 19th century—in particular the judgment of the relative value of different languages—which were progressively banished from linguistics in the first decades of the 20th century.